CRT, “Class”, and why Jill Biden owes Black Female Athletes an Apology

One of the biggest mistakes political and ideological progressives have made in the latest chapters in our nation’s fight for racial justice is responding to accusations of teaching Critical Race Theory to children with an adamant “No we aren’t!” Critical Race Theory is a deeply academic framework for understanding how race and racism have shaped our institutions and acceptance of what is considered “normal” in American society. It is taught in law schools, graduate schools, and other professional educational programs.

So while it is true that no one is trying to teach “CRT” to children, the strong denials to those accusations imply that there is something inherently wrong with the tenets of the framework. It’s like being accused of teaching the Theory of Relativity to elementary school students after reading Magic School Bus books during story time and responding, “How DARE you suggest such a thing. We would NEVER!”

We are saying something that is true, but irrelevant.

Not teaching CRT to children doesn’t mean the foundations of the theory are wrong. The evidence is everywhere, most recently seen in the aftermath of the NCAA Women’s Basketball title game between LSU and Iowa.

But first, let me back up a few years and tell a story that helped open my eyes to the ways the tenets of CRT are based in reality.

Several years ago I was watching a Baylor women’s basketball game at a bar in Waco, alongside other fans. One of the players on that year’s roster was Kristy Wallace, a sharp-shooting guard from Australia who has since gone on to success with the Australian national team and in the WNBA. She was having an exceptionally good night when one of my bar mates, an older white woman, made the comment, “I’m so glad Coach Mulkey recruited her. She’s brought so much class to this team.”

Kristy Wallace is white.

The entirety of the rest of the roster consisted of young black women.

Critical Race Theory, while probably not something that should be taught in third grade, has some things to offer to this story.

Did the lady at the bar have hate in her heart for black people? I don’t know. Probably not, but that isn’t the point. Her statement both reflected and advanced a belief that pervades every aspect of our society: Whiteness is “classy.” Blackness is, well, not quite as classy.

The team that year consisted of numerous young black women who were excellent leaders and excelled in the classroom, as did Wallace. But only one, apparently, brought “class” to the team.

This same story played itself out this weekend in the now famous “Can’t see me!” taunts of the two greatest players in the national title game, Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark. A short primer for those unaware: Caitlin Clark of Iowa, one of the greatest player’s the game has ever seen, and a very accomplished trash talker, flashed the sign in Iowa’s win against Louisville in the Elite 8 game. In Sunday’s win against Iowa, Angel Reese, also one of the greatest current players in the country, flashed the same sign to Clark, along with a gesture indicated that she’ll be getting the ring and Clark won’t.

On social media, Clark was lauded while Reese was lambasted.

Some are defending this double standard by saying that Reese went “too far” by following Clark around. Which, ok. Perhaps. But are those extra few seconds of taunting worthy of one being called “Passionate for the game” and another called a “thug”? Of course not.

But the more egregious example of why we need to understand the framework of Critical Race Theory (regardless of what we decide to call it), is in First Lady Jill Biden’s suggestion in an interview that, in addition to the customary invite of the championship team to the White House, Iowa should also be invited.

The Iowa Hawkeyes roster is almost exclusively white.

The LSU Tigers roster is almost exclusively black.

I’ve noticed one of the talking points of those against pushing for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives is that we should reward merit, rather than equity.

Without getting into all the historical issues around that belief, (which would, incidentally, require a knowledge of some of the tenets of Critical Race Theory), I hope we can see how that belief, coupled with Jill Biden’s statement, can be seen as a giant slap in the face to the LSU athletes.

But also, this is something that black people have to deal with all the time in our country. “Merit” over “Equity” when an accomplishment is merited by a predominately white person or group. “Let’s invite EVERYONE” when the accomplishment is merited by a predominately black person or group.

And here’s where there is value in the foundation of CRT, (again, regardless of what you decide to call it): It doesn’t matter that the First Lady doesn’t have hate in her heart for black people. It doesn’t even matter that she is part of a major political party that more robustly advances the cause of black communities than the other major political party, if only a little.

What matters is that her statement reflected and advanced a narrative that preferences “whiteness” over “blackness.”

And what will matter more, is whether she is teachable enough to offer an apology.

Edit: Further thoughts:

As I have reflected on the thoughts I shared above, I’ve been thinking about another element of the uproar over CRT, and that is the suggestion by many of those who are against it that it is intended to “Make white people feel bad.”

I think it is important to note that nothing about the post-Sunday night event has anything to do with Caitlin Clark. It’s not suggesting that she should feel bad for how she comported herself during the tournament or for how social media reacted to Angel Reese after the tournament. This isn’t even about her. It’s about upholding different standards for different people.

No one is asking us to “feel bad about being white.” The foundation of CRT simply asks us to recognize where we have advanced the supremacy of “whiteness” and take concrete steps to change our behavior.

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