House Bill 3979, otherwise known as the ‘critical race theory bill’, passed in the US Senate over the weekend much to the protest of teachers across the country. The Dallas Independent School District board passed a resolution opposing the Texas bill citing that the “legislation [will] threaten the essential work that the District is doing to celebrate diversity and would greatly hinder efforts to create inclusive and equitable learning environments and develop more informed, engaged citizens.”
Others celebrated the news. Republican lieutenant governor Dan Patrick supported the bill, stating, “[It] makes certain that critical race philosophies, including the 1619 founding myth, are removed from our school curriculums statewide. [So] students [can] learn critical thinking without being indoctrinated with misinformation charging that America and our Constitution are rooted in racism.” Wow. Yes, you read that right. Texas’ passing of such a bill has unfortunately become a trend in recent months, with the state of Idaho successfully passing its own critical race legislation earlier this May. It looks like it’s time for another wake-up call for the US. Let’s take a deeper look at how incredibly damaging this is.
In order for us to understand the implications of such a bill, we must first understand critical race theory (CRT) itself. CRT has been a concept in academia for around 40 years; at its heart, it recognises that racism and prejudice are not simply individual biases but part of a systemic social construct embedded in all institutions. Senior writer for CNN Digital, Faith Karimi, writes in an article that “critical race theory recognises that systemic racism is part of American society and challenges the beliefs that allow it to flourish.” Without it in education, these systemic issues can and will flourish. The irony in this is that the education system itself is an institution entrapped in systemic racism, so are we even shocked?
Although House Bill 3979 doesn’t specifically use the word ‘ban,’ Democratic state Representative James Talarico, a vocal critic of the bill, told HuffPost “[It’s] written in kind of a clever way. You can talk about race in the classroom, but you can’t talk about privilege or white supremacy. […] The idea is to put in landmines so any conversation about race in the classroom would be impossible.” The bill, which passed in an 18 to 13 Senate vote, has some extremely limiting policies.
It states that “no teacher, administrator, or other employee […] shall be required to engage in training” of any form in subjects pertaining to sexism and racism. It continues by giving eight rules of how racism can not be discussed. Instead, it focuses civic education on “the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment” and “the founding documents of the United States, including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution […] and the writings of the Founding Fathers of the United States.”
Some people may say, ‘Well this is good—it’s not racist, it’s just getting rid of ‘woke’ culture in the classroom’. I am not one of those people. To ignore critical race theory is to ignore the fundamental building blocks that our society is unfortunately built on. Removing this from our education system erases the devastating impacts that colonisation and systemic racism has had on the world and on the lives of BIPOC communities. To me, that is racist.
In a video that surfaced on Twitter, Talarico grills the bill’s author Republican Steve Toth. “Would you be open to an amendment requiring that in the civics classroom that we teach the history of white supremacy and that we teach our students that it’s morally wrong?” to which Toth later replied, “No, I’m not.” Democrat Talarico, shocked, proceeds to repeat the question, adding that “it’s a simple question.”
It seems this rhetoric is all too common on our side of the pond too. In October 2020, the conservative government began targeting critical race theory as well. Undoubtedly envious of the culture war Donald Trump spearheaded against the terrifying leftist agenda, the Tories decided they too wanted to take on this fictitious monster. The irony is that CRT is actually still pretty marginal in the UK so there doesn’t seem much to ‘fight’. In a Twitter thread, academic Kojo Koram writes, “Clearly, Google has told them that critical race theory is just people shouting about ‘white privilege’ etc so here is an idiot’s guide to CRT to help.”
He goes on to say, “There are certainly critiques that can be made of the tradition […] but to pretend it is a dangerous illegitimate sphere of academic inquiry is just pathetic.” The banning of critical race theory in education is a blatant attempt at destroying critical thinking in young people—it places BIPOC students in harmful environments, prevents progress and brings in a more regimented nationalist indoctrination.
