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Anti-racist is not anti-American

by Jill Macchiaverna, preservice teacher and graduate student

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A Friday before a long weekend is a great time to issue a news release as quietly as possible. On September 4, 2020, we saw such a news release from the White House. “SUBJECT: Training in the Federal Government.”

The two-page memo instructs the heads of executive departments and agencies to root out any programs that train federal employees on “critical race theory” or “white privilege.” The author of the memo, Russell Vought, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, calls the training “divisive,” “un-American propaganda,” even “anti-American.” This is ironic because the training is actually anti-racist. Diversity training is designed to teach equity and inclusion to America’s federal employees, where governments have spent the last century dividing the population along red lines.

What is “critical race theory?”

Short version: critical race theory examines where inequity exists and why, considering race and racism as central issues.

Long version from Purdue, “Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is a theoretical and interpretive mode that examines the appearance of race and racism across dominant cultural modes of expression. In adopting this approach, CRT scholars attempt to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they are able to represent themselves to counter prejudice.”

What is “White privilege?” And why did you capitalize “White?”

You’ll start seeing White capitalized more often because we’re becoming more aware of it as a race and culture that is distinct, rather than the default. White privilege does not mean that White people never struggle. No one is entitled to a pain-free existence. White privilege means White people have access to an abundance of tangible and intangible support with which non-White people are not graced. (Tangible: stable housing. Intangible: confidence in authority figures to protect citizens.)

What is “American?”

This one’s up to you. I don’t think we’ve had a focused national direction since the Space Race. That was an epic time for the U.S., but it also excluded a lot of Americans. I would love for the United States to be known globally for having an incredible public education system that turns out compassionate and engaged citizens. Until then, I’m hoping we can at least agree that part of being American is recognizing the humanity and dignity of all of our people.

It’s awkward to talk about race, but it can be done respectfully. It’s painful to think about racist events and policies here, past or present. We can’t be afraid of that pain. Be willing to talk about big opportunities like diversity, equity, and inclusion to make that our future. We have to be able to figure out what’s working and what’s hurting people, because a system can’t be working if it’s also hurting people.

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