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OPINION | AUSTIN PORTER JR.: The demonization of Black history

by AUSTIN PORTER JR. SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | October 24, 2021 at 1:54 a.m.

On Aug. 16, the duly elected Arkansas attorney general issued an official opinion--2021-042--to state Rep. Mark Lowery.

Mr. Lowery asked if the introduction of practices based on "anti-racism" and critical race theory in Arkansas public schools and universities violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Article II of the Arkansas Constitution, or other applicable nondiscrimination laws.

The attorney general's opinion assured Mr. Lowery that teaching these concepts within our public schools would indeed violate these laws. It appears that both Rep. Lowery and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge have a political agenda to score political points off the oppression of Black people.

There is no public school in the state of Arkansas that teaches CRT. Therefore, Mr. Lowery and Ms. Rutledge are attempting to score political points off a problem that does not exist.

The Bible says that there is nothing new under the sun. Politicians scored political wins by supporting slavery, supporting segregation, and referring to our Latino brothers and sisters as "rapists" and "murderers." Politicians are now trying to score political wins off the backs of Black people's suffering by waging a political war against CRT and The 1619 Project.

The 2020 Census revealed a fact that many in the white community never thought they would face: a shrinking majority. Therefore, there are members in the Republican party who will do anything necessary in order to preserve white supremacy--which is a myth considering that all people came from Africans.

CRT looks at laws that were put in place to preserve white supremacy. During the Jim Crow era, laws were passed in many Southern states, including Arkansas, that prohibited interracial marriages, prohibited Black nurses from providing care to white patients, prohibited newborn Black babies from sharing the same space with newborn white babies, and prohibited Blacks and whites from being buried in the same cemetery, just to name a few.

Many of these laws remained on the books well into the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. CRT examines why such laws were passed in the first place, the effect they had on the psyche of Black people, how those laws impact behaviors today, and why policing in Black America is different from that in white America.

CRT dispels the myth that we live in a color-blind society; racism is systemic, not just an aberration.

The AG opines that teaching such lessons of our past will violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended), codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000d. The statute provides:

No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

The very purpose of Title VI was to ensure that Black children were receiving an educational experience that was equal to their white counterparts. Teaching such things as CRT and The 1619 Project would not violate Title VI.

It cannot be denied that Arkansas, like many other Southern states, has a sordid history in terms of race relations. But this is our history! The United States Supreme Court gave its seal of approval for segregation and white supremacy in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson.

In the wake of Plessy v. Ferguson (in which the Court in 1896 upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation under the "separate but equal" doctrine) and the decision of Brown v. Board of Education (in which the Court ruled in 1954 that separating children in public schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional), many Southern states erected confederate monuments as an affront to Black people.

As an African American attorney, I have to walk by these monuments when I go to places like the Lonoke County Circuit Court and the Jackson County Courthouse, just to name a few. If we fail to heed the lessons of our history, we are doomed to repeat our past.

There are many on the political right who wish to rewrite history or simply to suppress it as if it never existed, which is dangerous. There are those who wish to classify the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., as a tourist event rather than an attack on our democracy and an act of treason.

Ms. Rutledge and Mr. Lowery are trying to prevent our children from learning about their past, and then trying in a devious manner to prevent true history from being taught so as to not offend white children, pretending as if such teachings violate Title VI.

The attorney general's opinion went so far as to say that if CRT is being taught in our schools, this will somehow cause white children to feel bad, subjecting them to a hostile educational environment, in violation of Title VI. The attorney general has taken a law that was meant for good and turned it on its head.

It is interesting to note that Lowery and Rutledge speak about equality in reference to white kids but have never taken any stance toward providing for equality on behalf of the Black citizens of this state.

The state of Arkansas stood against nine Black children attempting to enter Central High School in 1957. The state of Arkansas has passed laws to hold up white supremacy. The state of Arkansas' Republican Party has passed laws that make it more difficult for its Black and brown citizens to vote, in an effort to preserve white supremacy.

Now, the state of Arkansas is attempting to suppress history by prohibiting the children of this state from learning true history.

Austin Porter Jr. lives in Little Rock.

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