There is a lot of conversation about Critical Race Theory (CRT).
Basically, CRT proposes that race is a construct that not only impacts personal attitudes and interpersonal behavior but is woven into the policies of institutions and the laws of government. The latter two are the most impactful to our lives as Americans.
First, it is important to recognize that the conversation by many today about CRT is gaslighting. It is attempt to distract and disinform people. Those who are pushing it as a topic are really trying to claim something that is ridiculous: that a theory about the way racism works has more impact, is more deadly, than racism itself. That is a bit like saying cleaning up the kitchen is worse than creating the mess in the first place.
What a bunch of silliness!
It also implies that the black and brown professors who first proposed CRT are the problem. This is a double-dig: both at the people of color who wrote the theories and academia in general. The first is expresses a racist attitude and is a way to continue a racist status quo. The second is to say that learning is bad, even unpatriotic.
The framers of the Constitution were learners. They knew from personal experience the injustice of monarchy. They also didn’t want anarchy. They learned from studying history, religion, and philosophy that there could be another way. So, they wrote the US Constitution to set out the rules of our democratic republic. As they wrote the Constitution, they invited continued learning on behalf of citizens in three ways.
- First, they wrote that their work was an effort at a “more perfect union.” This invited people to see that they did not claim to be creating a perfect government. This also invited those who came after to the same work. Learning from the history and their experience all Americans have been invited to work for a more perfect union themselves.
- Second, they did not fully describe all the rights that belong, inalienably, to each human being. “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were listed, but before that they wrote “among them are.” They understood that they lacked the experience to fully describe a form of government on human rights and the consent of the governed. They invited all Americans into the discovery of what human rights are. Part of this was working to recognize the humanity of every person, which our founders fell far short of.
- Third, the founders offered a way to amend the constitution. In other words, they loved the project of a democratic republic enough to have their own words set aside when they did not function as intended, or when circumstances changed.
They learned, they knew they had more to learn, and the passed on the duty of learning from our past to us. Learning how we have fallen short of the aspirational values of our constitution and working for a more perfect union is at the core of patriotism.
Learning is patriotic.
We also know that the framers of the Constitution fell short of their stated values. The enslavement of Black and Indigenous people was legal. Taking land from Indigenous people was not only legal, but the stated policy of the government. CRT simply points out that the laws of the land and the policies of institutions had both the intent and the effect of benefiting the wealthy and more often white people, and disadvantaging people of color. In the end, it hurts everyone, although not equally.
We all have been made aware that 98% of all the FHA home loans went to white families. This alone accounts for much of the vast disparity in household wealth. White families have 15 times the wealth of the black families, on average.
CRT is one academic theory in which scholars tried to clarify the way these laws worked. It is a worthy analysis to study and consider. CRT is an attempt to learn.
Further, it isn’t all that new. In the book of Exodus in the Hebrew Scripture God saw, heard and knew the sufferings of the Hebrew people enslaved in Egypt. It wasn’t that individual Egyptians were mean or rude. It was a legal and cultural system. That Egyptian system held that slavery was legal and that it was blessed by the gods. The God of the Hebrews disagreed. The story of freeing the Hebrew slaves was the narrative form of CRT in the ancient world.
Those who want to gaslight the nation on CRT want three things:
- Avoid the pain of this reality
- Avoid blaming our ancestors for this reality
- Keep things as they are
Recognizing the truth about ourselves and our society is painful. In the Christian tradition, the Apostle Paul called it “daily dying and rising.” He compared lifelong reorientation to the pain of death. But through that pain and discomfort came new life.
The Framers of the Constitution were willing to confront the pain of their pre-1776 reality and do something about it. We honor them for that. To do the same in our time is to act in the deepest tradition of our nation.
To endure the pain of how our reality has fallen short of our aspirational values is to be committed to our deepest value: the search for truth to form a more perfect union.
Some feel that honest conversation about our present and past is to dishonor our ancestors. Nonsense. My dad told me once: “I hope you learn more than me. I want all my children to be better than I was. That is my goal as a father.”
To learn and change is not to dishonor him, but to fulfill his dream.
The Framers of the US Constitution were able recover from one kind of oppression: monarchy. But they fell far short of dealing with all oppressions. They did not fully recognize the human dignity and worth of women, Black and Indigenous people and many others. This had deadly and devastating impacts. It harmed the very goals they sought to achieve.
Even if we were able to deal with the oppressions that deny the inalienable rights of every person today, tomorrow there would be other issues to work on. To do our own work today, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, is the very heart of patriotism.
The framers were willing to take great risks to form this more perfect union. The status quo is not all bad, but not all good. To withdraw from our responsibility to change what is necessary to change is to take a very different path than they took.
Some are gaslighting us about CRT. But we won’t be distracted from learning, from being uncomfortable, from doing our work to make a more perfect union, from recognizing the human identity and human rights of all.
Like the Founders, the Freedom Riders, the Leaders at Standing Rock and so many others, it is now our turn. We have a choice.
To learn and change is not to dishonor our Founders and those who have gone before, but to fulfill their dream.
May we fulfill their dreams and encourage our children to live a bigger dream yet.
To learn more about CRT: