Critical Race Theory

Reeves ignores racist history of state’s felony voting ban with vetoes

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Governor Tate Reeves delivers his State of the State address on the steps of the State Capitol Tuesday afternoon. Reeves spoke of a better Mississippi through better education, jobs and unity.

Reeves ignores racist history of state’s felony voting ban with vetoes

Gov. Tate Reeves has been vocal in his opposition to the teaching of and his support of the nation’s and state’s “patriotic” history.

Critical race theory, normally taught at the college level, explores the impact of race on various aspects of society. Opponents, though, say critical race theory is an effort to divide the country along racial lines. While opposing critical race theory, the Republican Reeves has long advocated for the teaching of “patriotic” history or history that portrays the state and nation in a positive light.

Reeves, a self-proclaimed “numbers guy” who worked in banking and finance before entering politics in his late 20s, offered a history lesson recently when vetoing a bill that would ensure people whose felony convictions were expunged would regain their right to vote.

“Felony disenfranchisement is an animating principle of the social contract at the heart of every great republic dating back to the founding of ancient Greece and Rome,” Reeves wrote in his veto message. “In America, such laws date back to the colonies and the eventual founding of our Republic. Since statehood, in one form or another, Mississippi law has recognized felony disenfranchisement.”

Granted, the loss of rights for those convicted of felonies was once common in America. But most states — at least 40 of them — now restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies at some point after they complete their sentence.

And perhaps people convicted of felonies in ancient Rome and Greece also lost their voting rights. Perhaps, a question for the governor is whether the slaves in ancient Rome and Greece could vote.

In Mississippi, the issue of felony disenfranchisement intersects with the state’s sordid history of and systematic racism. The narrative of the day made it clear that felony disenfranchisement was among a litany of provisions placed in Mississippi’s 1890 Constitution to keep African Americans from voting.

At the time, the said the disfranchisement of felons was an effort “to obstruct the exercise of the franchise by the negro race” by targeting “the offenses to which its weaker members were prone.” The provision’s intent was the same as the poll tax, the literacy test and other Jim Crow-era provisions that sought to prevent African Americans from voting.

Heck, murder and rape — the two crimes that would be disenfranchising if any were — were not listed in the 1890 Constitution as disenfranchising. They were added much later, in the 1960s.

While most states have moved on from lifetime bans on voting for people convicted of felonies, Mississippi holds tightly to the process placed in its 1890 Constitution. Under that process, a person either has to obtain a gubernatorial pardon or approval by a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature to regain the right to vote.

Because of that difficult process, Mississippi leads the nation in percentage of residents who have lost their right to vote. This past session, the Legislature passed bills restoring voting rights to only five Mississippians. Reeves opted not to sign those bills, instead allowing them to become law without his signature.

The bill Reeves did veto would have clarified that people whose felony convictions are expunged by a judge also would regain the right to vote. It should be pointed out only a limited number of crimes under specified conditions are eligible for expungement.

At any rate, some jurisdictions are restoring voting rights when crimes are expunged. Others are not. The bill was an attempt to clarify what many said was the Legislature’s intent — to restore voting rights when crimes were expunged.

But Reeves said to restore the rights, the state Constitution needs to be amended through first legislative action and then a vote of the people.

There are legal experts who agree with Reeves’ assessment that a change to the Constitution is needed to bypass the Legislature or a gubernatorial pardon to restore voting rights. Others do not believe a change to the Constitution is required to do so.

Still, Reeves used the occasion of the veto to brandish his version of history, which was absent the racial components surrounding Mississippi’s felony disenfranchisement rules.

When the Legislature debated a bill that supporters said would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in Mississippi classrooms, some voiced concerns that passage of the anti-critical race theory bill would prevent the teaching of the impact of race on the state’s and nation’s history.

Supporters of the anti-critical race theory bill said it was not their intent to downplay the impact of race.

But Reeves, who signed the critical race theory bill and who touts the importance of teaching “patriotic” history, seems intent on ignoring the racial component of the state’s felony disenfranchisement provision.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Madison County restricts books due to parental concerns

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After some parents raise concerns, Madison County Schools places books in ‘restricted circulation’

Madison County school officials placed more than 20 books in restricted circulation last week following complaints from parents about their contents. 

Students must have parental permission to check out one of the restricted books in the district’s elementary, middle, and high school libraries.

