Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 9 Episode 1
Aired on February 20, 2022
Main segment: Critical race theory
Other segments: Canada convoy protest
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[Cheers and applause]
John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver, thank you so much for joining us. We are back, and sadly, no time to go into everything we’ve missed. We don’t even have time to get into news from this week, from the Queen getting Covid to Putin continuing his whole “will he-won’t he” act about invading Ukraine. Instead, we’re going to start in Canada. It is very much the Santa Claus of countries in that it’s jolly, northern, and absolutely filled with reindeer jizz. Oh, we’re fucking back. Over the last few weeks, Canada’s capital has had its downtown besieged by protestors.
Ottawa becomes a global front line of frustration over vaccine restrictions. Hundreds of trucks are blockading the area around parliament.
We’re sitting here just because we think we’re doing the right thing here.
John: Okay. Here’s the thing about that, sometimes, sitting in your car is “doing the right thing,” like if you’re waiting for your McFlurry, or dropping off your kid’s baseball glove, or screaming in a Trader Joe’s parking lot because that was supposed to be your one hour alone and you had to spend it going to get that fucking glove even though you asked Brendan three times if he had it before you left the house and if you don’t just sit here for a minute, you might do a murder. And I will say, broadly, there is nothing wrong with civil disobedience. It’s often the most powerful way to bring about change. But occupying a capital city for nearly a month over objections to vaccine mandates for truckers — especially when both the Canadian Trucking Alliance and Ontario Trucking Association have disavowed the protests, and roughly 90% of truck drivers have received their vaccines — feels at best an over-response. And it sure seems like there’s more going on here, because the protestors are now demanding an end to all Covid restrictions nationwide and the resignation of prime minister Justin Trudeau. And they’ve been cheered on by U.S. conservatives, with Fox devoting numerous segments to approving coverage of them, and one of the convoy’s leaders, Pat King, being interviewed by Stu Varney. But it is worth noting that some of the organizers of this protest have strong views about issues other than Covid mandates. One of the convoy’s de facto spokespeople has been Tamara Lich, who has ties to far-right groups in Canada and has been a leader within the “Wexit” movement — which, I know, sounds like the official campaign to have westies refuse to participate in the national dog show after years of being unjustly overlooked — but actually it refers to a western separatist movement that’s called for Canada’s prairie provinces to secede. Quick fun side note: Lich also sings with a band called Blind Monday. Would you like to hear them perform? Well, too fucking bad. You’re going to.
♪ Get up, come on, get down with the sickness ♪
♪ you mother, get up, come on, get down with the sickness ♪
♪ you fucker, get up, come on, get down with the sickness ♪
♪ madness is the gift, that has been given to me ♪
John: Cool. But I will say this, it’s hard to think of a song more thematically appropriate to her cause than “get down with the sickness,” except for, maybe, “my heart will go on,” in that it’s both Canadian and inextricably linked with completely avoidable tragedy. Now, as for Pat King, the guy who Fox excitedly interviewed this week, you don’t need to look deep into his past to find some pretty inflammatory views:
What there is is there’s an endgame. It’s called depopulation of the Caucasian race or the Anglo-Saxon. And that’s what the goal is, is to depopulate the Anglo-Saxon race because they are the ones with the strongest bloodlines. And we’ll leave it at that because then we get into a whole different topic.
John: Holy shit. There is a lot going on there, not least of which is that you’re about to bring the Anglo-Saxon numbers down by at least one, Pat, if you don’t keep your eyes on the fucking road there. But also, let’s just acknowledge, “strongest bloodline” is a remarkably bold claim from a man who looks like someone is slowly poisoning Guy Fieri. Now, in recent days, police have been arresting protestors and clearing blockades. So the protest may actually be winding down. But unfortunately, like Covid in the unvaccinated, some of the ideas behind it are massively infectious. There is talk of a U.S. version of it happening, and copycat protests have already taken place in France, Australia, and New Zealand, where they had a novel way of trying to clear the obstruction.
Lines of vehicles rolled into New Zealand’s capital city last week, blocking streets near parliament, some protestors officials in New Zealand using softer tactics to try and get people to move on, playing songs from loudspeakers like “You’re beautiful” from James Blunt and music from Disney movies, even Barry Manilow.
John: Oh, come on, New Zealand, playing James Blunt and Barry Manilow isn’t going to cut it. You’re not going to move on people this angry with the actions of a bad wedding dj. Besides, we all now know, if you really want to get a crowd to disperse, you don’t go with Disney or James Blunt. Take it from me, you go with the only song guaranteed to clear a room. And it’s this.
