By Masooma Haq
In response to a state legislator’s question, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) ideologies in schools does violate U.S. laws.
“Teaching Critical Race Theory and similar discriminatory ideologies violates Title VI, the Equal Protection Clause, and Article II of the Arkansas Constitution,” said Attorney General Rutledge in a press release. “The classroom isn’t a place to promote extremist political ideologies and preach discrimination. When schools allow the classification of children based on race, they violate both state and federal law.”
CRT is a quasi-Marxist ideology that interprets society through the lens of racial struggle—believing inherent racism is built into the foundations of Western societies. The ideology seeks to fundamentally transform societies in order to end a claimed racial oppression. An effort to incorporate the theory in U.S. schools has been pushed by progressive politicians, activists, and major teachers’ unions, drawing backlash from parents and conservatives. CRT labels all American institutions as systemically racist and calls for the dismantling of those institutions.
In a written opinion (pdf), Rutledge said, “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations protect students who are enrolled in institutions receiving federal funding—including Arkansas public schools and universities—from discrimination based on race.”
She went on to say, “Additionally, ‘discrimination that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment committed by an institution that accepts federal funds also constitutes a violation of Title VI.’ ”
Arkansas State Rep. Mark Lowery sent a letter to Rutledge in June to ask her to assess if the teaching of CRT breaks any laws. Lowery has sponsored House Bill 1231 (pdf), which would prohibit using the New York Times’ “1619 Project” in Arkansas schools, and House Bill 1218 (pdf), which would ban certain curriculum based on race, gender, or social class to be used.
Published by the New York Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones, the “1619 Project” is known for reframing the United States’ history as an inherently racist nation founded on slavery. It consists of a collection of essays that argue, among many other controversial claims, that the real reason for the American Revolution was to preserve slavery, and that slavery was the primary driver of American capitalism during the 19th century.
CRT has been promoted under other names, such as “equity,” “anti-racist,” or “culturally responsive” initiatives. Speakers like Ibram X. Kendi (American author, professor, anti-racist activist) get paid to diagnose an organization as “systemically racist,” prescribe CRT-based initiatives as the remedy to root out “white supremacy,” and then consultants help institutions implement it.
Kendi, in a September 2020 interview with The Atlantic, said if CRT and the teaching of “what really happened in history” cause people to hate the United States, then so be it.
“We need to rid the country of those racist policies structures and systems and replace them with more anti-racist policies and structures and systems. In other words, it is not enough to just be aware, we must then take action so that we can transform this country,” Kendi told The Atlantic.
However, Rutledge concluded that teaching about the history of the United States including all the facts about slavery was completely lawful if it adheres to our founding documents and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision that we are all equal under God and the law.
“But it is important to note that the unlawfulness of such practices does not preclude teaching the history of racial injustice or our Nation’s longstanding and continuing efforts to realize what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized as the dream expressed in our founding creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” she wrote.
GQ Pan contributed to this report.
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