Nashville, TN–An old drama with a new cast, Jim Crow 2.0 is performing across the nation, and Tennessee has joined the ranks of Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, South Dakota, West Virginia and Arizona as one of the leading characters. Along with voter suppression efforts in many states, there is now a rampant, diabolical movement that seeks to support the script that “America is not a racist country.”
This whitewashed narrative attempts to erase facts from American history by eliminating the study and use of materials like the Pulitzer Prize winning 1619 Project and training about bias, white privilege, white supremacy, and gender discrimination. Plotting this narrative are legislators setting limits on public school curricula, as demonstrated through the recent passage of Tennessee legislation SB623/HB508, which will withhold school funding from schools that teach students about systemic racism. The accompanying subplot–usually couched in the kind of frenzied language that will win over new detractors–is condemnation of any methodology that helps people think critically about racial reality in America, gender bias, discrimination, white supremacy and multi-cultural studies.
This obviously regressive and destructive legislation will have a negative impact on Tennessee education. We are already near the bottom in a number of different national rankings, whether in terms of funding, performance, or long-term effects. (US News & World Report ranks 35th out of 50; according to WalletHub, Tennessee has the eighth worst educated population in the United States.) Most sources agree that in the future students need skills that prepare them to face these challenges:
1. Live harmoniously in multicultural communities.
2. Thrive in a changing labor market.
3. Use media platforms effectively and responsibly.
4. Take action for collective well-being and sustainable development.
By censoring the scope of education about race and other important issues, legislators put Tennessee students at an even greater risk of falling behind academically. They also set students up to fail as globally competent critical thinkers. Educators teaching revisionist history will not have opportunities to teach the skills necessary to raise up future Tennessee leaders who can dismantle systemic racism and make our state and country more equitable.
Tennessee legislators, at the very end of the annual legislative session, attempted to ban the teaching of “Critical Race Theory.” There was no definition of this concept included in the legislation; there was no debate about the legislation prior to it passage; and the only concrete proposal from the legislation was the threat of withholding funds from schools that “teach” the theory–although there are no examples of any school having done so or planning to do so to date. Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a relatively esoteric academic concept that has existed for decades. It is complex, multi-faceted, and abstract. But, as is often the case, some strategists have emblazoned their Jim Crow 2.0 fliers with the phrase, insisting that it teaches hatred of America. As the plot of their drama promises, they are ready to save the country, preserve our national values, and protect innocent children from hearing anything that challenges their version of history.
Secondly, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, why oppose critical race “theory” if it demonstrably aligns with the Biblical principles that our governor and the CRT-opposing legislators claim to uphold? The New Testament mandate to “Make an effort to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker, who doesn’t need to be ashamed but is one who interprets the message of truth correctly” (2 Timothy 2:15 CEB) is most certainly applicable here.
With a state-mandated curriculum that omits the truth about race and systemic oppression, the legislation exemplifies the very haughty privilege that CRT-opponents deny and is scripturally abhorrent. Let Proverbs 6:16-19 serve as a reminder that:
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
This legislation makes the case of why the basic premise of CRT should actually be considered and included in our schools’ curricula. Critical Race Theory, which grew out of Critical Legal Theory, is a way of looking at the law and our system of jurisprudence from the perspective of people of color and of those who as former Harvard Law Professor Derrick Bell put it, are “faces at the bottom of the well.” CRT provides another lens through which to look at the problem. The lens is not the problem.
During this time between legislative sessions, Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) is looking towards a “Season of Conscience” in which we educate ourselves and the wider community around this issue, work with legislators to help them understand the implications of their actions and be prepared to greet the next legislative session determined to undo this atrocity. This charade masquerading as altruistic legislation hides racist intent.
Join NOAH as we work to lower the curtain on Jim Crow 2.0.
Rev. Edward Thompson, President of NOAH
Rev. Herbert Lester, Personnel Committee Chair at NOAH
Liza Ramage, Chair of NOAH Education Task Force