Critical Race Theory has been the hot topic in the news, on the web and has been the lightning rod phrase used to ban #antiracism , #antioppression and #multicultural books and curriculum in states throughout the United States. These bans have also been model used to limit discussions about gender and LGBTQIA+ concern in academic settings.
In this episode, I talk to Dr. Marvin Lynn, a Professor of Education at Portland State University, former elementary school teacher and critical race theorist. We delve into some of the history of critical race theory, how it was originally applied and how it evolved. We also discuss the myths and #criticalracetheory and how those myths gained traction. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this episode.
You can follow Dr. Lynn on Twitter at @DrMarvinLynn or on instagram at @marvinlynn
You can find the books mentioned in this episode and others here: https://bookshop.org/lists/s2e2-crt-and-education/
Latisha Jones: Hey, everybody. Quick content warnings/general housekeeping about this episode. So this episode, we’re talking about critical race theory and education. But it also does go into several other topics. So we talk a little bit about reparations, a little bit about media representation and a little bit about politics more than I usually go into. So if that’s not really your thing by all means, skip on to a new episode or a different episode.
Also, one thing I want to keep in mind is that I am talking in this episode to Dr. Marvin Lynn and the conversation can get a little academic. So there’s some law cases and some terminology that we reference, which might not be clear without a point of reference. So to let you know about some of the things that we referenced. We referenced the Dred Scott Case. We referenced Loving v. Virginia. We referenced the school to prison pipeline and a couple of other terms.
If you have to pause the episode and Google a few terms by all means, do. There’s also going to be an episode transcript of this episode. So if you want to look at that, so you can read along while you’re listening, that might also be helpful. I, as you may know, have a background in education, so they do want to make sure that this episode is as accessible as possible. Even if, like I say, we get a little academic in the conversation, so definitely let me know if you have any questions, you can always hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram at Interspectional.
And I’d be happy to continue the conversation with you there. So enjoy the episode and everyone have a great day
Latisha: Hi everybody. And welcome to this episode of Interspectional I am super, super excited to share with you this particular guest, Dr. Marvin Lynn and also, the subject we’ll be talking about today. It’s one of those subjects that has been in the news a lot. And I know I mostly talk about fiction, stuff like that, but this time we’re going to get a little bit real.
So I hope that you all stick around and I’m super excited. And Dr. Lynn, can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your expertise?
Marvin: Sure. So my name is Marvin Lynn. I’m a professor of education at Portland State University in Oregon. I have been in higher education for the last 20 or so years, almost 21 now.
And my area of expertise is around the work and lives of black male teachers, but also on critical race theory and education. So I’ve been engaged in a lot of discussion with the media, with universities, with a lot of different organizations in the last year and a half about critical race theory. And so I look forward to talking with you more about that.
You’d probably be interested to know that Latisha and I have a connection from way back. I was an elementary teacher when I first started my education career almost 30 years ago. Can you believe it? And I was Latisha’s second grade teacher for the school year. Hopefully not telling too much. So we have known each other for a very long time and I’m just happy to be participating in this podcast.
Latisha: I’m happy to have you and yes, this is also my second grade teacher. So I, more naturally we just call him Mr. Lynn because that’s how I met him. Also, like I said, this subject has been in the news a lot and it was great to be able to reach out to an expert on this particular subject. So we can delve into some of the realities, the myths and really get a solid handle on this.
So I know when I think of my understanding of critical race theory is that it really starts off as a legal terminology. And it is a way for lawyers and those professionals to be like, “Okay, there are laws. And the laws say that everyone should be treated equally, but that’s not happening. So if we look at things and think about how does race play into the law, maybe this will answer the questions as to why things aren’t going the way we’re told that they’re supposed to go.
And maybe the law isn’t as neutral or as ‘it’s just the rules’, as we’re told it is. Maybe there’s a bit of agenda around here to benefit other people and hurt others.” So that’s roughly how I get it. Does that sound about right?
Marvin: Absolutely. Critical race theory comes out of the frustrations of folks who were law students at Harvard University in the seventies and eighties, who were concerned about the curriculum at Harvard law and how limited it was in terms of teaching that perspective that you just laid out, right? That the law was being taught as something that was objective. That was unbiased. That was not partisan in any way. And these Black and Brown and Indigenous legal scholars were saying, “Wait a minute, when we look around us, we see something very different, right? We see a black, brown, indigenous folks being caught up in the court system in ways that, that we don’t see happening to other white people.” And we can look back at legislation that is very focused on issues of race. For example, in 1790, I think it was, there was a citizenship law passed in the United States of America.
And it basically determined by legal statute who could be a citizen of the U S and it was very clear that those folks had to be white. And it was written into law. You could look back at slavery, and how they made decisions about How plantation owners would be taxed for their property which unfortunately slaves were considered property, our ancestors.
And in order to compromise with slave owners about how they were to be taxed the constitution determined that black people were, would be considered three fifths of a person, “The 3/5th compromise”. So all of these kinds of things are embedded within the law. And so there are these ways in which the law is very much racialized, but yet the law schools are teaching that it’s again, it’s objective.
