The country’s debates over teaching history through the decades-old academic framework of critical race theory (CRT) have intensified in recent weeks.
Education is on everyone’s mind these days, including major nightly news program hosts on both sides of the aisle. On both “The Reidout” and “All In With Chris Hayes” last week, the MSNBC hosts Joy Reid and Chris Hayes explained what CRT actually is and what it does. No, it’s not something that was invented on the fly by the protesters you’ve seen on TV in the last year.
Using the New York Times’ 1619 Project as an introduction, Reid explained that CRT “traces the consequences of slavery from its inception centuries ago to its modern implications for Black Americans.”
But CRT and other forms of civil rights-based education issues, like bills that would violate the rights of transgender students if they attempt to play sports or seek gender-affirming health care, are part of a growing conservative backlash.
Reid’s guests, “1619 Project” creator Nikole Hannah Jones and transgender rights activist Charlotte Clymer, discussed how anti-CRT and anti-transgender rights messages come straight from the most powerful Republican in the country, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky—and how state-level GOP lawmakers have taken up McConnell’s cause to introduce (and sometimes enact) new laws to ban outright the teaching of CRT in schools and to restrict transgender students’ rights.
The Atlantic’s Adam Harris wrote that the current discussion on CRT popped up on conservative talk shows like Fox News’ “Hannity” over the last year, coinciding with the protests following George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in Minneapolis last May.
But as Harris notes, conservative lawmakers have taken things beyond television debate topics. There’s a concerted effort across multiple states to enact laws outlawing—unconstitutionally, according to legal scholars Harris interviewed—these decades-old teachings.
And yes, they are decades old. Harris profiled the start of the CRT movement in academia, beginning with Harvard professor Derrick Bell in the 1970s. So why expend all this anti-CRT energy now?
Didn’t We Just Have an Election To Put an End To This?
Reid’s MSNBC colleague, Hayes, explained the power dichotomy in American politics and how it can feel like a disconnect. At the national level, Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress by slim majorities. “But in the states,” Hayes noted, “[Republicans] do get to write the laws.”
“They’ve been focusing on restricting voting, banning health care for transgender youth and trans participation in sports, and now their latest project is banning critical race theory in schools,” Hayes said before showing that Okhlahoma and Idaho have in the last couple weeks banned the teaching of CRT.
“All In” showed footage from a May 4 session of Tennessee General Assembly Rep. Justin Lafferty, a Republican, who gave a speech decrying the Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787. It’s common to decry the Three-Fifths Compromise in modern America because of how it dehumanized enslaved people.
Lafferty was upset for a different reason. The Three-Fifths Compromise “specifically limited the number of representatives who would be available in the slave-holding states and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery.” As though it were a bad thing to end slavery. Because it meant Southern slave-owning states couldn’t keep doing whatever they wanted.
These are the voices and attitudes of the people who wish to stop the teaching of history, and also wish to prevent transgender kids from seeing the doctors they need. Do with this information what you will.