CRT in Action: Part 2

By Kimberly Nario and Vanessa Clinton 

Here are two Progress Virginia team members sharing how the intentional thought about race, or the lack thereof, had an enormous impact on their lives, and the lives of their children. 

Kimberly Nario – Digital Community Manager 

Sometime in middle school, I remember my history teacher excitedly telling me, “We’re talking about the Philippines today!” I joined in her excitement wondering if we would learn about something my parents or grandparents had already taught me about our history. Maybe it would be about what it was like for kids in the Philippines during World War II. Maybe it would be about how veterans’ benefits were promised to Filipino soldiers. Maybe it would be about how that promise was broken. But it wasn’t any of those things. It was about the Bataan Death March, and it was over in about two paragraphs. 

A few years later in high school I walked into a classroom, and sat down in my first class with a Filipino teacher. I saw a poster that read, “No history, no self. Know history, know self.” The words on that poster are an interpretation of a quote from Jose Rizal, national hero of the Philippines. I was always a quiet student, but in that class, it felt easier to speak up. There’s something to be said about learning from someone you can see yourself in. Oftentimes we’ll find that they’ve already had the same difficult conversations we’re still learning to navigate.  

See, my first teacher didn’t know that my grandma fled her home as a child, while her country was being ravaged by the war we were learning about. Or that when she was able to go to school, she and her classmates were forced by the people occupying their lands to glue the pages of their history books together. My teacher didn’t know that during the war, my great-grandfather was killed in a mass execution, or that after the war, my grandfather vouched for fellow United States Army Forces Far East soldiers to help them get the United States benefits they were promised. 

But my second teacher, well that teacher didn’t have to know my personal history to know that that history might be personal. I don’t doubt that my first teacher had the best of intentions, but intentions can fall short. Our state and our country were built on trauma, and many of us carry the weight of that through generational and historical trauma. How can we heal from it if we can’t discuss it? How can we say we’ve moved past it when there are still people who lived through it? We cannot discuss any true history of Virginia or the United States without running into a divisive topic. 

Let’s be clear, critical race theory is NOT part of the K-12 curriculum in Virginia. So why the sudden push against it? My guess is fear. It’s easy to fear things we don’t understand. But we all know that ignoring the things we’re scared of doesn’t make them go away. Banning divisive concepts and CRT won’t change history, but it can impact our future. 

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayan

Now that is something we should actually fear.

Vanessa Clinton- Press Secretary 

A few years ago, my then 4 year old daughter was given a self portrait assignment in class. In addition to markers, glue, and other crafting supplies, she was given, along with all of her white classmates, a peach colored head cutout. Perplexed, but also persistent, her four year old fingers spent the entire time gluing brown strips her teacher had cut out to be used as hair, onto the peach colored cutout, desperately trying to make it match the color of her beautiful brown skin. Needless to say, she understood the assignment on identity and worked feverishly to create an accurate self-portrait. 

Using the “Identity Anchor Standards” as a guide, her father and I, along with our village of family members and friends, have taught her to be proud of who she is, and that being proud of herself does not deny dignity and value to others. 

She is proud to have brown skin.  Her peers, who were all given the correctly colored cutout, finished the assignment, each of their portraits having eyes, a nose and mouth, ears, and hair. My daughter was the only student in her class to “not finish” the assignment because she spent the entire time trying to make sure her class, our school community, maybe even the world for that matter, saw her brown skin- the brown skin her teacher ignored. The class’s self portraits were then displayed in the hall for the entire school community to see. 

This was a missed opportunity by the teacher to have students feel validated as who they are, while they engaged in an identity activity. A CRT informed educator would have laid out several shades of head cutouts and allowed children to choose which shade best suited them and their cultural and/or racial identity,  instead of assigning everyone a “white” cutout. A CRT informed teacher would have acknowledged the harmful impact handing out “white” portrait cutouts would have on white children as well as students of color, perpetuating white supremacy through subtle, crafty tactics. 

Unfortunately, there was no tip line for Black parents like myself to use, to call and protest about the racially insensitive, harmful curriculum endured by my four year old. 

Communities Require Truth 

This session we saw several bills aimed at banning everything from books, to divisive concepts, to Critical Race Theory, and even several attempts of getting rid of equity altogether. Thankfully, we have a brick wall in the Democrat-majority Senate who is fighting for us and our progress. HJ19, HB977, HB1068, and SB570 won’t make it to the governor’s desk. Without those bills, his executive order is effectively worthless. And that tip line we mentioned earlier – a lot of people used it to leave messages about great things happening in our classrooms. And jokes, of course. 

But the rhetoric surrounding CRT isn’t funny. 

Virginia is a diverse community, where every student should have the opportunity to see themselves and their history accurately, compassionately depicted in the curriculum they learn. That’s not funny or divisive. It’s just the truth.

To read more about Critical Race Theory, we suggest beginning with the following blogs:

  1. Critical Race Theory in Schools? Where? Sign me up!
  2. Let’s Talk about Critical Race Theory
  3. What I learned teaching critical race theory to American teenagers overseas