This Old Deep South White Christian Reflects on How To Teach Both Sides of Critical Race Theory

How studying Critical Race Theory can lead us to a greater empathy and love for our black neighbors.

Both concerned parents and activists who have no children have been flooding school board meetings across the country yelling and threatening each other over critical race theory and how our teachers teach our children American History. What should we teach our students about slavery, abolition, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Jim Crow Redemptionist era and the Civil Rights movement? Do we teach our white children that Black Lives Really Do Matter? And I would like to remind our gentle listeners that Black Lives Matter is more of a movement than an organization, and that Critical Race Theory has nothing to do with communism.

This is the YouTube video for this topic: https://youtu.be/lAa_jqL3S7I

My story is I graduated from high school in 1975, and I took the advanced history classes, and I can tell you that I was ignorant of the truly ugly Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow history of this country. Not only was I ignorant of this history, I can share with you the passages in Doris Kearns’ book on FDR and Eleanor that opened mine eyes to the true nature of the Civil Rights struggles.

KRISTALLNACHT AND THE ANTI-LYNCHING BILL

The Nazis on the night of the Kristallnacht, or night of broken glass, greatly increased their persecution of the Jews by burning, looting, and vandalizing Jewish businesses, synagogues, and residences, and soon after sent most Jews to their deaths in the concentration death and work camps. This same type of violence had been practiced in the Deep South by the KKK and other racist terrorists, likely tens of thousands of Negroes had been lynched in the years since the end of the Civil War in the Deep South and mid-West.

Mine eyes were opened when I first read about the history of the defeat of the anti-lynching bill in 1938. Eleanor Roosevelt and the black leaders were pushing FDR and Congress to pass the anti-lynching bill when the entire world was witnessing the horrors of the Nazi persecutions of the Jews.

FDR was sympathetic, he explained to a colleague that “the southerners by reason of the seniority rule in Congress are chairmen of the key Congressional committees. If I come out for the anti-lynching bill, they will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can’t take that risk.” So, FDR had a choice, he could fight the Nazis, or he could fight lynching, but he could not do both. And, defeating the Nazis was an attainable goal.

Eleanor persisted in public speeches and her newspaper column in support of the anti-lynching campaign, constantly badgering her husband. Once she asked FDR, “Do you mind if I say what I think?” FDR replied, “You can say anything you like. I can always say, ‘Well, that is my wife; I can’t do anything about her.’” This supposed conflict was a good political way to push for civil rights without unduly antagonizing the powerful Deep South Senators and Congressmen.[1]

CRITICAL RACE THEORY

Many white protestors at School Board meetings have only a vague notion of what Critical Race Theory means, other than somehow it is a communist plot by blacks, or that it intends to make white children feel guilty about themselves or their country, in essence they want teachers to teach their white children some variation of the Lost Cause myth, that the Civil War was not caused by slavery, that the Civil War was fought for states’ rights, and that the North should not have invaded the South by arms.

Now I must admit I have never had any personal experience being a black person, because, well, I am not black, and never will be, but I can relate that when my group discussed this video script, one black lady related that her daughter’s white teacher taught her class that blacks were somehow inferior to whites. So literally our educators have a stark choice:

Do we wish to make our black children feel inferior, or do we wish to make our white children feel guilty? Personally, I do not feel guilty for the historical actions of whites a hundred years ago, particularly since my grandparents all came over on a ship from Norway and Sweden, and I don’t believe that we should go out of our way to make our white students feel guilty, but just as the Jews never want us to forget the Holocaust, we should never forget our own ugly history of the KKK night riders and lynchings, so this ugly history does not repeat itself.

What is Critical Race Theory? What is the academic definition?

What is the perceived definition as most people understand it?

Is Civil Race Theory simply something that makes their white schoolchildren feel guilty and bad because they belong to the white race, who oppress blacks?

