Commentary: Our nation’s history is shaped by racism

Attack on critical race theory does not understand the need for inclusion.

There is a lot of talk about “critical race theory.” What is it? Simply stated, it’s a perspective that biases are built into laws and institutions in the U.S.

Critical race theory (CRT) is a concept developed by academics in the 1970s stating that racism is fixed in modern-day society through laws and institutions that were important in shaping American society at a time when people were enslaved. Rather than seeing that racism stems from acts of individuals, CRT examines racism at institutional and structural levels in the hope that those structures and institutions might change in a direction that is ideally inclusive of all the members of our multicultural society.

Continuing to operate with the same laws and institutions is unlikely to achieve the “more perfect union” in our Constitution. CRT calls for a re-visioning of laws and institutions that might achieve that ideal outlined in the Constitution. In a time where it’s critical to increase voices of people of color, it’s crucial to teach students about inclusion and valuing diverse perspectives.

Critics argue that CRT blames or judges’ individuals (e.g., white students are blamed for slavery). Furthermore, critics claim that CRT insults underserved populations by “portraying them as eternally helpless victims” and that it exposes a false narrative of systemic racism. However, these criticisms are unfounded.

CRT focuses on the history, exploring systemic and institutionalized practices that shape racism today. CRT does not advance “benevolent racism” by viewing people of color as helpless victims. Naming inequities that are built into systems provides the opportunity for people to recognize structural flaws and limitations and allow for improvements that would consider all citizens.

When institutions marginalize people systematically, our communities lose out on the contributions of those who have been discarded or sidelined.

Our country’s history is deeply affected by racism and its intersection with other forms of suppression, which is evident in police violence, our prison system, the wealth gap, maternal mortality rates, housing, health care access, education and more. However, these forms of suppression impact society as a whole. Police brutality, for example, affects all, but it most obviously and painfully hurts communities and individuals who are the direct targets harmed by police violence.

In addition, communities that have a high rate of imprisonment are often impacted by “zero-tolerance” policies in schools. Furthermore, the wealth gap has major disadvantages for Black families, individuals and communities, which limits Black citizens’ economic power. To argue against teaching the truth about racism is to ignore the facts that have been presented throughout our history, which affect us all.

In banning the teaching of race-related issues in schools, we are doing our students a disservice by concealing them from the truth. By teaching students about history, we can help them understand how we got to the present moment and to empower our future generations to make system wide changes.

We must also keep in mind that these policies are banning more than CRT. This includes history of African Americans, lynching, Japanese internment camps, Native American code talkers, Cesar Chavez’s efforts to gain better working conditions for workers, and more.

To move forward to create equality for all, it’s important that we continue to teach our future generations about our history. Learning about our past is not to intended to blame, shame or create victims. We encourage individuals to stand together to fight for human rights by including young people in this conversation and let them know the importance of knowing the truth.

The key is for students and young individuals to fight back against inequality, not to go along with what’s happening.

From the Utah Psychological Association Diversity Committee: Mary L. Phan, Ph.D graduate student, Utah State University; Melanie M. Domenech Rodríguez, Ph.D., professor, Utah State University; Michelle Miranda, Ph.D, MPH, assistant professor, University of Utah; Sarah Shizuko Morimoto, Psy.D., associate professor, University of Utah; Yolanda Estrada, Psy. D, postdoctoral fellow, Utah State Hospital; Le Ngu, Ph.D., psychologist, InSight Psychological Services; Karen Cone-Uemura, Ph.D., CGP, psychologist, psychotherapist, University of Utah, Wellness From Within Psychological Services.