Column: Learning about CRT

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star

Let's talk about Critical Race Theory.

I've seen a lot of chatter about that lately, most of which paints it as some boogeyman coming to indoctrinate children and teach that all white people are racist.

I'll be honest. That sort of talk usually makes me skeptical that words are probably being twisted and things, perhaps, blown a tad bit out of proportion. My strategy when I want to know what I think of something controversial like that? Reading and research, especially from the source. Sometimes it changes my view of a thing, and sometimes it doesn't, but it always gives me a more complete – and calmly formed – opinion of matters.

Here's some of what I gathered about CRT in my research:

• It maintains it's the system, rather than individuals, that is the main reason racism continues. Racism is societal and built into our legal system. Or, as the American Bar Association states, CRT rejects the idea that racism is confined to “a few 'bad apples'” and instead maintains it is “codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy” and therefore “it is the systemic nature of racism that bears primary responsibility for reproducing racial inequality.”

• Unlike a similar theory (Critical Legal Studies), which advocates destabilizing the law to combat social injustice, CRT acknowledges the importance of law and that, while it has been used to deepen racial inequality, it can also be used for good and for securing and protecting civil rights.

• Sticking your head in the sand and pretending racism no longer exists, rather than confronting it head on and advocating change, perpetuates racism.

• CRT explains that race is not a biologically real distinction, but rather a social concept made up by people. In other words, people are just people. And racism has an impact of people from a variety of nationalities.

• People who have experienced racism are uniquely qualified to talk about the effects of experiencing racism.

Call me crazy, but I don't find any of these things shocking. In fact, I think there's a valuable conversation to be had here. (You can read more information about CRT on the American Bar Association at tinyurl.com/2crmm3h4 )

We take so much offense to anyone who dares put a crack in our notion of American exceptionalism. But America was not formed perfect at its birth. We are a nation formed by flawed human beings, and the nation is no more perfect that they were. They had great ideas and formed a government with great potential, but not a perfect government.

Some might be bothered by that notion. I don't view falling short of perfection as a bad thing (it's only human, after all), at least not if you continue to make an effort to do better and to improve.

We are so defensive when it comes to talking about racism. It's a shame how much that defensiveness clouds the conversation. Admitting that we live in a country where racism is built into the very fabric of our laws is not the same as saying “all white people are racist.” Having an open discussion on the ways that certain people live with advantages others do not – advantages they probably aren't even aware of – is not saying “all white people are racist,” nor is it saying “white people are privileged and therefore never had to work for anything.” We only live our own lives, and only see the world through that very narrow perspective. The only way to start to understand one another is to listen to fellow human beings with an open heart and open mind, and a willingness to engage in respectful, honest dialogue about what can be better.

We were not given this country to sit back on our laurels and stagnate and assume that things will be fine if we just leave them as they are. We are thankful to soldiers who fight on the battlefield for our country. Perhaps its time we admire those who fight for the betterment of our country in other ways. The country we aspire to be will never truly live up to that potential unless we work and fight for it, even if it's work that will never truly be complete. And this isn't about white guilt. Guilt about what my ancestors may have done is useless to everyone. The actions they took in their lives are not on me, or you, or anyone else. But if my words and actions perpetuate and excuse the mistakes of the past rather than work to correct them, then that is on me.

Let's do better than those who came before us.

Tina Bridenstine is a reporter at The Shawnee News-Star. She can be reached at tina.bridenstine@news-star.com or 405-214-3934. Follow her on Twitter @tbridenstine1