OPINION: Georgia attorney general embraces orchestrated outrage over critical race theory

In last few weeks, conservative groups take aim at school efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion

The manufactured hysteria over diversity, equity and inclusion in schools has reached new levels of tragicomedy with this press statement Wednesday from Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr:

Attorney General Carr is joining a multi-state coalition of 20 attorneys general in urging the Biden Administration to reconsider educational proposals aimed at imposing the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), the 1619 Project and other similar curriculum into America's classrooms. Such goals are woven into a proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Education establishing priorities for grants in American History and Civics Education programs.

“I believe in history by addition, not history by revision," said Attorney General Chris Carr. “This newly proposed rule would impose the flawed, radical teachings of critical race theory in Georgia's schools. It must be rejected."

What has triggered Carr and other conservative politicians is a proposed federal grant via the American History and Civics Education program for courses that “reflect the diversity, identities, histories, contributions, and experiences of all students” and “create inclusive, supportive, and identity-safe learning environments.” Conservative leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, charge that language is an attempt to foster a “politicized and divisive agenda” in schools.

ExploreNew: Georgia governor blasts teaching of critical race theory in schools as a 'dangerous ideology'

It’s unclear what Carr means when he says he believes in history by “addition, not revision.” As historian Eric Foner, author of “The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution,” once noted, “It’s hard for people not versed in history to get the point on why historical interpretation changes. In the general culture ‘revisionist historian’ is a term of abuse. But that is what we do. Revising history is our job. So, every historian is a revisionist historian in some sense.”

For example, consider Carr’s statement in the context of slavery, which was sanitized for many generations of Southern students. In recent memory, Black children in Georgia were sitting through classes where they learned that “slaves were brought to America to help on farms.” No mention of the chains, the rapes, the forced separation of children from parents, the depravity, the beatings, the murders.

If there were no revisions to the history of slavery in America, students today would still be learning from textbooks influenced by Confederate apologists. Some of those books, used as late as the 1970s, offered airbrushed versions of slavery, including “Virginia: History, Government, Geography” and “Know Alabama.” Among the statements in these books:

A jail sentence or the execution of a slave was considered to be more of a punishment for the master than for the slave, because the slave was such valuable property.

Virginia offered a better life for the Negroes than did Africa. In his new home, the Negro was far away from the spears and war clubs of enemy tribes. He had some of the comforts of civilized life.

Most masters did not want to punish their slaves severely. In those days whipping was also the usual method of correcting children. The planter looked upon his slaves as children and punished them as such.

Carr also equates critical race theory with “flawed radical teaching.” No K-12 school in Georgia teaches CRT, which is not a curriculum but a complex legal framework far more likely to be discussed by civil rights attorneys and scholars than ninth graders. CRT is not about diversity training, although the two are now being conflated.

An American Bar Association article defines CRT this way:

CRT is not a diversity and inclusion “training" but a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship...It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers. CRT also recognizes that race intersects with other identities, including sexuality, gender identity, and others. CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.

CRT does not define racism in the traditional manner as solely the consequence of discrete irrational bad acts perpetrated by individuals but is usually the unintended (but often foreseeable) consequence of choices. It exposes the ways that racism is often cloaked in terminology regarding “mainstream," “normal," or “traditional" values or “neutral" policies, principles, or practices.

On Tuesday, we saw an almost all white middle-aged crowd in Forsyth County complaining to its all-white middle-aged school board that diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory ought to be ejected from their schools because they cast white students as oppressors. Expect the same scene tonight when another virtually all-white crowd in Cherokee County will decry diversity, equity and inclusion to another all-white school board.

This same scenario is unfolding across the South and Southwest in political theater designed to create wedge issues. Of late, the issues have been school based, including the unproven allegation that transgender high school students posed such a threat to women’s high school sports that bans were needed.

“Many of these districts don’t have diversity. They don’t have any idea what equity is, and they don’t have any inclusion,” said University of Georgia education professor Bettina Love, author of “We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom. ”They are fighting something they don’t even have. These are just buzz words to them.”

That buzz is getting louder and shutting down legitimate and necessary discussion about racism in America.