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An Iowa law now bans state and local government employees from teaching that someone is consciously or unconsciously oppressive or sexist. On the surface, this almost sounds like common sense: education should not pin a “racist” name tag on students based on race or gender. We teach children that stereotypes are harmful and divisive. But this law was written around critical race theory and - although it doesn’t name the theory - its ban is based on an incorrect interpretation of the summation of CRT’s principles.
Many of those opposed to teaching CRT say it labels white and male students as oppressors and women and POC as the oppressed. In reality, CRT is simply used to study how racism still affects people of color today.
In the 70s, a team of legal scholars investigated why anti-discrimination law wasn’t solving inequalities. Their answer became critical race theory. Simply, CRT says that race is socially constructed and socially significant. Additionally, racism is embedded in systems and institutions. Essentially, this asserts that the law is not colorblind despite its efforts to appear to be.
Over the past three years, I have studied CRT as an American Studies major at the University of Iowa. Prior, I spent 12 years studying relatively glossy U.S. history. My AP history classes provided me with a sense of reality on politics and social issues, but obviously not within a contemporary context. When I began studying American Studies in college, I realized the severity of systems and institutions perpetuating inequality. As someone who has studied CRT, I disagree with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ assertion that CRT teaches kids to judge others on race, gender or sexual identities.
In efforts to pull back the curtain, here are topics from class discussions on CRT: housing districts and redlining, bank loans and credit cards, college admission, recruiting practices of prestigious employers and poverty in general. Redlining describes the practice of refusing to insure mortgages in or near Black neighborhoods. Lenders believed when a Black person moved in, risk increased and neighborhood value decreased. Redlining led to long lasting segregation in metropolitan areas with little to no opportunity for upward mobility. Overall, CRT concludes that white supremacy and racial power are maintained over time and law aids in continuing a racial caste system where whites are on top and POC are at the bottom.
As a white woman who has sat in many CRT lectures and discussions, I haven’t been labeled a raging racist continuing to oppress POC merely by existing. What I have experienced is wanting to enact change because what people face on the basis of race is unfair. I’m concerned that the trend of anti-CRT bills being passed across the country is fueled by misinformed lawmakers who were told “this is divisive” and ran with it.
Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, told the Des Moines Register, “The point of this is that using racism or being racist to teach against racism is something we think is ridiculous.”
Respectfully, I’m confused on how teaching CRT is being racist. The United States has a long history of xenophobia and racism despite being described as an idyllic melting pot. It’s harmful to teach U.S. history and culture from a colorblind perspective as it perpetuates racism by making it invisible.
Last year, Former President Trump banned diversity training on “white privilege” and CRT in a now overturned executive order. He described the topics as “scapegoating” and “un-American” propaganda. Trump also started a commission to promote “patriotic education”, which sounds like an opportunity for propaganda to me. The reality is U.S. history is stained with many divisive issues. U.S. students spend years learning about storybook patriotism with the first Thanksgiving and discovery of America. Then, students reach an age where they learn the reality of the pilgrims - so why can’t they learn the reality of anti-discrimination? Racism didn’t end in the 60s.
All of the political hubbub surrounding CRT - from laws and executive orders - ironically proves CRT. The U.S. government has a history of racial oppression and now they are regulating how racism is taught. By not teaching about racism and its long standing effects, it prevents opportunity for progress.
Bailey Cichon is a Gazette digital intern and a senior at the University of Iowa studying journalism and American studies.