Updated: Feb 5
As the Director of Future First Education, a division of Moms Against Racism USA, I am aware that Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and some members of the NC state school board are resisting proposed changes to Social Studies standards. The proposed changes would essentially require teachers to use curriculum and language that acknowledge racism, social injustice, and other forms of discrimination. Sadly, some of those resisting these changes are framing them as part of a “leftists political agenda,” “anti-American,” and “divisive.” Such framing is both misleading and divisive (ironic, I know!) for several reasons.
Let’s consider the claim that antiracist education is “leftist.” First, “Leftists” are not the only people affected by racism and discrimination. Second, many conservatives would resent the implication that they are not concerned about racism, disinterested in fighting discrimination, and not invested in providing a historically accurate education to our children. Third, it is erroneous to assume that everyone invested in fighting racism holds monolithic political views. Fourth, restoring curriculum to a more complete picture of our nation’s history is not a partisan maneuver, for no one political party has a corner on the market of truth.
Next, the idea that an antiracist curriculum is “anti-American” is confounding. This “logic” backfires on its proponents who simultaneously claim that racism no longer exists in America. We can interpret the notion that an antiracist curriculum is anti-American in two ways. I will start with the interpretation that I suspect proponents of this talking point do not intend. If we unravel the line of reasoning that antiracism is anti-American, it follows that racism is American and America is racist. Surely those suggesting this do not mean to imply that racism is the lifeblood of our nation. It is true that racism has plagued our national history before we were even declared a nation, and it is true that many of our systems and institutions remain rooted in racist policies to this day. I wouldn’t dispute those charges. Rather, I ask: what hope do we have if America is inherently, irretrievably racist? Just as people are not defined only by what they do, our nation is not defined only by the problems we face. We undoubtedly have a long history of racist policies and racist ideologies in the United States, but we have the power to change those policies and abandon those ideologies, moving forward together.
Perhaps some are unaware of something we refer to as a “growth mindset” in education. This concept suggests that people are not fundamentally limited in learning things they have yet to master. For example, a student who struggles with math isn’t necessarily, irretrievably “bad at math.” Rather, they may simply need more guidance and practice to grow into adept mathematicians. It is painfully ironic that people invested in education would equate acknowledging racism with an inability to grow beyond racism. That notion would be a tragic and flawed view of our collective potential that I, as a Mom Against Racism, simply cannot espouse.
Now, we can address what I suspect they meant to convey by suggesting that antiracism is “anti-American”: they truly do not believe that racism exists in America. If so, that demonstrates an astounding lack of awareness. Neverminding decades of history, we must look no further than 2020 for evidence of racism throughout the US. In February 2020, the FBI classified racially motivated domestic extremism as a national security threat comparable to foreign terrorism from groups like ISIS. In May, we watched in horror as George Floyd was slowly murdered over the course of 8 minutes and 46 seconds by a police officer. And this is only one example among a long string of racially motivated injustices. How anyone could witness such realities and deduce that we do not have a serious problem with racism in American society is a mystery to me. If such individuals are simply unaware of these events, I question their capacity to perform as competent elected officials.
Further, if we are unwilling to acknowledge the challenges we face as a nation, how can we continue the patriotic work of striving to live up to American ideals?
Further, if we are unwilling to acknowledge the challenges we face as a nation, how can we continue the patriotic work of striving to live up to American ideals? To accept this status quo is to accept that America will not live up to the ideal of equality for all, at least not in our lifetimes. What is more: we can do multiple things at once. We can both acknowledge our errors, as a necessary step toward correcting them, and also celebrate the positive aspects of US History and society. If we stop turning inward, both personally and nationally, to reflect on how we can better serve our country, we will effectively be giving up on the great experiment in democracy that America represents. I am not so willing to give up on our country. I am not so quick to give up on our children.
Surely the board members in question and the Lt. Governor are reasonable enough to recognize that avoiding so-called “divisive” discussions will not actually unify our community. Rather, it will merely foster “a negative peace which is the absence of tension” instead of “a positive peace which is the presence of justice” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Effectively gaslighting students who have experienced or witnessed racism first hand, by suggesting that we have finally and completely eradicated racism from American society, may silence them for a time. It may cover their wounds momentarily, but it will not help them heal. Rather, the social disease of racism will continue festering for at least another generation. 58 years ago, Dr. King told us:
Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
Decades later, his words remain true. So, I ask the NC school board members resisting these positive changes: are you brave enough to see the light? Are you brave enough to join us in being the light? Or will you divisively leave another generation of children—our children—in the dark?