♪ Get up, come on, get down with the sickness ♪
John: Exactly. 100% Successful. And now, this.
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Announcer: And now, the existential despair of ABC3 morning news.
4:30 In the morning. Let’s get this day together. Good morning, I’m Jared Willis.
That was a lot of pressure. “Let’s get this day together.”
Let’s just get into this day.
[Sighs] Every now and then, Laura, I wind up in the attic and there hanging on a post is my motorcycle jacket, classic leather, classic styling, I look at it and I sigh. [Sighs] Chronic pain, my friends, is no joke. But let’s not talk about me.
Forfeiting. Sound funny? You might forfeit. Nobody wants to go that route.
[Sighs] [sighs] All right. All right. You okay?
Fine. What a lovely enclosure they have, don’t you think?
Yeah. Oh, you know, even a pretty cage is a cage, Laura.
Look at that face. All right, you may start your wednesday now with a smile.
I’m smiling. I always like it when you ignore me, Laura, that’s nice.
That is, isn’t it?
Yeah, I like it. Okay. People at home like it as well.
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John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns school. It’s the only setting in which a child dissecting a frog is not an immediate red flag. We teach kids a lot in school, from reading to long division to how to play the fucking recorder for some reason. But recently, there’s been a lot of concern over one particular thing that people worry that kids are learning.
Critical race theory is being taught in our schools. Critical race theory is bunk.
Critical race theory is a lie. From the first word to the last. From start to finish.
Racist Critical Race Theory.
Critical race theory.
Critical race theory in the schools and the wokeness.
Let me tell you right now, Critical Race Theory is bigoted, it is a lie, and it is every bit as racist as the klansmen in white sheets.
John: I do not like that Ted Cruz man. I do not like him shouting “klan.” I do not like him in a room. I do not like him in Cancun. I do not like him playing ball. I do not like his face at all. I wish he’d lose his cushy job. That man Ted Cruz is a fucking knob. But here’s the thing, it is true, you have probably heard people yelling about Critical Race Theory on TV for more than a year now. And people have been listening to that noise, especially judging by what’s been happening at school board meetings across the country. [People shouting]
The western culture that brought forth christianity and the founding documents are being called evil and racist.
I am not co-parenting with the government. It is not your job to force these ideas onto my child.
The narrative in this country is that we’re all inherently racist, and I’m about sick of it.
It’s a marxist ideology and we all know it.
All of these lessons have the intent to make our children feel disgust towards our nation.
This country isn’t even a racist country. We elected Obama for two terms.
John: Wait, hold on, hold on. America can’t be racist because of Obama? I don’t know if you remember the 2008 election, but things got pretty racist back then. People kept saying he was born in Kenya, people said he was a secret muslim, and then a few years later, we elected that people president. So let’s just agree to disagree on that one, shall we? That first meeting was in Loudoun County, Virginia, and the meeting got so out of hand that it was shut down early, and a guy was arrested for trespassing, only to pop up on “Tucker Carlson” the very next day. So clearly a lot of people are very mad about Critical Race Theory right now. And instinctively, you probably know it’s a manufactured panic. But the fact is, the fear around it is having real effects. Last year, Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race in Virginia after repeatedly promising that on his first day in office he’d ban CRT from being taught in schools. Multiple states have passed laws outlawing the teaching of it. And republicans are likely to make it a major focus of the midterms. When it comes to Critical Race Theory, think of it like Rihanna’s pregnancy. Even if you think it has nothing to do with you, believe me, you’re going to be hearing about it a lot this year. So given that, we thought tonight we’d take a step back and look at what Critical Race Theory is and isn’t, why the panic around it has spread, and what the consequences might be for everyone involved. And I realize some of you may already know what CRT is. After all, explainers on it have become one of the most common sights on the internet, along with mediocre wordle scores and ugly monkey jpegs sold by and for dipshits. But many are still very confused. A recent survey found that an overwhelming majority of U.S. residents have a hard time articulating exactly what CRT is. And that even goes for some of those who have been yelling about it the loudest.
I — I’ve never figured out what Critical Race Theory is, to be totally honest, after a year of talking about it. They are teaching that some races are morally superior to others, that some are inherently sinful and some are inherently saintly, and that’s immoral to teach that ’cause it’s wrong.