A team of educators will review the challenged books for “mature content” and make recommendations to district leaders, said Gene Wright, director of communications for Madison County Schools.

“These books may contain content that requires more mature thinking to appropriately process in the context of the literature. We want to partner with parents in terms of what reading material their students are checking out,” Wright said. “Our district values the free exchange of ideas and respects parents’ different views regarding what reading material is appropriate for their children.”

The dispute follows public controversy over the funding of the Ridgeland library, which the mayor of Ridgeland initially said in January he withheld over objections to LGBTQ materials. After months of back and forth, the parties settled on an agreement last week. 

Nationally, book bannings have been on the rise over the last year, hitting a record high since the American Library Association started tracking the challenges 20 years ago. The association also said that the majority of challenged books were by or about Black or LGBT individuals.

The books currently in restricted circulation in the Madison County School District are:

  • “Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
  • “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  • “American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang
  • “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
  • “The Benefits of Being an Octopus” by Ann Braden
  • “Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person” by Frederick Joseph
  • “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
  • “Dear Martin” by Nic Stone
  • “Discovering Wes Moore” by Wes Moore
  • “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell
  • “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
  • “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika Sánchez
  • “Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
  • “Let Me Hear a Rhyme” by Tiffany D. Jackson
  • “Love, Hate, and Other Filters” by Samira Ahmed
  • “Monday’s Not Coming” by Tiffany D. Jackson
  • “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez
  • “Piecing Me Together” by Renee Watson
  • “Queer, There, & Everywhere” by Sarah Prager
  • “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • “Touching Spirit Bear” by Ben Mikaelsen
  • “Uglies” by Scott Westerfeld

The district confirmed that there are some challenged books that have never been checked out and that a full checkout history of each title will be available in the coming months. The district also said that the challenged books were primarily available in middle and high school libraries.

Mass Resistance, a group recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, touted the review of these books as a victory for local members.

Lindsey Beckham, who identified herself as the contact point for Mississippi’s chapter of Mass Resistance during the Ridgeland library hearings, first became interested in library content as a part of her concerns regarding . She, along with other parents, reviewed the schools’ online library catalogs for titles that had been challenged in other parts of the country, according to their research. 

“The topics that are being discussed in these books had no business being in a public school, nothing I want my children reading,” she said. “Going through and reading some of the excerpts from these books, the subjects, the topics are very dark, very disturbing, very heavy even for me as an adult.” 

Beckham, who has one homeschooled daughter and one daughter at Germantown Middle, read an excerpt from one of the books at the most recent school board meeting, a video of which made the rounds on social media. Four days later, the books were placed in restricted circulation and principals sent letters home to parents explaining the situation. 

Dalen Owens Grant, a mother of two children in the Madison school system, doesn’t take issue with the district’s method of handling the concerns, but she worries about how it bodes for the future. 

”My problem is, just because they don’t want their children to read it, I don’t think their parenting ideas should be parenting everyone’s children,” she said. 

Grant called it “unfair” that the list primarily contains books about minorities. The libraries won’t accurately portray the whole community if the books are removed, she said.  

“Even if they get what they want out of this … if it’s not ‘The Kite Runner’ now, it’s going to be another book next week,” Grant said. “I just hope the school district is ready.”

The Madison County School Board plans to present a policy to handle future book challenges at its May 9 meeting.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Anti-critical race theory bill signed into law

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Bill that seeks to ban CRT signed into law

Despite widespread opposition from Black lawmakers, organizations, and educators across the state, on Monday Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law Senate Bill 2113, legislation that seeks to ban the teaching of in Mississippi’s K-12 schools, colleges and universities. 

In a three-minute video, Reeves claimed that, because of critical race theory, students are being “dragged to the front of the classroom and … coerced to declare themselves as oppressors” and “taught that they should feel guilty because of the color of their skin or that they are inherently a victim because of their race.” 

“I know that you’ll agree with me when I say that there is no room for this type of indoctrination in our state,” Reeves said. 

The Mississippi Department of Education has repeatedly said that critical race theory is not being taught in K-12 schools. In fact, critical race theory, a high-level academic and legal framework, is taught in just one class in Mississippi – Law 743, a course at the University of Mississippi School of Law. 

It’s unlikely the bill will prevent UM from offering Law 743. The vague language in the bill, educators and legal experts have repeatedly pointed out, does not describe critical race theory. The phrase is only in the title of the bill.

