Anti-CRT Rhetoric and the Ongoing Case of the Dehumanization of Black Children

Tiffany D. Pogue, PhD
5 min readNov 5, 2021
Black children are in a classroom with a Black teacher.

Listen to almost any critic of so-called[1] Critical Race Theory, and eventually they will say that the teaching of some lessons and books causes white students to feel uncomfortable. This is their chief complaint levied against an academic theory that students are likely to have never even encountered in the first place.

Let’s look at the basic premise of the argument: learning about certain history can make white children uncomfortable. Therefore, anti-CRT groups assert, some lessons — regardless of their factual content — do not belong in public school classrooms. Further, any lesson about the dehumanization or oppression of other groups in the US, is problematic. What does the structure of this argument say about CRT critics’ regard (or lack thereof) of non-white children? At minimum, one can argue that there is no consideration given because the feelings of students — other than those marked by white privilege — do (and should) not matter.

In my entire life, I’ve never seen white parents argue that certain content and standards be removed from public school curricula because such subjects can make Black, Asian, Chicanx, or Indigenous children uncomfortable. In fact, I’ve never seen far right politicians opine that government dollars should be distributed equitably so that students in every socioeconomic neighborhood can receive equal access to quality resources and teachers. I’ve also never seen far right politicians argue for increased pay and programming to support the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers for schools with large diverse populations.

In politics, education, and life it is imperative that language be unpacked so that our interpretation of it can reveal that which some would prefer to keep hidden. We are not witnessing a consideration of the feelings of white children in regards to curricula (if we were, it would have happened far before now). What we are witnessing is a deliberate manipulation of language to normalize censorship in an effort to further dehumanize students from marginalized populations.

Language is a key element in Paulo Freire’s philosophies of revolutionary education. He believed that by giving particular attention to the words used to describe (and thereby create) the world, we can become clear about the systems that shape the world as it currently exists. This brings me to anti-CRT rhetoric. Freire demonstrates that when dominant groups control language, they are able to create the illusion of neutrality. Despite these attempts, Freire argues, critical reflection can allow us to reveal the ways that language is employed to either sustain or disrupt systems.

Freire (1970) asserts that dehumanization includes any action that seeks to distort one’s abilities to be fully human. In this case, such dehumanization can include deliberate attempts to distort the truth about history and one’s lived, historical, social, political, and economic realities. Anti-CRT rhetoric centers the feelings, experiences, and voices of whiteness as those with full validity at the expense of all others. As such, it distorts peoples’ abilities to become fully human in response to such rhetoric. Further, Freire (1970/2018) argues that “oppressive reality absorbs those within it and thereby acts to submerge human beings’ consciousness” (p. 51). Oppression oppresses, then, by its ability to distract us from how the oppressed may reflect upon their world. If we fail to think about the effects of curricula (and the imposed censorship proposed by the extreme right) upon them, we are failing to consider the human consciousness (and very humanity) of oppressed groups.

Anything that prevents us from considering people as whole Subjects capable of acting upon their world, is violence (Freire, 1970). Admittedly, the teaching and learning of history from the perspectives of the oppressed and their oppressors allows for a more complete understanding of the world. To maintain multiple perspectives in our analysis requires that we give credit to non-white groups for their continued contributions to civilization (Gordan, 1994) and acknowledge the machinations of systems that seek to erase these civilizations and their contributions from public discourse. Further, as Gordan (1994) states, allowing groups to learn about their own contributions to knowledge is to support the perpetuation of that group. If we apply this understanding to anti-CRT rhetoric, we can surmise that anti-CRT movements seek to hold the perceived importance of one group’s discomfort over the ability of other groups to merely exist.

If one is concerned with humanity as a whole, one is necessarily concerned with recognizing (and confronting) dehumanization when and how it occurs (Freire, 1970). As Neely Fuller, Jr. (2016) reminds us “knowledge is neutral. It is how knowledge is used, and for what purpose it is used, that produces its value” (p. 102). Thus, our goal should include community reflection and discourse around what is lost as a result of non-informed voters falling victim to rhetoric related to anti-CRT movements.

For Freire, and other educators like him, education is either oppressive or liberatory. Historian Lerone Bennett said it thusly: “in an oppressive system, an educator is either an oppressor or a revolutionary.” For these educationists and others like them, the role of schooling should be to help learners and their communities reflect upon the systems that shape their day-to-day lives while being oriented towards the kinds of direct action that could encourage their (re)shaping of the world.

It is not new for us to consider the ways in which Black students’ access to schooling and equitable, quality curricula have been systematically undermined (Shujaa, 1994), but is extremely important to consider now.

Those of us who care about the humanity of all learners must actively resist any attempts to erase truthful perspectives of human history from curricula. We must move towards empowered discourse that allows communities to unpack language and rhetoric to reveal the ideological underpinnings that support it. In this regard, the work we do is not merely political but an act of being fully human in a world that may not currently support it.

“Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift.”

Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

References

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY: Continuum.

Gordan, B. M. (1994). African-American cultural knowledge and liberatory education: Dilemmas, problems, and potentials in postmodern American society. In M. J. Shujaa (Ed.). Too much schooling too little education: A paradox of Black life in white

Societies (pp. 57–78). NJ: Africa World Press.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress. NY: Routledge.

Pogue, T. D. (in preparation). Beyond a legacy of competence: A Black scholar’s reflection on revolutionary education.

Shujaa, M. J. (1994). Too much schooling too little education: A paradox of Black life in white societies. NJ: Africa World Press.

[1] I say so-called because what many of these critics are actually describing is far from Critical Race Theory (CRT). There are currently no state standards for public education that cover CRT and require its teaching in US schools. As such, what we are witnessing is a extreme right-wing play on words to generate fear about the world.

**This essay is a part of a larger forthcoming book project.

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Tiffany D. Pogue, PhD

Tiffany D. Pogueis an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education whose research interests include Black Educational History, Philosophy, & Literacy Tradition.