OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 1775 Friday that proponents say will prohibit public schools colleges and universities from teaching “Critical Race Theory” and stop any mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling.
But, since HB1775 was passed in both houses and went to the governor’s desk, opponents have been unusually forceful in their opposition accusing the Republican super-majority in the Legislature and Republican Stitt of pushing a bill that “solves a problem that doesn’t exist” to create yet another divisive wedge issue.
And Black leaders across the state slammed the bill for what they consider to be prohibiting the clear, honest teaching of U.S. History especially when it comes to slavery and its impact on Black students.
Signing statements try to reassure
But statements from the bill’s sponsor and from Stitt tried to confirm that the intent was not to erase any state teaching standards.
In a video signing statement, Stitt said, “To be sure, we must teach history in all it’s complexities and encourage honest and tough conversations about our past.”
He pointed to language in the bill that seems to uphold teaching to the Oklahoma teaching standards which has been modified recently to include topics formerly left out of history such as the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
“We can, and should, teach this history without labeling a young child as an ‘oppressor’ or requiring he or she feel guilt or shame based on their race or sex,” said Stitt. “I refuse to tolerate otherwise.”
The bills’ author, Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, attempted to justify HB1775 in his statement on the bill’s signing.
“Already, this harmful indoctrination has infiltrated Oklahoma schools from as early as pre-kindergarten classrooms all the way through college courses,” wrote West. “Some of our state universities currently are requiring this mandatory training for their freshman students.”
He also said that “Critical Race Theory” is based on “Marxist ideology” intended to attack the concept of American exceptionalism and create distrust among the races.
Black leaders respond
Soon after the bill was signed into law, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission has a response up on their website from Friends of the Centennial Commission, an auxiliary group to the commission.
“We are extremely disappointed that Oklahoma Legislators, including Governor Stitt, chose to support HB1775 which diametrically opposes the work of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.”
The statement continued:
“No matter how poorly written, the intention of the bill clearly aims to limit teaching the racial implications of America’s history. The bill serves no purpose than to fuel the racism and denial that afflicts our communities and our nation. It is a sad day and a stain on Oklahoma.”
“Despite this effort to squelch the truth-telling and discussion of our past… we will not be moved. We are more dedicated than ever to our mission and we will not accept the ill-conceived constraints that this law seeks to impose through misdirection and deception.”
The statement pointed out that the conjunction of the bill being signed into law and the 100-year anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre “will be noted throughout the world.”
Stitt is a member of the commission. In their statement, they said that “as a fellow Commissioner we thought our Governor would do better.”
Earlier in the week, a group of ten Black pastors of churches in Oklahoma City met with Stitt to express their concern and ask him to veto the bill. They later issued a written statement of their concerns.
Their list of concerns included that the prohibition would interfere with “much-needed discussions about race and racism” and its adverse effects on students and teachers who are trying to “have difficult conversations that produce solutions to problems.”
Opposition in Legislature responds
But, several legislators in the Democratic Party opposition noted in their statements about the bill that West could not give even one example of a supposed problem his bill was trying to address.
“At its base level the author of this bill is asking us to vote in good faith for a bill that he can’t provide any evidence for,” wrote Rep. Mauree Turner, D-Oklahoma City. “If we really look at this bill, it’s a dog whistle to ‘ending discrimination’ by not recognizing the ways people individually uphold it.”
Turner added, “There is no way to talk about the history of this nation without getting emotionally invested. This bill doesn’t solve any issue and actually creates an issue of writing vague bills so any state-sanctioned discrimination can slip through them.”
Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, wrote a scathing response the day the bill passed off the House floor.
“We spent another day on the House Floor using taxpayer dollars to discuss a bill that solves a problem that does not exist,” wrote Munson. “The author of the bill was consistently asked about specific examples of the problem he is trying to solve with his legislation. Each time, he was unable to provide specific examples.”
“What was passed today is a further attempt to divide Oklahomans and uphold mistruths to win partisan points,” Munson added.
Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, responded, “There is inequity in our state, and it’s our job to work to level the playing field. But we tend to work to avoid that conversation instead, and now we’re dictating that our schools do the same. It hasn’t worked historically, and it won’t work now, to make Oklahoma a better place for all of us.”
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, delivered an equally-harsh response to when HB1775 was passed.
“…today the majority party chose to prioritize legislation that divides Oklahoma instead of unites us,” wrote Virgin. “Instead of focusing on the real issues facing Oklahomans, the majority party continues their attack on anyone in Oklahoma who might not look, think, love, or act like them.”
Nationwide, orchestrated push
HB1775 does not seem to come from original thought by West or its Senate sponsor, Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, in response to problems existing in the state.
The language of the bill is almost a direct match to similar bills being pushed by centralized Republican Party coordination in state legislatures across the U.S. including Oklahoma’s neighbor, Texas.
A bill making its way through the Texas Legislature attempts the same prohibitions on the teaching of certain theories that some people are “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” reports the Houston Chronicle.
The language is an exact match of language in Oklahoma’s HB1775, 1.b.
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Last Updated May 8, 2021, 2:16 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor