Critical race theory is a hot topic in Georgia with US House at stake – Annenberg Media

Thanks to a Republican Party that views it as a corner issue, the once little-known idea of ​​critical race theory at the college level has become a primary issue in classrooms, school districts, and now congressional elections. Across the country.

Georgia’s 6th congressional district is almost certain to turn red due to redistricting, and almost all of the GOP candidates for the seat are directing their anger at a common enemy for their party: the CRT.

CRT is largely a college-level academic field that Republicans say is taught from K-12. Blake Harbin, one of the Republican candidates for the 6th District seat, said he believes the CRT indoctrinates rather than educates children.

But Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the Columbia law professor who coined the term “critical race” in the mid-1970s, said the CRT only gets attention because of how the GOP has transformed it. into a deceptive political hot spot.

“It’s only sparking interest now that the conservative right has claimed it as a subversive set of ideas,” she told The New York Times in 2021.

CRT focuses on addressing how America’s history of racism and inequality affects society today, Crenshaw said in the Times, such as in policy or infrastructure.

A single definition of the idea doesn’t even exist, but Republicans have linked the concept to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and the “1619 Project”, which also sought to examine the consequences of slavery on America. today.

The midterm elections in November will be the first federal test of how opposition to the so-called CRT might push the most outspoken conservatives to run and vote.

Until recently, Georgia’s 6th District was represented by Democrat Lucy McBath. The district, which stretches from suburban northern Atlanta to rural Milton and is home to nearly 750,000 people, is overwhelmingly white, but its seat was filled by a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

This is almost certain to change due to redistricting, the process of redrawing district lines after each census to account for population changes. Republicans only need a net gain of five seats to secure a majority in the House.

The 6th District now overwhelmingly favors the GOP by 24%, as opposed to tilting 1% Democrat with previous borders. McBath will instead run in the Democratic-leaning 7th District after his Sandy Springs home was redesigned there.

“These new maps that we’re seeing are going to influence the US House elections and the next 10 years of elections,” said Greg Giroux, senior reporter for US House elections and redistricting for Bloomberg. . “How the new lines are drawn will affect who controls the levers of power in Washington. [D.C].”

Republican candidates targeting the 6th District include Mallory Staples, a former teacher nicknamed the MAGA Mom; Jake Evans, who calls himself a conservative trailblazer fighting to take America back and was endorsed by Donald Trump; Rich McCormick, a conservative doctor who suffered a narrow defeat in the last 7th District election; and Paulette Smith, who said on Facebook that she was “aiming to stop the socialist and communist ideology of the Democratic Party.”

The nine conservatives vying for their party’s nomination are all targeting the CRT, an issue that has become a staple for Republican candidates in the upcoming midterm elections and is already prevalent in Georgia.

“Critical race theory is bad, it’s divisive, and it’s a lie,” said Staples, a district candidate who previously taught English and the Old Testament Bible in Atlanta, in an interview with Annenberg. Media. “To judge people by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character is simply ungodly, it’s un-American and it will ruin a society. I call [CRT] cancer.”

Staples is backed by South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman, a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, who claimed that CRT “claims that white people are inherently racist” because of the color of their skin.

The other candidates of the 6th district issue a similar note.

“I’m totally against critical race theory because it tells people of color you’re less than white people,” said Smith, who is black. “I’m totally against it because I know blacks, Hispanics, Asians, bright whites – it doesn’t matter.”

Georgia’s “Student First Protection Act” would limit classroom discussions about race and ban the teaching of so-called divisive concepts in K-12 classrooms. This echoes language previously used by the Trump administration regarding the CRT, such as rejecting the idea that the United States is an “irredeemably racist and sexist” or “fundamentally racist” country.

The Georgia Senate passed the bill in early April, but it still needs to be approved by the GOP-controlled House and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp before being signed into law.

The focus on CRT in Georgia’s 6th District aligns with Republicans across the state and nation seeking to limit what is taught in classrooms.

“Republicans in Georgia seem to understand that parents are concerned that their children will learn ideas about sexuality or race that are against their family’s principles,” said Robert Schmad, Atlanta-based senior correspondent for the conservative Campus Reform website. “As any party would, the GOP benefits.”

More than 20 states have at least introduced legislation banning or limiting the race-related concepts that are supposed to be part of the CRT. Last May, Utah Rep. Burgess Owens sponsored legislation calling CRT a “damaging ideological tool” that should not be taught in K-12 grades.

“It’s really more of a red herring,” said Candace Bond-Theriault, director of racial justice policy and strategy at Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. “It’s more of a talking point and a media strategy to galvanize their bases to come out and vote.”

Resolutions like the one supported by Owens, she said, are ways to put something on the record rather than attempts to enact legislation.

“It’s hard to say what [Congress] can do because how can they ban something that is not happening? said Bond-Theriault.

Instead, Georgia Democrats believe curricula across the state should reflect what students want and become more diverse and inclusive.

“Young people are starting to demand a more honest, truthful, and comprehensive curriculum, especially when it comes to history and social studies,” said Royce Carter Mann, a former Atlanta school board nominee who attended a school public in Georgia. .

Even though CRT isn’t taught in K-12 classrooms and the ability of Congress to act on it is difficult to examine, the question still resonates with Republicans. In January, a UMass Amherst poll found that more than half of party voters think racial inequality shouldn’t be taught in schools.

Parents who have had to stay home during the pandemic have grown unhappy with their children’s education, said Campus Reform’s Schmad, and now yearn for greater control over “progressive interpretations” of race and gender. ‘story.

“The Republicans of Georgia, seeing themselves in a state [Joe] Biden won only narrowly, sees education as a way to catalyze parental support to give himself a valuable edge in what is shaping up to be a very tough midterm election,” he said. declared.

Discussions around education and the CRT had a galvanizing effect during last year’s Virginia gubernatorial race, with Republican Glenn Youngkin beating former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state Biden had won from 10 percentage points the previous year.

“It was a conversation about education that completely transformed this race,” Staples said. “The parents heard the quiet part said out loud, which is [that] as a parent, you have no say in what your children learn.

Whether the backlash over what’s being taught in schools is as effective in mobilizing voters for the midterm elections remains to be seen, but Georgia Democrats fear a repeat.

“Unfortunately, right-wingers are really trying to find everything they can do in the boogeyman, and they’ve decided to focus on the so-called CRT,” Mann said. “They know they’re just creating this fake enemy, but that’s what they’re doing. That’s how they win.

Jessica C. Bell