State Rep. and Chattanooga Democrat Yusuf Hakeem is rightfully calling out the state's GOP legislative leadership for sidelining his bill to provide more Black history instruction in Tennessee schools by omitting it from the agenda of a summer education study committee.
The bill already had been sidelined once, with Hakeem being given an assurance that the proposal would get that aforementioned summer study. Now it won't get that, thanks to a decision by House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville.
Some have suggested Hakeem is "confused" about the difference between teaching Black history and critical race theory. We don't accept that.
If anyone is confused, it would seem to be white Tennessee lawmakers who in May passed — in a last-minute surprise — a bill prohibiting any publicly funded school from teaching "critical race theory," which the right has adopted as its newest dog whistle, claiming it promotes division among races, classes and genders.
First, CRT is a college law school exercise that evolved from civil rights scholars to examine social, cultural and legal issues relating to race and racism. It is not taught in our schools. And it is not the same as the Black history courses that are taught in our schools.
But seeing as it now has been made a hot-button buzzword with which Republicans can raise temperatures and money, much of the public, even teachers, are confused as well. And many of those teachers are becoming afraid to teach anything that has the words Black and history pinned to the lesson outline. And understandably so as the new Tennessee law strips funding from public schools if they teach certain concepts involving systemic racism in America.
Second, our lawmakers certainly saw no need for "summer study" over the CRT legislation. From the measure's first debate, to amending it a few times, the bill flew through the chambers. The Senate passed it on a 25-7 vote on May 5 and the House approved it 69-20 the same day. Gov. Lee signed it on May 25. It took effect on July 1.
And of course the Tennessee bill wasn't an original idea. As with much right-wing legislation, this was something raging like a wildfire through the lawmaking chambers of majority Republican states — Idaho, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Arizona, South Carolina. Nearly 20 other states have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation.
None of Tennessee's conservative lawmakers could explain exactly what CRT is or how exactly it was being taught in Tennessee classrooms. (Again, it wasn't.) But somehow all of our lawmakers seemed to land on another phrase they don't like — systemic racism. They want to pretend that slavery, the Civil War and Jim Crow have no lasting legacies in our country. Never mind all of those Confederate flags toted by white supremacists in the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.
The basis of CRT deals with the inherent or systemic racism of many of our social systems. To see the real day-to-day effects of CRT, just look at all the recent voting restriction laws passed in these same right-wing, especially Southern, states.
But back to Hakeem's bill, which he presented before the last-minute CRT ban came up: He wants to present a well-rounded history of African Americans for grades 5-8 that wouldn't just focus on slavery but also include the accomplishments of the military's famed Tuskegee Airmen and the scientist and inventor George Washington Carver.
In the 246 pages that outline more than 1,000 of Tennessee's social studies "content standards" for grades K-12 on the tn.gov website, there are just over 40 that are required by Tennessee law, and only 27 of those involve anything about race or specifically African American culture.
Think about that: Only 27 of more than 1,000 social studies standards. And many of those are simply nods to non-whites. For instance: "Identify influential Tennesseans from the late 20th century, including: Al Gore, Jr.; Alex Haley; Dolly Parton; Wilma Rudolph; Oprah Winfrey."
These numbers in themselves prove there is systemic racism — even in our school lessons.
Here's a quiz: Of the following seven important historical "standards," which two are required to be taught?
* Identify various organizations and their roles in the Civil Rights movement (e.g., Black Panthers, Highlander Folk School, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee).
* Describe the social, economic and political changes to Tennessee in the post-Reconstruction era, and identify the laws put in place to exclude Black lawmakers by 1890.
* Analyze the role slavery played in the development of nationalism and sectionalism, including the fugitive slave laws.
* Assess the economic and social impact of Jim Crow laws on African Americans.
* Explain the arguments presented by Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln on slavery in the Illinois Senate race debates of 1858.
* Identify the significance of the Tennessee Constitution of 1870, including the right of all men to vote and the establishment of a poll tax.
* Analyze the key people and events of the Civil Rights movement, including: Martin Luther King Jr. and non-violent protests, Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks, Brown v. Board of Education and Thurgood Marshall, Freedom Riders and Diane Nash.
Answer: Only two — the last ones — are required teachings.
Yusuf Hakeem's bill should not be brushed off.