And that race has nothing to do with the way the law has constructed or which way it is implemented. And as we see in the court systems, and again, there’s all this evidence of what happens to black and brown folks who go to court in terms of the outcome and how those outcomes are decidedly negatively impacting folks from our communities.
And so they want there to be discussions about this, but within the legal classrooms. And so one of the things that people like Kimberle Crenshaw, who is the person that coined the phrase ” Critical Race Theory” did was reach out to Derrick Bell who was a prominent black legal scholar and practitioner. He was practicing law, working with major national organizations around housing issues that impacted communities of color, particularly black folks. And said,” We want you to come to Harvard and teach on this.” I think he initially did a few lectures and was eventually hired as a full-time faculty member.
And so that the focus on race in the law began to grow and develop. And these people took this on as an area of scholarship and Kimberle Crenshaw, for example, went on to publish pieces that focused on this issue of intersectionality that we talk about all the time now, in terms of looking at the experiences of black women. For example, in the court system and how difficult it is for the courts to make sense of the complex forms of discrimination that black women experience, which is both based on race and gender, right?
And the two things can not be separated out for the courts. What I would argue back that this is either racial discrimination or gender discrimination. It can’t be both. And based on that problem, Kimberle Crenshaw began to write about intersectionality as a concept that really needed to be embraced by the courts.
But influenced, of course, the world, in terms of thinking about the important connections between different forms of discrimination. And then subsequently gathered with 23 other scholars at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and began to form what we now know to be critical race theory, which is a scholarly movement because you had people like her writing about race in the law. And using the scholarly method of “counter storytelling” is a way to do that. But it was also an activist movement because they wanted to change the nature of the conversation around race and America and help people understand that race and racism were rooted very deeply in the foundations of our system, that it was not just about the interactions between individuals as it was often discussed.
Latisha: Yeah. It’s very wide. And one that I wanted to bring back, actually, a couple of things. If people have listened to a couple of episodes of the podcast I’ve talked about Kimberle Crenshaw in the past. Also the concept of intersectionality is the basis for the name of this actual podcast Interspectional cause it’s talking about intersectional identities as we discussed speculative media.
That’s the point. And one thing you mentioned was just the way laws have been passed. And how they’re applied. And I’m thinking about the Dred Scott Case. One of the reasons why he lost his cause they said “You’re legally not a citizen. Despite the fact that you were born here and according to that, if you were born here, you’re a US citizen, but, as a black man, you are not a citizen and thus the laws don’t apply to you”, which was one of the fundamental precedent cases that was used to stop Black people from advancing even after the civil war was over. And so we’re thinking about, “Okay, these are these wider patterns that we’re seeing. And the way the laws used, in the ways the laws applied.” And critical race theory is a way to be like, “okay, let’s look at these laws. Why did it turn out this way? This was the result and we’re trying to figure out why, because the why isn’t neutrality. The why is something else.” So that’s what I’m hearing.
And it’s just an interesting concept sit with or things like, I always mispronounce this wrong, “miscinagation laws?”
Latisha: Miscegenation laws. Yes. Those, if you don’t know that word and (it’s like multisyllabic for no good reason.), are the laws that prevented people from different races and ethnic groups from being legally married. And that was on the books on states throughout the nation. And a lot of those laws while they were mitigated due to Loving v. Virginia in 1967. But just because that was litigated and made a lot of land doesn’t mean those laws weren’t still on the books technically.
Marvin: And that they influenced generations and generations of people in our society to think in a particular way about interracial love.
And that’s the power of law, right? It’s not just that it prevents certain people from doing certain things. It shapes people’s understanding of what’s right and what’s wrong. And so there’s still a lot of people in our country who believe that interracial marriage is wrong and we’re undoubtedly influenced by that law and that, and the context in which we existed for so many years in this country. So many different examples of these sorts of racist laws in Oregon, where I am right now.
We had an exclusion law that made it illegal for black people to move here. Okay. You could not live in the state of Oregon legally, if you were black, until I think that law was struck down sometime in the early 1920. So the blacks who were here before that were living here illegally, and it said Black, but it also applied to Mexicans and Asian Americans. Oregon became considered by many, as a white homeland in that respect. And it contributes very much to why the state is so white today. Portland, Oregon is considered the whitest city of its size in the country. Oregon wasn’t the only state that had an exclusion law.
Indiana had one, and you’ll find them in many states where African-Americans, who were enslaved, were seeking a refuge or a place to go to escape slavery. And so Indiana, which sits right above Kentucky, wanted to make it clear that Indiana was not going to be a haven for escaped slaves.
And so it created that exclusion law as a way to send a message to anybody looking to escape to Indiana. Now, what people did is they went from Kentucky to Indiana, to Michigan, where they could in fact be free. But as you mentioned, Dred Scott law made it such that if you were a runaway slave, no matter where you were in the country, you could be captured legally by your former slave master and brought back.
And that was definitely the case in the state of Oregon. In fact, that was encouraged. And this issue of race and racism, doesn’t just land in the south. It has impacted the entire nation in so many ways and the laws, but also I would argue our policies at multiple levels, state level, city, policies that govern schools, that govern other types of institutions have absolutely been influenced by our understandings about what constitutes race.
