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Discussion series focuses on critical race theory

 A flyer for the October 5th discussion on critical race theory
Saratoga Educational Equity Network
A flyer for the October 5th discussion on critical race theory

A series of virtual community conversations in Saratoga County is attempting to “demystify” the concept of critical race theory, which has been the subject of a national backlash.

The Saratoga Educational Equity Network has kicked off a series of conversations on understanding critical race theory – a divisive term lately in politics and education.

In a virtual panel discussion on October 5th, Director of Black Studies at Skidmore College Dr. Winston Grady-Willis explained that while some may be hearing the phrase for the first time in 2021, the ideas behind critical race theory have been around for more than a century.

Grady-Willis pointed to American civil rights activist and writer W.E.B. DuBois, and the notion of the “double tax” facing Black Americans in education.

“He’s saying, at the beginning of the 20th Century, Black parents whose taxes are funding public school education that their children cannot attend, oftentimes, have to go back into their pockets to try to start up what are often ramshackle schools. Right? And that’s the double tax. The double burden. So here in the beginning of the 20th Century, we have someone who is saying we need to look at all the layers of segregation and that policy impact on families,” said Grady-Willis.

In the discussion moderated by Dr. Renata Williams, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Mercersberg Academy, panelists discussed what CRT it is, and what it is not.

Pointing to the October holiday, Tina Wagle, a Professor and Education Coordinator at the School for Graduate Studies at SUNY Empire State College, gave the example of how the legacy of Christopher Columbus has been historically taught to children.

“You know, we celebrate him for many reasons – Italians, in particular, because they’re proud of their Italian ancestry here – but what is it that makes it into the history books? It’s really those who have won the wars, who have this privilege. Those from underrepresented groups don’t have a lot of real estate in the history books,” said Wagle.

According to Wagle, CRT is about encouraging students to consider multiple perspectives and heritages.

“I think we need to think critically about what it means that we’re, also, not out to make people with historic privilege feel bad or guilty about their circumstances. Merely, to raise people’s attention to other’s experiences, what their challenges are,” said Wagle.

As students are asked to consider the perspectives of others, Wagle, an educator herself, said teacher candidates should be asked to confront their own biases.

For Albany Law School Professor Dr. Anthony Paul Farley, CRT is “attending history” and learning from America’s past of racial inequality.

“Slavery is white-over-Black. Segregation is white-over-Black. Neo-segregation is white-over-Black. There is then, white-over-Black, white-over-Black only, and that continually, from that day to this,” said Farley.

As critical race theory becomes a political buzzword assailed on the right, Farley put in frank terms what he believes the fear of CRT demonstrates. Farley’s point drew a response from Wagle.

“Their fear is of equality. Their fear is of Black people not being under heel. And so engaging with them may be a mistake, I think, one is just talking to the person over their shoulder. Or the person next to them. Or the person in front of them. But wasting time with somebody who just wants you dead is never the way forward. And I don’t mean that as hyperbole, like I mean, wasting time with somebody who just wants you dead,” said Farley.

“Yeah, I think that’s right. I think open communication has to be the answer to that. Offering concrete examples of history and why this is happening to try and open their eyes. I mean, if somebody’s mind is made up, unfortunately that’s the way it is, but think the more we try to engage in civil conversation, respectful conversation, if they’re willing to listen, then you need to hear that conversation,” said Wagle.

A future conversation is planned on discussing critical race theory strictly within the realm of K-12 education.

For more information visit Saratogaeen.org.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.