A generation of young people thinking critically about race would be a good thing for us all: Renée A. Middle – cleveland.com
A photo of singer Marian Anderson performing outside in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, after she was told she couldn't sing inside at Constitution Hall. The photo is at the new National Museum of African American Music in Nashville. (Photo by Susan Glaser, cleveland.com)
ATHENS, Ohio — History can be uncomfortable, but it is our responsibility to learn from it. In recent months, however, certain politicians and media have peddled the false narrative that “critical race theory” (CRT) is simply a way to shame white people about the history of racism in America.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In 1939, standing at the Lincoln Memorial in front of 75,000 Americans, Marian Anderson, the voice of her generation, sang, “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, to thee WE sing.”
Not “I sing,” but “we sing.” At that time, as it is today, some in our nation opposed inclusion of all Americans. We are a democracy — our Declaration of Independence states that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal.
On May 25, 2020, the supremacy of one human being over another or one race over another was rejected en masse by young people all around the world — many of them white. They did so not out of guilt or self-hatred, but out of caring and respect for humanity. They understood history, knew that past injustices had shaped present realities, and demanded justice. These young people also expressed outrage at the ballot box on Nov. 3, 2020.
America is once again in the midst of a racial reckoning, one that is long overdue and cannot be ignored. But certain politicians and media are not interested in change. They would rather ignite a culture war in a desperate attempt to maintain power and influence. They see that young people of all ethnicities are becoming just as socially conscious as previous generations. That is why CRT, which is more than 40 years old, is suddenly a hot-button issue.
Has today’s Republican Party lost a generation of young people? Some say yes. The evidence? The reaction to George Floyd’s death and the 2020 elections.
Many Americans saw in these young people their greatest hope for a future not guided by racism, sexism, and other forms of dehumanization. White conservatives, liberals, and independents were in the streets united against injustice and the history of racism in America. It was wonderful to see.
But not for everyone.
Some conservative politicians and media felt fear: fear of losing power, influence, wealth, and their way of life. They have never known what it means to share power and influence. They tear down, dehumanize, steal, control, cheat and confuse — but never unify. Equality in their minds means someone must lose.
Their strategy? Make CRT toxic. Convince enough parents to believe a lie — that CRT is designed to make their children feel guilty and hate themselves.
Renée A. Middleton is a higher education and public education expert and professor at Ohio University’s Patton College of Education, where she served as dean from 2016 to 2021. (Photo by Ben Wirtz Siegel, Ohio University)Ben Wirtz Siegel
CRT is not, nor has it ever been a topic for discussion in our public schools. Racism is something we should all abhor, not because we hate, but rather because we have the capacity to love — ourselves and others. We have a shared humanity. This shared humanity is something that can and should be taught at all levels of our system of education.
The truth about racial justice and how it operates in America is scary and uncomfortable, but we should still examine it. Certainly so, at institutions of higher learning. We should challenge ourselves to face our fears and understand the myriad ways many Americans experience America.
Let us get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. We must not be so fearful to think critically of our past that we miss the opportunity to shape our future. Access and reconciliation with our history, truth, knowledge, inquiry, and critical thinking are foundational to a thriving democracy. I believe today’s young people understand what is at stake.
Yes, Marian Anderson, you had it right more than 80 years ago — “My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, to thee WE sing.”
Renée A. Middleton is a higher education and public education expert and professor at Ohio University’s Patton College of Education, where she served as dean from 2016 to 2021.
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