Why We Need to Discuss How We Teach Kids About Racism in United States History

In the second part of my two-part blog post on Critical Race Theory (CRT), I said that it seems like the theory has gotten mixed in there with larger, yet important, discussions on how classrooms should navigate through topics of race and racism. I even conveyed in my post that such discussions are needed. This is an opinion I feel strongly about as someone who was a history major in college and is still a self-professed American history nerd.

However, what I didn’t go into in said post was why those discussions are needed.

So, why are these discussions necessary? Why can’t we just go on with history lesson plans that teach about America’s greatness, without even so much as questioning it?

Simply put, not teaching about the parts of America’s past and present that involve racism is not a complete teaching of American history.

How can you have a truthful teaching of American history without talking about how there were slaves for nearly the first 80 years of the history of the United States, and how those slaves counted as 3/5 of a person?[1] Or how it took a bloody civil war to end slavery?[2] Or how it took nearly a century beyond that for legalized racial segregation to become a thing of the past? Or how the “War on Drugs” in more recent times has jailed millions of African Americans, thereby taking away millions of African Americans’ right to vote?[3] All these things are a part of our history.

If we start talking about Native Americans, we run into a whole other element of American history that is inconvenient for some to teach about, yet would leave us with an incomplete picture of American history if we don’t teach it. This includes the killing of so many Native Americans, one of the most infamous examples being the Trail of Tears during the period in which Andrew Jackson was president.[4] It includes the largest mass execution in American history—38 Dakota warriors were hanged during the Sioux Uprising in 1862.[5] Policies were so brutal against many Native Americans that the idea of “kill the Indian and save the man” (an ideology which relates to Native Americans being taught at white boarding schools) was considered humanitarian reform.[6]

And then there is our history when it comes to many other groups of people not considered white during their times. Internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II,[7] the Chinese Exclusion Act (which specifically prohibited a group of people; in this case, Chinese people, from immigrating to the United States),[8] and the despise many Americans felt towards Irish escaping strife during the mid-19th century[9] are but a few notable examples of dark elements of America’s history when it comes to the treatment of people who aren’t or weren’t viewed as white. The treatment of people coming from Ireland in the mid-18th century, in particular, gives me a lot of pause, given the parallels I’ve seen between how those from Ireland were treated and the treatment of certain groups of refugees today (particularly refugees coming from places that are majority-Muslim).

All of these things need to be taught in American history, even though such parts of American history are unsavory, and even if such parts of American history may challenge certain beliefs some of us may hold about this country. In particular, teaching such parts of American history may challenge the idea that America is and always has been morally superior to other nations—an idea often associated with American exceptionalism. But sometimes, a truthful looking back at any history, whether it be with the United States or with one’s one family, contains some difficult aspects that we wish didn’t exist.

As to how to teach these elements of American history, I will not comment on that. I am not a teacher or professor, and therefore I do not have the sort of knowledge about teaching methods that are needed for me to give an intelligent opinion on how these things should be taught. However, what I do know is that these are things that should be taught if we are to give the students of today and tomorrow a more complete picture of American history than what some teachings of American history currently provide.


[1] https://www.britannica.com/topic/three-fifths-compromise

[2] https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment/amendment-xv

[3] https://apnews.com/article/war-on-drugs-75e61c224de3a394235df80de7d70b70

[4] https://www.britannica.com/event/Trail-of-Tears

[5] https://www.britannica.com/topic/American-frontier/How-the-West-was-won#ref1262439

[6] https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3505#:~:text=Pratt’s%20motto%20was%20%22kill%20the%20Indian%20and%20save%20the%20man.%22&text=During%20the%20late%2019th%20century,reservations%2C%20and%20eradicate%20tribal%20organizations.

