By Ben Felder Dylan Goforth and Brianna Bailey
Few pieces of legislation this year drew controversy like House Bill 1775, which instructs Oklahoma educators on how they can and can’t teach about history and race.
Often referred to as a bill banning “critical race theory,” the legislation does not actually include that phrase. But how American schools teach history has become a major political flashpoint following a national reckoning on race.
Critics claim that critical race theory and other progressive approaches are based on putting down white students. But many supporters of new approaches, including those promoting the New York Times recent 1619 Project, say it is about better understanding how historic and present-day racism still impacts all Americans.
The Frontier took a closer look at HB 1775 to fact check some of the claims Oklahoma public officials have made about critical race theory, as well as the potential impact of the legislation.
Claim: HB 1775 bans the teaching of critical race theory in Oklahoma schools.
Source: Widespread media reports
Fact check: Mostly false
Critical race theory, or CRT, is not a curriculum but instead a process for studying history that grew out of the work of legal scholars Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado and Kimberlé Crenshaw. The theory holds that racism is not purely a result of individual prejudice but also ingrained in systems, such as housing policy, the criminal justice system and voting laws, according to its original use and continued adaptation by scholars and historians.
House Bill 1775 bans the teaching that one race is superior to another, or teaching that a person is “inherently racist, sexist or oppressive” because of their race. These are not concepts of critical race theory and the bill does not appear to ban the teaching of systemic racism or how past acts of racism still impact people today. It also does not appear to ban discussions about how a person may participate or benefit from racist systems without knowing it.
For example, a white student is not told they are “inherently racist” just because they are taught they might still benefit from a historic housing system that once banned black families from living in desirable communities.
“This bill simply says that teachers can’t force a student to answer that they are inherently racist or sexist or that they must feel personally responsible for things perpetrated in the past by people of a similar race or gender,” said Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, the bill’s author.
The state Department of Education says it will consider the bill when it begins its next rule making process but has not issued any immediate guidance to districts.
“We anticipate beginning the rules process in the fall. It’s a bit too early to say what that process will look like. Until then, the bill stands on its own for districts to follow,” said Annette Price, a spokeswoman for the department.
Claim: Critical race theory is Marxist ideology.
Source: One of the authors of HB 1775, Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, has called Critical Race Theory “Marxist ideology.”
Co-author Sen. Shane Jett, R-Shawnee, called critical race theory: “Marxist indoctrination.”
Fact check: Mixed
While Critical Race Theory has some Marxist influences, it is not Marxism, which argues that workers should overthrow capitalism and create a new classless society.
Two founding critical race theory scholars, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, cite the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci among the movement’s influences in the book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, but also “Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Black Power and Chicano movements of the sixties and early seventies.”
Critical Race Theory grew out of an earlier philosophical movement called Critical Legal Studies, which had Marxist roots. Critical Legal Studies scholars sought to examine how the law serves the interests of the rich and powerful over poor and marginalized groups.
Claim: Oklahoma City Community College has cancelled classes dealing with race in response to HB 1775.
Source: Claims surfaced on Twitter that Oklahoma City Community College had started cancelling summer classes in response to the new law.
Fact check: True
OCCC officials said a class for health professions majors in the social sciences division related to race and equity was removed from the summer schedule but could be returned.
“It’s not being eliminated or altered at this time, but because the class was set to start so quickly after HB 1775, we paused it while we evaluated the law and how it could impact this class and others,” said Erick Worrell, a spokesman for OCCC.
Claim: Critical race theory scholar Ibram X. Kendi advocates for a form of racial discrimination called “anti-racism.”
Source: Former Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter called out Kendi’s views as form of racial discrimination as part of a denouncement of public funding for critical race theory curriculum and the 1619 project.
Fact check: True but misleading
“Anti-racism” argues that institutional racism, which the National Museum of African American History and Culture defines as “policies and practices within institutions that benefit white people to the disadvantage of people of color,” creates inequality by favoring white people over other groups and races.
Ibram X. Kendi, in his book “How to be an Anti-Racist,” has said that racial discrimination “is not inherently racist” and that the question is whether the discrimination “is creating equity or inequity.”
If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist,” Kendi writes. “If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist.”
“The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination,” Kendi writes, arguing that by discriminating against the favored group, society is actually leveling a historically unlevel playing field.
Claim: HB 1775 will change the way history is taught in public schools after complaints from parents about classroom discussions on race.
Source: Education Secretary Ryan Walters said HB 1775 was “probably the No. 1 topic I’m asked about” by parents concerned their children are being taught about white privilege and inherent racial traits.
Mostly false: State education officials have said they have never heard a complaint about a teacher using a curriculum that claims one person’s race is lesser or that a person is responsible for racism because of their own race. Although state education officials said they will review the new law in detail over the summer and offer any necessary guidance to schools in the fall.
True: A claim that is backed up by factual evidence
Mostly True: A claim that is mostly true but also contains some inaccurate details
Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate information
True but misleading: A claim that is factually true but omits critical details or context
Mostly False: A claim that is mostly false but also contains some accurate details
False: A claim that has no basis in fact
Correction: June 3, 2021: This story originally misstated information about a class offered at Oklahoma City Community College based on information provided by the school. The class was offered in the social sciences division, not the health profession division.