Opposition to CRT obscures the point that we are talking about American history

Op-ed by James Michael Brodie

Across the country, lawmakers, educators (including the Board of Regents at my alma mater, the University of Colorado), and other interested parties are taking up discussions regarding Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project.

The conflict among many White Americans is whether or not to acknowledge what actually happened to enslaved Africans and their descendants, and the role that American laws, policies and actions have played in the institutionalization of racial disparities.

Some, when faced with long-running evidence of race-based discrimination, continue to not only deny that evidence, but argue, incorrectly, that teaching about racism is in itself racist. Their solution is censorship and denial of any true exploration of race in the halls of Academe.

This partial history is a short examination of how the United States has codified the denial of full citizenship to Black Americans:

  • Africans were enslaved people. As such, they had no citizenship rights or rights to patent inventions, own property, get married, raise families, or build familial wealth.
  • Enslaved Black women were used as guinea pigs for gynecological experiments, operated on without anesthesia.
  • Southern Whites created the “One-Drop” rule to determine whether a person was “pure” or had blood that was tainted by blackness.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 6, 1857, (Dred Scott v. Sanford) that Black people had no rights that White people were bound to respect.
  • The Southern states, in their Articles of Secession, cited their desire to keep Africans enslaved because they were deemed genetically inferior.
  • After the end of the Civil War, and two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, federal troops came to Texas to tell Blacks that they were free. “Juneteenth” became a federal holiday in 2021.
  • The end of Reconstruction meant that every Black elected official was removed from office. Black men were stripped of their right to vote by use of the Grandfather Clause, literary tests, making Black voters correctly guess the number of jellybeans in a jar, and the murdering of Black people who attempted to vote.
  • The Ku Klux Klan was founded as a terrorist organization that lynched Black citizens. Confederate monuments sprang up to reinforce the rise of the Klan. This would happen every time major headway was made toward equal rights.
  • The Supreme Court ruling in 1896 in the Plessy v. Ferguson case established the doctrine of “Separate but Equal.” The Supreme Court would not strike that down until 1954 in the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case.
  • Woodrow Wilson became president and purged every Black employee from the rolls of the federal government in Washington, D.C. Wilson screened DW Griffith’s racist homage to the Klan “Birth of a Nation” in the White House.
  • Black athletes were banned from every major sports league.
  • Black communities in Wilmington, N.C., Tulsa, Okla., Rosewood, Fla., and several other towns were burned to the ground by White mobs.
  • Lynchings of Black people were commonplace, with postcards created to commemorate the acts.
  • More Confederate monuments were built.
  • Black people who were light enough to pass for White did so just to keep jobs or to avoid persecution.
  • The military was segregated by law.
  • Charles Drew, who was the first person to figure out how to store blood plasma for transfusions, resigned from the American Red Cross because of its policy of segregating the blood of Black and White donors.
  • Redlining kept Blacks from getting loans, credit, or buying homes.
  • Black soldiers were denied benefits they earned under the GI Bill.
  • In 1951, Henrietta Lacks became the unwitting source of the HeLa cell line developed by Johns Hopkins University Hospital. She was being treated for cervical cancer. While the cell line has driven a multi-billion-dollar industry, her family says it has not been compensated for her cells support, nor consulted on how her cells are used.
  • In protest against the 1954 Supreme Court’s Brown decision, Georgia added the Confederate emblem to its state flag.
  • Politicians such as Lester Maddox, George Wallace, and Strom Thurmond promoted the preservation of segregation.
  • After passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, several Southern Democrats left the party to become Republicans — what became known as the Southern Strategy.
  • More monuments to the Confederacy were built (see earlier notation as to why). 
  • Black people are more likely to be pulled over by the police than Whites (who, by the way, are more likely to be arrested for carrying illegal substances).
  • Blacks are more likely to be arrested for committing the same offenses as Whites, more likely to get charged, more likely to be convicted, given longer sentences, and three times as likely to die in police custody.
  • A 2020 lawsuit revealed that the National Football league used the controversial practice of “race-norming,” which assigned Black players a lower level of cognitive function than white players. This made it harder for Blacks to prove they qualified for payouts from the 2017 $1 billion concussion settlement for players suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
  • Today, at the state university where I earned my degree, only 1 percent of the students on a campus of more than 35,000 are Black. The football team, however, is 70 percent Black.

That we have reached a point in our nation’s life where we are literally arguing whether our documented history should be taught in a democratic society should shame those who insist on running from the truth.

This is an argument that we should not be having at all.

History is history.

Editor’s note: James Michael Brodie is a Baltimore-based writer, journalist, and author. His books include Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators and Sweet Words So Brave: The Story of African American Literature. A University of Colorado graduate in English, Brodie is also president of The Black and Gold Project Foundation, which includes the podcast collection of personal narratives titled: The Black and Gold Project: Our Past, Our Present, Our Future.