John: Wow. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a person confidently complain about something just seconds after admitting they didn’t know shit about it. “Look, I’ve never figured out how a car engine works, to be honest, but there’s a chimpanzee under the hood turning a crank, and when you press the accelerator, it pokes him with a sharp stick and makes him crank faster, and it’s immoral to do that because it’s wrong.” But obviously, that is not what Critical Race Theory is. It’s the name given to a body of legal scholarship that began in the 1970s that attempted to understand why racism and inequality persisted after the civil rights movement. The core idea is that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice but also something that is embedded in legal systems and policies. As for Tucker’s notion that it teaches that some races are superior to others — or that parent’s claim that it teaches kids to hate America — none of that is remotely true, as Kimberle Crenshaw, one of CRT’s leading scholars points out.
Critical race theory just says, let’s pay attention to what has happened in this country and how what has happened in this country is continuing to create differential outcomes so we can become that country that we say we are. So Critical Race Theory is not anti-patriotic. In fact, it is more patriotic than those who are opposed to it. Because we believe in the 13th and the 14th and the 15th amendment. We believe in the promises of equality, and we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality.
John: Yeah, she’s right. And incidentally, if you’ve just found yourself there wondering what the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments are, that alone might be a good sign we don’t talk about this stuff in schools enough. And to be clear, CRT is graduate-level legal theory, so unless your five-year-old is currently pursuing a law degree, they’re not reading Kimberle Crenshaw. But critics of it argue that the ideas behind CRT are being taught in schools and often present a hyperbolically distorted version of what those ideas are. And a key person here is this man, a conservative activist named Christopher Rufo. He claims CRT is actually “a revolutionary program that would overturn the principles of the declaration and destroy the remaining structure of the constitution.” Which it just isn’t. It isn’t that. But in the wake of the George Floyd protests, just as America was beginning to grapple with systemic racism, Fox News began featuring Rufo on air a lot as part of their efforts to swing that pendulum back hard. In one appearance, he pointed to diversity trainings in government as evidence of CRT’s influence and he spoke directly to president trump through the camera about what he wanted to see happen.
The president of the White House, it’s within their authority and power to immediately issue an executive order abolishing Critical Race Theory trainings from the federal government. And I call on the president to immediately issue this executive order and — and stamp out this destructive, divisive, pseudoscientific ideology at its root.
John: Now, did Trump see that? I dunno. Is the Pope a catholic? Is the reason big died the fact that Carrie didn’t call 911 fast enough? The answer to all those questions is yes, and also, she was right not to do it. No big loss. Because Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, has since revealed President Trump saw that interview, and when Rufo said, “I call on the president to immediately issue this executive order,” quote, “that’s what we did.” Which is weird. There should be more steps than that. It shouldn’t just go, one, yell your wish at the President, then, two, it happens. Ideally you want an executive branch that’s a little more complicated than fucking Siri. And with that, CRT — or, crucially, Rufo’s definition of it — was suddenly absolutely everywhere. Fox News kept pushing it, mentioning the term “Critical Race Theory” nearly 5,000 times last year alone, and the network zeroed in on its supposed use in schools, with Rufo telling Fox’s audience that CRT has “really become the default ideology of the public education system.” And what Rufo has been cleverly doing is cherry-picking the worst examples he can find of lessons in classrooms or training materials for teachers, and saying, “that is CRT.” And he’s openly admitted that he’s been engaged in a deliberate branding exercise, tweeting, “we have successfully frozen their brand — ‘Critical Race Theory’ — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘Critical Race Theory.'” And the thing is, it fucking worked. Because whenever you hear “CRT” now, you are not hearing about the academic discipline. You’re hearing about a category so broad it encompasses both “the craziest thing in the newspaper” and also, crucially, “any conversation about race that someone does not want to have.” And look, I’m not saying discussing race in a classroom is easy or even always done well. Experts in this field will readily admit that.
Now, have you seen bad implementations of this?
Of course, right? That’s like asking, have I seen a bad math lesson? [Chuckles] Like, yes, teachers are humans, especially as we’re trying to figure out how to teach about race and racism.
John: Exactly, teachers are human and can make mistakes. Frankly, I’m surprised they don’t make more. They wake up insanely early and spend all day getting low-key roasted by teenagers for an amount of money best described as “completely harrowing.” The very fact any student in America knows what a covalent bond is is a fucking miracle, and every adult involved deserves the congressional medal of honor. And the fact is, you can find examples of clumsy, shitty lessons. One school used a “privilege bingo” card, which sure seems like a glib way to handle a very serious subject. Another classic lesson over the years has been to teach about prejudice metaphorically by dividing a classroom up by eye color, with brown eyes people, for instance, being the lowest tier, and then being treated terribly. And if you do that in a diverse classroom and think for a second about who’s more likely to have brown eyes, you can probably immediately see just how badly that lesson could go. That actually happened in at least one school in the Chicago area, and the reason I know that is that this kid was in the class that day, and she’s one of our writers now. Ali, what did you think of that lesson?