DR WIKIPEDIA’S DEFINITION OF CRITICAL RACE THEORY

“Critical race theory is a cross-disciplinary intellectual movement that began in the United States in the post-civil rights era as 1960s landmark civil rights laws were being eroded and schools were being re-segregated.“

“The liberal notion of value-neutral U.S. laws had a significant political role in maintaining a racially unjust social order, where formally color-blind laws continue to have racially discriminatory outcomes.“

In other words, we are not truly color blind, we can either strive not to discriminate, or we can pretend that  discrimination is not an issue.

“Critical race theory is a cross-disciplinary intellectual movement that began in the United States in the post-civil rights era as 1960s landmark civil rights laws were being eroded and schools were being re-segregated.“

“The liberal notion of value-neutral U.S. laws had a significant political role in maintaining a racially unjust social order, where formally color-blind laws continue to have racially discriminatory outcomes.“

In other words, we are not truly color blind, we can either strive not to discriminate, or we can pretend that  discrimination is not an issue.

The only situation I have encountered where there is no discrimination is when a friend of mine tried out for the symphony orchestra, their auditions are performed behind a curtain, so they are only judged on how beautifully they play their instruments, not on their appearance, nor whether they are beautiful themselves.

Psychologists have confirmed that, indeed, beautiful and attractive people have more self confidence and generally are more successful in both their careers and their lives. Critical Race Theory, to an extant, simply confirms this ugly truth of life.

We can see this as we continue pondering Dr Wikipedia’s explanation:

“One tenet of CRT is that racism and disparate racial outcomes are the result of complex, changing, and often subtle social and institutional dynamics, rather than explicit and intentional prejudices of individuals.” In other words, relationships are complicated.

“A key CRT concept is intersectionality: how differences in equality and identity are affected by interconnections of race, class, gender and disability.” In other words, CRT is actually complicated.

“Academic critics of CRT argue that it is based on storytelling instead of evidence and reason, rejects the concepts of truth and merit, and opposes liberalism.” In other words, critics say CRT is reverse racism.[2]

The Brookings Institute says this: “Fox News has mentioned “critical race theory” 1,300 times in less than four months. Why? Because critical race theory (CRT) has become a new boogie man for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present.”

“To understand why CRT has become such a flash point in the culture, it is important to understand what it is and what it is not. Opponents fear that CRT admonishes all white people for being oppressors while classifying all Black people as hopelessly oppressed victims.[3]

According to Fox News, What exactly is critical race theory? The answer to that question appears to have eluded many.

Often compared by critics to actual racism, CRT is a school of thought that generally focuses on how power structures and institutions impact racial minorities. Race, according to this view, is a relatively recent social construct that is weaponized by dominant groups to oppress others.

Certain buzzwords like “systemic racism” or “implicit bias” have emerged in school districts’ diversity statements, corporate trainings, educational materials, and government agencies. Part of the problem in defining CRT is its contours are so vague.

That vagueness has played out nationwide, with institutions disputing constituents’ claims that they’re implementing CRT.

In the fallout of mass confusion, many have focused their criticism on what they say CRT manifests — divisive ideas about race, collective guilt for dominant groups, and assigning racial significance to seemingly neutral concepts.

Critics, however, say it’s a form of “neo-racism” that’s ripping apart society. That’s why conservative activists have pursued a legal strategy of challenging CRT-based trainings through civil rights lawsuits.

“Critical race theory is a grave threat to the American way of life,” Rufo said in announcing a legal coalition in January. “It divides Americans by race and traffics in the pernicious concepts of race essentialism, racial stereotyping, and race-based segregation—all under a false pursuit of ‘social justice.’”

He continued: “Critical race theory training programs have become commonplace in academia, government, and corporate life, where they have sought to advance the ideology through cult-like indoctrination, intimidation, and harassment.”[4]

Critical Race Theory, whatever it is, is not supposed to be taught to our white schoolchildren, by force of law in many former Confederate and Republican states. The only practical way to satisfy the Fox News conservative crowd is to essentially teach a version of history that is equivalent to the Lost Cause myth, which may the only way to “teach both sides” in FoxSpeak.