And let me just be clear, and critical race theory helps us understand this, that the concept of race, in and of itself, we know is a social construct. But racial categories come with powerful meanings that are ascribed to them. So being a black person isn’t just about your hair and your skin color, although that’s an essential piece of it, but we know black people that look almost white.
And they’re still considered Black. So that’s a component but it may not be the most important component today. I don’t know. But certainly what is important about blackness is how people understand what that means. What does it mean to be black? You and I would say it means we have a culture where we engage in certain practices around, in terms of how we eat and how we dance and those kinds of things, or Ebonics. Others would say other types of things that are more racist interpretations that ascribes these very negative categories or qualities to black people just by nature of being. And so that is very important in terms of understanding how racism as a system works, because everybody is assigned a race and those races have certain “immutable characteristics and qualities” that then lead them to be sorted and placed within a kind of hierarchy. A racial hierarchy that unfortunately for black people is a system of discriminatory practices and so on that we can see operating at every level. And so what critical race theorists do beyond kind of the interpretation and analysis of racism and the law has look at how racism operates more broadly within all of these systems and so critical race theorists of education, like myself, have been trying to use that lens to understand how that operates in the context of school.
Latisha: I know when I think about it, when I think about like blackness as a whole, because I feel like there’s, as anyone would know, who has interacted with various members of the black community, you have black people who are the descendants of slaves like myself.
You also have people who are, in our modern day, fairly recent immigrants. So people who come from Africa, people who come from the Caribbean . Also you have people, like immigrants who are maybe from Africa, by way of England or by way of another place, or who are Afro Latino, there’s actually many ethnic groups within this large racial category of Black, just like there is in any large racial category because racial categories technically don’t make any sense. But what unifies it all because we are talking to different ethnicities and different cultures. So I feel like unifies it all is how do the institutions interact with us? Because they don’t interact with us on an individual basis. If the cops are putting out an APB on a six foot tall black man in a hoodie, they’re not going to be like, but we’re looking for someone who’s Jamaican, not Nigerian.
Latisha: Not going to happen. Or they like, we’re looking for Afro-Latinx light-skinned six foot tall, black men, not a dark-skinned man from Mississippi, even though those are two very different people.
Marvin: Yep. One of the things that race does, right? Is it lumps us all together? I’m often amazed at the way people that don’t know me, see me. And it’s hilarious sometimes, this idea, that I’d get out of my very nice car, and have white people locking their car doors and grabbing their purses. And so they, they have not the ability to be able to see, the difference between somebody who may be down and out in their luck and somebody who isn’t. I don’t know, and even if somebody is down and out on their luck doesn’t mean they’re going to steal from you, but I’m often surprised that somebody like myself middle-aged, and that there’d be the fear that I would even consider, grabbing somebody’s bag.
People don’t consider context when it comes to us. We are black and so therefore black people do this. And they have a sort of one dimensional frame. And they don’t consider age or size or income or any of those variables. And so if you think about what that means in the minds of many other peoples, then you understand, “Ah, so if you’re just that. A one dimensional, like really monstrosity, then all the fear and all the crazy behavior that you’ve witnessed. It makes sense in a way, because that’s how they’re framing you.” And it’s really sad.
Latisha: It’s the frame as if being inherently dangerous.
Latisha: It’s the frame is if I am, no matter what I do, I’m always, the boogeyman or, the monster under your bed, the dangerous one in your neighborhood. And what’s what’s stressful is that, and this goes into the other parts of this conversation talking about critical race theory and education. What’s stressful is that we, in order to survive, have to account for other people’s fears. And we have to make adjustments to lessen their fears as much as possible. And on top of that, we have to teach our children that you are not always going to be a child to someone else.
You were a representative of what they fear. And since I want you to come home alive, you have to act accordingly to lessen the fear of someone else who actually has more power than you.
Marvin: I have teenage boys. And so you better believe I’ve had the conversation about, this is what you do when you are approached by the police. They have white friends, who are middle, upper middle class kids who, when they’re encountered by the police, those kids can yell and scream and curse. And…
Latisha: Those kids can wild out. I went to school with a lot of those kids.
Marvin: Yeah, we can’t do that. And I’ve had to teach my boys that you cannot do what they do. And there is a different standard for you than there is for them. And they can, like you said, wild out. We cannot. We pay for that with our lives, unfortunately. And as you don’t have to wild out to be killed, right?
Latisha: No, not at all. And that’s the other thing that I found interesting, just thinking about life as a black person and policing. Because it never ceases to amaze me that there is someone out there, who is funded by the taxpayer, with the gun, trained, whatever.
And yet I, as a citizen, in order to maintain my life, have to be trained, to be able to look down a gun barrel and not freak out. Like in general, I have to be prepared at some point in time to possibly have a gun pointed at my face and not get scared. That makes no sense. And yet it’s general desire to survive and see, another day as in black person requires this training. And training that is done often, via family lines and you have these stories in your head that you’re like, I need to know. And it’s not the point of, it’s not about fear. It is, but it’s really about at the end of the day, I need to get home. And if this person is interacting with me, there’s no guarantee that I will get there.