[7] https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/japanese-relocation

[8] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Chinese-Exclusion-Act

[9] It is also worth noting that the notion of whiteness has since expanded to include the Irish. The subject of what whiteness means is its own topic though, and beyond the purview of this blog post. https://www.history.com/news/when-america-despised-the-irish-the-19th-centurys-refugee-crisis

What Is…Critical Race Theory? (Part Two)

In Part One of my “what is” post on Critical Race Theory (CRT), I covered what the theory is, as well as some interesting things I learned about the theory. However, at the end of Part One, I talked about some questions raised by both CRT and the things I learned from it. Those questions include:

  • What are people angry about with CRT in the current political discourse?
  • If this theory has been around for decades, why are people only now getting angry about this?
  • Why is it conservatives who are getting angry about CRT when many of the most prominent critical race theorists critique liberal approaches to racism?
  • Is this anger justified?

Answers to the first, second, and third questions I pose here help us answer the fourth question, so grab some popcorn, and let’s get started…

A fair bit of the attention on CRT appears to stem from one person: Christopher Rufo. Rufo, who is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute (a conservative think tank), heard from municipal employees in Seattle, Washington about anti-bias workforce training[1] that he perceived to go too far. He summarized those findings in an article for the City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s magazine. The article was a major hit and led to discoveries from him about similar trainings happening elsewhere.[2] Among the things he noticed from the trainings was that they cited people who were deeply involved in scholarship related to CRT. Rufo thought that in CRT, he found the perfect term, for as he put it himself, “Its connotations are all negative to most middle-class Americans, including racial minorities, who see the world as ‘creative’ rather than ‘critical,’ ‘individual’ rather than ‘racial,’ ‘practical’ rather than ‘theoretical.’ Strung together, the phrase ‘critical race theory’ connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American.” Furthermore, he concluded, it is not “an externally applied pejorative” unlike some terms (think of the term “liberal snowflakes” as an example of an externally applied pejorative), but is instead “the label the critical race theorists chose themselves.”[3]

Rufo was correct in thinking he found the perfect term (at least from the standpoint of trying to get national attention), for his work continued getting attention to the point that he appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight in September 2020—a show in which Rufo called on then-President Donald Trump to ban CRT in workforce trainings the federal government did. Within weeks, Trump did exactly what Rufo wanted him to do.[4]

However, Trump lost re-election. But just because Trump lost doesn’t mean that the movements on CRT from the American right ended—not by any means. Instead, the attention that Rufo and others had on CRT shifted from workforce trainings to K-12 classrooms.[5] This brings us to more or less where we are today on CRT, which is that there is a fear among many on the American right that the theory rewrites American history in a way that would “persuade white people that they are inherently racist and should feel guilty because of their advantages.”[6] The center of that concern about the rewriting of American history focuses on the classroom, with the concern that young kids would be indoctrinated in this seemingly harmful way by CRT. Now, even the slightest bit of concern that kids are being “indoctrinated” with CRT creates anger among some.

But is this anger justified?

This answer is going to upset some people, but…no.

Here’s the thing about CRT and K-12 schools: for all the chatter of CRT being taught to schoolchildren, the teaching of the theory is usually not required at the K-12 level.[7] In a survey of more than 1,100 teachers across the United States conducted by the Association of American Educators, which is a nonpartisan professional group for educators, it was found that 96% of respondents say that their schools do not require them to teach CRT.[8] Instead, the teaching that does happen on CRT largely occurs in law schools and graduate programs.[9] Needless to say, the panicked rhetoric on CRT in K-12 schools just doesn’t seem to match up with what is happening on the ground.

What I’m guessing (and perhaps my guess is wrong, as I am not a teacher myself) is that the rhetoric with CRT has gotten mixed in there with larger, yet important, discussions on how classrooms should navigate through topics of race and racism in classrooms—a hot-button discussion issue in light of the events of the last few years in America, ranging from the increased visibility of white supremacy to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others. Such discussions are important and needed, though even without CRT in the mix these discussions would be a source of major division. But I fear that heading into such discussions with the falsehood that CRT is being taught and is indoctrinating K-12 students only makes those already difficult conversations even more so.

