Ever since the November 2020 election, Donald Trump and the Republican Party have purported what is now known as the “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
Oswald Chambers is attributed with saying, “Seeing is never believing. We interpret what we see in the light of what we believe.” Reading this Chambers’ quote was an aha moment for me. For the past 5-years, I’ve tried to make sense of how Donald Trump kept one-third of this country loyal, no matter how racist, cruel, and dishonest he was.
It has become clear that their loyalty was never solely about the persona of Donald Trump. After all, he was not the first racist president we’ve had in this country. It is more about the people who agree with his premise of white grievances. People who believe that this nation was founded, developed, and made by and for those of European descent.
People who refuse to acknowledge the Indigenous People that existed and lived here prior to their arrival. People who won’t accept that the 250-years of free labor and enslavement of Black people is the reason this country was able to boast of being one of the richest countries in the world. Not to mention the horrific atrocities that were inflicted on both races. These inconvenient truths are things these people work hard to dismiss and diminish. This is the first big lie. But a lie doesn’t become the truth, wrong doesn’t become right, and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by a majority.
In 2019, the New York Times Magazine published an extensive journalistic piece titled the “1619 Project” by Nikole Hannah-Jones. It was released in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. Hannah-Jones maintains that the year 1619, when the first ship arrived in Virginia with enslaved African people, should be the nation’s birth year.
The 1619 Project sparked a serious blowback from conservatives, and Hannah—Jones was demonized on Fox News and other conservative media outlets. In September of 2020, President Trump issued an executive order directing federal agencies to cancel funding to any programs that discussed Critical Race Theory or schools that incorporated any of the 1619 Project in their curricula. Despite of Trump’s threats, schools in New York, California, and the Chicago Public Schools openly used the 1619 Project in their curricula.
In January 2021, President Biden issued an executive order rescinding that previous executive order by Donald Trump. The Biden Administration has since proposed updating the schools American History curricula to address more fully the consequences of slavery and African Americans’ contributions in the building of this country. However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and 37 Republican senators are demanding that the Dept. Of Education stop this proposal, in particular with its reference to including the 1619 Project.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an academic movement by civil rights scholars and activists, who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream approaches to racial justice. It is an intentional approach to grappling with America’s history of white supremacy. CRT rejects the notion that is portrayed by most of our history books that this nation’s past and the systems that exist have no connection.
Professor Kimberle’ Crenshaw is one of the founding scholars of the 1989 Critical Race Theory Movement. Crenshaw said the idea did not originate with them, but goes back to the work of civil rights activists, the likes of W.E.B. Du Bois, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Pauli Murray. She and others built upon their idea that the American so-called dilemma was not just a matter of prejudice but a matter of structured disadvantages that stretches across every aspect of this society.
According to Crenshaw and other critical race theorists, racism is an everyday experience for most people of color; and that a large part of our society has no interest in doing away with racism because it benefits white elites.
Although CRT is not a new concept, because it was politicized by Donald Trump, who deemed it as divisive and un-American propaganda, lawmakers in Tennessee and Idaho passed laws banning its teaching from their school’s curriculum. Likewise, parents in Texas are opposing the efforts to have cultural awareness lessons from being taught in their schools.
Systemic racism is part of the very fabric of what is America. People that oppose CRT from being taught in our public schools understand it would then require the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans to be at the very center of the American story.
Although much of white America prefers to believe the Big Lie, it is Black America’s responsibility to demand the whole story be told. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Otherwise, as Zora Neal Hurston said, “If you’re quiet about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.”