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Critical Race Theory: Bridging the Gap Between the Classroom and the Community”

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Organizer: Claire van den Broek

Co-Organizer: Christopher Lee

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Following a series of high-profile deaths of African Americans at the hands of policemen, the birth of BLM, and rapid growth of white supremacist hate groups in America (SPLC), American conservatives are now pushing Critical Race Theory to the forefront of public debate. They allege that CRT is “infiltrating” American public schools (OANN) to “indoctrinate” our children (Halon). School boards are allegedly “teaching our children to go out and murder police officers” (Wong). A common sentiment on social media is that CRT wrongfully blames white people for the racism of their forefathers, often accompanied by “I have black friends, so I can’t be racist” or “I am colorblind”. As DiAngelo points out in White Fragility, to claim colorblindness is to be blind to racism as well: “While the idea of color blindness may have started out as a well-intentioned strategy for interrupting racism, in practice it has served to deny the reality of racism”. (42) CRT gives us a chance to expose how racism is ingrained in our legal systems and in the policies of our institutions.

As Kendi notes in How to Be an Antiracist, there is no such thing as nonracist or race-neutral; to fight the racist policies that produce or sustain racial inequity in our system, we must be actively antiracist (18). We must actively engage with our community to uncover and rectify inequity. As an academic field that covers critical theory, Comparative Literature gives us an opportunity to introduce these discussions into our classroom, though we can also reach out to our community. This panel investigates ways in which we can bridge the gap between the classroom and the community to talk about CRT and the embedded racism in our systems and policies.

Questions to Consider:
  • How can we avoid triggering defensiveness or respond to claims of colorblindness when we bring up the question of race in classrooms or our community?

  • How does social media contribute to misunderstandings about CRT?

  • Why have American conservatives become so concerned about CRT, when it is rarely taught in K12, and not often in Literary Theory at the college level?

  • Kendi points out that racist and antiracist are not fixed identities, we can be racist one minute and antiracist the next. How do we negotiate this duality?

  • What role can literature play in promoting empathy and helping people better understand the ways racism affects our society?

“Critical Race Theory Infiltrates Va. Schools.” OANN, 16 Aug. 2021.

DiAngelo, Robin. White fragility: Why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism. Beacon Press, 2018.

Halon, Yael. “Parents in America's Heartland Push Back against CRT: 'We Are the Last Line of Defense'.” Fox News, 10 Aug. 2021.

“Hate Map.” Southern Poverty Law Center, 23 Sept. 2021.

Kendi, Ibram X. How to be an antiracist. One world, 2019.

Wong, Julia Carrie. “From Viral Videos to Fox News: How Rightwing Media Fueled the Critical Race Theory Panic.” The Guardian, 30 June 2021.

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