OPINION | Critical race theory column, Round 2: Readers hit back

After an altercation while in line, upcoming sixth-grader Alex Judge III, center, is comforted by his mother, Laura Judge, while they talk with Gregory Farino, left, and Carolyn Elliott-Farino before a Cobb County of Education board meeting begins. Teachers, parents and local residents gathered on June 10, 2021, to voice their opinions on critical race theory. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Caption
After an altercation while in line, upcoming sixth-grader Alex Judge III, center, is comforted by his mother, Laura Judge, while they talk with Gregory Farino, left, and Carolyn Elliott-Farino before a Cobb County of Education board meeting begins. Teachers, parents and local residents gathered on June 10, 2021, to voice their opinions on critical race theory. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

You’d think from some of the responses I received Monday that I was demanding that white people pay reparations — and from their own pockets. Or that Cherokee County should erect a heroic statue of Nat Turner in front of its courthouse.

I had written about “critical race theory,” the term that has become the bogeyman du jour of the political right. In the past year, there has been a shifting of the terms used by conservatives to go after lefties. First, it was the “woke mob,” then it shifted to “cancel culture,” and then suddenly, about a month ago, it was all about “critical race theory,” or CRT.

Now, critical race theory is actually a specific, somewhat abstruse and scholarly set of principles that say racism is baked into all sorts of American institutions, including the legal system and zoning codes. It has been around for decades but suddenly turned up in Georgia in the middle of debates at school systems in Cherokee County, Forsyth County and elsewhere, as well as at the state’s school board. Even our own Gov. Brian Kemp has bravely taken a stand against it because he knows a political gift horse when he sees one.

CRT’s critics say it is the newest weapon of the left being used to demonize white folks.

Critical race theory is studied in some colleges and law schools. And, in actuality, nobody was getting set to force it on little Johnny in elementary school. But then again, why let a good outrage tool go to waste?

My hunch is that critical race theory may have even jumped the shark, as right-wing radio blabber Michael Savage recently likened it to Nazi Germany, adding, “This is the road to the death camps.” So, there really is nowhere else to go after you’ve evoked the Holocaust.

My point was the argument over critical race theory is pushing us to shut down when there could — and even should — be discussions about race, diversity and understanding. Race is embedded in just about every aspect of life. So, as I wrote, “it really shouldn’t be so terrible that teachers delve into the subject.”

The article brought forth scores of comments ranging from invective, argument and complaint to plain old discussion, debate and agreement. One woman even sent some haikus.

The first couple of comments came from readers Bill and Arnold, who I correspond with from time to time. They come from opposite sides of the political debate and I respect both. (I’m not using last names, in hopes that readers continue sending me their unbridled thoughts.)

ExploreOPINION: Why I, a white guy, am no big critic of critical race theory

First there was Bill: “I think you took a superficial look at the most innocuous interpretation of the pernicious doctrine. The quotes you had from Dr. Khilanani are closer to the true face.”

He was referring to Dr. Aruna Khilanani, a shrink who in April addressed students at Yale University and went on an extended rant about white folks being “a demented, violent predator” with “holes in their brain.”

Arnold praised the column, adding: “I do wish you had not included the long Khilanani quote, which will likely be ‘over used/abused’ as representing all that CRT represents.”

I was simply adding balance to my column to show that the political left has its share of kooks.

Scott wrote that the idea of discussion is great. “As long as both sides can be openly debated and or rejected without name calling or smearing someone’s reputation, I’m OK with it,” he said. “But it really doesn’t work that way.”

That’s true, unfortunately. We’ve asked for years for “honest dialogue about race,” but that can quickly become treacherous ground.

Another common refrain was that race ought not be one of the three R’s taught in schools. “In any event, schools should teach what students need to learn to survive and succeed in life,” wrote Charles, “not this crap which serves no meaningful purpose, solves nothing and widens any gaps between races.”

Well, reading and writing and arithmetic are certainly needed, but so is learning to build interpersonal skills in a racially and ethnically changing country. A more robust study of the history of American life, of examining how we came to be, also might qualify in the “learn to survive and succeed in life” category.

Charles, who said he is canceling his subscription, wrote: “All of this wokeness is against white Americans. White Americans are not the wealthiest.” He sent a chart that shows all sorts of Asian American groups earn more money than white people, who average $65,900 a year.

Charles argued that the woke mindset and the “failure to rein in violent protest over the last year is why crime has exploded.”

“I am old enough to have seen New York when it was unsafe and then safe and now back again,” he said.

ExploreConsidering race and racism in Georgia classrooms: Here are some helpful definitions
A crowd marched through downtown Atlanta last year on Tuesday afternoon, June 16, 2020, in protest of police brutality and racism. (BEN GRAY for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caption
A crowd marched through downtown Atlanta last year on Tuesday afternoon, June 16, 2020, in protest of police brutality and racism. (BEN GRAY for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

That is not an uncommon opinion. In fact, it mirrors comments I get from the pro-Buckhead-cityhood folks.

Gene wrote, “Like much of the opinion offered up by the AJC on matters of race and politics, I found yours to be unobjective, tendentious, shallow and generally unserious.” And Gene questioned how I, while purportedly “a serious journalist and a literate person,” could claim “not to have even heard of CRT until a few weeks ago.”

My guess is that most of the sudden experts on the subject hadn’t heard of it either, until recently.

Suzanne called critical race theory “hogwash,” writing: “So we can wallow in self-pity and blame others, no matter when or how they lived, or we can get to work and take responsibility for our actions today.”

I heard from more than one reader that other races and ethnicities have had tortured pasts and have been slaves, too. The travails of the Irish, as it often does in such matters, came up.

I know a lot about the Irish. I’m one of ‘em. My mother, the former Helen Gilligan, moved to Chicago in the 1950s, as did six of her seven siblings. They came from Limerick, an industrial city in Ireland whose best export was its people.

She got a job in a downtown Chicago office and was struck by the daily sight of long trains pulling into the station and hundreds and hundreds of Black people pouring out, dressed up and carrying battered suitcases. This was in the thick of the Great Migration, a time when some 6 million Blacks moved to the North from Southern states to escape Jim Crow laws and seek economic opportunity.

She told the story of the company softball team and a star player, who was a Black woman from the mailroom. When the team went to a restaurant after a game, my mother, still a new immigrant, was shocked when her softball friend declined to go in and join them.

My mother urged her to come, but the woman shook her off, telling her, “I can’t go in there. They won’t allow me.”

There is much said about the opportunity of America, and my family has embraced it. Three of my mom’s brothers fairly quickly got jobs in Chicago’s trade unions as carpenters, a career that allowed two of them to raise families and live a comfortable middle-class life they wouldn’t have experienced in Ireland.

Blacks, who had been here for centuries, were denied the same opportunities that were accorded to those recent immigrants. In fact, several of those uncles’ children are in the trades, and I’ve read it’s still hard to break in if you’re Black.

There’s still a lot to talk about.

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