Written By: Niroshini Mather
On June 16th, the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, signed a controversial bill officially banning the teaching of critical race theory in educational institutions, following in the steps of Florida. This legislative change is a frightening step backwards in the global movement towards racial equity, which reignited after the devastating and unjust death of George Floyd a year prior.
The US conservative media have quickly branded critical race theory as “racist”, “divisive”, and a “dangerous ideology”. However, when asked to outline its postulates, they fail to capture its primary thesis. The critical race theory is an academic framework that states racism is systemic, emphasizing its social and structural diffusion, and dispelling its narrative as a characteristic of a select prejudiced population. It emphasizes how racism is woven into the criminal justice system, healthcare system, and other social institutions, subsequently placing people of colour at a disadvantage in many, if not all, facets of their lives. The theory has been around for decades, founded by Derrick Bell in the 1970s in contention to the claim suggesting that the civil rights movement had abolished ALL racial injustice.
The primary criticism of CRT is that it depicts the nation as inherently evil and stokes further division by shaming white citizens for their skin color. However, the core premise of this theory is to shift racism’s characterization as an “individual issue” to a “system”, or collective, issue. Furthermore, CRT still encourages teaching history, but one told from multiple perspectives that acknowledges the failures of the country, as it does its triumphs. Another criticism of CRT is that it makes race the primary lens through which people view the world and encourages divisiveness. However, CRT instead suggests that race is a social construct, produced and used by the hierarchy to suppress those beneath them. By encouraging conversations about race, CRT instead has the potential to create more equitable class environments, promote awareness of unconscious biases, and instill values of racial equity from a young age. Its inherent value is evident in the thousands of teachers and students who have advocated against the ban since its proposal.
You may be wondering: why is this relevant to Canada? The more pertinent question, however, is why not? Canada has consistently used its global reputation as an epicenter of cultural diversity to hide its troubling history and own struggles with systemic racism. In fact, many Canadians fail to recognize its prevalence in today’s society. Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, infamously stated that Canada doesn’t have the “systemic, deep roots” of racism like the US. Just last year, the Globe and Mail published a much-criticized article titled “Canada is not a racist country despite what the liberals say”, by Rex Murphy. The horrifying discoveries at Kamloops Residential school and Marieval Indian Residential School has reignited conversation regarding whether the current curriculum sufficiently discusses the horrendous treatment of Indigenous peoples during the establishment of our nation. Incorporating critical race theory in standard curriculum offers the opportunity to provide youth with a more holistic, and culturally reflective education. This can hopefully instill students with an increased awareness of diverse perspectives and renewed interest in dispelling the barriers that have been long upheld, and ignored, by prior generations.