The Ruse, the Governor, and Critical Race Theory

The latest reminder of the centrality and primacy of the white worldview happened for me on January 15, 2022, the day Glenn Youngkin was inaugurated as the 74th governor of Virginia. While I haven’t lived in Virginia for a long time, it is my home state. I wanted to hear what the new governor had to say.

Not far into his inaugural address, he said, “We will remove politics from the classroom.” Attendees jumped to their feet. It was the sentiment that parents, not the government, should control what is taught in schools – particularly regarding racial history — that pushed this never-elected-to-any-office candidate into the Virginia Governor’s Mansion. Then he continued, “We will teach all of our history, the good (here he paused) … and the bad.” The crowd sat, seemingly deflated.

Stop. Rewind. Had he actually said that? Yes, those were his words. I wrote them down; I was so surprised. Was there some chance that he had thought about it and decided to do the right thing? In his inaugural address, was he ready to signal, no, actually state, that Virginia was not only going to take down Confederate statues, Virginia would also teach the completeness of its history and that of the country?

No, of course not. Upon reflection, how could I be so naïve? Hopeful, I guess that he had thought deeply about his earlier position, understood another side, and decided to make a major turnaround in his first public address as governor.  Yes, I was naively hopeful.

Youngkin’s remarks were simply political theater.  He said those words just before issuing Executive Order Number One (2022):

“Inherently divisive concepts, like Critical Race Theory and its progeny, instruct students to only view life through the lens of race and presumes that some students are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, or oppressive, and that other students are victims.”

It goes on to read,

“The Superintendent of Public Instruction shall review all policies within the Department of Education to identify those that promote inherently divisive concepts. Such policies shall be ended.”

And, he knew he had the right person to carry out this directive. I checked. As Superintendent of Public Instruction, he had named the former Wyoming State Superintendent of Schools, a person who had been very public in her opposition to teaching Critical Race Theory.

Race is the lens through which life is viewed by many, including Glenn Youngkin. It energized his campaign and was his out-of-the-gate issue as governor.

Race used to sit quietly in the corner, but not anymore. Now, many, including Youngkin, want to put it back in its place – invisible, not discussed, unaddressed.

For our country to truly achieve its founding promise, we must understand and address our history. It is that history that has made America what it is today. History has been taught from the perspective of white people who control textbooks and decisions about curricula. Our country’s history has been whitewashed, sanitized to glorify whites, while denigrating or completely ignoring other races.

Just think about the number of people who had never heard of the Tulsa massacre until Watchmen streamed on HBO in 2019 or the number who’d never heard of the Tuskegee syphilis study until the use of Black men as research subjects was revealed in 2020 as the root of some African Americans’ concern about COVID vaccinations, or others learning — this year — about Emmett Till through the recent ABC series Women of the Movement. I am glad that racial history is being revealed through art and the news, but it should be taught in the classroom, not something one can choose to watch, but in-school subject matter required to be learned.

The claim by Youngkin, and others, that they want to avoid the divisiveness caused by teaching what they refer to as Critical Race Theory is simply a smokescreen. In fact, the current approach to teaching our country’s history, focused on the individual exceptionalism of a few, but not on the racially motivated actions of many or on the racist federal, state and local policies and societal practices that have shaped this country, contributes to ignorance, an ignorance that feeds racial hostility and separation.

Speak up when your government is doing the wrong thing.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

— Martin Luther King, Jr., December, 1959

12 Replies to “The Ruse, the Governor, and Critical Race Theory”

  1. Thank you for calling this out quickly. The gaslighting of who is being divisive is damaging and distracting

  2. Tamara you captured my sentiments perfectly. I dreaded this inauguration as another organized nod to the separatist movement we’ve seen endorsed and triumphed by Donald Trump. This country is racist/. Always has been and probably always will be as we expect the “ old school Klan and their kin” to die off eventually, without correction and public humiliation, their secret, private, dinner table extensions of racism and hatred will live on. It’s painfully obvious what we’re to expect over the next four years as he sets the stage to turn the Commonwealth into a breeding ground for his regurgitation of Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

  3. Well said, Tamara. I too believe “it [racial history] should be taught in the classroom, not something one can choose to watch, but in-school subject matter required to be learned.” It’s tragic to see people such as Youngkin in positions to prevent it.

