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Michelle Deal-Zimmerman: Let’s be critical of the theory that race doesn’t matter. | COMMENTARY

June 24, 2021 (Drew Sheneman, Tribune Content Agency)
June 24, 2021 (Drew Sheneman, Tribune Content Agency)

Can we talk about critical race theory? I mean, can we really just talk?

I was going to write like 100 columns before I ever even mentioned race, and here we are on column No. 3 and already it’s on my screen. And I want to scream in frustration.

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I know you are already screaming — at least some of you. Too many of you. Even in this reliably blue state. So clearly, it is not just an issue for Republicans and red state rogues.

Over the summer, parents in Harford, Arundel and Carroll counties rushed to demand school systems ban critical race theory from curricula even though it was not there. (Baltimore City parents seem not to have received the memo for the seemingly coordinated attack. Wonder why?)

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I also wonder why these parents — let’s be honest since we’re almost friends, right? — why these white parents are so upset.

Like a lot of Black people, I had never even heard of critical race theory until folks started holding signs and accosting school boards and banning books and threatening teachers and getting Black principals fired.

And again, I ask: Why so upset? I’m mad about a lot of things, but I have yet to put marker to poster board and spend hours yelling about it in public.

According to Education Week, “Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

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So, in my interpretation, this means racism is real and systemic in American society and Black people who point it out are not crazy, nor are they playing the so-called race card.

Instead, it is some white people who are currently playing the race card. And it’s not just a card — it’s an entire stacked deck. And the suits are ignorance, shame, blame and denial.

How can anyone look back on American history and the very founding of this nation, which economically was clearly upon the backs of enslaved Black people, and which was then followed by decades of segregation and Jim Crow laws, and not objectively conclude that racism has been purposefully embedded into our society? And not by Black folks.

OK, fine, so you don’t want to debate history — “something, something states’ rights, but we’re here in 2021, and that was a long time ago and has nothing to do with me or my children.”

Well, true. Kinda. But if it’s so far in the past and so irrelevant then why are Black men still being threatened with lynching? We actually have a museum in Alabama practically dedicated to lynchings and closer to home, the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, which should mean that horrible era is closed to new submissions. Do we need to write a memo and share it on Facebook?

That’s the tricky thing about history: It’s often past and present.

Most of the discussion around critical race theory is centered on what we want children to learn about history and how we want them to feel about themselves and about the country they live in.

If Black parents can have “the talk” with their children about how not to be randomly killed by police officers then more white Americans can certainly have “the talk” with their kids about how being white is an unearned privilege that may benefit them in life even if they don’t really notice it.

Are schools the place for this discussion? Actually, no, since K-12 schools do not teach critical race theory, which is higher education subject matter. Those who think it is part of the curriculum are simply wrong. Instead what they are complaining about are terms like “equity,” “bias” and “equality.”

Many enraged parents liken it to racism against whites to teach about equity. They say even discussing race is akin to bias or discrimination. But for whom? I can guarantee every Black child knows they are Black whether you talk about it or not.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was on “The View” recently and said making Black kids feel confident in their Blackness doesn’t mean we “have to make white kids feel bad for being white.”

That’s the real problem. No one wants to talk about racism and where it came from and how we as a nation could ever have arrived at a plea as desperate as asking to recognize that Black Lives Matter, because it doesn’t feel good. No one wants to take a critical look because it would reveal their own responsibility — not for history, but for the current state of race relations, which makes me feel bad most days.

And we certainly don’t want our observant children judging the mess we’ve made of race in this country, only paying attention when it reached critical mass in the summer of 2020. Another failure of leadership they will have to clean up. Another climate to change.

America is a long way from being a more perfect nation and forgetting our past is certainly not the way to achieve it.

Critical race theory holds a mirror up to history and says: Look closely at this and then never look this way again. Look to the future and make it better. Be better. Feel better.

We’re still friends, right?

Michelle Deal-Zimmerman is senior content editor for features and an advisory member of The Sun’s Editorial Board. Her column runs every fourth Wednesday. She can be reached at nzimmerman@baltsun.com.

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