LOST CAUSE MYTH OF THE CONFEDERACY

These are the commonly accepted tenets of the Lost Cause:

  • Civil War was fought for states’ rights fought against the Northern aggressors.
  • Slaves were happy and well-treated by their masters.
  • The Civil War was not fought over slavery.
  • The cause of the Confederacy was just, heroic, and chivalric, the KKK were like knights in shining armor.
  • Northern carpet-baggers, Southern scalawags, and ignorant negroes took advantage of white southerners.
  • The chivalric night riders of the KKK sought to protect and preserve the chastity of white womanhood.
  • Lynching was justified as necessary to protect white womanhood.

Many of the racial tropes of the Jim Crow system were reinforced in the 1915 move, Birth of a Nation. The first iteration of the KKK had been closed down by the federal troops during Reconstruction, this film led to the rebirth of the KKK. This movie includes many of the racial tropes of the period: that blacks who were elected to the state legislatures during Reconstruction were ignorant. These black legislators were prone to manipulation by Northern carpetbaggers and Southern scalawags, shouting and carousing and putting their feet on their desks and, worst of all, eating fried chicken during chaotic legislative sessions. We also see the racial tropes of the Ivanhoe-like chivalric (k)night riders of the KKK protecting Southern womanhood from the ravages of raging bug-eyed black stallions.

The Birth of a Nation was both an apologetically racist movie, shocking many even in the prewar times in 1915, leading to many communities banning this film from their local theaters, and it was also a technologically groundbreaking film in the history of film making. This movie was the longest movies of the time by a long shot, running for a full three hours, using revolutionary filming techniques which you can read about in Roger Ebert’s review of this historical film.[5]

THE DUNNING SCHOOL’S VIEW OF CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION

Are you a teacher looking for a way to say you are teaching both sides? Perhaps you will be allowed to simply teach which are the different schools of historical interpretation. Historians often observe that history is written by the winning side of the war.  The American Civil War was an exception, the Civil War was the rare conflict where the Confederacy, whose armies were defeated, stubbornly insisted on writing the history of the rebellion not as a struggle to defend slavery, but as a great Lost Cause, a chivalric struggle for states’ rights.

What did the American history books teach in the decades following the Civil War and Reconstruction? Eric Foner summarizes the predominant views of William Dunning, or the Dunning School, a view which takes the side of the Confederacy:

“When the Civil War ended, the white South genuinely accepted the reality of military defeat, it stood ready to do justice to the emancipated slaves, and desired above all a quick reintegration into the fabric of national life.” Presidents Lincoln, then Johnson, attempted to carry out a magnanimous policy of Presidential Reconstruction. “Motivated by an irrational hatred of Southern ‘rebels’ and the desire to consolidate their party’s national ascendancy, the Radical Republicans in 1867 swept aside the Southern governments Johnson had established and fastened black suffrage upon the defeated South. Then followed the sordid period of Radical Reconstruction, an era of corruption by unscrupulous ‘carpetbaggers’ from the North, unprincipled Southern white ‘scalawags,’ and ignorant black freedmen. After much needless suffering, the South’s white community banded together to overthrow these governments and restore ‘home rule’ (a euphemism for white supremacy).” Reconstruction was seen by the adherents to the Dunning School as the “darkest page in the sage of American history.”

A central tenet of the Dunning School view of history was the conviction of “negro incapacity.” “The childlike blacks, the Dunning scholars insisted, were unprepared for freedom and incapable of properly exercising the political rights Northerners had thrust upon them.”[6]

WEB DUBOIS’ REVISIONIST VIEWS: BLACK RECONSTRUCTION

The historian and black activist, WEB Dubois, viewed the Dunning School as promoting a Southern white fairy tale, but more dangerously, a narrative that encouraged racial discrimination and supported White Supremacy.  To combat this, WEB Dubois published the book Black Reconstruction in 1935, and was preceded by several articles in the Atlantic magazine. Black Reconstruction earned excellent reviews from the New York Times, but it was rejected and ridiculed by the segregationist Southern historians of the Dunning School. In their view, the Reconstruction Era was a dark and corrupt era.  WEB Dubois, who earned his PhD from Harvard, countered with his history of the Civil War and Reconstruction from 1860 to 1880, seeking to show that, in contrast, the years when blacks were guaranteed their civil rights and suffrage as a bright era in American history, an era of democracy and great achievement. The thought that a black man could write a scholarly work was seen as ludicrous by Southern historians, and this book was virtually ignored until the 1960’s Civil Rights movement.

