Written by Dr. Mary Theresa (Terry) Webb, West Lampeter. This piece was first published here, the LancasterSpeaksUp.com blog, on January 17, 2022 with permission from the author. It has been submitted to LancasterOnline/LNP and PennLive for consideration as an OpEd.
The Russian History Museum in Moscow was empty except for one lone wheelbarrow when I visited it in 1991. I asked our Russian guide, “Zhachem (why in English)?” She replied, “Because everything taught about our Russian history was fake.”
The same may happen in America as the vocal opponents of Critical Race Theory bombard school boards and convince their state legislators to pass laws such as this one in Texas (HB 3979): “Schools may not teach that ‘slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States,’ nor ‘an understanding of the 1619 Project.’” 1 The 1619 Project is a collection of essays and profiles that discusses the history and legacy of slavery in America, beginning the year the African slaves were brought to and sold in Jamestown. 2
The hysteria over Critical Race Theory (CRT) threatens democracy and will lead to teaching fake American history, or censorship of books and curriculum materials, similar to what has happened in Russia. The Heritage Foundation3 defines CRT as “Racism that is ‘systemic’ and ‘structural’ derived from Marxism and embedded in America’s Institutions,” 4 such as our schools. Some parts of this are true. Others are not and stoke fear among parents.
First, CRT was not derived from Marxism, the core of Communism, a movement of the proletariat that turned into corrupt authoritarianism by its leaders. Second, CRT is an academic concept taught in graduate schools and a framework for describing systemic racism in American culture, our laws, and our institutions. CRT is not part of any secondary school curriculum. Third, the Heritage Foundation asserts that CRT claims persons of white privilege must renounce their privileged position. 5
I am a person of white privilege. In the 1860s my great grandfather pastored a church in Marietta, Georgia before, during, and after the Civil War. He may have owned slaves as his church denomination did not condemn slavery and he had a large family needing to be cared for. Schools for whites only and blacks only existed in southern states up until Brown vs Board of Education in 1954. The Civil Rights Law was not passed until 1964. Jim Crow laws and segregation existed until then.
Repressive state voting rights legislation continue systemic racism even today. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a speech in Montgomery Alabama a year after the Civil Rights legislation was passed7 that, even though the law gave black Americans part of their rightful dignity, without the vote their dignity was without strength. He also praised the white Americans who, because they valued Democracy over maintaining their white privileges, had walked and stood beside black Americans to help pass that legislation.
As one of those persons of white privilege, going all the way back to America’s colonial days, I cannot renounce the color of my skin. I do not feel threatened or afraid, nor do I feel guilty about how my ancestors treated those with different colored skin. However, now that I am keenly aware of my ancestors’ role in accepting the racism of their time in American history, I have chosen to use my white privilege to stand beside my fellow black Americans. Today, I can honor Martin Luther King, J.r by helping black Americans pass federal voting rights legislation. As an educator I also want students to know the true history of America— the good, the bad and the ugly. American students need to learn the truth about our sordid racial legacy. Only then can we expunge the stench of our systemic racism.
1Critical Race Theory and the Public Schools in a power point presentation by Jason Giersch, PhD. of UNC, Charlotte, NC. slide 50.
2Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story.
4The Heritage Foundation, Critical Race Theory. 2021_CRT_ebook.pdf
6See historical fiction story told in my book, Costly Freedom by Terry Webb.
7In a speech delivered on 25 March 1965 on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery at the end of the march from Selma to the State capital.
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