Where Are Black Parents’ Voices on Critical Race Theory?

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Where Are Black Parents’ Voices on Critical Race Theory?

According to a poll published in September, a staggering 83 percent of parents support the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools. Or to be more specific—because they are never granted modifier-free descriptors, as their white peers are—83 percent of Black parents are in favor of CRT in their children’s schools. In a USA Today/Ipsos poll, 71 percent of Asian parents and roughly 60 percent of Hispanic parents said CRT should be part of the curriculum in their children’s schools. A Fox News survey conducted in Virginia—the state that is home to the Loudoun County School District, where some of the most visible battles over CRT have taken place—revealed that among Black parents with more than a passing familiarity with CRT, more than twice as many approved of it as opposed it. These polls didn’t specify to parents that critical race theory is a 40-year-old legal framework for analyzing the ways racism is embedded in American institutions, not a lesson plan that’s actually used in K-12 classrooms today. But we can assume that those parents regard CRT as a concept that includes the study of slavery and anti-Black racism and support teaching those topics in our schools. In a small poll of parents of New York City schoolchildren, a group that is more than 80 percent people of color, over three-quarters of respondents supported the idea that students should learn about the “damages of white supremacy,” while 79 percent supported teaching about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The fact that Black and other nonwhite parents—that is to say, those parents whose kids make up the majority in America’s public school classrooms—believe that the perspective provided by CRT would enrich their children’s education seems newsworthy at a moment in which the battle over school lesson plans is raging. And yet, since a false characterization of CRT became fodder for conservative hysteria just over a year ago, there’s been almost no media coverage examining Black parents’ feelings about CRT in schools.

Instead, the white backlash has been given center stage. Conservative anti-CRT groups like Moms for Liberty and Parents Rights in Education—which claims CRT creates “a false sense of entitlement” in nonwhite students—bathe in the same media spotlight these groups use to illuminate egregiously misinformed fears about CRT. (Is there not a single reporter who wants to ask a representative for PRE, which expresses alarm on its website about students being “disciplined and even expelled for representing opposing views,” when it plans to address the long-standing issue of Black kids being four times as likely to be suspended as white kids?) The right-wing political establishment and conservative mediasphere have tried to paint this as a broad movement of parents Fighting the Power, as when Indiana Republican Todd Rokita issued a polemical “Parents Bill of Rights” that suggests CRT, Black Lives Matter, and the notion that “systematic racism has…produced disparities between races” are antithetical to “Hoosier values.” As Slate’s William Saletan wrote in a piece about the Virginia gubernatorial victory of Republican Glenn Youngkin, who had held “Parents Matter” rallies focused on promises to ban CRT, this isn’t, as white conservatives claim, “a backlash of parents. It [is] a backlash of white people.” That the school districts where opposition to CRT has been loudest are those where the presence of nonwhite students has grown over the past two decades tells us everything we need to know. How odd that a media apparatus that normally cannot get enough of destructive bothsidesism now seems wholly uninterested in getting Black parents’ firsthand takes on the matter.

This oversight isn’t surprising, considering that the media has also done a terrible job of correcting the right-wing misinformation campaign around CRT. The press has chosen to elevate the tender feelings of white parents instead of interviewing parents who have actually experienced anti-Black racism about the way white conservatives have twisted CRT into a bogeyman, and how Black history has been denigrated as inherently “un-American.” Of course, this is not new. During the Trump years, the press spent an extraordinary number of hours hearing out aggrieved white GOP voters. After Black voters flipped Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania for Joe Biden—and Black women drove turnout that made Georgia go blue not once but twice—the endless barbershop interviews with African American voters never materialized, and a few outlets even fretted about the president-elect’s inability to win over white working-class voters. Criticizing this lopsided approach, the writer Noah Berlatsky noted that Black people “receive little empathy precisely because they are discriminated against and because their suffering is seen as natural and unremarkable.”

That would explain why CBS News last month posted a tweet that asked, “How young is too young to teach kids about race?” The network had blatantly overlooked the experiences of Black and other nonwhite kids, who mostly learn about racism through firsthand experiences at disturbingly young ages—never at a time of their choosing. “They say, ‘Our children are too young to hear about racism.’ Who is our children?” asked a Black parent named Caron LeNoir in a Washington Post piece that is among the few CRT-focused articles that actually features Black parents’ voices. “I don’t remember a day of my life when I wasn’t taught about racism, or learning about it through just existing.” Black kids are always dealing with the actual consequences of racism. A 2008 Harvard/University of California study found that by the time they’re 4 years old, white kids “express negative attitudes and stereotypes” toward nonwhite kids, while Black and Hispanic kids show no “in-group” bias toward those who look like them. A 2019 study concluded that both Black and white preschoolers have already developed “a strong and consistent pro-White bias.” A whole body of medical scholarship has demonstrated the deleterious impact on Black and other nonwhite kids of not seeing themselves reflected in the world.

We are deep in the throes of a white grievance movement, inflamed by fears that white dominance is decreasing. The media’s coddling of white folks isn’t helping. As long as the story continues to privilege white fearmongering, the press should be considered a contributor to the problem of white supremacy in education.

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