Those conversations need to happen, though. They need to happen because there continue to be stark racial disparities in the United States, and they should not be ignored. The racial disparities in everything from incarceration rates[10] to educational attainment,[11] from health care coverage[12] to deaths from gun violence,[13] are so great that we would be doing an injustice to ourselves and others if we were to just try to sweep such disparities under the rug. One can debate when to have these conversations with schoolkids, and how to have them, but we would not be truthful as a country about our current disparities if we never had those conversations anywhere.


[1] https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1012696188

[2] https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-inquiry/how-a-conservative-activist-invented-the-conflict-over-critical-race-theory

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1012696188

[5] https://time.com/6075193/critical-race-theory-debate/

[6] https://apnews.com/article/what-is-critical-race-theory-08f5d0a0489c7d6eab7d9a238365d2c1

[7] A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 22% of respondents who said they were familiar with CRT (and most poll respondents said they weren’t familiar with CRT) believed that it is taught in most public high schools: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/many-americans-embrace-falsehoods-about-critical-race-theory-2021-07-15/

[8] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/teaching-critical-race-theory-isn-t-happening-classrooms-teachers-say-n1272945

[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-57908808

[10] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2021-10-13/report-highlights-staggering-racial-disparities-in-us-incarceration-rates

[11] https://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_rfa.asp

[12] https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/health-coverage-by-race-and-ethnicity/

[13] https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/firearms-death-rate-by-raceethnicity/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

What Is…Critical Race Theory (Part One)

Right now, it seems like everyone and their distant cousins have an opinion on critical race theory (CRT) in the United States. In particular, CRT seems to have garnered significant criticism on the American right.

In light of all this attention, I decided that it would be a good idea for me to learn about the theory. However, upon learning the theory, and upon learning that so many of us apparently know so little about the theory (myself included, before I did the research),[1] I decided that it would be a good idea to share what I’ve learned with others, hence a two-part series on CRT (because there’s just way too much information I have for one blog post of a reasonable length).

But what is CRT?

In the book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (a frequently cited book when it comes to CRT),[2] there are several tenets to CRT. I am quoting these tenets verbatim, so that people can see them for themselves instead of a paraphrasing of them (I will explain certain tenets further where I feel it’s necessary):

  • “Racism is ordinary, not aberrational—‘normal science,’ the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country.”[3]
  • “White-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material.”[4]
  • “Race and races are products of social thought and relations. Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they correspond to no biological or genetic reality; rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient.”[5]
  • “The dominant society racializes different minority groups at different times, in response to shifting needs such as the labor market.”[6] This “radicalization” that is referred to is really the applying of negative stereotypes on different groups of people, depending on the needs and interests of the dominant society (something we’ve seen with Chinese, Irish, Japanese, Mexicans, and many others throughout American history).
  • “No person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity.”[7] What this means is that a Hispanic individual could have a disability, or that a white woman could also be working class and a lesbian. The whole person has more than one identity.
  • “The voice-of-color thesis holds that because of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, Indian, Asian, and Latino/a writers and thinkers may be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the whites are unlikely to know.”[8]

In performing research about CRT and its tenets, there were several interesting things that I found, and several things others may find interesting and/or surprising.

The first interesting thing I found was that not everyone who believes in CRT necessarily believes in all the tenets outlined above.[9] While the source I’ve been citing outlines tenets that many critical race theorists agree with, it’s interesting to know, and good to remember, the lack of a single, all-unifying definition for those seeking that single, all-unifying definition of CRT.[10]

The second interesting thing is that this theory has been around for decades. While CRT has gained a national spotlight in recent months, the theory has its origins in the 1970s, as a response to slow progress on racial equality after forward movement on African American Civil Rights in the 1960s.[11] CRT gained traction in the 1980s and 1990s.[12] And yet, in spite of this theory being around for decades, it has come into the spotlight quite prominently in the past fifteen or so months.