The bill, authored by Sen. Michael McClendon, R-Hernando, prohibits from compelling “students to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere … that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.” It would also prevent schools from making “a distinction or classification of students based on account of race.”

Still, SB 2113 has teeth – any school that violates the bill stands to lose state funding. That’s why many educators and civil rights advocates across Mississippi are now waiting to see how SB 2113 will be enforced by education agencies across the state, from MDE and the Institutions of Higher Learning to local school districts. 

“The biggest fear we have is that it’s going to impact how teachers teach and how school districts embrace diversity and issues dealing with civil rights or Black history in Mississippi, “ said Jarvis Dortch, the executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “We’re afraid that you’re gonna see actions like you saw with the assistant principal in Hinds County — school districts will go overboard and try to avoid any type of litigation.” 

The bill’s impact also will likely be hard to quantify. Legal experts say SB 2113 will have a chilling effect on teachers who, fearing repercussions, will shy away from talking about the worst parts of Mississippi’s history.

The bill could also prevent public universities from recognizing affinity groups for marginalized students, such as the Black Law Students Association at University of Mississippi. Educators worry the bill could even affect science curriculum. 

“It’s easy to read this bill as prohibiting faculty to teach students about racial disparities in health and disease outcomes,” one professor wrote on Twitter. 

Last week, faculty at University of Southern Mississippi warned in a letter to President Rodney Bennett that SB 2113 could affect accreditation for the research universities in Mississippi. 

“The most serious harm of (SB 2113) will fall on our students, who will be denied the opportunity to learn and grow unencumbered from legislative dictates,” the letter reads. 

Faculty senates at three other Mississippi universities have also passed resolutions denouncing SB 2113

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Reeves signs critical race theory bill into law

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-03-14 14:26:42

Gov. Tate Reeves on Monday signed into law Senate Bill 2113 that bans the teaching of .

A Mississippi Senate committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would ban schools from teaching critical race theory, even though the state superintendent of education has said the theory is not being taught in schools and legislators have offered no evidence to show it is.

Critical race theory is an academic…

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Von Gordon talks critical race theory

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‘Don’t be intimidated by the jargon’: Von Gordon talks critical race theory in Mississippi

Von Gordon

For much of the last two decades, Von Gordon has encouraged Mississippians to talk about race. As a student at the University of Mississippi, he helped organize the first Statewide Student Summit on Race. Gordon, 42, is now the executive director of the Alluvial Collective, formerly the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. The nonprofit aims to create stronger communities in Mississippi through educational events, like hosting seminars, assisting in oral histories, and mentoring high school students. 

This session, discussion of race and racism in Mississippi in K-12 school and university classrooms are coming under threat. Last week, the House passed Senate Bill 2113, which seeks to ban the teaching of in . Now, Gov. Tate Reeves is poised to sign the legislation, and educators across the state are anxiously waiting to see how it will impact their ability to teach about race and racism in Mississippi. 

The day after the House passed SB 2113 last week, Mississippi Today spoke with Gordon for “Mississippi in the Know,” a series of free breakfast conversations with policy experts. In this interview, which has been edited and condensed for length, Gordon talked about school desegregation in Mississippi and how that inspired Derrick Bell’s writings on critical race theory. 

Molly Minta: Derrick Bell is one of the founders of critical race theory, and he worked as a lawyer for the NAACP legal defense (fund), and he actually litigated a school desegregation case in Leake County. His experiences working on that case were really formative for the academic work he later did to develop critical race theory. I would love it if you could talk to us a little bit about his experiences. 

Von Gordon: There’s a definition that I’m really fond of. Lee Anne Bell describes it in a book about teaching for social justice, and she writes: “Critical race theory analyzes and challenges mainstream narratives in law, history, and popular culture that uphold the status quo.” And a big part of how they do that is through counter storytelling. 

I think it’s really important that Dr. Bell spent a lot of time here, and it was informative in how he thought about this theory. So he is already in Mississippi doing some work in the early 1960s. There’s an opportunity to help with the desegregation of Leake County schools

One of the interesting things is, there was a Rosenwald School already there that was of deep value to the community. It had served the community well, even in the context of gross underfunding and, frankly, gross segregation. So there was a need that the Black people in particular in that community had to have an equitable education experience. The Legislature could have fixed that, but it did not. 

