Letter: CRT is not taught in schools, but racism is in our history

From: Jean Marr Wilkins


I write partially in response to Kathleen Smith’s letter (“Substance of critical race theory demands we see racism”, May 21), in which she discusses CRT (critical race theory).

Ms. Smith says that CRT is a movement. If so, it’s a movement I have never come across in my daily life or in discussions with anyone I know. I have only heard about CRT from frightened right-wingers on television, and so far I don’t feel the need to spend my precious time and energy trawling through academic tomes to learn about it. CRT is not taught in the public schools.

Completely different is the question of teaching important facts of history in the schools, specifically facts that illuminate the origins of today’s most pressing problems, even if those facts make us uncomfortable. In my graduate work at Indiana University, as an assistant instructor I taught modern European history to undergraduates, including teaching the origins of World War II. I came to see that Europe of the 1930s, especially Germany, was completely unhinged. By and large, the German people could not admit they had lost World War I: “We didn’t lose the war, we were stabbed in the back by our generals.” The conspiracy theories grew from there: “It wasn’t just our generals who betrayed us, it was the Jews;” furthermore, “We deserve to be the master race and to take whatever we want by force.”

The refusal to face reality led to the deaths of millions.

The United States is not Nazi Germany, but we can learn from it. We do have and for a long time have had a problem of racism and bigotry, and by and large we have not faced up to the extreme damage it has caused. Hoosiers have been as bamboozled as post-World War I Germans were. For example, I grew up in Columbus never knowing that in the 1920s the politics of Indiana was dominated by the Ku Klux Klan. I did not know there had been a Klan in Indiana, never heard a word about it, but in my 20s in Massachusetts, I read some of the trial transcript of D.C. Stephenson, the head of the Klan in Indiana. After his conviction for the murder of Madge Oberholtzer, the Klan died out here, but at its peak the Hoosier Klan had had half-a-million members. While he was still the Klan’s Grand Dragon, Stephenson had on his desk a telephone which he claimed was a direct line to the President of the United States. This was accepted as truth by many credulous people.

We need to own up to all of our history, not to wallow in guilt, but to learn from our missteps, so that we can come closer to fulfilling the great ideals of this nation.