It was pretty fucked up.
John: Yeah! Yeah, I bet it was! But the fact is, many educators are currently working very hard to find age-appropriate ways to talk about race and racism in the classroom. And if you do it right, you don’t stop at the civil rights movement, you tell the story all the way to the present day, which kids want and need. They have questions about what they can see with their own eyes, and they deserve good answers. And it is frankly far better for them to have these discussions in a supportive educational environment rather than the potential alternative: during a screaming match at thanksgiving. But the panic over CRT threatens to shut those conversations down. And that is not all it is likely to do. Because some pushing this panic the hardest are actually using it to advance a much bigger agenda that they’ve wanted for a very long time, and that is school choice — basically, letting parents take tax dollars afforded to the public schooling of their kid and use them at any school they like. Here is Chris Rufo again, laying out that exact strategy.
First, we have to just get it out of schools. We have to ban it and abolish it. But in the long term, what we need to do is give every parent in this country a right to exit failing institutions. No child should be trapped in a failing public school that violates his sense of conscience, that violates the values of the parents. Every parent should take those education dollars anywhere that they wish.
School choice will liberate people. It will empower people and it will actually depolarize some of these national fights that we’ve seen.
John: Oh, so you’re doing all this to tone down partisan fights, are you, Chris? Very cool of you. You’ve probably noticed that general wave of calm chill vibes sweeping the nation lately. If there is one word I would use to describe every image coming out of a school board meeting these days, it is “depolarized.” Look, it is not just rufo. Conservative organizations that have long pushed for school choice, like the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks, have poured money into this fight. And of course, no school choice push would be complete without lifelong rich person and occasional education secretary Betsy Devos, who wrote an op-ed titled “let’s liberate kids from race indoctrination — with school choice.” And you should know, this is just nothing new. There is a long history of responding to racial panic with a push for school choice. In fact, the roots of the school choice movement trace back to the Brown vs. Board of education decision, when southern states adopted voucher programs to facilitate the creation of private schools called “segregation academies.” And some of those taking advantage of school choice today sure seem to be doing some heavy indoctrination of their own. Take Florida. It’s one of the states that allows public money to go to voucher schools, and a few years back, an investigation into some of them found commonly used textbooks that “downplayed the horrors of slavery.” One of them is this one, “America: Land I Love,” which has all the kind of bullshit you’d expect — that the civil war was fought for states’ rights — but it also states that, during the antebellum period, “the slave who knew Christ had more freedom than a free person who did not know the savior.” Which is not just offensive, it is profoundly stupid. Any kid reading that absolute trombone slide of a sentence would instantly drop two full grades. It sounds less like something you’d find in a textbook and more like something you’d find crocheted on a throw pillow in Paula Deen’s living room. So if you want to talk about “racial indoctrination” of schoolkids, this might be a better place to start. But the thing is, even a manufactured panic is a panic. Those parents at school board meetings are genuinely angry. And as any little league coach knows, once you reach a critical mass of angry white parents, there will be consequences. In Texas, this high school principal was forced out of his job after being accused at a school board meeting of promoting CRT by someone who wasn’t even a parent at his school. And in Tennessee, this current affairs teacher was fired for not giving varying points of view after he gave students a Ta-Nehisi Coates article and showed them Kyla Jenee Lacey’s poem “White Privilege.” And he had a pretty decent response to that criticism:
I think to me, the varying viewpoint is Kyla Janee Lacey and it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. Those are perspectives that my students aren’t exposed to on a daily basis because, you know, we live in that white dominant evangelical environment.
John: Right, when you live in a mostly white environment, the voices of black people can be the varying point of view for you. And not just on current events — on lots of things white people might otherwise assume, even trivial ones, like “it’s okay to go out in a blizzard in shorts,” and “if I argue with this cop I can probably get out of a ticket,” and “time travel would be a fun and stress-free activity. “Ooh, the 1930s! I can’t wait to look around!” Unfortunately, those situations are now only likely to become more common. Since January of last year, 37 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching “Critical Race Theory,” or limit how teachers can discuss racism. And the justification for these has often been more than a little flimsy. Here’s one Tennessee lawmaker explaining why he was pushing for his state’s bill.
