“Racial Discomfort” in an Era of Erasing Curriculum

My neighboring state of North Carolina has filed copy-cat legislation being proposed across the U.S. by Republicans as part of the manufactured Critical Race Theory (CRT) crisis.

As Justin Parmenter explains, “Among other things, the bill would make it illegal for teachers to promote feelings of racial discomfort and would require schools to prominently post information about diversity training on their websites for public review.”

Republicans and conservatives have launched a campaign grounded primarily in several false claims, including a drastic misrepresentation of what CRT is (a graduate-level theoretical lens primarily found in law schools) and that CRT exists in any significant way in K-12 public education (it doesn’t).

Since the public and political rhetoric is both misleading and false, and since the legislation is written in coded ways, those of us who recognize that this movement is an insidious lie (political leaders claiming to be protecting academic freedom by banning CRT from academic spaces) must now call Republicans on their bluff, specifically addressing the concept of “racial discomfort.”

As an educator for almost 40 years, I find no real evidence that white third graders across the U.S. are being told in schools that they are personally culpable for racism and slavery simply because they are white.

And as a scholar who understands and embraces CRT, I also know if CRT were being practiced with children across the U.S. in public school, that theoretical lens focuses on systemic racism, not individual racism. In other words, white students in U.S. public education would be well served by CRT that emphasizes the role of systemic racism regardless of individual beliefs.

CRT is one way to raise everyone’s awareness of racism and inequity so that we can all behave in ways that lead the country toward equity and meritocracy.

The only blame anyone should suffer (in the context of CRT) is a refusal to recognize systemic racism and then a refusal to behave in ways that are equitable.

Republican legislation is prescribing, then, that students remain ignorant, and ironically, passively complicit in systemic racism.

But the primary unwritten/unspoken given in the claimed concern about “racial discomfort” is that the term addresses only white racial discomfort—as if being white is somehow a greater burden, for example, than being Black and actually experiencing racism.

Is hearing or reading “n—–” not a form of racial discomfort?

Is being told you are “articulate” while Black not a form of racial discomfort?

Is being asked “Can I touch your hair?” while Black not a form of racial discomfort?

Is being paid less even though you the same educational attainment while Black not a form or racial discomfort?

Since this movement is ambiguous on the surface, we must call their bluff by acknowledging “racial discomfort” among all races.

Black students, for examples, must not be asked to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, or The Great Gatsby.

Imagine being a Black teenager in a room filled with white peers and a white teacher, reading from Gatsby [1]:

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read The Rise of the Colored Empires by this man Goddard? … Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved … This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or those other races will have control of things … The idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and … And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization – oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?”

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Or the repeated use of “n—–” in Huck Finn, Mockingbird, and Of Mice and Men.

And let’s not stop there.

Shakespeare is filled with sexism, bigotry, and racism It must go. No more Shakespeare because children and teens might feel discomfort.

And honestly, who didn’t feel discomfort when confronted with the Pythagorean Theorem.

It must go also.

In the context of the legislation being proposed and passed, we must demand that all texts and topics causing anyone (regardless of race) “racial discomfort” be removed from the curriculum.

The logical extension of this nonsense is the total erasure of curriculum; there simply is nothing left to teach if we mobilize and demand that legislation be applied evenly for everyone.

It shouldn’t be on the shoulders of minoritized peoples to call this bluff, but a widespread effort to take this legislation to its logical conclusions would cause the movement to collapse under its own dishonesty.

Republicans and conservatives do not care about everyone’s discomfort, let’s note. How trans students feel has been repeatedly disregarded, for example.

Legislation aimed at CRT is a Great White Lie, but if we call them on their bluff, that lie will be exposed when we find ourselves with a total erasure of the curriculum.

[1] See When W. E. B. Du Bois Made a Laughingstock of a White Supremacist