Opinion | Scott M. Estill: Hiding in plain sight
Challenges, Choices, Changes
It appears that it’s time for a discussion on critical race theory in Summit County.
On an appropriately dated Friday the 13th, a group of apparently concerned citizens took to the stage to note their general opposition to what they called indoctrination of our children on the topic of critical race theory. The Summit School District Board of Education has also weighed in with a series of proposals and policy details that address elements of critical race theory, including how history has treated certain parts of our population with less than honorable intentions.
So what exactly is critical race theory and what has these residents so concerned? In simple form, critical race theory looks at racism on a grand scale as opposed to the individual level. It examines whether racism is entrenched in our system of laws and policies, and offers some potential solutions. Some solutions tend to be rather mundane (finding and addressing racism in everyday life) and others very radical (dismantling much of capitalism).
While getting 100% agreement on any issue is impossible today — just ask the flat-earthers — I think it’s safe to say that most of us are aware of racism in America’s history. If nothing else, we were taught about slavery in elementary school, at least on some superficial level. We learned about the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln and how he “freed the slaves.” None of my teachers claimed that slavery was a good thing. So what makes critical race theory teachings bad, according to detractors?
Those against critical race theory believe it is divisive, Marxist, anti-American and a platform for Black Lives Matter. They think it is communistic, anti-capitalistic and dishonest. They believe the teachings represent leftist ideologies and should be banned.
While I understand some of the criticisms, it is hard for me to fall in line with nearly any solution to a challenge that involves banning. The reason given for banning books — such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” among many others — is that the books contained racist language and slurs that could potentially divide students along racial lines. Sound familiar? Yet, I would contend that the purpose of these two antiracist books is to make people think about racism itself, including systemic racism within the legal system (Mockingbird) and with slavery directly (Jim in Huck Finn is enslaved).
It is hard to understand American history without considering systematic racism. It is simply a fact that must be reckoned with. To state that racism did not exist at the beginning of the U.S. when 41 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence (all white men) owned slaves is simply unsupportable. When a civil war is fought over racism at its most extreme, you don’t have to be told twice that there is racism in America’s past.
I previously taught a constitutional law course, which would have been impossible for me to teach had I excluded the Dred Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board cases. The U.S. Supreme Court determined that Scott, an enslaved man who claimed he was free because he lived in states where slavery was illegal, was not a U.S. citizen because he was Black. It did not matter whether he was free or a slave according to the 7-2 decision. Plessy validated the “separate but equal” doctrine in a 7-1 decision, permitting racial segregation laws in transportation, education and many other facets of life. Finally, Brown overturned Plessy by unanimously ruling that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal and thus so is the “separate but equal” legal doctrine.
The point here, I think, is that it is impossible to understand the American legal system when one has no concept of the successes and failures of the system. While there have been many success stories, the failures associated with racism and its impact must also be reviewed to understand how best to overcome any and all obstacles still remaining.
To those wishing to see any mention of critical race theory removed from the discussion, I would only question, ‘What is so important that we must keep it hidden?’
Scott M. Estill’s column “Challenges, Choices, Changes” publishes biweekly on Thursdays in the Summit Daily News. Estill is an attorney, author and public speaker who lives in Dillon when not traveling or attending to legal matters in Denver. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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