Our YouTube video discusses some excerpts from our video and blog on WEB Dubois’ book, Black Reconstruction:
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/web-dubois-souls-of-black-folk-fighting-for-dignity/
https://youtu.be/x212gx1lNIA

TEACHING BOTH SIDES: BOOKER T WASHINGTON V WEB DUBOIS

If you want to examine black history in another BOTH SIDES approach, you can compare and contrast the life stories of the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” educator Booker T Washington and the activist WEB Dubois, cofounder of the NAACP. IMHO, to truly understand black history, you need to study the writings of both these black leaders.

Up to the current day, black history can be seen as the tension between accommodating black leaders like Booker T Washington, who believe blacks should not complain but rather work harder and smarter, and black activists like WEB Dubois and Frederick Douglass who encourage blacks to speak up and demand their civil rights.

To review this evolution of the civil rights struggle, let us review these prominent black leaders from these three generations of black leaders.

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1818. He escaped to freedom and was a prominent abolitionist orator, writer, and activist, always pushing for greater civil rights for blacks, dying in 1895 at the ripe old age of 78.

Booker T Washington was also born a slave in 1856 and was emancipated at the end of the Civil War. He learned to read and write, attended college, and founded the Tuskegee Institute. He lived through the darkest days of Jim Crow racism where lynchings were at their peak, he promoted the values of trade education for blacks so they could realistically get a job that would not threaten whites. As his school prospered, he spent more and more time fundraising from rich white businessmen like the Rockefellers and the Carnegies, so he did not push hard for civil rights, although he tactfully supported black suffrage and opposed lynchings. Booker died in 1915, 95 years young.

This is our video and blog on Booker T Washington:
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/up-from-slavery-autobiography-of-booker-t-washington/
https://youtu.be/yxDnJ6sBoJc

WEB Dubois was born a free man during the Reconstruction years in 1868 in Massachusetts, so he did not suffer extreme discrimination until he attended college in the Deep South. He became a college professor, was the first black to earn PhD at Harvard University, and was part of the talented Tenth movement, which encouraged a classical liberal education for black leaders. He was a cofounder of the NAACP, and was a vigorous civil rights activist. Like Booker, WEB Dubois was 95 when he died in 1963. His autobiography and biography is on our bookshelf, we plan to do this videos sometime in 2022.

WEB Dubois and Booker T Washington were frenemies, they were enemies in public, the accommodationist battling the activist, but were also friends in private. Booker T Washington actually helped fund the NAACP, but he had to be careful, if his wealthy white donors saw him as a civil rights activist, the fear was that they would then cease to donate to the black universities that had to be seen as institutions that would educate a docile black workforce.

It should not be surprising that blacks and liberals prefer the activist approach of WEB Dubois, while whites and conservatives prefer the conciliatory approach of Booker T Washington. But the reality is both approaches are the correct approach depending on the situation, and to a certain extent the approach selected is personal preference. Sometimes in the long run it would be best for a black worker to work hard and prove themselves, but on the other hand, sometimes an activist approach is needed for blacks to be even given a chance. For example, during the early civil rights era during World War II, there were horror stories of educated blacks with PhD’s were only able to find janitorial jobs.

Another BOTH SIDES discussion is how the evangelical church avoids discussions of civil rights by emphasizing personal salvation, since the end is near, we do not need to worry about reforming society, and that causes too much trouble anyway.

