Recently there has been an uproar among Republicans about critical race theory (CRT). I think they are unaware of what it is. Critical race theorists look at how the long history of racism and discrimination in the United States still has an impact on the status of Black people today. CRT is not “rewriting” history, but it is pointing out how the version of history that we have been taught has presented a biased view, whitewashed some say, in such a way that it excludes many of the facts about how our country developed from the time the first settlers landed until the present. It is uncovering facts that have been ignored or intentionally suppressed about the role of slavery and racism in the shaping of our country. Critical race theory is meant to fill in those gaps and help us understand more completely how our nation got to be where we are in the 21st century.
My education in American history and politics from elementary school through college was influenced by a perpetual white bias and, perhaps, a fear about teaching racism. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized that I was cheated out of fully understanding the important role that negative feelings about Black people, outright prejudice and discrimination, and suppressive laws played in our history.
For example, I was never taught that enslaved Africans were brought to the U.S. before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. But 20 or more Africans were on a ship that landed in the English colony of Virginia in 1619, to be subsequently sold to the colonists. Nor was I taught that in 1787, of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 17 owned a total of about 1,000 slaves. Nor did I learn that eight of the first 12 U.S. presidents were slave owners.
I learned about the GI Bill after World War II but did not learn that approximately 1,200,000 Black service members who fought in the war were not eligible for benefits. White service members were able to build low-cost homes that rose in value over time. They also attended college free, which led to higher-paying jobs. They were able to accumulate wealth over the generations that Black service members could not.
I did not learn about “redlining,” the denial of services by federal and local governments and the private sector, to residents of specific neighborhoods and the long-term impact it had on Black people. It started in 1934 when the Federal Housing Administration identified certain, primarily Black areas in which they would not insure mortgages to people living in those neighborhoods. Consequently, banks did not offer mortgages to the residents living there. Also at that time, the FHA was subsidizing builders to mass-produce subdivisions providing that none of the homes be sold to Black people.
I never learned that the FHA’s Underwriting Manual of 1938 stated that:
Areas surrounding a location are investigated to determine whether incompatible racial and social groups are present … regarding the probability of the location being invaded by such groups. If a neighborhood is to retain stability, it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes.
This rule was followed until the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. These guidelines prohibited Blacks from buying homes in the suburbs which denied them the equity appreciation that whites got and the wealth that followed from that. Homes that were affordable to white working-class families with an FHA or VA mortgage were not available to Blacks with the same income.
Because Black people could be discriminated against in hiring and acceptance into college until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by the time the Fair Housing Act passed, suburban homes were no longer affordable to Blacks that could have afforded them when whites were buying them. With their increase in wealth, whites could send their children to college which led to better jobs, an advantage not available to Blacks. So today, the median weekly income for Blacks is $799 and $1,006 for whites.
Critical race theory points out the inequities. It is not “rewriting” history. It is simply stating the facts of our history so we can better understand the racial inequities that exist and help us to make amends.
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