There were people (in Leake County) who were concerned that by desegregating the schools, they might lose this really valuable asset that they had poured themselves into and that had produced a lot of opportunity for their children  — and actually (a lot of opportunity) for them. 

Now, one of the things I’ve learned about these communities — Harmony is one of them — is that they are really strong and resilient communities. We know in other parts of the country, strong communities like that got destroyed, whether you’re talking about Tulsa or Rosewood or others. The context really matters in that way. (Bell) recognizes that the law is really critical to desegregation, to unleashing the potential of being a citizen in the United States. 

When we think about what critical race theory seeks to do, it seeks to have a full examination of the impact of race in our society. And I think it’s been fun, and in some ways funny, to watch this conversation happen nationally, in part because in many ways it is detached both from the real impact of systemic racism, but also what it looks like in the communities where we live and work.

MM: Another tenant of critical race theory (is) this idea of “interests converging.” Could you talk to us a little bit about that, how we can understand that idea in Mississippi?

VG: Dr. Bell is one of the scholars who has written most about this. He talks specifically about some of the gains and how they were really made possible, not because there was this great awakening in the country that Black people or Native people needed their rights or they deserve their rights. That was a part of it, but it was also that it benefited white America too. 

For folks who are curious about the civil rights struggle of the sixties — when the president got involved most actively (in Birmingham), it was when the State Department and diplomats started to send back how what they were seeing on TV played across the globe. As the Cold War is emerging, we cannot project out equality and the dignity and respect of every human being, and here we have German shepherds biting our community’s babies. 

The passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Rights Act — based on Dr. Bell’s work — had as much to do with what benefited the whole as it did just the need to extend these rights, basically to live out our Constitution. I think that’s an important thing for us to consider. 

I’ve always been fascinated by debates about affirmative action. When I was in college and since, one of the things that I’ve always heard about affirmative action policies was that the biggest beneficiary of those policies were white women. And most of the data bears that out. But the burden of affirmative action and the stigma around it is typically born by Black people. 

I think we have to ask ourselves … Are we doing things for the right reason? Or doing things in the interest of equity and justice? Or are we doing them also because it’s in our self interest? 

There’s a windfall of infrastructure dollars, right, coming into the state. One of the things we know about infrastructure is, historically, where what got placed had an impact on the people living there. Most of the negative impact, particularly in our urban centers, are … born out by the black and brown people in those countries.

So are we thinking intentionally at our Department of Transportation about how this amount of infrastructure dollars are going to be spent? How are we thinking about equity, or are we only looking for where our interests converge?  

MM: When I was interviewing students in Mississippi’s only law school class on critical race theory, they were talking to me about how, on the one hand, the idea of interest convergence can seem a little like Machiavellian almost. It’s not these pure ideas of equality and justice that are leading to these social changes, but the economic or material realities of, how does this change benefit people who have power in society? There’s that more cynical interpretation, but there’s also a way of thinking about it where it can actually provide a roadmap for how to create change in society. 

VG: My friend and colleague now at the Alluvial Collective, Chauncey Spears, often talks about how we prepare ourselves and young people to be better citizens. One of the important things I think we have to do is let go of some fear so we can really do a deep and honest examination of who we are and how we show up in the world, and the institutions we’re part of and the systems that we encourage.

Think about where the fear is coming from, cause we’re seeing this with the whole CRT debate. It’s rooted in the fears around what young people are learning and what that might tell them about who we are — or make them question about who we are. 

I’ve worked with amazing young people for a long time. I’ve been in spaces where we’ve talked about the of Emmett Till, and the white students in the room have shared all of the emotions of guilt and shame and assume blame and a lot of other things, almost all of which are unhealthy when it comes to how we move forward. And I’ve had the experience of, Black kids, particularly Black males, 14 or 15, wondering about their own value. 

Critical race theory is just one of many different ways that we need to examine the impact of oppression in our society. It is one thing to think about where we want to go and how we get there. It’s another thing to do an examination about how we have destroyed human potential for generations. 

Von Gordon

A really good friend of mine said this about white kids learning about and feeling some kind of way – that parents should applaud their white child who comes home and is upset about slavery as white person, because it’s evidence that their child has a moral compass. When we think about the value of a moral compass for budding citizens, that’s a really important thing. And for a black child to learn that they do have value. What happened to Emmett Till is not something anyone deserved for any reason.

The complexities of how our young people are raised to explore our history, but also kind of draw from that (history) lessons for how they need to show up as citizens should really be at the heart of this, not our fears. 