On what seemed like a typical start to the weekend, I, like many others, was searching for what my usual Friday night takeaway would be. Inspired by Michelle Chai’s tweet asking others to make their weekly takeout an East Asian choice, as her family business, like so many other local restaurants, was suffering due to the racism that developed along the coronavirus outbreak, I was flicking through a vast amount of choices—ironically during the heights of stockpiling.
Did I want Chinese, Vietnamese or Thai? Were there any halal Korean places near me? I thought. I could do with a piping hot bibimbap. That’s when I looked up to see my mother’s concerned face. She asked if I was really going to get a Chinese takeaway in the midst of everything. I deeply sighed yes. That’s when I realised that coronaracism was affecting everyone, whether they noticed it or not. Here’s why now is the time for ethnic minority communities to come together.
In my mother’s defence, as an excellent cook who is against any takeout regardless of what’s happening in the world, she would have questioned me the same any day of the week. Yet her moment of ignorance as a South Asian immigrant woman represents an amalgamation of overconsumption of hysterical news, political divergent tactics onto minority East Asian communities as well as good old fashion immigrant fear. It pushes people into thinking that they have to take a step back or they will somehow also end up in the ‘firing line’.
Though her momentary slip—and it was a moment because who can say no to bibimbap?—was not malicious nor vindictive, it was a snapshot of ethnic minorities falling into the trap of distraction via racism. My mother, among many other people, is not blaming leaders who are in charge of our safety and security nor is she questioning why we’re still having to pay mortgages when countries like Italy paused all mortgage payments due to decline in work but instead is looking to turn away from each other in a time of need.
A key explanation I gave my mother about why it’s so integral we support East Asian businesses (not just Chinese businesses but also Vietnamese, Cambodian and Malaysian ones as racism has a history of being dumb and presumptuous) was the thousands of Indian restaurants that were affected by the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Indian restaurants, owned by Muslims or not, were left empty because customers didn’t want to support their businesses. Regulars consciously moved away from them in case they were mistaken for being terrorist sympathisers and therefore personally viewed as less American or British.
In China, Islamophobia is currently at an all-time high and the country has recently been called out for putting Uighur Muslims in concentration camps. But locals are not the issue here and neither should they be in the UK. It would be a shame to treat people how you have known to be treated.
In an era where marching and activism became ‘cool’, the East Asian community has previously received slack for not participating enough. Whether that’s local politics or speaking up for Black Lives Matter and other people of colour, there seems to be a lack of socio-political engagement. Chinese immigrants are usually perceived as the invisible community, they are seen to be “good immigrants” writes Wei Ming Kam in The Good Immigrant. They are “sensible, quiet, shy” so they “integrate well” but these model minorities are “not seen as humans, because we never get to be complex individuals. Our defining characteristic is generally our foreignness.”
Regardless of how well you may assimilate into western cultures, blame can always be misplaced. When President Trump calls coronavirus the ‘Chinese virus’ on Twitter, we’re watching a community being used as a scapegoat in real-time when we all know that viruses don’t discriminate and definitely don’t take your ethnicity into consideration. There are many more examples that can highlight this racism in times of crisis.
As ethnic minorities, we might feel that the ‘easy thing’ to do would be to align with white supremacy and point the finger at China in hopes that for a moment racism will forget about us and our own battles. However, what this pandemic has taught me so far is that it’s an opportunity to offer generosity. We need to form a bridge where there have been cultural and religious differences and not remain silent because we are the first ones to know exactly of the consequences when no one is on the other side—how terrible it can be when the rest of humanity decides to stay quiet.
In the meantime, my last advice for you is to order that Chinese takeaway while also educating your older parents on why they shouldn’t worry about their health when eating Chinese food and why they need to support their local businesses. We can be a part of the rise of communal aid. Show them that when we don’t give into fearmongering, we stop accusing each other and get to the real work of rebuilding society. We take away the power over us and foster relationships that will last beyond any virus outbreak.