LeAan Blanco, "See. Be. Do."

Defining Critical Race Theory: Read, don’t react | See. Be. Do.

Let’s define some terms before we debate them.

  • Wednesday, September 1, 2021 9:51am
  • Opinion

The school year has arrived! I am overjoyed that we are beginning in the classroom. My children may have a different perspective, hahaha. As a parent I am on a journey of listening to understand and not jumping to judgements or assumptions. My attempt is to adopt this listening in every area of my life. I am asking that you do the same. Listen, read, and hear me out before casting judgement or inciting assumptions of where I stand.

I am highly disappointed in how social media, news, and other sources have misled, misinterpreted, and miscommunicated the law that was passed this past April by the state legislature. The engrossed substitute Senate Bill 5044 is “an act relating to equity, cultural competency, and dismantling institutional racism in the public school system.” (https://tinyurl.com/4uaf7kxx)

This act does not mention any implementation of Critical Race Theory or CRT curriculum, now nor in the future. If your debate is that this is the first attempt to begin pushing Critical Race Theory frameworks into the public school system, that is an acceptable dialogue to begin with. But before we start a discussion, let me first define some terms. As an educator, it is important to have shared understanding in order to embark on a productive dialogue.

Critical: Merriam-Webster defines critical as exercising or involving careful judgment or judicious evaluation. In other terms, using critical thinking skills – which includes readings and scholarly emendations (edits).

Race: Merriam-Webster defines race as any one of the groups that humans are often divided into based on physical traits regarded as common among people of shared ancestry.

Theory: Merriam-Webster defines theory as a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena (an observable fact or event).

After reading several different books and articles and listening to speakers who are for and against CRT, I found a somewhat-objective definition of Critical Race Theory. The book “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” by Richard Delgado, Jean Stefancic and Angela Harris defines CRT as a movement of collective activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The authors introduce the early origins of CRT and its relationship to previous social and political movements.

I have not finished the book. I plan on taking it day by day. What I have learned so far is that there are facets of CRT that I can align with and there are other facets that cause me to pause and ask questions. This is the art of education and being self-aware.

All together, here’s what I understand CRT to be (as taken from a Facebook post I made last July about the topic) and how it relates to the Enumclaw School District:

What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)?

Critical Race Theory comes from 1970s academia when legal scholars — including the late civil rights activist and Harvard Law School professor Derrick Bell — coined the phrase as a way to describe how embedded racism affects America’s legal and social systems. It is a decades-old academic concept that seeks to explain why there are racial disparities in our country.

CRT is a framework that examines how systems, policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism. It is called Critical Race Theory because it asks you to look critically at systems to better understand the origins of racial inequities. This knowledge can then be used to mitigate and stem the inequities at the root cause (ie. the system, policy or law).

What is the Enumclaw School District training and teaching? According to an F.A.Q. by the district:

■ We continue to provide training to ESD Staff on topics of Cultural Competency, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

■ We continue to provide additional “teaching tools” for teachers to support and teach ALL students.

■ We are examining our system and policies to ensure equitable impact for all students and staff.

■ Our equity work is not about “forcing into stereotypes of oppressed vs oppressor” or having individuals “feel ashamed of who they are or guilty for being a certain race”. It is about creating SAFE LEARNING SPACES for ALL.

■ The goal of our equity work is not to put up obstacles or to make people feel guilty about who they are. It is about creating a culture that is safe and welcoming to all. It is about allowing everyone to show up as themselves, be respected for it, and have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Despite all my research into and thoughts on CRT, I am not an expert, nor do I anticipate ever becoming an expert on the topic. My opinion in regard to CRT is that I will do the work to learn about CRT and not rely on other opinions, news outlets, or social media to define CRT for me.

I choose to arrive at my own convictions and ask that others respect this. I will also respect and honor that my convictions will not be your convictions. We can agree to disagree. I encourage my children, students, and family to do the same.

What I can for certain say is that CRT is complex. Since the early conception of CRT, there have been segmented “spin off” movements. I feel strongly that as a society, we have let social media, news media outlets, and other people’s opinions conflate CRT with equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts; such as ESSB 5044.

The truth is that while I see the intersectionality of both movements, each is distinct in its own way. I encourage you to read, research, and educate yourself on these topics before projecting assumptions and theories that can and will cause division and not unity.

At the depth of this conversation of Critical Race Theory versus the implementation of diversity, equity, and inclusion practices into our public-school institutions, the root that continues to grow is division and not unity. This division is not centered around the theories or the practices of creating “safe” or “brave” spaces for all.The division is a heart issue. It is personal.

When it is personal, it becomes difficult to be responsive to a conversation, a theory, a practice, or a movement. Most of the time these conversations are so deeply wounding or unhealed that immediate defense is projected. This limits the ability to practice self-awareness, open-mindedness, and grace for others.

I share this from my own experiences. I am a reactionary person and have learned to practice self-awareness to better understand the “why” behind my reaction. This has allowed me the opportunity to hear others. See others. To create bonds regardless.

Being self-aware is a new skill I am learning and I hope that others will lean in and learn as well. It is not easy to sit and actively listen (not to respond) when your blood is boiling, your heart is racing, and your pulse is palpating so violently that you can see it through your skin.

Let’s learn to pause, breathe, read, and then be responsive. Be kind to each other, regardless.

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Richard Elfers is a columnist, a former Enumclaw City Council member and a Green River College professor.
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