A person can be fired for many valid reasons — but telling the truth about American history should not be one of those. Generally, we Americans do a whole lotta talking and not enough listening. And that is what happened to Colleyville Heritage High School Principal James Whitfield last month. The fact is, that no one listened to what he was trying to do, except some of his students who showed up to support him when the district moved to place him on administrative paid leave…for teaching critical race theory to the 2,000 students he was granted the opportunity to lead as their first Black principal.
Did I mention that this happened in Texas? Absolutely no surprise there.
There is such a widespread confusion that persists in our world. Maybe “denial” is actually a better word for the resistance to teaching critical race theory in our public (and private) elementary, middle, and high schools. People (namely in Texas, Arkansas, Idaho, and others) seem to be afraid of facts, of the truth about race in this country. Simply put, racism is real in America, and until we start teaching our kids the facts about it, nothing is going to change.
A few months ago, I wrote an article about the support Chip Gaines (yes, the one from “Fixer Upper”) donated to his sister Shannon Braun’s campaign. At the time, Braun was running for a seat on the school board for the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District in Colleyville, Texas. She said on her Facebook page, ”returning the focus of our curriculum and teaching to academics, rather than filling curriculum with divisive Critical Race Theory.” Shannon Braun won a seat on the school board.
Again, surprising no one, this is the same school board that suspended Principal Whitfield — because of his “extreme views” on race, as they’ve said, but they have failed to share exactly what those “extreme” views are. In interviews with local and national news outlets, Principal Whitfield is confused as to why he was suspended. What is critical race theory and why do so many have their panties in a twist over the teaching of it?
Critical race theory, as it is to be taught, is not divisive. Critical race theory is the understanding of race in a deeper way. In an article in Politico, CRT is described as, “Critical race theory is a framework for analysis developed by legal scholars in the 1980s that examines how race and racism have been ingrained in American law and institutions since slavery and Jim Crow. The study is essentially nonexistent in K-12 schools, but this year, the term has been used to describe diversity training and a cadre of classroom lessons on slavery, sexism, and other acts of discrimination.”
As the principal of a school, it is (or was) Principal Whitfield’s job to prepare his teachers to be trained effectively in CRT. Teaching the subject matter (one that should be a part of every social studies and ethics class), means that teachers get to truly examine American history, taking a deeper look into laws and processes put into place which have shaped American society — without the “whitewashing” of information that has traditionally taken place.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Dr. Whitfield has been the target of tension in the school district. Shortly after he was appointed principal, the district forwarded him an email asking him to take down a personal Facebook photo that was causing concern among parents. The offending picture? A photo of him kissing his wife — who is white — in celebration of their 10-year wedding anniversary. “Is this the Dr. Whitfield we want as an example for our students?” one parent email read.
Whitfield told Business Insider that the request was just the start of what he believes is a sustained harassment campaign against him by residents of his school district who think he promotes the idea that white people are inherently racist.” So in a city that’s overwhelmingly white, what else could we expect?
“Instead of seeking out quality teachers to educate our children and provide the quality education we have been known for in the past, we have shifted our focus to hiring political activists who indoctrinate our students,” Colleyville resident Debbie Simon complained at a school board meeting in July.
“I am not the CRT (Critical Race Theory) Boogeyman,” Dr. Whitfield said in a Facebook post on July 31. “I am the first African American to assume the role of Principal at my current school in its 25-year history, and I am keenly aware of how much fear this strikes in the hearts of a small minority who would much rather things go back to the way they used to be.”
We are living through a time when saying words like “white privilege” and “critical race theory” is like cussin’ in your mama’s kitchen on a Sunday morning – you just don’t do that shit. But we must. We must talk about these issues in order not to go back and make the same mistakes, to harm generations of people because we are afraid to deal with our own shit. We are afraid to admit that people can’t run a school, can’t teach in classrooms, can’t join school boards, can’t go for a jog, be given respect and equality because of the color of their skin.
As parents and human beings, we owe all of our kids the opportunity to understand systemic racism, and to understand the history of racism in America – no matter what color their skin is. Where better to learn than in school (and at home)? We have an obligation as educators and as parents alike to provide our kids with the truth, okay, Texas?
As a Black woman, I know racism exists. I’ve experienced being racially profiled. My wife, who is a South Asian-American, had the n-word hurled at her by a white woman early one morning as she pulled her car over to give our daughter a bottle. To grow as a society, we need to first let go of the unfounded fear that critical race theory is going to harm our kids. It will not. But denial and hate will.
What Principal Whitfield is trying to do in Colleyville, Texas is not a crime. The headlines and articles which read “accused” or that he was “dismissed” perpetuate racism. He did not commit a crime. He did not violate anyone. He was simply trying to do his job, and if he wants to do it well, he needs to use the tools he has. As a principal, his tools are his teachers and the curriculum they use. Racism is real and it exists in America.
“This group that has spoken out against me has a problem with inclusivity, with embracing diversity and with providing equitable experiences for all students,” Whitfield told The Washington Post. There is absolutely nothing wrong with striving for any of these things, and in fact, it’s a principal’s job as an administrator to ensure that all students are in an inclusive learning environment. All students.
“His bright character and constant encouragement is what makes CHHS such a wonderful place to learn,” said Colleyville Heritage senior Elise Nackley in the public comment portion of a recent school board meeting, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Our principal is an extremely valuable asset to GCISD and has never pushed any sort of agenda on us.”