In Arizona, Censoring Questions About Race

Professor Linda Martín Alcoff argues, in an Opinionator piece for the New York Times, that fears in Arizona about the teaching of "critical race theory" -- that it promotes racial resentment -- represent a misunderstanding of what the field of scholarship really is.

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In an Opinionator piece for the New York Times, Linda Martín Alcoff, a professor at the City University of New York, argues that fears about the teaching of "critical race theory" in Arizona schools represent a misunderstanding about what the field of scholarship really is.

In recent weeks, the state of Arizona has intensified its attack in its schools on an entire branch of study -- critical race theory. Books and literature that, in the state’s view, meet that definition have been said to violate a provision in the state’s law that prohibits lessons “promoting racial resentment.” Officials are currently bringing to bear all their influence in the public school curriculum, going so far as to enter classrooms to confiscate books and other materials and to oversee what can be taught.  After decades of debate over whether we might be able to curtail ever so slightly the proliferation of violent pornography, the censors have managed a quick and thorough coup over educational materials in ethnic studies.

I have been teaching critical race theory for almost 20 years. The phrase signifies quite a sophisticated concept for this crowd to wield, coined as it was by a consortium of theorists across several disciplines to signify the new cutting edge scholarship about race. Why not simply call it “scholarship about race,” you might ask? Because, as the censors might be surprised to find, these theorists want to leave open the question of what race is -- if there is such a thing -- rather than assuming it as a natural object of inquiry. Far from championing a single-minded program for the purpose of propaganda, the point of critical race theory is to formulate questions about race.

Arizona’s House Bill 2281, which was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in May 2010, does not actually mention critical race theory, but the term has been all over the press with a “damning” image from 1990 of Barack Obama, then a Harvard law school student, hugging the law professor Derrick Bell, one of the field’s founders ...

Read Linda Martín Alcoff's entire piece at the New York Times.

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