And that’s something, I feel like a lot of people miss. Speaking of education, cause we’ve talked a lot about the law. How are critical race theory and education connected? Because this seems to be the thing that is in the sauce.
Marvin: Yeah. I think critical race theorists in education, we consider schools to be a key ingredient in that sauce. So you’re describing, so if you’re having spaghetti and meatballs and you have to have the tomato paste or tomato sauce, let’s say it all goes together. It’s one of the ingredients, it would be the noodles, because it’s threads through. Schools are actually so important because that’s where we first learned about our identity. That’s where we learn about our history. That’s where we learn about how to understand how to be a citizen in this country. Schools are identity making institutions, right? Schools also are responsible for helping us understand how we are to create other types of institutions. In order to have the kind of lives we want to lead. It gives us the skills or not to be able to speak in a certain way.
So schools serve as as a key foundation for our society. And what we would argue as critical race theorists is that schools unfortunately advance a notion of our society as meritocratic, as neutral, as unbiased and glorifies whiteness, right? And white leaders like George Washington and others who were a part of the founding of this country and does not recognize the contributions of black and brown people sufficiently enough.
So children go to school and they are undereducated about the world in all of its complexity and diversity. And there is a decidedly sort of Eurocentric perspective that all kids, including black and brown kids get from school and it frames how they think about the world, how they interacted with people.
And we believe contributes to this broader problem that we’re talking about, right? A more liberatory schooling process would teach people about race and racism early on, and would help people learn how to interact more appropriately with the people who are different from them.
But also teach people about the very rich and very diverse history of this country and the roles that all of us have played in this sort of promulgation advancement and maintenance of this great nation of ours. But unfortunately that is that is a limited narrative. That’s taught the other thing that we really focus on other than, cause I’m talking now really about curriculum is we look at, policies in schools that negatively impact kids of color, like zero tolerance policies that in many cases, when you talk about where these policies come from, oftentimes…
Latisha: They come from prisons.
Marvin: Yes. They come from prisons, with leads to the school to prison pipeline. But some of the zero tolerance policies in high schools in particular were as a result of mass shootings, like in Columbine. After the mass shooting in Columbine, there was a whole spate of zero tolerance policies around violence, around weapons in schools and so on.
But who does that end up impacting? Black kids and Latinx kids. So white males can perpetrate a mass murder and kill many people. And in laws get enacted in schools that end up negatively impacting black and brown kids which leads to that school to prison pipeline.
’cause we know that when kids are pushed out of school through suspension and expulsion, locked into special ed, sometimes unnecessarily, that those are the kids who end up unfortunately more often than not having some kind of, interaction with our prison system in this country.
So we look at the institution itself in terms of the curriculum and how the curriculum is structured. But then we also look at the practices, teaching practices, what are people doing in classrooms to advance the education of all learners, right? And I’m very interested in, again, liberatory practices that teachers can use.
The teaching method matters. Even if you have a more innovative, culturally relevant curriculum. If it’s taught in a sort of very traditional, uninteresting, unengaging kind of manner, you got to lose students and you’ve got to particularly lose students of color.
Latisha: Oh, absolutely. And there’s a couple of things I was thinking about like one of them that you mentioned as far as curriculum is concerned. I know my mother and I grew up for a brief period of time in New York city. My mom and my family didn’t depend on the school to teach my history.
We expect that the curriculum will not include, African-American history in its detail. And for my family, it’s up to us to teach you about Ida B Wells and Nat Turner and all of these figures in history. So you do see yourself. Frederick Douglas .And that type of understanding I think isn’t always something that people are aware of. In my community was fairly popular amongst African-American families. This understanding that we also need to teach you because the curriculum won’t.
And I’ve taught myself ,as in been in the classroom as a classroom teacher, and one things that I’ve come to learn about is universal design and working with what are the kids various needs, various special needs within your classroom? How do you design the curriculum so you reach all of these different types of learners. Just these things that are like, “Let’s break open the possibilities for education. So it doesn’t just serve one very narrow “perfect child” who doesn’t exist. I’ve never met this perfectly behaved child that teacher training programs, say that teacher’s going to get in the classroom. I’ve never met this child.
I’ve met children who love Pokemon. I’ve met children who can beat your butt at UNO. I met all these other kids and being able to use those things to get them to move forward. But I haven’t met these like super well behaved children who will sit through a long lecture on Abe Lincoln..
Marvin: And what’s so sad is, as a teacher, I know without a doubt and the research backs this up. I took a course at a Teacher’s College in Columbia when I was in New York on giftedness.
And there’s an even distribution of giftedness across all the cultures and ethnicities and races. But if you go into the average school particularly schools that are diverse but any school you’ll see the advanced classes mostly populated by white and Asian kids. And the not so advanced classes or the classes that are remedial on a populated by black and brown kids.
And if you’re not careful, you’ll get the impression that intelligence is somehow skewed, to certain populations. And I think teachers operate sometimes with that notion, but I, as a classroom teacher, I saw. And I can give you even today, examples of, black kids who were as brilliant as any white or Asian kid and white kids who had as many behavior challenges as any black or brown kid.
