Deep in the heart of Texas there is a trifecta of problems: Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Legislature, and the Texas Board of Education. Last week they teamed up to launch a series of conservative initiatives that could soon result in a community near you. My concern is that these initiatives are seeded with a mark of xenophobia and racism that is spreading across the country.
This is a cautionary story because what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas. I wrote about this over a decade ago, when the state used its enormous purchasing power (it has about five million school children) to influence how the nation’s history books would be written. At the time, the Texas School Board did not consult historians, sociologists, or economists before creating more than 100 additions to the social studies curriculum.
It unilaterally decided to focus more on the military, Christian values, modern Republican incumbents, and American corporations (with the word “capitalism” banned). In particular, the contributions by George Wallace, Lester Maddox and Phyllis Schlafly were highlighted. Texas could do this because it bought more social studies books than any other state, and the editors of those books were willing to consider alternative facts.
In January, the New York Times analyzed the most widely used textbooks in Texas and California, the most populous state. Dana Goldstein reported that while books on social sciences generally deal with the same story, the content “diverges in a way that reflects the deepest partisan divisions in the nation.” She said there are hundreds of differences between the Texas version of the textbooks and the California version, some subtle, others “extensive.” That’s crazy.
Last week, Texas lawmakers passed the most restrictive anti-electoral law in the country making abortions illegal every time a heartbeat is detected, which could be just six weeks after conception before most women know they are pregnant .
But Texans Will Be Texans: Paxton Smith, 18, surprised an audience of family and friends when she started out at Lake Highlands High School in Dallas when she was passionate about advocating a woman’s right to have an abortion. Her talk went viral after she gave up her “verified” closing speech and said what she really wanted to say.
Last week, Texas also targeted “critical racial theory,” the concept that racism is systemic and not just a collection of individual biases. Critical Racial Theory as I read it challenges educators to show students how racism in America has affected education, law, and entertainment – every facet of our national life, in fact.
The concept has sparked cultural wildfire. People react – don’t think, don’t listen, just get hot words like “reparation” out of the air. Part of the problem is the actual language of the initiative. Critical race theory is not an easily accessible term. But it suggests finding common ground and creating equality of opportunity and acceptance where there was bias. It suggests that it is not enough to correct the historical errors; the injustice must be recognized.
Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called for the state education agency to end this race initiative. “If we have to play Whack-a-Mole all over this state to stop this critical racial theory, we will,” he said.
I see this as an educational moment for those of us who are not fully aware of the toxic effects of racism that manifested itself in our lifetime. I don’t think I fully understand critical racial theory, but I do understand that it will shed light on some dark corners of American history.
America’s history is riddled with racial prejudice. Is anyone seriously asking that if we all moved in together, we would move forward more effectively? Does Texas really think it can suppress its non-white majority in the upcoming election?
Activism starts with the school board. Whether or not Texas-style conservatism is leading our way, whether or not our local districts incorporate critical racial theory into their curriculum, service in a school board keeps us updated and provides a platform for our views.
South Africa faced apartheid. Germany recognized the Holocaust. We Americans have a tragic history of racism that began with slavery and never ended. We cannot be afraid to look at our own past.
I recently came across a photo from the 1940s of a young boy, 8 or 9 years old, drinking from a “colored” fountain in North Carolina. This is the definition of systemic racism and evidence that racial prejudice and the American legal system are intertwined during our ongoing struggle for equality in the United States.
Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at email@example.com.