In 1899 Rudyard Kipling wrote the jingoistic poem “The White Man’s Burden.” Mark Twain responded with an essay titled “To the Person Sitting in Darkness.” The recent debates around critical race theory prove not much has changed since the 19th century.
Repeatedly, Prince William County Public Schools repeat that CRT is not being taught, and repeatedly others insist that teachers are pushing these lessons on their students. Mac Haddow, who represents the Coles District on the Racial and Social Justice Commission, recently said, “The last person I am going to ask frankly is a School Board member, ‘Are you teaching critical race theory?’” Thus we have an intellectual logjam.
At the same meeting, Haddow, empowered by his position to author a report on the state of race relations in Prince William, confessed his lack of understanding of the difference between critical race theory and culturally responsive teaching and derided the concept of intersectionality after admitting that, until a month earlier, he had never heard the term, which has been commonly used by scholars for over 30 years when discussing the intersection of issues regarding race, gender and other defining characteristics.
Meanwhile, Facebook pages are popping up to fight the nonexistent CRT curriculum, and political candidates are declaring themselves anti-CRT warriors. Furthermore, taxpayer money is being spent to host one-sided town hall meetings focused on the mythical CRT lesson plans that have been concocted by teachers as they dance around a woke caldron chanting, “Double, double, toil and trouble; Let’s teach the white kids they live in a racist bubble.”
All of this is to say that there are people who are propagating confusion and fear for personal aggrandizement.
Despite what some think, race-based fights in schools are not relics of the 20th century. Former Georgia governor Nathan Deal’s office proclaimed, “This is a leftist front group for the state Democratic Party and we’re not going to lend a hand to their silly publicity stunt.” He was referring to an effort to integrate high school proms in Georgia … in 2014.
It took Prince William until 2019 to integrate its Board of County Supervisors. Our first African-American sheriff wasn’t elected until 2003, and our new schools superintendent, Dr. LaTanya McDade, is the first woman and the first person of color to hold that position since Prince William schools were integrated in 1965, 11 years after Brown vs. the Board of Education.
These recent “firsts” in a 290-year-old county makes it clear that we still have a lot of work to do because we are also the county that made national news in 2008 when our police chief expressed concern that the supervisors’ immigration policy amounted to government-sanctioned racial profiling. A decade later, we had a chairman advocating for Confederate iconography and the Lost Cause narrative.
In June 2020, there were efforts at a supervisors’ meeting to change a resolution supporting Black Lives Matter to one focused on All Lives. At that same meeting, Supervisor Jeanine Lawson said she did not know who W.E.B. Debois was and pleaded, “Teach me, just teach me.” Now it seems that some want to slow down or stop the kind of teaching for which Lawson was advocating.
In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. touches on this idea of perpetual delay: “For years now I have heard the word ‘wait.’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never.’”
King echoed the need for urgency years later in his “I Have a Dream” speech when he spoke of the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism” and again in his “Mountaintop” speech when he declared, “[W]e have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them.”
Often people misuse Dr. King’s call for judgment based on character as a way to deflect conversations away from race. We don’t need to stop children from talking about race; we need to teach them how to talk about race honestly and openly. We need to look critically at our past and our present, so that we do not pass this burden on to the next generation.
Kristina Nohe is a political activist, adoption advocate and homeschooling mom who is proud to be from Prince William County.