“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
I vividly remember hearing this quote from philosopher George Santayana for the first time from my middle school history teacher, and it’s something I have kept with me ever since.
History teaches future generations lessons, and the study of history seeks to prevent repeating our ancestors’ mistakes and build a better world.
The phrase, cliché it may be, is especially relevant in the modern discussions on race in this country.
Turn on Fox News, or tune in to The Daily Wire, and you’ll hear critical race theory thrown around. According to conservative pundits and their followers, critical race theory is being taught in schools across the country in an attempt to demonize ‘whiteness’ and indoctrinate students with unamerican sentiments.
It's the same culture war that Fox News has been leading the charge on for the past few years with critical race theory being the newest engineered grievance after 'Antifa' and 'cultural Marxism,' among others.
Critical race theory is not the racism against white people that conservatives like Tucker Carlson’s rhetoric would have you believe. It isn’t a subsect of Marxism that is turning your kids into filthy communists.
It’s as simple as the name implies: it CRITICALLY looks at America through the lens of RACE.
Critical race theory is a school of thought dating back nearly 40 years that attributes prejudice and discrimination not solely to individual actions of racism, but institutional and systemic constructs within society dating back to this nation’s founding.
“Critical race theory is a practice. It’s an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it,” said founding critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw.
Teaching critical race theory is really teaching an analytical approach to history, not the sanitized version that many, including myself, were taught growing up.
For example, many states in the South have history curricula that inaccurately reflect the Civil War and what it was fought over. In an attempt to whitewash history and sanitize the terrible actions of their ancestors, The Daughters of the Confederacy led movements in the early-20th century to alter the narrative of the war to be one over states’ rights.
It wasn’t until I was able to learn about the topic on my own closer to high school that I came to terms with the ugly reality of history. The reality was that the war was fought over the issue of slavery, particularly southern states' rights to own slaves as stated in their confederate constitutions.
Even still, critical race theory is not taught to third graders like some conservatives would lead you to believe. Critical race theory is mainly taught in colleges, with a survey from the Association of American Educators finding that 96% of K-12 teachers surveyed “said their schools did not require them to teach critical race theory.”
It isn’t a coordinated attack on the minds of children to infect them with anti-American values like the Tucker Carlsons or Ben Shapiros of the world would have you believe.
What conservatives call critical race theory is simply acknowledging the fact that this country’s origins and some of its continued practices are rooted in prejudice; they don’t teach whiteness as being inherently bad, but teach the actions of those who oppress others as bad.
The critics of this diverse, or even just accurate education see it as anti-American propaganda.
The reality of the matter is, inaccurately learning American history as nothing more than good triumphing over evil without the accurate history of prejudice that exists on this nation’s underbelly is nothing more than propaganda itself.
Conservatives that claim that they don’t want students learning from the critical race theory inspired 1619 Project — a 2019 New York Times initiative that reframes the narrative of history around African American oppression — are more than content with teaching overexaggerated tales of the revolution or how America single handedly won both world wars.
Acknowledging the disproportionate number of Black men, women and children killed by the police each year isn’t critical race theory. Neither is learning about the Tuskegee Experiments on non-consenting black populations to test vaccines.
This is just reality. This is history.
We must learn from the mistakes of the past to build a better future. That’s impossible if conservatives and Republican pundits who claim they care about freedom of speech are actively attempting to retell history in a way that preserves historical prejudice.
Critical race theory is merely a more accurate retelling not bolstered by lie that “all men are created equal.” Critical race theory at its most basic is not a form of brainwashing kids into hating their white neighbors, but a way to learn from the past and the mistakes our nation has made and continues to make.
Crafting history in a dishonest matter is how we get January 6. If we as a country are going to progress, we shouldn’t censor our history with idealized versions of events like the Civil War or the omission of events like the Tulsa Race Riot or Tuskegee.
“Learning history through rose-tinted glasses is how we repeat the mistakes of the past,” Crenshaw said, echoing Santayana.
Domenic Purdy is 20-year-old journalism junior from Prairieville.