So all of this stuff is evenly distributed, but unfortunately the outcomes don’t reflect that. And it’s because of the racial bias of educators oftentimes and the policies that influence, what happens to kids are I think skewed. And so we write about that. And we Illustrate when and where that’s happening through qualitative research methods, but there’s also a lot of work being done now on using quantitative methods as a way to try to illustrate the impact of racist thinking, racist practices on kids of color in schools.
Latisha: It’s funny that you mentioned your time in Columbia. After I left Mr. Lynn’s class in second grade, I moved to Maryland. And so my third grade year was in a different place. And what they said when I was there is that I was gifted and that I had learned apparently a lot in Mr. Lynn class.
Not that they knew who you were, they were just like, this girl is smart. So I was tested for giftedness. I think I got like… I got in, but then it was a point off. It was weird, but I think it’s fair to say that having been in this second grade class with this young black teacher helped to build my trajectory even into high school, because I stayed in a lot of my AP classes and was challenged and had a record that said I could meet the challenge.
That isn’t necessarily the case for a lot of people. That isn’t necessarily the case for how many people are educated and yeah, there’s a question of like how kids are tracked, what we tell them that they’re capable of.
Marvin: It astounds me to think that someone would have encountered you as this bright, articulate, intellectually curious, seven year old and not proclaimed your giftedness. It just astounds me that could have happened.
Latisha: Yeah. Had I been in the wrong school system that, because my mom chose the school system that I was in specifically that had a multicultural staff and student body. But absolutely if I was in another place, it could it turned out very differently. And that’s one of the things I think people don’t quite understand about the education system. I also don’t quite understand about the law that like everything isn’t equally applied.
And actually that goes into the attacks that we’re seeing on critical race theory which seems to have evolved into attacks on teaching, any kind of history that makes white folks look bad, quote unquote, which would cover the majority of American history, save for a couple of bright spots.
But, and these attacks just seem like they would get pretty problematic during Black History Month because even first graders talk about Dr. King and Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, and I don’t know how you’re going to tell the story of Ruby Bridges and be like, she was screamed at by… I guess it was ghosts because, we don’t want white people to look bad.
She needed to be protected from I dunno, the evil tree monster is, but it wasn’t angry white folks. I don’t know what’s going on there but how do you think learning about figures who have been taught about for decades become scary or people thinking it’s teaching white kids to hate themselves?
Marvin: Yeah. We argue that this history actually isn’t taught. And the argument that folks on the right are making that critical race theory is ensconced in the schools and everybody’s teaching critical race theory is not accurate. Yes, there are some states and some districts that are trying to actively figure out how to use critical race theory as a lens to do some interesting things.
The LA unified school district is doing some things in that regard. The state of Virginia has made some efforts in that regard and they have come under great scrutiny by these forces on the right. But the majority of schools and school districts in this country are not using critical race theory. Specifically what they have been grappling with, for the last 60 years or 70 years, is the challenge of educating all children in ways that actually meet the needs of those children and their families. And so how do you do that? You do that in a responsive way. Culturally responsive was the term that was used in the seventies. Now we talk about schooling that is culturally sustaining, and this idea that you bring your entire kind of cultural self to the table, and that is embraced, right?
You are not meant to change who you are by going to school, but that it used to be this idea that schooling was to change you into something other than you are. And we would argue to change you into a white person, it was a process. It was a whitening process, right?
Latisha: There’s a very like Indian, residential school mentality to that. To quote unquote, “kill the Indian, save the child” BS.
Marvin: We refer to that as the deculturalization process. And there were very specific policies and practices there around Indian children. And that was designed to rid them of their language and their cultural practices. But that’s also true for African-American children, particularly poor African-American children, who spoke primarily Ebonics and had cultural practices that folks in school didn’t think were appropriate cultural practices. So there was an effort to try to use school as a de-culturalizing agent for anybody different.
Latisha: And that’s what happens with Latine children
Latisha: and Asian children. Just wanting to “Look, you don’t need your language, you don’t need your culture. You just need to follow along to “_____” and “_____” and you’ll be successful.” And I think what happened to a handful of people is people who fell into that, believed that, and realize that they could be as quote, unquote “de cultured” as they wanted to. And then they would get to the office or the job interview and you’re still whatever you were when you started in those people’s eyes no matter how “decultured” you are. And I also talk about the history of a lot of European Americans, sometimes I’m like, “What did your grandparents give up in order for you to get to this point? Did they lose their language, lose their culture, lose their religion, change their name? How many parts of your history were sacrificed in order for you to be seen as “normal”? “
Marvin: There’s a lot of research on that. When you get into the field of Ethnic Studies ,broadly speaking, there’s a whole history of European Americans, Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, Irish Americans, doing just what you talked about, right?
At Ellis island, people would change their name into something that was more “American” sounding. You could read that really it’s more Anglo sounding, right? Because Anglo was the “basis” of the culture and English was the dominant language and so on. And there’s always been the effort to anglicize, really, everybody’s culture, including other Europeans who were at one time, not considered white. Italians weren’t always considered white. And then there was a whole process that they underwent, just like the Italians and Jewish folks as well. Where there was a determining that, “Okay, these people are now white.”