The third interesting thing about CRT is that, for all the ire some conservatives in America have directed at this, the theory is critical of many traditionally liberal approaches to racial issues. In fact, CRT often “questions the very foundations of the liberal order,”[13] in no small part because, in the view of many of these theorists, American liberalism has not shown itself capable to adequately address injustice or do anything more than an incremental/reformist approach that only prolonged certain racial injustices.[14] The fact that traditional American liberalism is a frequent target of criticism from critical race theorists should by itself dispel one myth: that CRT is some partisan theory.

Yet, for all the ire that some conservatives have directed at CRT, there are also some well-respected scholars in the racial justice arena who believe there are some theories better at explaining the dynamics of race and racism in the United States than CRT; this was the fourth interesting thing I found about the theory. For example, there are some scholars who gravitate towards something called racial formation theory,[15] which asserts that the importance of racial categories depends on a variety of factors, including social, economic, and political considerations.[16] And then there are other scholars who have critiques of various kinds of racial formation theory, as well—too many to document here and keep this post of a reasonable length.[17] Needless to say, disagreement and discourse about theories explaining modern-day racial disparities on race and racism in the United States go well beyond school board meetings where there’s yelling about CRT.

All of this begs four questions for me. First, what are people angry about with CRT in the current political discourse? Second, if this theory has been around for decades, why are people only now getting angry about this? Third, why is it conservatives who are getting angry about CRT when many of the most prominent critical race theorists critique liberal approaches to racism? And fourth, is this anger justified? Answers to these questions will be the subject of Part Two of my two-part blog post on CRT.


[1] In a national opinion survey taken over the summer, 57% of adults said they were not familiar with the term CRT. And among those who said they were familiar, only 5% of those respondents got all seven true/false questions about CRT correct, while 32% got 4 of 7 questions correct: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/many-americans-embrace-falsehoods-about-critical-race-theory-2021-07-15/

[2] The introduction of this book is online. Before people form opinions on CRT, I would highly encourage reading the introduction of this book and/or getting information on CRT from other scholars who are highly respected on that topic. In addition to the coauthors of this book (Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic), other highly respected figures on the topic include, but are not limited, to: Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Harris (who actually wrote a foreword to the aforementioned book), Charles Lawrence, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia Williams. I should also note that Crenshaw’s name is one people may be familiar with as it is credited with another term we hear these days: intersectionality.

[3] https://jordaninstituteforfamilies.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Delgado_and_Stefancic_on_Critical_Race_Theory.pdf

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] That being said, I thought that it was worthwhile to go with the tenets listed by what is considered to be one of the most important writings in the field of CRT, from two of the authors most respected on this very topic.

[11] https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/literary_theory_and_schools_of_criticism/critical_race_theory.html

[12] https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/civil-rights-reimagining-policing/a-lesson-on-critical-race-theory/

[13] Ibid.

[14] https://www.britannica.com/topic/critical-race-theory

[15] https://education.temple.edu/news/2021/08/untangling-controversy-around-critical-race-theory

[16] Michael Omi and Howard Winant are often credited with this theory, through their book Racial Formation in the United States. The second chapter of this book, which defines what racial formation theory is, is publicly available here.

[17] http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/souls/vol3no1/vol3num1art2.pdf

Access to Clean, Safe Drinking Water: A Racial Justice Issue

An image of water. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When some of us (particularly those of us of means) in the United States think of places that lack access to clean drinking water, we think of certain countries on the African continent. And, it is true that parts of Africa struggle to access even the most basic of water services—nine of the ten worst countries in the world in terms of access to clean water are located on that continent.[1]

However, I am concerned that many of us may be blind to issues of water access at home, in the United States of America. Furthermore, I am concerned that many of us may be blind about how this access to water is a racial justice issue.