Listen to the following quotes from an email forwarded to me concerning a seven-year-old girl in Williamson county. The little girl told her mother, “I’m ashamed that I’m white.” The daughter then asked her mother, “is there something wrong with me? Why am I hated so much?”
John: Okay, but the thing to do in that situation isn’t to pass a law limiting the discussion of race in the classroom. It’s to ask literally one follow-up question. Like, “what was happening to make you think the other kids hate you?” Or, “did any adults step in when you felt this way?” Or, “do you even exist?” Because when reporters looked into this, you should know they found no parent had come forward to that school’s principal, teachers, or district officials with that complaint, and administrators there weren’t able to pinpoint any student who might be upset, or lessons that could have been upsetting. And if that’s how we’re arguing things now, I should probably mention: I, too, happen to have an email forward from a different little white girl — way cuter than the first one, by the way — who said that first girl’s story is complete bullshit. And the thing is, by Tennessee law, it seems I simply have to believe her. But that lawmaker actually illustrates the problem facing legislators currently trying to outlaw something they can’t define. Because what are you going to do? Pass a law saying kids can’t feel bad? Well, it turns out yes. Because that’s exactly what Tennessee did. They passed a law prohibiting any teaching that would cause “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” Which is very broad. And you’re not going to believe this, but I just received another email this second from a third Tennessee white girl who says, “what fucking idiots are writing these laws and how many fictitious children are they going to make up to justify them? P.s., I honestly preferred the new Zazu.” And, wow! What a nice thing to say from a definitely real child. And look, we’ve talked before on this show about the multiple problems with teaching kids a sanitized version of U.S. history, and how, as far back as a century ago, groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy were reshaping textbooks to downplay its horrors. And it seems here we go again. Because lawmakers are trying to micromanage school curriculums, sometimes pretty ineptly. A bill proposed in Virginia contains a section listing some of the “founding documents” it’s okay to teach — a list that includes the declaration of independence, the constitution, and “the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass” — which, I hope you know, is not a thing that happened. The Lincoln-Douglas debates were, of course, between senator Stephen Douglas and his opponent, a 2020 Lincoln navigator. So read your history, everyone. Facts matter here. But maybe the most insulting distortion of history is in the quote that every single anti-CRT activist seems to love to invoke.
You think about what MLK stood for, he said he didn’t want people judged on the color of their skin but on the content of their character.
You know, I believe it was Martin Luther King that said, when he was talking about his children that…
He didn’t want his children to be judged…
On the color of their skin…
But by the content of their character.
Content of their character, not by the color of their skin.
Content of our character, not the color of our skin.
And the immortal words of dr. Martin Luther King ring in our ears that we must…
Judge others not by the…
Color of their…
Skin, but by the..
The left wants us to constantly focus on skin color. It’s destructive. Martin Luther King Jr. Is rolling over in his grave.
John: Yeah, you know what, I bet he is, actually. In fact, I’m pretty sure every time someone uses his words that way, dr. King’s illustrious remains spin fast enough to power the eastern fucking seaboard. Here’s the thing though, that dream speech was clearly an aspirational goal, not a description of things as they stood. And in fact, king himself later put a pretty major asterisk on it.
I must confess that that dream I had that day has at many points turned into a nightmare. And I’ve come to see that we have many more difficult days ahead, and some of the old optimism was a little superficial, and now it must be tempered with a solid realism.
John: Yeah. And in a book published that same year, he wrote that, while “the majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the negro, and they believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class utopia embodying racial harmony, unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.” So while it is clearly very appealing to create a version of history where MLK was a kind figure who existed solely to help white people win arguments, the truth is, he later reflected on his own message, and challenged white people to look more deeply at themselves. And that is something kids should absolutely be learning about in school. But the problem is, they won’t, if these laws continue. A white parent could plausibly claim that reading MLK’s writing made their child feel “discomfort” on the basis of their race. And some of these laws seem designed to bend schools’ curriculums to the sensibilities of the most conservative, alarmed parents. In Florida, Ron DeSantis is pushing a “stop woke” act — that was him unveiling it a minute ago with Chris Rufo right behind him. That would give parents “private right of action” to sue if they think their kids are being taught CRT. And all of these laws are already having chilling effects. Book bans are on the rise around the country, and one Oklahoma school district has even told teachers simply to avoid using terms like “diversity” and “white privilege.” And look — you can ban all the books you want, you can try and legislate it away, but as any black woman on “The Bachelor” can tell you, talking about race is unavoidable. And it’s not just unavoidable, it’s essential-especially in the places where people are most panicked about CRT. And this brings us all the way back to where this story began, in Loudoun county, Virginia, where that school board meeting got so very far out of hand. Here is one of the leaders of the anti-CRT push there, explaining just why she’s so fiercely opposed to it being taught.