There’s a lot of cultural assimilation. We talked about the de culturalizing, but it’s a similar thing where you shed your old culture and adopt the new and that includes changing your name and your identity and so on.
So schools have really been like a key socializing agent for this cultural assimilation process that we see happening. And we are of course, very critical of that. And would argue that school should be the place where people that have diverse cultures come together and are able to celebrate those cultures.
And that school creates a space for all those cultures to thrive. That’s more of a pluralistic kind of vision for school and for society. And so some folks, I think have seen this take place. In some places that there certainly have been lots of conversations about the need for a move toward cultural pluralism.
About the need for an understanding of race and racism as systems of inequality. These conversations were happening, particularly in light of the George Floyd murder that we all witnessed right on, on television in all of its great horror. We got to see this thing play out for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, right before our eyes.
And it changed America. It changed the nature of the conversation. It changed how we were thinking about race and we were willing to admit as a nation that we were dealing with something that was systemic, that was endemic as well. And that was needing to be addressed from the inside out.
And there was this commitment across higher education, K-12, public and private institutions, a lot of money being thrown at professional development opportunities. And so what happened is this political activist, a failed politician, Christopher Rufo, who was up in Seattle at the time, got wind of a professional development session that was happening somewhere near him, where folks were being asked to think about the privilege associated with being white.
And to reflect on that as a way to think about how to better serve all of their customers. And so he latched onto that wrote a very critical piece in one of the conservative publications about it. It made the rounds and the next thing, he was talking to President Trump about an executive order, banning the use of race and sex in professional development particularly professional development that was supported by public dollars.
So that’s how it started. And this happened summer/fall of 2020, and right after the George Floyd murder. And then what also began to happen is Christopher Rufo with the supportive some very big, well moneyed individuals like the Koch brothers and others began to craft a legislative agenda that was aimed and targeted at the states across the U.S., Particularly states in the south.
That was going to draw on the language from Trump’s executive order, banning this sort of use of race and sex in professional development and other state funded or federally funded exercises. They hadn’t really quite targeted schools yet. But the argument was that we shouldn’t do anything or have any kind of conversation that was going to assume that one group has more privilege than the others and that was going to make anybody uncomfortable about being whatever race there are. And so this language has got adopted and put into these sort of state legislative templates that then specifically schools, right? Because school is a state funded, state driven mechanism. So Trump and the people in the White House can’t really control what happens at that level. So they were very smart about then making sure that the state level attack on critical race theory would focus on what was happening in K-12 schools and in some cases, universities and to limit and restrict the teaching of race again, and sex i.e. g ender, across these multiple contexts.
So that’s what we are and there have been eight or nine states I think have approved legislation that bans the teaching of race and gender in K-12 classrooms. And some of those include higher ed. Oklahoma has very strict provisions around higher education as well.
Latisha: And there’s a couple of things I find really interesting about that.
1. A nd I’ve watched some of the videos and all of that. And their argument is these things say that the most important thing about you is your race not your personal background.
Marvin: I know that video. I use that video in my lectures.
Latisha: They’re like, you, as an individual are not important, just your race is. And it’s like 1. No one ever said that.
2. There’s this inability, it seems, for a lot of people to be able to separate that there is a group identification and that’s different than your personal identification and both are important. And you live with each one every day. And this idea that, with we’re talking about, race or blackness or whiteness.
And in many ways we are not talking about individuals. In many ways, we’re talking about the societal structure that we’re all trapped in. We’re all trapped in the matrix, just in different parts of it. And what it seems to dig at is the meritocracy, the rugged individual, “I am my own man!”
And you’re like, yes, but also… And then I did a completely non-academic poll on my Twitter recently, which was, how do you see the word different? And I was like, is it an implied insult and implied compliment? Or is it neutral? All of the answers that I got were either insult or neutral, and those who would write something down would say, “It really depends on the tone.”
And so when I think of things being different, I don’t think of it as inherently bad. Just, there’s a lot of different things going on and that’s great. That’s the way I learned. However, if you come from a culture or linguistic background where the word different is code word for bad, then it can be hard for you to see differences as a positive.
Cause it seems that a lot of people are trying to put forward is a very, ” We should all be colorblind, so nothing should matter. So we’re not going to talk about it.” And it’s like “No. If you don’t see my color and how that influences my history, you don’t see me. And you shouldn’t have to erase everything about me that makes me different from you, for us to work together.”
And I think for some folks that just doesn’t compute because different always means bad for some folks and others it’s like “Different means I have a much more lovely salad to work with because who just wants lettuce. That’s boring.”
Marvin: Latisha, it’s worse than that in my view. What I think is happening in states across our country is educational neglect. It’s a form of educational malfeasance, right? Because the state is saying to the citizens of that state, that we are not here to educate everybody. We are only here to educate a few people, and it’s only a few people whose histories and experiences get to be reflected in the curriculum.
