The Political Push to Ban Comprehensive US History
By Taifha Natalee Alexander and Nicole Powell
This piece is a part of our Spark Series Miseducating the Public: Anti-CRT Movement Rhetoric, Policy, and Impact
Pausing diversity trainings. Withdrawing educational resources. Inaccurately attributing “divisive concepts” to Critical Race Theory (CRT). Ignoring calls from community members to understand the value of ensuring access to truthful information about CRT, systemic racism, and race. Commenting that “[the school board] just want[s] to make sure that American exceptionalism is noted, that in all mankind, nobody has brought freedom to the world like America has” while neglecting the evidenced-based portrayal of American history as a racialization and subordination scheme, as detailed in Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 Project. These anti-Critical Race Theory (anti-CRT) measures have taken place not only in the American deep south, but in state legislatures, attorney general offices, gubernatorial edicts, and local school boards across almost every state in the country, including states recognized as havens for liberal and progressive ideals.
The Assault is Not Limited to Red States
Up until now, little was known about the patterns, trends, and comprehensive scope of the overwhelming pervasiveness of the assault on CRT. Critical Race Theory is both a theory and a practice that helps us understand how race and racism shape laws, policies, and structures, despite civil rights advancements, with a hope to change systems that have produced racial inequality. The recently launched CRT Forward Tracking Project, an initiative of UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies Program, has demonstrated that the assault on CRT and antiracist teaching, training, and research, is not limited to traditionally conservative states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Instead, the assault on CRT has infiltrated nearly every state, conservative and liberal alike.
Of the eleven anti-CRT measures introduced in California, seven were enacted by local school districts. About thirty miles from Los Angeles, the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District enacted an anti-CRT resolution that banned CRT, as a framework for recognizing, analyzing, and combating the systemic nature of racism. This enactment instead advanced a colorblind ideology of “…see[ing] one another as humans first,” which ignores the pervasiveness of racism and functionally upholds racial discrimination within our contemporary society.
Less than twenty miles from the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, in Costa Mesa, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District paused a contract with a New York non-profit, the Anti-Defamation League, which would provide robust diversity and anti-bias trainings for all students and teachers. The School District eventually moved forward with a new contract that did not engage all students and removed an advanced level of training for faculty and staff.
In San Luis Obispo County, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District passed an anti-CRT measure despite a former school board member and a psychologist opposing the measure. In stating their opposition, the former school board member and psychologist outlined the value of CRT and accurately affirmed that CRT does not teach hate or guilt.
Just outside of Fresno, the Visalia Unified School District considered whether to ban Newsela, a leveled and standards-aligned informational content resource that is relied upon by educators to support relevancy in their curriculum.
In enacting these anti-CRT measures, educators’ professionalism and capacity to teach their students, the next generation of leaders poised to resolve some of the most pressing racial and social issues of our time, were targeted for censorship.
Analyzing Anti-CRT Activity in Blue States
In comprehending the full breadth and scope of the attacks on CRT and antiracist interventions, it is imperative to recognize that California is not an outlier. In fact, in states with comparable political leanings to California, anti-CRT measures at the local school board level have been enacted at high rates in comparison to state legislative anti-CRT measures.
In Colorado, 100% of introduced local school board anti-CRT measures have been enacted, conversely neither of the proposed legislative anti-CRT measures, nor an anti-CRT measure introduced by the University of Colorado were enacted. In Pennsylvania, at least eight local school board anti-CRT measures have been enacted across five different school boards, however none of the state’s anti-CRT legislative measures have been enacted. In Washington state, six anti-CRT measures have been introduced at the local school board level. Four have been enacted.
The enacted anti-CRT measures in California, and other liberal states, exposes a pervasive, anti-democratic, national effort against CRT and antiracist interventions. This effort is facilitated through multiple campaigns, including utilizing a disinformation campaign that wrongfully villainizes CRT and antiracist interventions to establish and expand extremist strongholds in liberal states. This allows for the politicization of traditionally nonpartisan governing bodies, particularly local school boards, while also supporting anti-CRT candidates at the local, state, and federal levels. To be clear, a measure which bans antiracist curriculum is a political measure. These actions are not apolitical, but rather rooted in maintaining particular agendas, and diminishing the diversity of thought and perspective in the classroom.
One example of this effort can be found in the newly organized anti-CRT PAC, the 1776 Project PAC, which has raised funds in support of anti-CRT local school board candidates across the country who seek to limit access to truthful information about CRT, race, and systemic racism. The CRT Forward Tracking Project data shows that two of Colorado’s local school board anti-CRT measures were passed in districts where anti-CRT school board candidates were funded, endorsed, and eventually elected to their positions with the support of an anti-CRT PAC.
The CRT Disinformation Campaign is Part of a Broader Project to Erode Civil and Human Rights
While national media attention focused on anti-CRT measures within conservative legislatures, anti-CRT measures were simultaneously infiltrating left-leaning and moderate states. In “progressive” states, anti-CRT measures were implemented through local school boards and city and county governments with the support and guidance of well-funded PACs and extremist organizations. In the past two years, access to truthful information about CRT, race, and systemic racism has been restricted, as evidenced in the over 500 anti-CRT measures available in the CRT Forward Tracking Project database. As the number of anti-CRT measures grows, so does the assault on racial justice.
However, all hope is not lost. The CRT Forward Tracking Project provides relevant information to advance CRT in support of racial justice by identifying legislative trends and patterns, to not only respond to this current moment, but prepare for future moments of surveillance, censorship, and control.
CRT Forward Researchers Identify Potential Pathways Forward
In addition to identifying, tracking, and substantively coding anti-CRT measures, CRT Forward researchers are engaged in identifying areas for intervention that might be helpful in preparing model pro-CRT measures based on the accurate teachings of the theory. Specifically, advocacy organizations, like the African American Policy Forum (AAPF), have identified multiple legal instruments that would be helpful, in addition to available interventions like talking points and sample letters to send to lawmakers. Additionally, CRT Forward Researchers have begun the process of identifying measures that may be effective in circumventing the proliferation of anti-CRT measures. Specifically, CRT Forward Researchers are researching possible model legislation that can be introduced in the state or federal legislatures that directly responds to CRT disinformation. This model pro-CRT legislation would be helpful in curbing the proliferation of disinformation and provide an opportunity for students to learn the skills necessary to address some of the most pressing racial and social justice issues of our time. This and similar interventions are imperative to ensuring the United States of America can finally fulfill its potential as a true, multiracial democracy.
For more information on additional anti-CRT trends, patterns, and data please visit the CRT Forward Tracking Project website at https: https://crtforward.law.ucla.edu/.
Taifha Natalee Alexander serves as the CRT Forward Project Director at UCLA Law where she leads the law school’s response to the assault on CRT alongside faculty, staff and student researchers.
Nicole Powell is a third-year law student and CRT Forward Researcher specializing in Critical Race Studies at UCLA School of Law.