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.”
Last week’s Virginia gubernatorial election pretty much guarantees that some Indiana Republicans will spend the 2022 legislative session posturing on so-called critical race theory and related issues.
They probably would have anyway. Hoosier legislators reportedly have been drafting bills to regulate what schools teach about race and promote transparency about K-12 curriculum, an echo of the “parents’ bill of rights” that state Attorney General Todd Rokita released in June.
Then came Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race after vowing to ban critical race theory and tapping into frustrations over COVID-related school closings and other topics. Republicans are pointing to that election, in a state that Joe Biden won by 10 points, to argue the party should lean into the culture war to win back the suburbs and win elections.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom were key episodes in the struggle to win equal rights for all Americans. It hurts to see them used for purposes that seem antithetical to the civil rights movement.
Last week, the Bloomington Herald-Times reported on one of the many fights that have erupted over whether students should wear face coverings to limit the spread of COVID-19. A father told the reporter that he and his fifth-grade daughter were inspired by Rosa Parks to reject wearing masks.
“On Sunday night, she wanted me to talk to me about Rosa Parks and if that was true that Rosa Parks really just stopped doing something and everyone changed,” he told a reporter. “And I said absolutely it’s true.”
Maybe we should be encouraged that a 10-year-old in a rural school district that’s 95% white would be inspired by the actions of a Black seamstress 65 years ago. The problem is, we’ve learned a mostly false story about Rosa Parks. She wasn’t a simple seamstress who refused to give up her seat on a bus because she was tired. She was a quiet but committed activist who served as secretary of the Montgomery NAACP and traveled to the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee for interracial activism training, a radical act at that time.
Letting her arrest be used to challenge segregation was an act of profound courage. “The white folks will kill you, Rosa,” her husband told her. He no doubt meant it literally, and with good reason.
If an issue is ripe for demagoguery, Todd Rokita will be on it like a dog on a bone. The phony outrage over what schools teach about race was made to order for the Indiana attorney general.
Rokita came out Wednesday with a “parents bill of rights” that purports to educate parents about their right to understand and be engaged in their children’s education. That sounds reasonable; but for Rokita, it’s an excuse to dive into a culture war.
Predictably, he jumps on the right-wing bandwagon to attack critical race theory and the 1619 Project. Never mind that K-12 schools almost never teach CRT, a theoretical framework for examining the role of race in society that may be taught in law or graduate schools. Or that the 1619 Project is exactly what it claims to be: an attempt to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
Rokita lists six “rights” for parents with regard to their children’s education: the right to question school officials, to question the school’s curriculum, to expect schools to comply with the law, to participate in setting state academic standards, to review instructional materials and to run for school board.
Give credit to the Carmel High School students who stood up to the community members who think they shouldn’t be exposed to hard truths about race in America. That takes courage in a district where only 7% of students are Black or Hispanic.
According to the Indy Star, five students took to the mic at a recent Carmel Clay School Board meeting to defend the district’s efforts to be more inclusive about race, gender and other factors.
“They shared what it’s like to be a student in Carmel and stressed their support for the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) work happening in the district,” reporter MJ Slaby wrote. “The students said it fosters understanding and helps to provide representation to all students.”
You’d think supporting equity and inclusion would be a no-brainer, but it’s not. In several Hamilton County school districts – Carmel, Hamilton Southeastern, Westfield-Washington and Noblesville – residents have turned out at board meetings to voice objections.