Everybody else, too bad. And so yes, all of you pay taxes to this system that is designed for a limited number of people because the curriculum and the policies that frame, what happens in school are going to be designed to protect white people from feeling uncomfortable. And as you just indicated, if you teach about black history, if you teach about the indigenous history and all of this stuff is true, and all of this stuff is real, it’s not made up that you are going to make white folks uncomfortable
Latisha: It makes me laugh that a lot of this happens in Oklahoma, and I’m like, “Oklahoma, you mean traditionally Indian Territory. Oklahoma? You mean where Tulsa was. Like that Oklahoma? Okay, please continue.” And then when I’m talked to, some of the white folks who have educated themselves, and educated themselves in many ways, they’re like “I’ve been lied to my whole life.” They’re shocked.
Marvin: And now the lie has been legislated into policy, right? It was one thing for us to say, we care about all children and we want multicultural, this and that and not do it. Because it wasn’t happening and it hasn’t been happening. But now it’s legislated. So I think that there will be a reckoning around this because I, for one pay taxes that help support schools as do you and everybody who works. And so if that isn’t going to reflect who I am and what my kids need to know about their history, then I should be thinking of alternatives to that.
And why should I be paying into a system that isn’t going to support my kids. There will be questions that are going to be raised
Latisha: Two things, one speaking about, white folks in that general history, you might be taught about George Washington and all that. No one’s telling you about William Lloyd Garrison. No one’s telling you about the white folks who were at the founding of the NAACP. Like it’s not just, there are problematic white folks. There’s actually a bunch of non-problematic white folks that they don’t tell you about which I think is another part that people miss. But also you yourself are vice-chair of the school board?
Latisha: So is that something you would encourage people to do, if they’re like, ” I’m seeing that there’s these things that are missing in the curriculum. I’m seeing that they’re legislating things that could be harmful to my family.” Is that something that people should move forward with?
Marvin: I think we should advocate against it wherever we are. So that’s how I was getting ready to say about Mississippi. My people are all from Mississippi. Mississippi just passed a educational policy that is very clear that it is about protecting the comfort and safety of white folks. It is not about us. It is a complete dereliction of duty, right? And I think that if I were I think Mississippians, first of all, talk about a large black population. Get politically activated first of all, and hold your legislature accountable. For making decisions that exclude you and Mississippi is a place where black people have always been excluded and oppressed.
Latisha: Despite being one of the largest populations there.
Marvin: Yeah. And so now this is concretized into law, right? Hold them accountable. First, but I would argue that if there isn’t a way to do that, then I think that we need to start talking about alternative systems. And we need to start talking about different forms of taxation, because there’s no way black people should be paying into a system that willfully will not support black kids.
We’re fortunate in Oregon that we don’t have that problem. Policy is very supportive of our efforts to do equity work. I think as a school board member you do have the opportunity to influence the direction of the district around issues like curriculum and so on.
So even if there were a law, being in this role, I would particularly have the opportunity to say “Yes, but…” Right? And so I would argue, getting politically engaged in terms of holding your legislators accountable, but also running for school board, getting involved, gives you the opportunity to have some influence in a lot of different ways. But what should that not work, I do think that we have to look at some broader fundamental questions. And quite honestly, I’m also interested in the issue of reparations more broadly speaking, and I think that because we have not held our country truly accountable for what we have experienced, that these assaults continue to happen and mount because there’s no recognition of not only the past, but the present inequalities and assaults that we are constantly experiencing as black people
Latisha: I remember I was talking to someone and, it’s easy to get into arguments on the interwebs. But I was mentioning that we probably should have in the United States some type of like truth and reconciliation commission, not that everything has been solved in South Africa because it hasn’t, but much like what was done in South Africa. And the person respond to me like “What would that do?” And I was like “That would stop people having to learn history from HBO Max.”
Marvin: And we do have to have a conversation about the redistribution of wealth, right? Because when I look at my family, And ancestry.com is limited, especially for us, in terms of what we can find, but what I’ve been able to discover using ancestry.com is a couple of branches in my family. And I’ve been able to trace them directly back to slavery. And in one case I’ve been able to tie a family of 14 people that were all my ancestors, who were tied to another white family, who they’re owned by.
And so what I can see in the historical record is that this ownership, so to speak of my family persisted for five decades and so 14 different people or more, I’m sure there were more were owned and their labor was owned by this one family. And so if I were to calculate how much do they owe just that group of people for the labor that was unaccounted for, never paid for… Millions! Just for that group.
How many more groups do I have just tied to me? To my ancestry that I could look up and find. So I think we need to be talking about that. I think there’s hundreds of years of labor that have not been accounted for, and there’s vast untold amounts of wealth. I think that were gained by governments, by individuals, by families to our detriment that we have yet to benefit from
Latisha: And our biological relations. I’ve also done the ancestry.com thing. I have a direct relation to a family whose name was on the school at Virginia Tech. I also have a couple of last names in my family where I look up the area that they were in. And there are towns, entire towns with that name that are in my family tree. And I’m like, “You don’t say. Very interesting.”
Marvin: Vast wealth. Passed down. White people who said “I had nothing to do with that.” Listen, you reaped the benefit. You reaped the personal benefit from slavery.