In Loudoun county, this is the wealthiest county in the country. There’s not a lot of racism. There are silly people that say stupid things, but if you talk about it less, you’re going to notice that division less. I don’t look at the person based on their skin color, I look at them based on their character.
John: Okay, there’s a lot of obvious red flags there, from confidently asserting “there’s not a lot of racism here,” to the “I don’t see skin color,” to the “you won’t notice division so much if you just don’t talk about it.” And hey, if the problem with racism in America was only “it’s bumming Patti Menders out,” then yeah, shutting up would probably solve the issue. But guess how long it takes for that conversation to take a real turn.
I think there are a lot of, there — there are probably plenty of people that would agree with exactly that. But just to be fair, on the other side, there are people, especially young black men, for example, who would say, “I would love to not be judged on the color of my skin.
Do you think it’s more on the color of their skin or their actions? How they’re dressed, how they perceive, how they respect others? If you have a kid that’s pulled over by a cop, does it really matter what color they are, or is — is it the respect that they give to that police officer?
John: Wow. When you respond to someone mentioning young black men would like to be treated better by automatically envisioning them dressed terribly and acting disrespectfully, while being arrested by the police, you are telling on yourself, patty. You are snitching on your own soul. And as for her claim that there’s “not a lot of racism” in Loudoun county, you probably already assumed that was bullshit, but you should know, an assessment of public schools there found that “it was shocking the extent to which students report the use of the n-word.” And I think, as a society, we’ve agreed: white people should not be using the n-word a “shocking number of times” — unless, that is, they have a lucrative podcast deal with Spotify. But that is absolutely it. And all of this brings us to the main point here — that for all the laws being passed to prevent discomfort or anguish on account of an individual’s race, whose discomfort, exactly, are we prioritizing here? Because kids of color can tell you, they don’t get a choice to “not talk about race” and have it go away, like this graduate of Loudoun county schools:
I do understand that many parents don’t want their children learning about race at such a young age, but I beg to differ in that sense. We learn about race every day when we’re the only colored kid in our classrooms, or when we’re learning about slavery and all the heads turn to us. So one way or another, one group of students will learn about race before another. So we believe that it would be equitable if all students to learn about race in the same context so that we can work together on it to improve our future.
John: Yeah, children of color learn about race from a very young age. From realizing you celebrate different holidays or get different safety talks or the first time you go to a white friend’s house and you’re served a casserole. You realize very quickly in that moment that we are different people with different cultures. So, look, by this point, it should be pretty clear the debate around Critical Race Theory is both very loud and very, very dumb. But unfortunately, it is important to engage with it. Because if we don’t, the endpoint we’re heading toward is that honest discussions of race will be shut out of public schools, even as some parents fuck off to voucher academies where their kids can learn a version of history that’s basically antebellum fan fiction. And I’m not saying that discussions on race will always be comfortable for everyone in the classroom, but think about it like this, when was learning and growing as a person ever comfortable? The thing to do here isn’t to run from those discussions or pass laws banning them. It is to learn how to have them better. Because for generation after generation, we’ve told schoolkids fairy tales about race in this country. And maybe it’s time we stop doing that. Because all it’s done so far is get us to the point we’re at right now, with full-grown adults insisting America can’t be racist because we elected Obama twice, that racism will go away if we just don’t mention it, and that Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech wasn’t an aspiration we have yet to fulfill, but some kind of magic spell that ended prejudice then and there. That is our show, thank you so much for watching, we’ll see you next week, good night.
John, John, I’ve got more stories. Okay, in third grade we did an “Oregon trail” unit and my teacher put me and the other black kid in the class together and said we were a family of freed slaves heading west to make our fortune. Like, what am I supposed to do with that? In sixth grade, I told my teacher that reading “roll of thunder, hear my cry” made me uncomfortable, and she told me, it all works out in the end. Okay, in the end, one of the characters almost gets lynched. How is almost gets lynched a happy ending? For Ellis Island day, I said my family didn’t immigrate and we don’t know where in Africa we are from. My teacher said, well, guess. And I was like, bitch, you guess. There were only two kids in the whole class, and we were the freed slaves going west? Okay.
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