The nation’s second-largest teachers union is placing itself at the center of the national debate around critical race theory this week — taking aim at GOP opposition to it while hosting one of its most prominent advocates, who referred to former President Donald Trump as racist.
At day two of the American Federation of Teachers’ TEACH 2021 conference Wednesday, author and prominent critical race theory advocate Ibram X. Kendi and AFT president Randi Weingarten defended the academic theory while going on offense against CRT opponents.
Weingarten, who spoke first, denied that critical race theory was being taught to American students while vowing to stick up for any educator’s right to teach it.
“Let’s be clear: Critical race theory is not taught in elementary schools or high schools. It’s a method of examination taught in law school and college that helps analyze whether systemic racism exists — and, in particular, whether it has an effect on law and public policy,” she told the virtual audience.
“But culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as CRT to try to make it toxic.”
Weingarten offered a direct dig at the GOP, saying, “There are legislators, mostly from the Republican Party, who are currently bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching kids honest history.”
“Look, maybe they are just trying to raise the temperature on race relations because of the next election,” she continued. “But whatever it is, it’s not good right now.”
Critical race theory dictates that racism is an underlying dynamic of all human interaction and views the human experience as a constant power struggle between the races, often with a focus on “white privilege.”
Critics have advocated against including it in students’ curriculum, with many arguing it teaches children to view each other based on race. Opponents have also pointed to the fact that the theory is based in Marxism as an area of concern.
At the same conference session, Kendi, who authored the book “How to Be an Antiracist,” told the audience that denying being racist is actually racist, “like Donald Trump.”
“In studying the history of racism, even studying the history of times in which people were being racist, what I found was a consistent, sort of, narrative was just denial, was, was people just denying the ways in which they were being racist, their racist policies, their racist ideas,” Kendi explained, going on to note that people across the ideological spectrum go out of their way to make it known that they are not racist.
“I recognized that it was important to be vulnerable, to be antiracist,” he continued. “Like to be antiracist, is to admit the times which we’re being racist. To be racist, is to constantly, consistently, deny, deny, deny, like Donald Trump.”
Asked about being made into a controversial figure, which the moderator blamed solely on right-wing media, Kendi defended his work, explaining that the impacts of racism were far more harmful to children than adults.
“Apparently it’s a controversial idea to say you’re indoctrinating children when you claim that racism doesn’t exist in a society of widespread racial disparities and inequities,” the Boston University humanities professor argued.
“If you’re a child that’s 10 years old and you see that certain racial groups have more and certain racial groups have less, you’re going to be asking why is that the case,” he added. “And to me, it is the prudent thing to do for teachers to explain that some people had less because of racial disparities, not because they are less.”