Latisha: Reaping the benefit of something that people did in the past, my reference in that ,to get people to understand that, is “Game of Thrones”.
Cause you have the character Daenery s after the Iron Throne. She thinks it’s her’s. Why does she thinks it’s her’s? She thinks it’s her’s cause her daddy burned a bunch of people with a frickin dragon. And when she comes back, she’s all, “Don’t judge me by what my daddy did.” It’s like but you are building yourself on his bodies that he created. So you want the benefit of the BS that he pulled, but don’t want the smoke from the BS that he does. How does this work? How do you benefit? And at the same time, like how do you get one part of the benefits, not the other, ? All of us, we get genetics from our families.
So I’m sorry, you’re going to get like the dark hair and you’re going to get the lazy eye. You’re going to get both. But anyway, but my last question and I just want to go into media a little bit. So teachers have used media to teach children about different cultures and traditions for a real long time.
And I remember watching pieces, like “My friend, Martin”, as a kid and Disney has been diversifying its movies and TV so to show different cultures. So you have the movie Encanto and the movie Coco and all of that. So what role do you think children’s media can play in keeping kids’ minds open and curious about different people and not just their joys, but also their struggles.
Marvin: Thank you. Yeah, that’s such a great question. I get so disappointed in the lack of imagination that I see sometimes in media representations. And we have the opportunity to be creative and to design the kind of world that we want to see. Black Panther was an awesome demonstration of that. The place doesn’t exist, but because it represented something that we hope is possible, maybe. And it showed us in such a positive light, it was embraced universally by black people all over this planet.
Latisha: In Brazil and England
Marvin: I thought that Africans would be offended because of the made up language. And they didn’t have a problem with that. Because they saw that it represented some form of indigeneity and it respected that. And it had tied that to, and connected us to something powerful, that we own, that was ours. That was by us for us. And so media has the opportunity to imagine a new world, a world where there’s freedom and there’s economic parity and those kinds of things. And why some media continues to represent the sort of old, tired, white wealthy kind of ways of thinking.
I would have to say that it’s because it’s designed to teach us that’s the way the world is supposed to be. That we are not supposed to exist. I get so angry when I see a movie about the future, where we are not there. I thought, “How difficult would it be, screenwriter, to put a black character or two in that darn thing, right?”
Not that difficult. It’s because in your mind, we do not exist. Not only are you erasing us in the present, you are erasing us from the future. And so I think the media representations have an opportunity to be bold, to be dynamic, to be creative, to be innovative and to be inclusive, more inclusive than anything because of the power of the imagination.
And I wish there were more writers like yourself and others who could bring that level of imagination to the table. I agree with what Oprah says about, we need more stories. We need more stories by people like us for us, so that we can be sure to be represented in the future.
White people have their responsibility to think outside the box. And it’d be much more inclusive in their thinking and representations of people of color in the writing. And then the work that they do.
Latisha: Yeah, absolutely. I know that’s also one of the reasons why I even started this podcast, we were talking about “Star Trek: Discovery” and you have Michael Burnham, a black female character, who is now captain, wearing braids in the future.
That’s awesome. Or in one of my episodes, we were talking about Star Wars and how the Star Wars may have a lot more Latinx characters than they had before. And it’s Yes! Your language, your accent, your look, your everything. It all exists. Whether it be the fantasy or whether it be the future. And that’s all important.” I know when I saw Encanto and I was talking to someone about it, being a Colombian family, I’m like, “Even in my family, we look like that. We are diverse tapestry and to see that was just like, ” Okay.”
To bring this back to thinking about youth and education and importance of seeing ourselves and what we read and what we learn. It allows us to not only imagine a future, but then become it, and that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for an opportunity to, as a society, become more than what we are and become more inclusive.
Marvin: We can dream an egalitarian, democratic world. And the arts can help us to do that. I’m an artist too. I sing. And I look forward to that and I think really artists like yourself can lead the way in that regard. I have to go, but this has been awesome. It’s so good to reconnect with you. Let’s do it again.
Latisha: It sounds good. How can people find you if they want to?
Marvin: Portland state university. I’m a professor there. I’m on Facebook, Twitter. Twitter is a good way to find me. I don’t do a lot of tweeting, but I’m there and you can definitely, follow me on Twitter.
Latisha: Alright, well, I will put that in the show notes. It’s been great talking to you and everyone have a great day.
Latisha Jones: Hey, everyone and I hope that you enjoyed that episode. Welcome back to the book nook, where I recommend a book or several books that are relevant to the episode you just listened to. So Dr. Lynn actually has a book called a “Handbook for Critical Race Theory And Education” that you can buy. So I will have a link to that in the show notes.
It’s academic and a little dense. So you can also pick up Dr. Crystal Fleming’s book “Rise up! How You Can Join The Fight Against White Supremacy”. So that book is more focused. On a teen audience, but it has some really great practical advice on how to get started and what people can do in the local neighborhoods. So those are the two books that I’m recommending, which will be on my list.
And you can also find more books on my book list. In the show notes, I hope you come back for the next episode of Interspectional.