Black Mississippi senators staged a walkout to protest a bill described as a ban on Critical Race Theory. The walkout brought national attention to legislation they did not have the votes to contest, and it pushed attention onto the actions of the Senate’s majority white leadership.
Senate Bill 2113 appears harmless, mandating that no public or charter school educator “shall direct or compel students to affirm that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior.” It also demands that no distinction or classification of students shall be made on account of race other than the required collection or reporting of demographic information; to provide that no course of instruction shall be taught that affirms such principles.”
Critics say the language almost sounds like a strike against racism, until it turns around and allows the state to cut funding to schools perceived as permitting such behavior:
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an academic theory that seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US. It confronts the nation’s sordid history of racism and the oppressive laws and systems that stem from it. Critics say the motivation for a ban on CRT is dubious and unnecessary, primarily because K-12 instructors are not teaching it in state schools.
Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson, who is Black, says the bill stems from a national far right movement to divert attention from real issues and whitewash U.S. history.
Frazier said the bill appears innocent, but will have “a chilling effect on teaching.” He warned the bill will precede more blatant white-washing bills from the GOP, and compared it to a snake that needed killing before it comes “back to bite you.”
Frazier has a point: this bill isn’t one of a kind. More than 71 “education gag-order bills” have been filed or passed across the country, in the past three weeks according to PEN America, a nonprofit that defends free expression. All carry the intent of restricting educators’ speech and limiting classroom discussion of controversial topics and ideologies. Most carry the threat of mandatory punishment or legal action for violators. The organization adds that many of the bills are also poorly drafted and include factual errors, contradictions, and undefined terms that complicate things even before they whitewash history.
Senate Bill 2113 passed the Senate with a 32-2 vote, with only two opposing votes from white Democratic senators. The bill now heads to the House at the time of writing.