In Jean M. Auel’s 1980 book “Clan of the Cave Bear,” the heroine, Ayla, a Cro-Magnon, was given the “death curse” by the Neanderthals among whom she lived – a form of banishment in which the cursed is totally ignored as if dead. Some Republican leaders are trying to do the same to “critical race theory” (CRT) to, pardon the pun, further whitewash the past. But history cannot be changed by banishing inconvenient truths.
Florida, for example, was “among the most brutal [states] in the country when it comes to race-fueled executions of black people,” Ray Downs reported in the Broward/Palm Beach New Times in 2015. “Per capita, Floridians lynched at a higher rate than any other state,” Downs said, citing Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative.
“Racial terror lynchings,” nationally, totaled 3,959 between 1877 and 1950, with 331 in Florida. Orange (34), Marion (30), Alachua (19), Polk (19) and Columbia and Taylor (17 each) ranked sixth among the top 25 counties for the most lynchings. The reasons included using terror to suppress the vote, University of Florida professor Jack Davis told Downs.
Florida also hosted 61 monuments and memorials dedicated to the Confederacy, the supreme symbol of the racist past. At one time or other, the state capitol, the state flag and a state holiday were involved. Monuments or names of Confederate leaders and events remain in some counties and cities, on courthouses, parks, roads, schools, libraries and county holidays and in private spaces.
Nationally more than 93 percent of at least 1,500 Confederate monuments were still standing in 2019, The Washington Post reported.
Instead of focusing on this history, Republicans are obsessed with CRT which began in academia to refute the contention that women and African Americans were not being discriminated against, hence could not claim discrimination. As a result, African American women had difﬁculty winning legal cases, Srivats Lakshman wrote in Media Entertainment Arts Worldwide (MEAW).
Kimberle Crenshaw, one of the early developers of CRT, made that point in 2014, telling Newstatesman, “It is important to clarify that the term was used to capture the applicability of black feminism to anti-discrimination law,”.
Crenshaw and the late Harvard law professor Derrick Bell and some colleagues started developing critical race theory in the 1970s. Crenshaw, a Cornell and Harvard graduate, focused on the need for more gender emphasis in college curricula and organized a workshop, where the CRT name was coined. Her work informed post-apartheid South Africa’s constitution and was hailed in Europe and India. She wrote a background paper on “Race and Gender Discrimination” for the United Nations World Conference on Racism in 1996.
Still, Florida and at least 20 other states have passed laws or introduced bills to ban CRT from public schools. Gov. Ron DeSantis dubbed CRT a way to teach students to “attack cops,” an “ideology that people are trying to shove down everybody’s throats,” “Cultural Marxism,” ”basically race essentialism” and “teaching kids to hate their country and hate each other.”
The Florida Board of Education subsequently banned CRT from public schools, mandating, on June 10, “Instruction…may not deﬁne American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence."
But CRT was never meant for public schools, Ana Ceballos noted in the Herald/Times. Rather, it was designed for universities and law schools, Steven Lemongello and Leslie Postal wrote in the Orlando Sentinel.
Public schools must follow state law mandating the teaching of African American history and race relations using a curriculum designed by the African American History Task Force. Even there, only 11 of the 67 school districts catering to the state’s two million students meet even those criteria enough to be designated as “exemplary,” among them Miami-Dade, Broward, Hillsborough and Pinellas, Lemongello and Postal reported.
One reason for the uproar is probably because CRT expanded beyond the legal system to endemic racism overall. Another reason is no doubt the seminal “1619 Project” developed by investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones "to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative."
The New York Times published the work in August 2019, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the ﬁrst enslaved Africans. HannahJones won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her introductory essay.
But then President Donald Trump proclaimed, “Critical race theory, the 1619 Project and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda, ideological poison, that, if not removed, will dissolve the civil bonds that tie us together, will destroy the country,” he proclaimed.
Trump banned diversity training for federal workers last year. He also called for “patriotic” education and, in September, created a “1776 Commission,” whose Jan. 18 report was widely criticized for errors and partisan politicking. President Joe Biden dissolved the panel on Jan. 20, his ﬁrst day in ofﬁce.
CRT and the 1619 Project offers a much-needed opportunity for at least the start of a dialogue along the lines of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation initiative which has inspired other nations to seek to resolve disputes over important issues. It is evident, though, that the current crop of Republican leaders and their wealthy backers are more interested in reinforcing what Tyler Toval calls “white freedom” in his book of that name – preservation of European privilege. It is loss particularly for those Americans who are held in a sort of intellectual bondage that prevents them from understanding and coming to terms with the whole history of the United States. Give them the truth and, as Jesus says in John 8:32, the truth will set them free.
As for Cro-Magnon Ayla, it looks like the Neanderthals, who banished her, succumbed in the evolutionary process and Cro-Magnons survived, as Hank Campbell reported in Science 20. They could have learned a lot from her.