Dueling School Race Wars

Terry H. Schwadron

Oct. 12, 2021

We’re seeing simultaneous, but opposite fights over race and identity going on in our schools.

A swath of White parents is getting increasingly vocal, even threatening at times, about what is being taught as American history, slavery, and continuing race issues as Black, Brown, transgender, Jewish and Muslim students are experiencing live discrimination.

CNN captured a recent example of the duality in a Kansas City suburb, in which as white parents were complaining about “critical race theory” at the school board, there was a petition circulating in a city high school to bring back slavery.

As CNN noted, “Across the U.S., there are two diametrically opposed conversations about race going on at the same time. In one, some White parents are telling school leaders that lessons about race make White students feel bad. And in the other, there’s the racism that is actually happening in schools.”

In this case, school officials called in an outside facilitator to organize discussions about race and identity, listening and a dollop of sensitivity. School officials acted quickly to denounce the petition and to address rippling effects of the petition itself. At the same time, at the school board, many White parents were pushing back against efforts to make their students feel bad, arguing that the schools should not be causing others to be seen by skin color — apparently so long as they are White.

Critical race theory is not taught in the K-12 curriculum in that Kansas City suburb or anywhere.

Rise in Tensions

The increase in incidents is noticeable and has now started to be clocked by school board associations, states and now the Justice Department — which announced it will be meeting with local officials around the country to stop violence from breaking out, whether over complaints about mandates for covid vaccines, masks, or curriculum.

That, in turn, has prompted Republican leaders, now including even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to fire off furious notes to Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland to insist that protest at school board meeting is democracy not domestic violence.

Some Democrats are rising to the bait. In that Kansas suburb, State Sen. Cindy Holscher, a Democrat, told CNN that “I think the (racist) incidents have gone up, and I say that because of what I hear from my kids. That the environment is a little bit more tense in our schools. There’s more hatred out there over the past couple of years.”

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law this summer that strictly dictated what teachers can tell students about race and America, to ensure that there be no teaching that “the United States or Iowa is fundamentally racist or sexist.” So, too, have governors in Florida, Texas, and other states with Republican governors — despite a Census showing the most growth among non-White populations.

As CNN notes, Tennessee has a new law banning history lessons that might make students feel “discomfort” because of their race. Yet, in August sheriff’s deputies in suburban Nashville were called in after a White football player threatened a black player on social media while wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood. In North Carolina this week, an eighth-grade teacher resigned after being called for an incident in which she asked Black students to stand, telling them that if it wasn’t for the Constitution, they would be her “field slaves.” It was a lesson on the Constitution.

What Problems to Solve

So, the question remains, what problems are we trying to solve: White discomfort over a history replete with racism that continues to this day, or Black, Brown, and non-WASP students and parents who are living with racism every day?

No one is telling parents that they have no say in public education, but that doesn’t mean the loudest, complaining noises should win the right to ban books or rewrite history. The parents of those feeling the heat of discrimination are looking at their neighbors and wondering where they are in the current day expressions of racism.

The Republican politicians speaking out in state capitols and in Washington think it unfair to note that there is a strong connection between the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt and the documented rise in armed, violent White nationalist organizations. They are quick to point instead at Black Lives Matter, antifa, and left-leaning groups as a source for violence, and to misplaced identification of “critical race theory” to run down the pride of U.S. history as a shining example of tolerance.

No, Mitch, actual students are getting hurt. Actual school board members and teachers are being physically attacked. Actual racism is alive and well, to say nothing of all the flags, statues, and ignominy of a love for the Confederacy that wanted the U.S. overturned in an earlier era.

At the same time, they are heavily supportive of public money to keep memories and symbolism of the Confederacy alive and in utter denial that policing, education, housing, financial and health policies in this country disproportionately hit at non-White people.

The opposition to loosened views towards immigration are openly laced with racist bias. there has been a huge effort to link any opposition to same-sex marriage, tolerance for transgender people, or policing reforms to a defense of an imagined, purer White evangelical Christian world devoid of diversity.

I’ll listen to the anger at the school boards over history when I see them stamp out intolerance of today. Otherwise, let history tell its own story without the pure White spin.