The students were already enrolled, and Melissa Smith was ready to teach her long course on “Race and Ethnicity in the United States” at Oklahoma City Community College. Until an email arrived in May: It was canceled this summer. The reason: A new law in Oklahoma restricts education about racism. The council wants to study the law thoroughly before it dares to continue with a series of lectures that take a critical look at race relations in the country.
Joe Cohn sees it fit the trend. He is director of policy for Fire, an organization that promotes free speech on American universities – a topic that has been primarily a masterpiece of the right in recent years. When left-wing activists banned speeches from conservative speakers, it always sparked outrage.
According to Kuhn, this topic has no political color. Lately, he’s seen more and more laws being passed in Republican states opposing the education of “cash race theoryCritical Race Theory. “It is a new phenomenon that laws expressly prohibit certain teachings about race and gender.”
Dark sides of American history
Until recently, critical race theory was an academic term used only in a limited circle. Roughly speaking, he describes a research trend that sees racism as something that is found not only in racist individuals, but also in power relations and stereotypes. Since then, the term has become a nuisance to Republican politicians, who use it to sum up their annoyance with diverse training, and concepts such as “white privilege” and history education that they believe pay too much attention to the darker sides of American history.
These might be called the dark sides, according to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, but “we must teach this history without calling young children ‘persecuted’ and asking them to be guilty or shameful because of their race or gender.”
It is remarkable that the initiators of all these new laws are rarely able to give concrete examples of the lessons in which this happened. Not bad, says Aaron Baker, a design and government history teacher at an Oklahoma City high school. “Classic discussions can lead to all kinds of feelings: frustration, discomfort, maybe even anger. But I don’t know anyone in education who strives for shame, it is completely counterproductive in the classroom.”
Becker is such a teacher who finds it important to also pay attention to institutional racism in his lessons, in order to correct historical myths. “It’s important to tell the truth about someone like Thomas Jefferson” – Sun early founders, who was also a slave owner. But he likes to stick to the facts.
However, in a conservative state like Oklahoma, it sometimes leads to discussions in the classroom, but there it doesn’t have to become as politicized as politicians now, he says. “Last semester, there was a student with whom there was a crackling at times, but we were able to find each other again when thinking about the volunteer work we organize at school. And when it comes to problems in the neighborhood, the conversation is no longer politically polarizing.”
Baker doesn’t have much to fear from the rhetoric of the law. Ultimately, this says nothing more than that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of race or ethnicity. “But knowing where it came from makes this worrying.”
Walking on eggshells
Joe Cohn agrees. Not only in Oklahoma died a series of lectures. Also in Idaho, another state that recently passed a bill against the “critical race theory,” Boise State University decided earlier this year to stop all classes and training on race and diversity, after an anonymous complaint that later turned out to be unfounded. Cohn points out that the law does not stand alone. In Idaho, the Republican-dominated state parliament has also decided to cut the university budget, in the words of one delegate, to “send a message that we want to help define what is taught.” Cohn: “This politically charged atmosphere makes people walk on eggshells in education.”
Now many Republican politicians will object that people in education have already done so, but under pressure from the other side, the pressure of left-wing political correctness. According to them, the existing laws are a necessary opposite force. Cohn sees it differently. “You can certainly ask yourself if there is enough diversity of views in higher education today, but censorship is not the way to do something about it.”
Cohen is receiving signals that not only do college administrators languish, but teachers also feel less free about what they dare say in class.
Baker is unfazed by it for the time being. He cites the race riots in Tulsa as an example, the massacre of black residents in Tulsa, Oklahoma 100 years ago. “Maybe the governor just wants us to say, OK, this and that happened, but I have no idea why. In class, you also have to ask: Who is responsible? Why has no one been arrested? If this was a critical racial theory, I’d be in trouble.” If so be it.”
In Tulsa, the wounds of the 1921 massacre never healed
A hundred years ago, one of the largest racially motivated massacres in American history occurred in Tulsa. An event that until recently was deeply buried, is now only required to be read in Oklahoma textbooks.
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