“Dad! Come quick! There’s some guy lying out in the street! There’s blood all over! I think he’s been shot!”
“Did you shoot him?”
“Of course not!”
“Well, it’s important that you not take responsibility for things that aren’t your fault. It could damage your fragile sense of self-esteem and cause you to question your worth as a human being. And we can’t have that, can we?”
“My self-esteem is just fine. Or it was until now. Holy crap, Dad. Do something!”
“No, it’s not our responsibility. We didn’t shoot this guy. Maybe the person who shot him had a really good reason. Some cultural thing we don’t understand. It is important that we not take on any undeserved feelings of guilt or adopt any toxic ideologies. Do you understand?”
“I understand that parents are really stupid and embarrassing sometimes. Fine. I’ll call 9-1-1 myself. It may already be too late, but I can’t just stand here and let some person bleed to death on my street.”
“Is that the kind of woke garbage they are teaching you in school these days? Where are my keys? I’m going to take this up with the school board.”
Knowing our culture’s history, all of it, good and bad, is a core of our responsibility, public and private. And the screeching fear of the truth that we are seeing all over the nation — most recently and embarrassingly at a hearing suffered through by members of the Utah Board of Education — is a clear and present danger to our nation.
Right-wing media and far too many Republicans are trying to distract attention from the many acts of treason that were live tweeted from the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Are hoping to again cut taxes for the rich while telling a bald-faced lie about how it is the poor and the migrant who are bankrupting us. Are making up stories about election fraud in order to justify anti-democratic voter-restriction laws in state after state.
So they have taken a previously obscure thing sometimes taught to 22-year-old law students and imagined that it is being mainlined into second-grade curricula, something called critical race theory, and blown it into something that is making a lot of people very frightened.
Despite what some Utah politicians, notably U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens, claim, critical race theory is the indisputably true notion that there is a lot of racism in our history, from the first slaves to the three-fifths claus to a century of Jim Crow to the number of unarmed Black people who seem to keep dying at the hands of white police officers. Not to mention Japanese American internment camps and the unmarked graves of children at Indian boarding schools.
We can’t really fix any of that unless we recognize that it is there. It is like the old saw about the last thing a philosopher fish might discover is the existence of water.
There may well be some starry-eyed teachers out there who have gone too far. Who have designed role-playing exercises that expect too much of young children by pushing them to imagine themselves the victim or the perpetrator of systemic racism. Really, teacher, just the facts, please.
And just the facts aren’t so bad. There’s been a lot of progress over the last century or two. It was progress we made, as Americans, of all colors, ourselves, pushed by activists here and court rulings there, but our activists and our courts, who rose out of our history. It isn’t possible to give credit for the good we’ve done unless we first recognize the evil we’ve overcome. And still have to overcome.
A saying attributed to a Black pastor, name lost to history, after emancipation, and favored by Martin Luther King, went, “Lord we ain’t what we should be and we ain’t what we gonna be, but thank God, we ain’t what we was!”
An example of the right thing to do was the resolution issued by Salt Lake City Erin Mendenhall and a unanimous City Council declaring racism a public health crisis. As demonstrated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which showed how certain neighborhoods and communities of color are getting slammed by the disease, physically and economically, much more than white folks.
One thing that resolution left out, something that gets left out a lot, is how racism ruins everything, even for the supposedly privileged class. Unless all the white people move to a colony on Mars, whites will never totally avoid the poison of racism. Effects include not only the spread of disease but also a culture that won’t fully build a First World public health system for fear that people who don’t look exactly like us will benefit from it.
Just as people who like the free market should have enough faith that our entrepreneurs are smart enough to invent a clean-energy future, if we just make it clear that’s what we need, families should have enough faith in their children to see that knowing the truth will set them free.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, still gets a little misty-eyed reading Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.