Just last year, I went over Georgia history and it met my rock bottom expectations of the curriculum exactly. I mostly learned about the basics of colonization, slavery, and a variety of white history figures with a few Black people here and there, Native Americans were only talked about in the pre-historic and colonial eras, Asians and Hispanic Americans were nonexistent — the usual.
In June, as the Georgia Board of Education passed an official resolution with the support of Governor Kemp, banning critical race theory in schools by declaring: “The United States of America is not a racist country, and that the state of Georgia is not a racist state.,” I was heavily reminded of these moments in Social Studies class where my friends and I were fuming at how whitewashed the course was. Ironically, the fact that they don’t want kids and tweens being educated on a theory that calls their system out only proves how accurate CRT is.
If you don’t know what CRT exactly means, it is an “academic construct” that theorizes “racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies” according to EdWeek. In Richard Delgaldo and Jean Stefanic’s introductory book about CRT, it states that “racism is ordinary, not aberrational,” and it “serves important purposes, both psychic and material, for the dominant group.”
This is shown by not only the comments made by certain politicians and education board members, but also by school textbook writers. Even though where I live is known as a well-educated and diverse area, at least according to the close adults in my life, Fulton County’s curriculum is still very whitewashed.
In my sister’s 3rd grade social studies Gallopade workbook, author Carole Marsh calls Native Americans “American Indians” despite the phrase originating from Christopher Columbus calling them Indian, and describes colonization, which has resulted in settlers forcing Native Americans to assimilate into their society due to their ‘savagery’ as “the exciting exploration of North America.” Even surface-level decisions like these choice of words enforce sugarcoating this topic. The effects of settler missions are being felt to this day; victims of kidnapping and forced conformity at the hands of residential schools are still here and the story still hasn’t been fully unraveled.
As an Asian American who isn’t represented in my history class dedicated to teaching Georgia history, this is also a form of systematic racism. The fact that history education shows a wide variety of white people from invaders to supremacists to cooperative settlers to decent politicians and a diverse amount of Black politicians and activists, from conservative to nonviolent to radical, but barely mentions influential Asian, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American historical figures is another form of systematic racism reflected in course material. Making our history less highlighted than other racial groups contributes to the other/exotic narrative that has been demonstrated by harmful stereotypes, sexual assault rates, police shootings, hate crimes, and the excuses laid out for the perpetrators (“he had a sex addiction”).
Arguments against CRT in school also often claim that it stops people from speaking up about racial prejudice. In June, University of Georgia associate dean and professor Dr. Maria Len-Rio told WUGA radio about discussing race: “It makes people uncomfortable…We can’t forget it was only 60 years ago that the state of Georgia did not allow young, qualified Black men..and women to study at our state land grant institution. And we can’t be scared of addressing the truth of our past, we have to learn from it.”
I have a hard time facing how privileged I am compared to my African and Hispanic/Latin American peers as I see discrimination against me as the same kind of racism with different tone and that hey, my race is killed and massacred just like other minority groups. The main difference, however, an Asian person, I’m put on an intellectual pedestal compared to them (according to society) and my group is placed there in order to create tension between minorities while the majority group stays at the top above everyone else. Teaching CRT starting in elementary school would offer a clear explanation on where racist insults, microaggressions, and superiority complexes come from and help break down these barriers starting from a young age. If I had been taught about this in 3rd grade, I probably wouldn’t have burned out myself from education in 8th grade by trying to uphold my status as ‘the top of the class’.
The fact that government officials are banning critical race theory from being taught in schools and claiming the US is not a racist country proves the concept of CRT is completely factual. If we’re going to combat the centuries-old systematic racism of our country, we need to start by adding more diversity into our education, especially when it comes to history.
Acknowledging the discrimination against racial minorities that came with past policies and laws in our classrooms, as well as addressing more historic figures from underrepresented communities in the forefront will make inclusivity the new normal.
As one of the critical race theory authors Derrick Bell says: “Education leads to enlightenment. Enlightenment opens the way to empathy. Empathy foreshadows reform.”
VOX Media Cafe reporter Natalie Tan is 14.