And the hits just keep coming.
A couple weeks ago, Sen. Ralph Hise tried to force North Carolina teachers to rat on the gender expressions and manifestations of their students. Republicans, yet again, showed a heady affection for the police state – forgetting, as Lincoln put it, that “the sheep and the wolf are not agreed on a definition of liberty.” Even Senate leader Phil Berger decided Hise’s effort was a bridge too far.
Now they’re seemingly determined to banish what they think of as Critical Race Theory from the public schools. Donald Trump – that bastion of inclusion and integrity – said Critical Race Theory was an outrage. House Speaker Tim Moore explained “schools should be places of dignity and respect for ALL students and teachers, [so] the Education Committee passed legislation to address Critical Race Theory and other hateful ideas that are attacking our kids.” No wonder my friends at ECU were terrified Moore might become their chancellor.
Beware of legislative campaigns to smite “hateful ideas.” Apparently we want to trigger our own version of the Scopes trial. Our Republican lawmakers have spent much of the last decade trying to repeal the 1960s. Now they’ve cast their eyes on the 1920s as well. These are ambitious folks.
Kimberle Crenshaw, a founder of Critical Race Theory who teaches at Columbia and UCLA, has explained: “Everything builds on what came before and the so-called American experience was not simply a matter of prejudice but a matter of structured disadvantages across society… Critical race theorists have taken up the task of exploring the role law played in establishing practices of exclusion and disadvantage.”
Moore’s newly embraced proposal would ban, among other things, North Carolina public schools from promoting “the belief that the United States is a meritocracy is racist or sexist or was created by members of a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race of sex.”
In other words, we are to teach that even though in North Carolina twice as many blacks as whites live in poverty, three times as many young kids, at least twice as many African-Americans are unemployed, food insecure, suspended from school, subjected to traffic stops, arrested and imprisoned, and on average, black families possess less than ten percent of the wealth of white families, and, of course, black men are repeatedly murdered by unthreatened policemen before our eyes – all this results from being a meritocracy, not from our brutal history, biases, or systemic inequalities. By statutory command, our schools will be required to lie.
The bill prohibits schools from contracting with, hiring or otherwise engaging speakers, consultants, diversity trainers and other persons who promote Critical Race Theory concepts. That means our students won’t be allowed to hear school programs from the likes of David Zucchino (Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy). It might wound their fragile sensibilities to learn where we come from.
Finally, who better to decide what our kids should learn about race than the white Republican caucuses of the General Assembly? These are the notable folks who have routinely constrained black Tar Heels right to vote; racially gerrymandered our electoral districts so profoundly it severed the foundational norm of consent of the governed; repealed the Racial Justice Act; lionized confederate memorials; made it easier to segregate schools and harder to release police-cam videos; and are now poised to try to criminalize Black Lives Matter demonstrations. They have governed, for a decade, as a White People’s Party. Allowing them to regulate racial discourse makes about as much sense as entrusting the protections of academic freedom to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.
Nichol, a contributing columnist for the Editorial Board, is the Boyd Tinsley Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina.