The Privilege to Push Against Progress

May 28, 2021 5 min read

I recently moved back to my hometown of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, located just across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. I promised my husband, who's Hispanic, that it is more progressive and more diverse than when I was growing up. I also sold him on the fact that it is one of the top school districts in the state. But, as I sat in a community meeting in our local high school auditorium and listened to my fellow community members make public statements about a proposed elective course on social equity, I worried that I was wrong.

Many of the comments at the microphone were in favor of teaching social equity. Some shared a personal story to illustrate why it's important to them. But those who spoke out against the course hammered home the same sound bite that's been echoing across the country as states seek to ban critical race theory (CRT) from public education.

One woman at the microphone stated angrily, "Critical race theory is the hateful, racist, bullying indoctrination of our children." She believed "the overriding mission" was to "teach students to hate themselves, hate their country and hate each other."

Education Week Magazine described critical race theory a bit differently: "CRT ... puts an emphasis on outcomes, not merely on individuals' own beliefs, and it calls on these outcomes to be examined and rectified."

When you put the emphasis on outcomes and look at the data, it's difficult to deny things like systemic racism and white privilege, which hits the core of the pushback on CRT, mostly from conservatives.

Many critics want to shroud themselves in the European fairytale history that downplays the role of slavery and racism in our country's foundation. The United Daughters of the Confederacy was established in 1894 to control the narrative of the defeated South. The group erected many of the controversial Confederate statues being removed. It also worked to ensure textbooks would only teach the Southern slant that the Civil War battled over "state rights" and that slaves were happy and well-cared-for workers.

Matt Bertasso, the Highlands High School outgoing principal, said the social equity class in Fort Thomas was tabled because "It did not pass the neutrality test." But our sanitized stories of America don't pass the neutrality test either. Perhaps our curriculum should start by being honest.

Dr. Phillipe Copeland, clinical assistant professor at the Boston University School of Social Work and assistant director of narrative for the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, wrote in an email: "Critics cannot be satisfied because the criticism about Critical Race Theory is not being made in good faith. It is part of a systematic effort to discredit and undermine antiracism while generating and manipulating white anxiety and resentment for political gain."

Another speaker at our town meeting worried that a social equities course would jeopardize our students' already-fragile mental health during a difficult time. Isn't that the ultimate privilege? While Black Americans are battling inequities that stem from a Constitution that considered them property, we're concerned that an honest look at government systems would somehow damage the spirits of children who have always had the consideration of the Constitution.

Our students see what is happening in the world today. Thanks to smartphones, video evidence makes the inequities of our country both accessible and undeniable. We cannot shield them from this truth. We should, however, foster their critical thinking skills through elective social equity education at the high school level. It would only serve to help them navigate their way into the world and hopefully make it a better place.

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a wife, mother and award-winning columnist. She is the media director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Find her on social media @WriterBonnie, or email her at [email protected] To find out more about Bonnie Jean Feldkamp and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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