AMERICAN EVANGELICALS AND CIVIL RIGHTS

This is another both sides discussion, discussed in this video and blog:
American Evangelicals, Civil Rights, and Republican Politics
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/american-evangelicals-civil-rights-and-republican-politics/
https://youtu.be/XekOz29oWL0

UNCLE TOM’S CABIN AND AUNT PHILLIS’ CABIN

We have another BOTH SIDES discussion about slavery in the antebellum South. One of the many sparks that helped ignite the Civil War was the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The story is when Lincoln met her, he remarked, This is the little lady who started this awful war.

This novel was a runaway best seller, and other Southern authors countered with other novels that sought to sugar-coat slavery, the most successful was Aunt Phillis’ Cabin. We plan a video in 2022 that compares these two novels, and also looks at a companion book Harriet wrote that provided the sources she used to construct her characters.

SLAVERY IN THE ANCIENT AND MODERN WORLDS

We have yet another BOTH SIDES discussion about slavery in the ancient world and modern world. One the strong defenses by slaveowners before the Civil War was that the Bible tolerated slavery, which indeed it did. This is an interesting topic which we discussed in our two videos on slavery in the ancient world, and how the Church Fathers and the Church, over time, became less approving of slavery. There were differences of opinion between the church fathers and moral philosophers, Aristotle strongly supported slavery, stating that slaves were slaves by nature, while Seneca insisted that he treated his slaves like they were equals, even allowing them to dine at the family table.

We also argue that slaves were the employees of the ancient world. This broadens the definition of slavery to include what we would today call “wage slaves,” which are people earning a wage on which it is impossible to live with dignity. There were many slaves in the ancient world who were chattel slaves, who could be bought and sold like livestock, but as the ready supply of slaves diminished after Rome lost power, the system of serfdom evolved where the serfs were tied to the land on which they were born and earned very little, but were not the property of their lords.

This looser definition is appealing and beneficial because it suggests that today’s minimum wage employees are really slaves with none of the securities middle class employees enjoy.

These discussions, and also a description of the types of slaves, are from these videos and blogs:
Slaves in the Ancient World, Blog 1, Were Slaves the Employees of the Ancient World?
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/slaves-in-the-ancient-world-blog-1-were-slaves-the-employees-of-the-ancient-world/
Slaves in Ancient Greece and Rome, Blog 2
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/slaves-in-ancient-greece-and-rome-blog-2/
https://youtu.be/O67cmVRvBtA
Teachings about Slavery in the Bible and by the Early Church Fathers
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/teachings-about-slavery-in-the-bible-and-by-the-early-church-fathers/
https://youtu.be/poyvJajCXnE

The companion video and blog on Critical Race Theory is:
Critical Race Theory: Reviewing the 1619 Project and Beloved
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/critical-race-theory-reviewing-the-1619-project-and-beloved/
https://youtu.be/JRdnB0lqN5o

[1] Doris Kearns, No Ordinary Time, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Home Front in World War II (New York: Touchtone Book, Simon and Schuster, 1994), pp. 163-165.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_race_theory

[3] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory/

[4] https://www.foxnews.com/us/what-is-critical-race-theory

[5] https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-birth-of-a-nation-1915

[6] Eric Foner, Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (New York: Harper Perennial, 1988, 2014), Preface, pp. xvii – xviii.

About Bruce Strom 168 Articles
I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. I made the mistake of reading works written by Luther, he has a bad habit of writing seemingly brilliant theology, but then every few pages he stops and calls the Pope often very vulgar names, what sort of Christian does that? Currently I am a seeker, studying church history and the writings of the Church Fathers. I am involved in the Catholic divorce ministries in our diocese, and have finished the diocese two-year Catholic Lay Ministry program. Also I took a year of Orthodox off-campus seminary courses. This blog explores the beauty of the Early Church and the writings and history of the Church through the centuries. I am a member of a faith community, for as St Augustine notes in his Confessions, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you worship God in the walls of the Church, unless persecution prevents this. This blog is non-polemical, so I really would rather not reveal my denomination here.

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