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Michelle Quist: Utah Legislature whips itself into an asinine frenzy over critical race theory

Is this a dystopian novel we’ll all finish by the end of summer and get back to real life?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) House Democrats walking off the floor as Republicans move to debate resolution on teaching critical race theory during a special session at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

I have been avoiding writing about Critical Race Theory – CRT – for over a month now, mostly because the fact that it is an issue is asinine.

But I forgot it was summer.

And while the rest of us normal folks are enjoying mask-free barbecues and splash pads and road trips and spending time with grandparents after a relentlessly morbid year, the far-right kooks — and the Utah Legislature (was that redundant?) — have whipped up their typical frenzy over another nonissue.

CRT critics have proceeded to rile up others to believe the world — and society as we know it — indeed, the innocence of our children — because isn’t it always about the children? — is spiraling into a bottomless grave of doom we won’t be able to dig ourselves out of.

Unless we ban CRT in schools.

Because that’s the American way – to ban ideas.

In fact, let’s ban anyone who doesn’t want to ban CRT – because that’s also the American way.

Like the Utah Jazz. And Donovan Mitchell. Donovan noted his interest in speaking with legislative leaders to discuss their efforts to ban CRT and the far right is ready to abandon the team. Again. Good riddance.

No mind that they can’t define CRT. Or that CRT isn’t in Utah’s curriculum.

Ban the CRT.

Three points illustrate the ridiculousness of this issue.

First, opponents aren’t even using a uniform definition of CRT.

The Utah Legislature passed a resolution (they wanted a bill, and may still try for one) to ensure the “following concepts are not included in the curriculum standards:

• that one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race;

• that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race; or

• that an individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race.”

Except that these concepts aren’t CRT and aren’t being taught in Utah schools regardless.

A dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Utah responded to the Legislature and noted that the Legislature’s three “concepts” should be shunned not because they represent CRT but because “they are demonstrably false claims grounded in ignorance of scientific and historical truths. They are in fact the central tenets of Nazism’s uncritical racial theory. But one would be hard-pressed to find these concepts asserted in any work associated with CRT.”

In other words, the Legislature doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

“More disturbingly,” the professor continued, “we have heard repeatedly that the legislators are unable to define CRT precisely when asked.” CRT “seems to have become shorthand for a cluster of anxieties about how we apply the lessons of our past to our future.”

A cluster of anxieties.

The Legislature’s feared “concepts” are a complete red herring for what others are actually using CRT to mean, and prohibit: employing equity directors, placing people in one of two groups — oppressors or the oppressed, using implicit bias tests, exploring critical consciousness, studying global competencies and human interaction, using terms like optimized education, trauma response, patriarchy, safe spaces, multiculturalism and community building. I can’t make this stuff up.

In essence, a KUER report earlier this month found that critics worry that CRT teaches “white students to feel guilty for the sins of their ancestors and students of color that they can’t escape an oppressive system.”

There is a difference between feeling guilt and feeling empathy. I trust our teachers to understand the nuance, even if the Legislature can’t.

In fact, CRT is an academic movement. It is a graduate school basis for research to examine how race has affected American life. CRT theory emerged as “an academic framework that pinpoints racism as the defining feature of the United States, shaping the country’s founding and current legal system.”

The Utah State Board of Education, reacting to the Legislature’s threats to pass a bill, recently approved new rules regarding teaching about racism in Utah schools that mirror the resolution’s prohibition on teaching certain “concepts.”

Great, our teachers can’t promote Nazism in our schools anymore. Problem solved.

When one member noted we needed to be conscious of vulnerable and marginalized students, another member shot back that we shouldn’t use the word marginalized in schools.

Is this a dystopian novel we’ll all finish by the end of summer and get back to real life?

Second, our education on race is woefully ignorant in this country. I didn’t even know what Juneteenth was until a few years ago. And few students grasp the fact that lynchings still occurred until 1950, or that racial disparities in our criminal justice system are a fact.

The sooner we admit our history, the sooner we can move on from it to better our country.

Finally, we shouldn’t be afraid of ideas. CRT is an idea, perhaps even an ideology. Just like communism, socialism, Marxism, republicanism and democracy. We teach our children about communism and they don’t walk out of school as little communists.

Teach the ugly parts. Of everything. Church. Family. State. Country. Let each person decide for themselves what to think.

“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Michelle Quist.

Michelle Quist is a Salt Lake City attorney and a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.

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