* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
These laws prescribing curricula are not only racist, they are a sexist attempt to control women and their work
Dr. Altheria Caldera is an Education Policy Fellow at the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA).
Throughout all of 2021, the United States has experienced a battle over the role race and racism play in the school curricula. Spearheaded by conservative legislators, almost a dozen state legislatures have debated the merits of what they call “critical race theory” in schools.
Racial equity scholars and advocates recognize that these legislative efforts are motivated by the desire to avoid examinations of race and racism and to ignore the historical and present-day racialized oppression experienced by people of color as a result of white supremacy.
These are the issues that have dominated conversations around this issue. Missing from these conversations, however, is an analysis of how gender factors into these arguments. As a race and gender scholar, I think it is important to call attention to the gender dynamics at play in this debate.
A February 2021 Politico analysis of data from the National Conference of State Legislatures found that most state legislatures in the U.S are still very white and very male. This is true despite state populations that are increasingly diverse.
The composition of these legislatures contributes to a longstanding problem – white, male dominance, or white, male supremacy. White male supremacy is the dangerous imposition of the values of white (mostly heterosexual) men upon women and people of color. Because of white male dominance in state legislatures, white men are positioned to enact laws that serve their own interests while victimizing women and people of color.
The composition of legislatures stand in direct contrast with the make-up of the teaching workforce, which is 76% women. This statistic leads some to see teaching as a feminized profession, and, as such, teachers’ work is distinctly subject to being controlled by white men. This is exactly what’s happening when state legislatures dictate what teachers, who are mostly female, can and cannot teach. In other words, male lawmakers are able to exert the level of overreach evident in these bills because teachers are mostly women.
Historically, women in patriarchal societies are positioned lower on the gender hierarchy than men and are denied access to the power and authority necessary for decision-making.
Women-dominated spaces – even women’s bodies themselves – are subject to being controlled by white men.
It should come as no surprise, then, that teachers’ work – the very curricula they teach – is under assault. State education agencies are typically responsible for shaping curricula, but current bills and laws aimed to dictate classroom content originate with the white men who dominate state legislatures.
A teacher’s classroom should be a place where teachers have autonomy, but laws prescribing curricula and forcing teachers to post their lessons and materials online threaten this autonomy.
Simply put, these new “anti-CRT” (critical race theory) laws, authored and sponsored by white men, succeed, in part, because they are enforced upon women.
It is important to draw attention to this inconsistent legislative decision-making across industries. In Texas, where a bill limiting teaching about race has been passed, this level of legislative control is not evident on issues related to industries dominated by men.
As an example, in February of 2021, more than a hundred Texans died in a winter storm as a result of a failure in the state’s power grid operated by The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). Although several bills were filed to overhaul this system, there were no “sweeping structural changes to Texas’ electricity market.” I believe that this failure to adequately address this issue is related to the fact that those who work in the electricity industry are men.
“Anti-CRT” laws are not only racist, they are a sexist attempt to control women and their work.
This point has been overlooked in discussions around this issue. I firmly believe that imperialist, capitalist, white supremacist patriarchy is one Herculean system that creates oppression and inflicts violence upon women and people of color.
Attempts to break this one powerful system into disparate parts to pinpoint racism or sexism can prevent us from seeing and knowing how this system operates in its totality. The current debate over school curricula is an important reminder that anti-racist work should be coupled with resistance to all forms of oppression.