In Iowa, in the American Midwest, teachers will have to think twice before discussing in class the connection of racism to the history of the country.
Governor Kim Reynolds signed a law in the second week of June that determines what an educator can – and most importantly not – talk about racial inequality with their students. Discussing how whites, albeit unconsciously, can have racist attitudes, for example, is no longer an option.
In Arizona, a state bordering Mexico, a bill with this orientation and called the “Impartial Education Act” was approved by the State Council in the first week of May, but was blocked by the Senate, by 16 votes against 14, on the 27th of the same period. month.
Had he been successful, state professors would have been fined for talking about certain topics – explaining how the idea of meritocracy excludes a large part of blacks, for example, would cost them $ 5,000 (R $ 25,000). .
Such projects have multiplied in the United States. At least 27 states – the country has 50 – are debating plans to limit racial discussions in basic education. Eight of them have already approved the measure: Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, Florida, Utah and Montana. All are ruled by Republicans.
In 13 states, legislatures are discussing these bills or governors express public support for a possible attempt to obtain such content. Six other states tried to approve but failed.
In common with these proposals, besides the initiative to restrict racial debate in public education, is a massive campaign against Critical Race Theory, a school of legal thought founded by black and Latino professors in the years 1980 and whose birthplace was the United States. .
A Doctor of Laws from Harvard University and a professor at Mackenzie Presbyterian University, Adilson Moreira explains that theory contributes to public debate by explaining how racism is penetrated into the logic of institutions.
“Critical race theory works with the idea of racism as a systemic phenomenon, structural discrimination,” he says. “She recovers the concept of micro-aggregations to understand how animosity towards blacks, Asians and natives is perpetuated in everyday human relationships.
One of the concepts with which the theory works, and which set the standard in the United States Supreme Court in the 1970s, is that of indirect discrimination. “Until then, the courts considered that discrimination was only an arbitrary and intentional act which, driven by prejudice and stereotypes, disadvantages a certain group,” explains Moreira.
In the case of indirect discrimination, even a standard that does not mention race can have a disproportionate impact on an already disadvantaged group. In Brazil, this is what happens, for example, with the requirement of proficiency in English to compete for certain places – since students in public schools, mostly black, generally have less access to the teaching of language.
In bills pending in US state legislatures, however, this theme appears differently. Most texts claim to prohibit the teaching of “concepts of division” which harm the unity of the American nation.
This is the case with the law that comes into force on July 1 in Oklahoma. Part of the text says that no teacher can address that “an individual, by reason of race or gender, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously”.
When signing the policy, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt said, “Now, more than ever, we need laws that unite us, not that separate us. I firmly believe that not a dime of your money should be used to divide our young people based on race or gender. “
Gladys Mitchell-Walthour, a professor in the Department of African Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says what is being done is a massive disinformation campaign.
“They’re not talking about critical race theory because it’s a topic for college students, not kids,” he says. “Their thought is that whites are attacked by minorities like blacks and Latinos. “
Adilson Moreira adds that this is an attempt to eliminate race as a social category, i.e. to prevent it from being used as a socially and legally relevant criterion in the making of decision.
Although they have intensified and gained momentum in the first half of this year, projects of this type have a historic background, notes Mitchell-Walthour.
Different elements have weight in this context. One of the main ones, according to specialists, is the rebound effect of the government of Barack Obama, the only black man to assume the presidency of the country.
“The election of Obama [em 2008] it had a cultural impact on a nation that has always presented itself as white, and it aroused the fury of much of the white American population, a racial resentment that not only stems from the fact that Obama is black, but because he created measures to promote the inclusion of blacks, ”explains Moreira.
The recent legacy of Donald Trump’s administration is also present in the bills. The Republican, moreover, acts as a sort of sponsor of proposals which attempt to limit the teaching of black history.
In the final months of his administration, in September 2020, Trump signed a memorandum prohibiting the presence of critical race theory in the training of employees of federal agencies. His successor, Democrat Joe Biden, however revoked the measure in one of the first acts of his administration.
It wasn’t Trump’s only attempt. Also in the second half of 2020, when popularity was already declining in the electoral race, he created the 1776 Commission – a reference to the year in which the United States declared its independence – a sort of advisory committee of the presidency on questions of education, which aimed at patriotic education.
The commission, widely criticized by historians, came in response to the New York Times’ award-winning 1619 Project, which investigates the contemporary legacy of black slavery in the United States. The material, which has begun to be used by many educators in the classroom, is also part of several of the proposals Republican MPs and Senators are trying to get to state legislatures.
In South Dakota, for example, Republican Governor Kristi Noem signed a letter from the “1776 Pledge to Save Our Schools” movement, which follows a line similar to what Trump had planned.
In justifying the act on a social network, Noem said, “Project 1619 argues that America was founded on racism and slavery, not the ideal of equality. He seeks to incorrectly rephrase the notion of our history as “us versus them” rather than “us the people”.
Although a Republican state deputy in April withdrew a bill on the subject, Noem said he was working for the state to ban Critical Race Theory and Bill 1619 in law. classroom.
Even outside the presidency, Donald Trump did not fail to escalate the issue. In an article posted to the Real Clear Politics website on Friday (18), the Republican again defended that every state must pass laws banning critical race theory in public schools and withdraw the transfer of funds to educational centers that deal with the subject. He also suggested that each state create its own 1776 Commission.
“Far from fostering the beautiful dream of Reverend Martin Luther King – that our children should not be judged by the color of their skin, but by their character” – this dastardly left-wing theory preaches that judging people by the color of their skin is really a good idea, ”he says in a snippet.
According to Professor Adilson Moreira, the argument is part of an old strategy, dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, when conservative groups appropriated the claims and principles of the American black civil rights movement to defend ideas such as racism backwards.
“Leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King used to say that, since we live in a democracy, we must keep the symmetrical treatment [entre as pessoas]. The reactionary conservatives have taken it upon themselves to say “yes, you are right, and that is exactly why we should end affirmative action”.
Last week, when the United States Congress approved the creation of a new national holiday on June 19 to celebrate the emancipation of the last slaves in the country – known as “Juneteenth” -, the eldest son of Martin Luther King, the namesake of his father, has drawn criticism. current projects.
Celebrating the new stage of the vacation, he added, “But let’s not forget that in Florida and Texas educators are prohibited from teaching critical breed theory. Juneteenth should be both a day of celebration and a day to educate about the true history of our nation. “
As the stream of projects progresses at the state level, more and more criticism becomes public. On June 16, 90 associations, including the World History Association, published a letter opposing this type of law.
“The clear goal of these efforts is to suppress the teaching and learning of the role of racism in US history,” the document said. “Any analysis of racism in classrooms across this country will cause some students ‘unease’ because it is an uncomfortable and complicated subject. But the ideal of citizenship needs an educated public, and teachers must take a fair look at the past in order to better prepare students for community life and civic engagement.
Professor Gladys Mitchell-Walthour says civil society groups will continue to protest against such projects, but the galloping advance of state legislatures remains worrying.
In particular, she explains, because more and more white students are leaving public schools and migrating to private schools, causing them to lose touch with other realities. “I have a lot of students from small towns and rural Wisconsin who say ‘you are the first black person I talk to.’ The consequence of these bills will be worse than what we already have.”