Thanksgiving is a few days past, but I’m feeling especially thankful today for the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis. They’ve had the courage to call out Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita for his attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement and so-called critical race theory.
The group’s president, the Rev. David Greene Sr., told Indiana Public Media’s Jeanie Lindsay that Rokita’s comments are racist and based on misinformation, and they undermine efforts to make students of color feel safe, welcome and supported.
“They are divisive, while he’s trying to claim that he’s trying to keep that from happening – his remarks are offensive to those of us who are people of color,” Greene said. “We know a dog whistle, we know language that is not really meant for Black and Brown people.”
Of course, divisiveness is what Rokita does. He thinks that he wins if he can keep Hoosiers at each other’s throats. He will be running for governor or a U.S. Senate seat in 2024, and he clearly believes that winning office requires pandering to the most extreme elements of the Republican base.
His latest salvo, and what the clergy were responding to, is an expanded version of the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” that he initially released in June. The 53-page document – produced, presumably, at taxpayer expense – suggests schools are indoctrinating children in radical views about race and other matters.
It’s getting exhausting to say this, but critical race theory isn’t taught in K-12 schools. It’s an academic framework that college students may encounter in graduate or law school. The right has co-opted the term to refer to any effort to understand and respond to the role that race plays in our society.
It goes without saying that families have rights regarding their children’s education and medical treatment, and they deserve to understand those rights. Also, schools should be transparent about how they operate. But Rokita isn’t informing people in good faith. He’s stoking fears for political gain.
He’s positioning himself for a role in what’s sure to be a contentious 2022 session of the state legislature. In the document, Rokita makes at least a dozen suggestions for citizens to “petition the General Assembly” to change the laws: for example, to outlaw vaccine requirements, to ban school mask requirements, to delete “social emotional learning” from state education standards and to prohibit the use of “controversial” curricula that address social justice.
Rokita also made headlines recently when he issued an opinion that Black Lives Matter is a political organization, suggesting that BLM posters shouldn’t be displayed in schools. There may be political groups that call themselves Black Lives Matter, but people who display the posters are aligning with a sentiment and a movement, not a particular group. They are saying that … well, Black lives matter.
Responding to that opinion, the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, the Baptist Minister’s Alliance and the National Action Network of Indiana said that the attorney general’s remarks were racist and offensive. “Indiana education does not need to be seclusive, but it needs to be more inclusive,” they wrote.
Amen to that. Let’s hope clergy – and others – from around the state join them in speaking up.