Sure, a major report on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a few years ago cited systemic racism as being at the core of the problems with the crisis (Flint is a majority-Black city),[2] but the situation in Flint is only a microcosm of widespread problems when it comes to water issues and racial justice. Consider these facts:

  • 2 million Americans lack access to running water and basic indoor plumbing as of November 2019. Native Americans are 19 times more likely than their white counterparts to be without indoor plumbing, while African American and Latinx people have no indoor plumbing at almost twice the rate of white people.[3]
  • Tap water that violates legal water safety standards in the United States is 40% more likely to serve people of color.[4]
  • Rising water bills, which in turn makes it difficult for households to afford their own water, has disproportionately affected Black communities.[5]

Without meaning to belittle the importance of making sure that people in different countries all around the world have access to clean and safe drinking water, maybe we should also look at the issues with water access and safety in our own backyard, too. And we should look at these issues through a racial justice lens because it is clear that there is a connection between race and water access/safety. To that end, water access is not just a human rights issue (because every human on this planet should have the right to clean, safe, affordable drinking water), but also a racial justice issue.

While water may not get the sort of attention issues-wise that certain other elements of racial justice advocacy may be getting right now, it is no less important. After all, if we are given water that leaves us unwell in some way, then we end up unable to advocate for the other racial justice issues at hand. As such, water access and cleanliness, while not getting the attention it often deserves, should get attention in the push for racial justice, and particularly racial justice for Black and Indigenous communities.


[1] https://www.worldvision.org/clean-water-news-stories/10-worst-countries-access-clean-water

[2] https://apnews.com/article/us-news-race-and-ethnicity-mi-state-wire-flint-michigan-df42de2ec4424193866467a2981ccb51

[3] https://www.marketwatch.com/story/2-million-americans-dont-have-access-to-running-water-and-basic-plumbing-2019-11-20

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/daphneewingchow/2021/02/28/a-recent-survey-casts-new-light-on-americas-racial-and-water-divide/?sh=16840f221a6e

[5] https://www.naacpldf.org/wp-content/uploads/Water_Report_FULL_5_31_19_FINAL_OPT.pdf

What Is…BIPOC?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand.

Over the past couple of years, one term that has increased in usage is BIPOC. This term has seen a particularly significant increase in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.[1]

But what is BIPOC, and why is that term significant?

In short, BIPOC is an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous, and people of color. However, it is more than “just” an acronym—it is an acronym that is meant to “highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African Americans) people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context.”[2]

In reading many of the sentiments of those who like the term BIPOC, one common theme seems to be how the term reinforces the connections between Black and Indigenous people in experiencing racism in an America. In a way, BIPOC is an acronym of solidarity. While there may be certain experiences of Black people that differ from certain experiences of Indigenous people (for example, how some Black families still grapple with the legacy of slavery and segregation while some Indigenous families grapple with the legacies of Indian boarding schools), there is also that commonality in experiencing that relationship to whiteness that links Black and Indigenous people.

It is worth noting that there is another acronym different from BIPOC, yet also related: POC. POC stands for people of color. Before the events of the past year and a few months, I seldom saw BIPOC but commonly saw POC on social media and elsewhere.

My mention of POC, of course, provokes another question: Does this mean that we should use BIPOC instead of POC from now on? If a 2020 National Public Radio piece which asks the same question is an indicator of anything, opinions are divided on the question.[3] There are strong opinions on this question, but also differing ones. I personally do not feel it is in my place to be involved in the debate over whether to use BIPOC or POC, as I don’t fall under the POC/BIPOC umbrella.

What I do feel, though, is that for those of us who aren’t POC/BIPOC, we should understand both acronyms and their significance. Yet, at the same time, we should be ready to understand what is being talked about when we hear or see others talk about POC or BIPOC, and be ready to use either acronym depending on what our POC/BIPOC neighbors, friends, and colleagues prefer. Hopefully, those who have read this post will now have a greater understanding of both terms when they are used.


[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/bipoc-meaning-where-does-it-come-from-2020-04-02/

[2] https://www.thebipocproject.org/

[3] https://www.npr.org/2020/09/29/918418825/is-it-time-to-say-r-i-p-to-p-o-c