MM: What you’re saying connects to what you talked about at the beginning of our conversation about an important aspect of critical race theory being counter-storytelling. … I’m wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit more about other examples of counter storytelling in Mississippi? 

VG: I’ll tell you, I remember talking to … my middle daughter. She was talking about Lewis and Clark and the expedition. She was so proud of what she learned. Her older sister asked her, ‘so tell me about the other people in that story? What do you know about them?’ 

There were Native people there, right? They’re just the backdrop. Not only is that disrespectful, it’s a really bad way for us to learn our history. If we polled our middle school students and asked them if the original people in Mississippi, if any of them are still in Mississippi? They would probably say no, they died a long, long time ago. But Chief (Cyrus) Ben is a steward of an incredible history and community that most of our young people don’t even know exists. 

In our work, first of all, we don’t go anywhere we’re not invited. When we get there, one of the first things we do is put people in circles, because circles are one of the oldest forms of community. 

We recognize that at the fundamental level, where people are living their lives, they need to have a couple of things happen. They need to be able to see each other fully. They need to be able to hear each other fully. And the one thing everybody in the circle is an expert in, is their stories.

It’s intimidating when you show up in a space, and you know there are people in there with expertise, and you don’t feel you have an expertise. But when you show up and all you have to do is tell your authentic stories, who you are and where you come from and what shaped you? And that’s all everybody else has a license to do? Then you get to know each other in a unique and different way. 

MM: When people are sharing their personal stories, what kind of questions do their community members tend to ask them? 

VG: One of the first things I always hear is shock. Like, ‘oh my god, I didn’t know that about you.’ Or, ‘I had the same experience.’

Let me come back to the desegregation of schools in Mississippi. … When the schools in Mississippi were desegregated, that was an incredibly traumatic experience for everybody. Now, critical race theory will challenge you to examine who got the jobs at the newly integrated schools and who had to go find another line of work. But it was a deeply traumatic experience for everyone. And not many people have had the opportunity to tell those stories or share them with folks who might’ve been on the other side of that trauma. 

READ MORE: ‘Life is different here than it was when I grew up’: The legacy of school segregation in Yalobusha County

The assumption might be if you’re a white kid at Murrah that it was hard on you, cause you went home for Christmas and you come back and bam, bam, bam. Your world is turned upside down. You might think the brown kids who were going to your school benefited. All you can think about is the benefit that they were supposed to get from it — not recognizing that, perhaps for the first time in their lives, they’re looking at a teacher wondering if that teacher has their best interest at heart, wondering if that teacher sees their humanity? 

Imagine the position at that point in time that a Black family who was already living on the margins, imagine how the power they felt — or did not feel — sending their kid into a newly integrated school, where they didn’t feel like anybody in that administration answered to them? 

Like that happened all over our state. Several people have said this to me over the years, particularly in Tupelo. They have this thing they call the Tupelo way. And one of the things they pride themselves in is the approach they took to desegregating their schools. Some real-meaning people brought the community together and said. ‘we’re going to make sure our public schools are our institutions.’ 

There can be a healthy debate about how they actually did that, or whether that’s really, really true. But you look at how those communities sit in Mississippi now, how they are thriving? There’s a direct correlation between the sense of leadership around doing as little harm as possible to other communities which embraced a different way of educating their young people. 

MM: I have just one last question … is there an aspect of the whole discourse and dialogue around critical race theory … that I haven’t asked or something you want to point out that you feel like people miss? 

VG: Critical race theory is just one of many different ways that we need to examine the impact of oppression in our society. It is one thing to think about where we want to go and how we get there. It’s another thing to do an examination about how we have destroyed human potential for generations. 

I can’t think of anybody I know who would read a book from beginning to end, from cover to cover, about critical race theory that would not come away with a sense of conviction about being better, about our need as society to be better.

We often say that previous generations did not know. One of the things that Dr. Kendi lays out really well in (Stamped from the Beginning) is, people knew, and we got the history that we have. People knew. We’re going to have to do better ourselves. 