  4. You expressed it perfectly. Thank you.
    It’s disgraceful. As a white girl who was taught and absorbed the incorrect Virginia history taught in the 60s, it makes me angry that we were taught incorrectly. There were so many lies that were taught as the truth. It is better to face it, teach it, learn it, and then move forward. The amount of negative energy that goes into continuing to teach the lies and myths could be directed towards moving our country forward. I’m grateful that I have had time to read, discuss, and learn the truths, but it would have been so much healthier to have learned in elementary school.

  5. I cringe when I think of MY early teaching days in the mid 1970’s-1980’s. When February came around, I pulled out that manilla folder marked Black History and we proceeded to read about noteworthy African Americans and answer simple READING comprehension questions. Sure, we may have talked about the importance of the invention of the traffic light or the significance of blood plasma, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and the segregation that was at the core of this country. It was much too little and far too light, even for second grade students.

    Talk about devisive history! How can non-white students not feel marginalized or made lesser with the way the Governor and his trolls want to see “history” presented? Without a state-wide curriculum, how will we ensure that all students are exposed to the factual accounts of how this country, and especially the Commonwealth, acted and reacted for the last 400 years? How can we ensure that ALL teachers present an unbiased curriculum? How soon until picture books about Ruby Bridges are banned from classrooms in Virginia?
    I am just sickened by what we will need to fight against for the next four years.

    You have expressed this so well. My hope lies with decent Fair-minded teachers who have the desire to promote courageous conversations in their classrooms and are cognizant of all the micro aggressions within the school community.

  6. Gov Y and his revisionist history sycophants seem to think they can “control what Virginians can think , discuss and emulate . their stalking horse is CRT which isnt a curriculum in the Va schools . Va cant have 2 feet in different centuries- the antibellum South and 21st century global thinking , competitiveness and education environment while still displaying the Stars and Bars , publically and privately. there is a Confederate Battle flag on a front door around the corner near our public middle school ,a quarter mile from my home here in WNY- so we all have a long way to go in thought , opportunity ,equality , representation ,tolerance and equal justice and the need to learn from our Past and chart a better future for all of us in this ongoing experiment in democracy. Thanks again Tamara for speaking up and fighting the good fight.

  7. Thank you for your perspective on this. When I look back at the pitiful education I received in Virginia History (in multiple years!), I remember the illustration of Native Americans in scant dress chasing White settlers with tomahawks. The War Between the States was over state’s rights, not slavery…I am still ashamed that Virginia schools were so racist and, with this governor, want to continue this path. A Black Virginia State Delegate’s comment in the Post that she was taught that she was inferior cut me to the core. There is a long fight ahead….

  8. Tamara, it is indeed a sad day in Virginia that has set us back (once again) to the point where we have to dig in and refight for the minor achievements we had made in racial awareness, tolerance, and stamping out racism in my adopted state. Sometimes it just feels like we are butting our heads against a brick wall. Once again, we need to take a collective deep breath and go out there and attack the chinks in that wall. Hopefully, we will live to see the day that Dr. King hoped for, fought for, and prayed for.

  9. This is a nightmare. I believe GY’s policies will seriously damage our ability to retain teachers with integrity who value truth. By its nature, learning is a process of being exposed to new ideas that create disequilibrium, and that is good. Learners then reflect, understand, and grow. Tamara, thank you for staying in the struggle. I’m fundamentally optimistic, and I’m still looking for those better angels. There are now so many battles that it’s hard to pick one, but we all need to do something, anything.

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