August 18, 2021 (RNS) – August was the fourth anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white rulers protested the removal of a monument to Confederate generals starting a rebellion that ended in the death of Heather Heyer.
In four years, many things have certainly changed: Donald Trump, whose rhetoric that encouraged race and religion that day helped stir up passions, is not on duty. City statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were torn down in July.
But people continue to gather in public to present the same spectrum of thought, built on the same selective facts, as the fragile white Christians who gathered in Charlottesville in 2017 and those who stormed the U.S. Capitol in 2021. And this time, you do it all over the country. I’m talking about adults who gather at school board meetings to protect children from the produced crisis of “critical race theory”.
Seeing white supremacy only in the singing of neo-Nazis or tiki torch brigades means recognizing only extremes. Too many white Christian Americans who would never wear a white hoodie or flutter under the Confederate flag resisted racial literacy.
The particular nationalism that is flourishing today connects Americanism with Christianity. It needs a historical fact — the dominance of Christianity in the formation of U.S. law and culture — and treats it as a divine ordination.
As I have shown in my book “White Christian Privilege,” Western ideologies of racial differences have already emerged from religious differences in Europe and the “Doctrine of Discovery,” papal support for the colonization of “non-Christian” countries in Africa, Asia, and Americas. Brought to these shores, Christianity became key to building white supremacy.
Whiteness and Christianity run through American history like two sides of a wide ribbon. Each of them creates the meaning of the other, intersecting in individuals, institutions and ideologies. Whichever side of the tape we see – the race when one man bombs the Black Church, the religion when another opens fire on a Sikh gurdwar – there is another side. Enslaved blacks, Native Americans, Chinese “coolies” and others suffered not only because of their color, but also because they were “pagans.”
Ironically, most white Christian nationalists cannot see the privilege they have – and that is why they feel as if they are under attack today. When your privilege is as ubiquitous as air, interrogation feels like you’re choking. The current calculation of racial and social justice feels like an attack on America because they only see themselves in American greatness.
Their resistance to diversity and inclusion, the Black Lives Matter movement, and critical race theory elevates American excellence to say, “We are just what we are, they will only save us, and if you are not this, you will not belong. ”
Let’s clarify a few things about critical race theory. First, it is a methodology, not an ideology. It is a way of approaching the law that says: Instead of looking at just the letter of the law, we need to look at the impact of the law.
The CRT shows us that, in the way they were written and enforced, our laws did not use or protect everyone in the same way. CRT scientists show that many laws are not race-neutral. Feminists have shown that they are not gender neutral. I have shown that they are not faith-neutral.
One criticism of the CRT scholarship is that it is “activist” – it aims not only to diagnose racial bias in the law, but also to correct it. Of course there is. Cancer researchers do not try to understand cancer in the abstract; they want to cure it. Disasterologists not only want to identify mistakes from the past in response to a crisis, but to prevent the recurrence of the same mistakes. CRT is not more active than those or many other areas of study.
More importantly, so-called opponents of the CRT do not actually oppose the CRT. Why? Because K-12 schools do not teach critical race theory. What some are teaching or trying to teach is racial literacy: helping students gain skills to build a fairer and more just society.
I have been in this business for over 20 years; now, for the first time, it feels like a battle and I am on the front lines. My race, my religion, my name and the title of my latest book make me a target. I received death threats. Angry parents write about me in the local media – parents who have never met me but are sure I want to ruin their children’s education and love of country. So I explain again and again what I’m doing.
Anti-bias education is multiple. It starts with teachers and helps them recognize the prejudices and privileges they bring to the classroom – about religion, race, sexual orientation, class and gender – and how their own identities shape their interaction with students. It also includes theories and information that were probably not part of teacher K-12 or undergraduate studies. None of this is emotionally neutral. I am used to resistance, criticism and people who do not like the information that is presented.
After that personal work, we are ready to review the curriculum. That means teaching the real history of the United States: good, bad and ugly. This means bringing the voices of religious minorities and women into the work and recognizing brilliant literature that transcends the “canon” of dead whites.
This research and presentation of new material threatens Christian nationalists because some new information, when accurately presented, is less than flattering to whites and Christians, government and the church. Because they do not know this information, they believe it is false.
Teachers trained to recognize and avoid bias make better decisions about how to present material. Training changes the way they interact with students. Take my story: As a little brown Hindu girl who grew up in this country, I didn’t fit in. The students in the class were constantly making fun of my food, my name, and my family for “praying to the cows”. My teachers did nothing to stop them.
In the meantime, I did not see any stories or figures in the curriculum that would reflect my life. One day, my English teacher in high school asked us to give examples of comparisons and metaphors from the parable of the Good Samaritan. I had no idea what he was talking about – but clearly I should have.
Social justice education would prepare my teachers for better results than me and my sisters and a handful of other Indian children in our community. Maybe it was an antidote to harassment and hatred. At best, it could have prepared me and my classmates to build a fairer welcoming society.
Most school districts want to do the right thing for children. We see that in the southern school districts that defy the attempts of the governor in the desire for death to ban the mandates of the masks. I see this in school districts where I train teachers and administrators.
Schools try to do the right thing by making African American history more accurate, ensuring that Asian American history is included, or that students read Latin American writers. Teachers of science and mathematics try to introduce questions of representation and how all kinds of “hidden figures” have helped to develop scientific principles; they also show how to use science and mathematics as a way to build a society that is fairer and more just for all.
This is a call to action. Whether you have children in the school system or not, if you believe in racial and social justice, you must use your voice this fall.
Teachers and administrators are preparing for an “anti-CRT” attack that is chasing them like a tsunami wave.
Doing the right thing is harder when 50 people yell at you to do the wrong thing. Some school districts will take the easy path and abandon or give up important anti-bias work because of anti-CRT bullies. Schools need to see and hear people on the other side – people who say that basic and accurate education is important, that all kinds of voices have value, and that true patriotism views difficult, shameful parts of American history as a lesson in how we must be better to each other.
If you support these things, you need to be out this fall. It is easy to skip a meeting or just send an e-mail that supports the social justice curriculum. But anti-anti will come into force. You have to do the same.
The battle over “CRT” in schools from 12 to 12 years of age may be fictional, but it will have very real and lasting consequences. An attack on the fight against bias, education on social justice is a fight over what kind of America we will have. Lean to the side.
Dr. Khyati Y. Joshi is a scholar and thinker on racial issues, religion, and immigration in the United States and co-founder of the Institute for the Teaching of Diversity and Social Justice (IDSJ). This column is produced by the Religion News Service with the support of the Guru Krupa Foundation.