In really personal ways, this exploration of who we are matters, and CRT is one among many, many others that we absolutely need to employ. Don’t be intimidated by the jargon. Don’t be intimidated by what the talking head on TV said about it. Get in there for yourself. That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Republicans Approve ‘CRT’ Bill Despite Opposition From All Black House Members | Jackson Free Press

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jacksonfreepress.com – Ashton Pittman, Mississippi Free Press – 2022-03-07 13:43:09

For six hours on Thursday, Black Mississippi House representatives argued against a bill that would set limits on discussions of race in classrooms. Once their arguments wrapped up, though, the chamber approved the bill in a 75-43 vote, sending it to the governor’s desk with only white Republicans in favor.

The bill’s short title is “; prohibit,” but…

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Anti-CRT bill will simply provide election year cover to Republicans

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What will the anti-CRT bill do? Not much, other than provide election year cover to Republicans.

Note: This analysis first published in Mississippi Today’s weekly legislative newsletter. Subscribe to our free newsletter for exclusive early access to weekly analyses.

The two legislative Republicans who defended the anti- bill on the Senate and House floors said it all: Out-of-state conservative media inspired the Mississippi bill, it would do little to change or limit any public school teaching, and its passing was largely a symbolic gesture to Republican voters ahead of the 2023 election year.

If you missed the eight total hours of floor debate of the bill, that’s the short of it, according to the bill’s author Sen. Mike McLendon and his House counterpart Rep. Joey Hood. Both Republicans appeared grossly unprepared to answer basic questions about what, exactly, the three-page bill would do.

Every Black lawmaker in both the Senate and House voted against the bill, which now sits on Gov. Tate Reeves’ desk for signature or veto. Black senators were so upset about the bill that they walked out in protest during the final vote — an inevitably successful one, given the Republicans’ supermajority. In Mississippi’s history, a legislative walkout like that had never been done before.

READ MORE: Despite objection from every Black Mississippi lawmaker, anti-critical race theory bill passed to governor

McLendon, the bill’s official “author,” struggled to answer basic questions about the bill from fellow senators on Jan. 21.

He said he heard from many of his constituents who had learned of critical race theory “on the national ” and wanted to ensure it would not be taught in Mississippi. That, he said, is the reason he “sponsored” the bill, the text of which was provided to him by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, which often gets draft language from out-of-state interest groups.

McLendon said all his bill does is “prohibit a child or a student from being told they are inferior or superior to another.”

Likewise, Hood struggled to answer basic questions from his House colleagues during floor debate on March 3. Under constant questioning, he conceded he had not studied the origins of critical race theory.

“A lot of people have a lot of different definitions of what critical race is,” Hood said.

He repeatedly said all the bill would do is say no university, community college or public school “shall direct of compel students to affirm that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or that individuals should be adversely treated based on such characteristics.”

“History in Mississippi can be taught under this legislation,” Hood repeatedly said from the well of the chamber when he couldn’t provide answers to specific questions about the bill.

When pressed by colleagues about whether the bill’s passage was more of a symbolic gesture to Republican voters than anything, neither McLendon nor Hood offered any counter to the question.

“This bill is only before us so that some of you can go back home and have something to campaign on,” Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, said during the House debate. Hood did not offer any rebuttal.

Speaker of the House Philip Gunn appeared to concede that point himself shortly after the final House vote. He led the House in prayer from the speaker’s dais, saying: “Lord, we face difficult things in this body. We all represent a constituency. We all have voters for whom issues are important. Sometimes those issues are difficult. Today is one of those days, Lord. We pray for healing, we pray that you would not allow this to create division, not only within this body but within this state.”

READ MORE: Every Black Mississippi senator walked out as white colleagues voted to ban critical race theory

Critical race theory is not taught in any K-12 public school in Mississippi. The only public entity teaching a CRT course is University of Mississippi Law School, Mississippi Today found. And even a Republican in that class says that state lawmakers completely misrepresented the actual teachings of the course.

The term “critical race theory” is not mentioned once in the three-page bill, meaning it’s very unlikely that the term will make it into the state code books.

While Republicans limped through the House and Senate floor debates without real answers, some opponents said they feared that even if the language of the bill is innocuous, it will have a chilling effect on the teaching of history — particularly Mississippi’s dark, racist history — and lead to censorship in the state’s classrooms.

“The language means something to me,” Rep. Zakiya Summers said during House floor debate. “… You cannot pass a bill like this and continue the rhetoric that we can all work together.”

READ MORE: Lawmakers spent hours on a bill to ban critical race theory. But does it?

