HEALTH

Rejecting critical race theory, HB 1775 tries to take the history out of history

OPINION — Oklahoma’s majority conservative, majority White lawmakers want our students to be taught revisionist history, one that does not make them face up to the fact that great-great-uncle Jeb owned humans. 

This is what House Bill 1775 would do if Gov. Kevin Stitt signs it into law. It will “prohibit Oklahoma public schools, colleges and universities from incorporating certain messages about sex and race into any course instruction.” 

Paula Lewis, chairwoman of the Oklahoma City Schools Board, gave a stern and truthful rebuke to the racists in our legislature who authored and supported the bill in a May 4 Twitter thread. 

“This past week, the Oklahoma State Legislature passed HB 1775, an outright racist and oppressive piece of legislation,” Lewis wrote. “As a mom, community member, and the Chair of the OKCPS Board of Education, I am appalled at the flagrant attempt to erase factual, incomprehensible history that has occurred in the United States.  Our history as a country and as a state, if told accurately, is uncomfortable and should be heartbreaking for Americans that look like me, white.”

Everything about this bill, including its register number, is an attack on historical and legal understanding of American racism created by Nikole Hannah-Jones as part of The New York Times’ 1619 Project. This ongoing journalism series, which operates under the ideas of critical race theory (CRT), seeks to effectively integrate the study of racism in America into our history and our national dialogue. 

But racists do not want to hear about racism. They prefer that American students learn via the Great Man Theory, which is largely credited to 19th century Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle and shows history only through the prism of its conquerors — which, now that I think of it, kind of sucks if you are Scottish like Carlyle and had your culture and your people destroyed and undermined by the British for hundreds of years. He was clearly a self-hating Scot. 

Critical race theory is not concerned with obliterating the accomplishments of European Americans. Instead, it seeks to teach a well-rounded and inclusive version of American history that shows, among other things, how wealth and power were solidified in America. This will include hard work and innovation when it is true, and will include the ownership and exploitation of humans when that is also true. 

This particularly impacts our understanding and continued investigation of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. That attack by white racists on the Greenwood District was not taught in Oklahoma Schools for a century. My piss-poor Oklahoma history education in the mid-1980s included no mentions of the event, so I did not learn about the massacre until my 30s. 

HB 1775 not only misunderstands CRT, it seeks to roll back Oklahoma students’ understanding of American history. 

It wants history to be mostly white and conqueror-centric, and to not dwell so much on uncomfortable issues like slavery, Jim Crow legislation, the formation of the Ku Klux Klan by seven former Confederate officers, the practices of institutional lynching, segregation and redlining, the subjugation and crimes against Native Americans and the policing practices that resulted in the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Daunte Wright.

The current Oklahoma legislative session has been an embarrassment of embarrassments, but the passage of HB 1775 would be a crowning achievement for white nationalists, and Gov. Kevin Stitt should veto it for the sake of all the remaining good in the world. 

“The only way forward as a country and as a state, is for all of us to have hard, uncomfortable conversations,” Lewis wrote. “To acknowledge the truth, apologize for actions that stemmed from not knowing, and do all that we can, both individually and collectively to atone for our actions that have contributed to the oppression of our African-American, Hispanic, Indigenous and other people of color.”

The white nationalists who authored and co-sponsored the bill, Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, and Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, do not want us to individually and collectively atone. They want it to be all powdered wigs and deified founders. They want history without history. 


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Last Updated May 5, 2021, 2:23 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor

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