People are divided about Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT advocates want to criticize the bad things in history, while CRT opponents want to embrace the good things from the past. Perhaps there’s a more balanced approach.
We need Critical/Embrace Theory. Let’s embrace the noble things in our history and criticize the abusive.
Even a casual observation reveals that American history isn’t “either or.” America was established on both human rights principles and human rights violations. It boldly, courageously, and gloriously proclaimed freedom, all the while sanctioning and utilizing human trafficking to clear it’s land, raise its crops, and build it’s infrastructure.
America’s Founding Fathers were passionate about the principles of freedom, but possessive and protective of their ability to enslave and traffic other people. They declared that “all men are created equal” while they forcibly held (or legally supported those who did) innocent men, women, and children in forced, life-long servitude and bondage.
An honest look at history reveals that America has proclaimed “liberty and justice for all,” while allowing, legalizing, and institutionalizing “bondage and injustice for many.” That system of human bondage was called “the peculiar institution” by those who practiced it and defended it. America’s Bill of Rights and other glorious principles of freedom were not allowed to be applied to the people enslaved in “the peculiar institution.”
It took a brutal, internal war to end “the peculiar institution,” but it was soon replaced with other legalized forms of oppression and injustice. The “freedmen” and their descendants were forced to live as second class citizens under “Jim Crow” laws that denied their constitutional rights. They had to endure lynching, and other race-based terrorism. Meanwhile, the righteous principles of freedom continued to be proclaimed by their oppressors.
Black people could be convicted of a crime while legally not being allowed to testify in court. Then, once they were incarcerated, they were subject to “convict leasing.” They could be leased out to do brutal manual labor for private individuals, without pay and without protection against abuse. But Black people believed in the Bill of Rights even when those rights were being denied them through various legal and illegal means.
Black people, against almost impossible odds, continued to stake their claim to the American human rights principles. Inch by inch, over many decades they persisted. Many fought for America’s freedom principles in both World Wars. When they returned they expected that they would be granted more freedom at home for their sacrifices overseas. Instead they were brutally resisted, but they persisted to press for their freedom until a widespread movement of liberty arose.
The Civil Rights Movement finally brought down the oppressive Jim Crow laws and put Black Americans on equal legal footing with White Americans. It was a massive change that allowed Black people the legal freedom to begin to participate in the broader society, economy, and politics.
However, after centuries of racial divide and oppression, the legal changes didn’t automatically change people’s hearts or all the habits, beliefs, and systems that influence human behavior. We need to celebrate that America is now much more consistent with matching its human rights principles to its behaviors, while we strive to be honest about our history and to continually improve how people are treated.