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Podcast: Tax cut fight remains top legislative issue

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Podcast: Tax cut fight remains top legislative issue

Mississippi Today’s Geoff Pender and Bobby Harrison discuss a “crazy” deadline week for the Mississippi Legislature that included a six-hour debate on , a stare-down between House and Senate leaders on teacher pay and the constant undercurrent caused by Speaker Philip Gunn’s obsession with eliminating the personal income tax.

Listen to more episodes of The Other Side here.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Lawmakers spent hours on a bill to ban critical race theory. But does it?

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Lawmakers spent hours on a bill to ban critical race theory. But does it?

People reading controversial Senate Bill 2113, which all 54 African American members of the Mississippi Legislature voted against, will not find the money phrase banning until the very bottom of the final page of the bill.

In nondescript type, running along the bottom of the page is “ST: Critical Race Theory: prohibit.” That is the only mention of CRT.

The phrase cannot be found in the summary at the top of the legislation. It is not in the text of the three-page bill.

Because of the unusual way in which the legislation was crafted, there is a real chance that the phrase “Critical Race Theory: prohibit” will not be placed in Mississippi’s legal code. Or put another way, there is a possibility that the teaching of critical race theory will not be banned at all even after Gov. Tate Reeves does what is expected and signs the bill into law.

“You can teach critical race theory because it is not in the text of this bill,” proclaimed Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, the House minority leader, who is also an attorney.

READ MORE: Despite objection from every Black Mississippi lawmaker, anti-critical race theory bill passed to governor

Each year the publisher of Mississippi’s code (or laws) includes new laws passed by the Legislature. That updating process is far from exact. There is a joint legislative committee that oversees the code, but the members seldom meet, normally leaving the work of crafting the updates to the editors and legal staff.

Perhaps the editors will seek out the short title — “Critical Race Theory: prohibit” — and incorporate those words in the code. But based on precedent, there is a good chance they will not.

Incorporated into the code might just be what the bill actually says, which is no university, community college or public school “shall direct of compel students to affirm that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or that individuals should be adversely treated based on such characteristics.”

Supporters of critical race theory say that is not what critical race theory does. Instead, CRT explores the impact of racism on the nation, especially on the legal system.

Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, who presented the bill last week to the House during more than six hours of sometimes emotional debate that exposed old and current racial wounds, said that the teaching of critical race theory would be prohibited if the teaching adhered to the tenets spelled out in the bill of making someone feel inferior or superior.

When asked if the only critical race theory class in the state at the University of Mississippi Law School would have to be canceled if the bill became law, Hood said, “That will be up to .”

The presenters of the bill in both the House and Senate left more questions unanswered than answered during debate.

Sen. Michael McLendon, R-Hernando, the primary author of the legislation, said he heard from many of his constituents who had learned of critical race theory “on the national ” and wanted to ensure it would not be taught in Mississippi.

So if the bill does so little or at the least is exceedingly vague, why did Black House members spend such an inordinate amount of time trying to kill it last week? Why did all 14 African American senators walk out in an unprecedented move before the vote on the bill earlier this session?

READ MORE: Every Black Mississippi senator walked out as white colleagues voted to ban critical race theory

Black legislators argued the bill sent the wrong message, perhaps even causing teachers to be hesitant to teach the state’s history that is ripe with racial strife. When Black members tried to amend the bill to ensure the continued teaching of the state’s history, including all its warts, the white majority blocked those efforts.

Perhaps the more appropriate question is why did legislative leaders spend so much time and energy passing such a vague bill that might not accomplish the stated goal?

Some say it is politics. Anti-CRT sentiment has been a big talking point in the conservative media.

Both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Reeves, who could be squaring off next year in a Republican gubernatorial primary, spoke of the evils of critical race theory last year during the Neshoba County Fair.

“This bill is only before us so that some of you can go back home and have something to campaign on,” said Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville.

While it might be questionable whether the critical race theory ban will be in the legal code, the language still could be found on the screens in the House and Senate as the proposal was debated. The language also was on the legislative calendar and in the legislative computer system.

So legislators could say they were to ban critical race theory even if the state’s legal code never reflects that vote.

READ MORE: Inside Mississippi’s only class on critical race theory

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Despite objection from every Black lawmaker, anti-CRT bill passes

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Despite objection from every Black Mississippi lawmaker, anti-critical race theory bill passed to governor

After more than six hours of debate and filibuster with 17 attempted amendments and many passionate floor speeches from Black lawmakers, the Republican and white-majority state House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday entitled, “: prohibit.”

