Guest Post: Root Out Racism
Miriam is finishing her PhD at the University of Oregon and is en route to the University of Memphis where she’ll be an Assistant Professor of Criminology starting in August 2022. She lives with her husband and three girls.
Let’s flashback to just over two years ago. I had recently started writing my PhD dissertation which uses a Critical Race Theoretical (CRT) lens to focus on the School to Prison Pipeline (the idea that marginalized kids are more likely to be suspended or expelled unfairly which puts them at risk for adult incarceration). Back then, few people outside of academic circles knew what CRT was.
When the 2020 viral video footage of George Floyd being murdered by a police officer led to one of the largest worldwide protests, our public rhetoric changed. You remember it. We got emails from institutions like our car insurance companies, our yoga studios, our employers, and our healthcare providers denouncing racism in our communities. President Nelson, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, encouraged members to “root out” racism. Social media posts, discussions with neighbors, and dinner table conversations focused heavily on the problem of racism.
The topics I was studying suddenly became something everyone was discussing. I was hopeful. People were discussing systemic racism and ready for deep change.
However, as the months passed, pushback against the new rhetoric built. Donald Trump declared CRT anti-American and, as of today, 7 states have banned the teaching of CRT and 16 more are considering a ban. Followers of this right-wing ideology often say that racism is about a few bad people, but it isn’t systemic and teaching it to kids as systemic is morally wrong because it just makes the kids feel bad unnecessarily. I also hear people counter that right-wing ideology and say things like, “Calm down, kids aren’t being taught it anyway, so what’s the problem?”
I’m here to counter both those sides. Teaching racism as anything but systemic is morally wrong as it cannot lead to real solutions. And I want to further say that we can’t dismiss CRT as something elitist that kids aren’t being taught – we should be teaching it to our kids and we need to be teaching it to them young!
CRT scholar Charles Lawrence III suggests looking at racism as both a crime and a disease. The crime part is usually easy to detect – atrocities against a subgroup. For example, statistics show that there is racial inequality in education, healthcare, the workforce, housing, criminal justice, and religion. These are crimes that are hard to deny. However, some people look at those statistics and think it comes down to a few bad cops, a few bad teachers or a few bad doctors. This is where it is necessary to examine it as a disease – and this part is a little trickier. When we’re talking about racism as a disease, we have think about the systemic nature of the disease. We note that everyone in society is affected by this disease. Even solutions to the disease are contaminated by the disease itself. If we want to follow that prophetic call to “root” this out, we have to know where the “root” is. We have to acknowledge the disease, talk about it, teach it, and start thinking of solutions. So, let’s start by talking about the “root” of it in our society today. From my dissertation:
According to Critical Race Theory (CRT), racism exists in the U.S. not as an unfortunate occurrence that can easily be corrected by law, but rather as a foundation on which the U.S. was built (DeMaske, 2009). Many scholars argue that the very foundation on which the Constitution was written was racist due to the manner in which the U.S. was formed and developed; a process which involved, among many atrocities, the forced resettlement and massacre of Native Americans and use of slave labor of Africans (e.g., DeMaske, 2009; Hannah-Jones, 2019; Wallis, 2007). Though the Civil Rights movement made progress in combatting racism, the main goal of the Civil Rights movement was to change laws (not the foundation of the U.S.) and according to CRT theorists, merely changing laws is not sufficient to fixing the problem of racism (Greene, 1995). Often laws aim to create “neutrality” or “equality,” but they define neutrality using a White lens (Crenshaw et al., 1995). Rather than being truly neutral, individuals are forced to conform to the dominant White culture (Crenshaw et al., 1995; Graf, 2015) which disenfranchises, demeans, and erases Black culture and Black experiences (Crenshaw et al., 1995). This creates a form of “silent genocide” where, instead of creating equal opportunity for all, citizens of the country are expected to conform to the dominant culture to succeed (Peller, 1995).
The country has a very deep-seeded root of racism. Just removing a couple bad apples isn’t going to get rid of that root. Time to talk about it, time to admit it, and time to start thinking of real solutions that involve everyone in our society.