The bill was passed even though the academic theory is not being taught in Mississippi K-12 schools and proponents of the measure assured Black lawmakers it really wouldn’t do anything — other than check a Republican political box.

But the bill has ripped the Band-Aid off the issue of race in the Mississippi Capitol less than two years after the historic vote legislators made to remove the state with a battle emblem in its canton. For hours Thursday, Black lawmakers spoke on the floor about their or their families’ experience with racism, segregation and Jim Crow in Mississippi and urged their white Republican colleagues to vote against the bill.

“If Mississippi wants to go forward in this world’s and be a leader like we say we want to do, then we’ve got to stop this,” said Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson. “This is not going to bring a single business to Mississippi. It’s not going to bring a single tourist here.”

The bill passed 75-43 with three white members — two Democrats and an independent — joining all Black lawmakers in against it. The bill now goes to Gov. Tate Reeves, who has said preventing teaching of critical race theory is a top priority for him.

READ MORE: Every Black Mississippi senator walked out as white colleagues voted to ban critical race theory

After hours of debate and questions, it still is not clear what the results of the three-page bill will be if it signed into law by the governor. While the bill’s title says it prohibits the teaching of critical race theory, that phrase is nowhere in the legislation.

When asked by Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson, whether the bill would prevent the teaching of critical race theory, Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, responded, “If this piece of legislation is affirmed by this body today, then the tenets … that where any person is considered inferior and superior would not be allowed.”

Hood, who handled the bill on the House floor, repeatedly said all the bill would do is say no university, community college or public school “shall direct of compel students to affirm that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or that individuals should be adversely treated based on such characteristics.”

Hood, under constant questioning, conceded he had not studied the origins of critical race theory.

“A lot of people have a lot of different definitions of what critical race is,” said Hood.

Critical race theory has been taught for years, primarily in university settings, as an examination of the impact of systemic racism on the nation. In recent years critical race theory has become a hot-button issue in conservative circles. Both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Reeves, possible opponents in the 2023 Republican gubernatorial primary, have spoken against critical race theory. Reeves has advocated state funds be spent on the teaching of “patriotic” history.

“This bill is only before us so that some of you can go back home and have something to campaign on,” said Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville.

READ MORE: Critical race theory in Mississippi, explained

But opponents said they feared that even if the language of the bill is innocuous, it will have a chilling effect on teaching history — particularly Mississippi’s dark history — and lead to censorship in the state’s classrooms.

“The language means something to me,” Summers said. “… You cannot pass a bill like this and continue the rhetoric that we can all work together.”

While Hood consistently said the bill was meant to prevent anyone from being made to feel superior or inferior, Bailey asked if his white House colleagues should be concerned that all Black members of the House voted against the proposal, just as all Black senators did earlier this session.

“In Mississippi certain things should be off limits,” said Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, whose father was the first African American elected to the Mississippi Legislature in the 20th Century. “Certain things are hitting below the belt. Certain things should not be brought up. We don’t have to dip water from this well, not in Mississippi … This bill turns my stomach. I know it turns some of y’all’s stomachs as well. We are debating an issue that does not exist in Mississippi … I think it is an insult to the citizens of the state to tell them we have to throw this issue out to you in order to galvanize you — in order to win elections.”

“History in Mississippi can be taught under this legislation,” Hood repeatedly said from the well of the chamber. But overall, Hood had few answers to the dozens of questions he was asked.

And when Black legislators offered amendments designed to try to ensure that history could be taught without any fear of a school losing state funding under the mandates of the bill, the Republican majority voted down those proposals. Other amendments — including ones to honor famous Black musicians, athletes, former President Barack Obama and others — were used more for filibuster and to prove points.

VIDEO: What you need to know about critical race theory in Mississippi

Rep. Shanda Yates, I-Jackson, told Hood that the only critical race theory class being taught in the state was at the University of Mississippi School of Law. When she asked if the class could still be taught if the bill becomes law, Hood responded, “That will be up to .”

Yates offered an amendment, which was voted down by Republicans, that would have added disabilities and sexual orientation to the protected class in the bill.

“If that is the true intent of this bill, that no one is discriminated against or made to feel inferior, then you should vote for this,” Yates said.

When the bill was debated in the Senate earlier this session, all Black members walked out of the chamber before the final vote. On Thursday in the House, Black members voted in unanimity against the bill.

READ MORE: Inside Mississippi’s only class on critical race theory

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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