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News Analysis May 23, 2021 6:26 PM EST

FACT CHECK: MSNBC claims GOP is working to 'ban teaching history of slavery'—they aren't

A close look at these bills show that they prohibit teaching that any person is superior or inferior to any other by virtue of their race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.

FACT CHECK: MSNBC claims GOP is working to 'ban teaching history of slavery'—they aren't
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

Dr. Jason Johnson on MSNBC claimed that the GOP is pushing legislation across the country to "ban teaching [the] history of slavery." His evidence? Lots of states are moving to prohibit schools from teaching critical race theory and the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, conceived by Nikole Hannah-Jones and published by The New York Times.

What are these bills that Johnson is concerned with? A close look at these bills in Idaho, Texas, New Hampshire, Louisiana, and Tennessee show that they prohibit the teaching that any person is superior or inferior to any other by virtue of their race, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.

The New York Times also ran a headline echoing Johnson's false claim:

The removal of Hannah-Jones from the tenure process at UNC has the leftist media in fits. Republican lawmakers across the country are looking to prevent the 1619 Project, and other elements of critical race theory, from arriving in classrooms. This has been framed by the media as some kind of ban on accurate history.

But teaching about the history and legacy of enslavement in America is not what the 1619 Project or critical race theory is about. Instead, these are an account of the nation as a failed state that may very well be irredeemable.

"Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written," writes Hannah-Jones in the 1619 Project.

Critical race theorist and educator Louiza Doran spoke about her views on the nation's founding, saying that "...you cannot cite our constitution, our constitution should be burned, because our constitution in and of itself is only written for who owned land? Men at the time, it's still written accordingly. Who was owned? Black folks." Doran said the Constitution as it stands now is full of "oppressive amendments and languaging." And she went on to say that "The constitution itself is only rooted in Enlightenment for white people, just like this country."

Hannah-Jones also speaks about the problems with the founding of the nation, and she's not far off Doran's mark. She writes that 1776 is not the date that should be remembered as our beginning. Instead: "What if, however, we were to tell you that this fact, which is taught in our schools and unanimously celebrated every Fourth of July, is wrong, and that the country's true birth date, the moment that its defining contradictions first came into the world, was in late August of 1619?"

This is the year that a ship bearing men and women who had been forced into the enslavement made landfall in Virginia, then a British colony. "Their arrival inaugurated a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years," Hannah-Jones writes. "This is sometimes referred to as the country's original sin, but it is more than that: It is the country's very origin."

Hannah-Jones states outright that "The goal of The 1619 Project… is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation's birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country."

Is it the education on enslavement and its legacy that is being objected to by lawmakers, parents, and even many educators across the country? Or is it the intention to "reframe," to claim a year more than a century prior to the nation's founding as its true birthdate, and to say that the Enlightenment ideals on which the formation of our nation was based on is a lie?

The first essay in the 1619 Project is by Hannah-Jones, and in it, she writes that "The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie." Her evidence for this is in the words of our Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

We know, fully, that these words, and this intention, and these ideals, were not extended to men who had been enslaved, or to women whether they were enslaved or not. Hannah-Jones writes "...the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst." And about this, she is right.

"Yet," she goes on, "despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals." And she is right about this, too. This is something that should be part of our education in American history.

Failing to teach the opinion that the United States must be dismantled and rebuilt is far from the claim Johnson made on MSNBC that Republican lawmakers are trying to prevent teaching students about slavery.

Deep dive

So what does this critical race theory in education ban look like in legislative terms?

Idaho's bill specifically bans teaching "That any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior," "That individuals should be adversely treated on the basis of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin," and "That individuals, by virtue of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin."

Texas's bill specifies that as well, and requires the teaching of "the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government, as well as the history, qualities, traditions, and features of civic engagement in the United States;" including the structure of government, and the "founding documents of the United States."

It goes further, to say that teachers will not be "compelled […] to discuss current events or widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs," and that those who choose to, "...shall, to the best of their ability, strive to explore such issues from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective." The bill states that teachers will not be involuntary subject "...required to engage in training, orientation, or therapy that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or blame on the basis of race or sex."

Louisiana's: HB 564 would "...impose sanctions against those who teach, among other things, any of the following: That either the United States of America or the state of Louisiana is fundamentally, institutionally, or systemically racist or sexist. That an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently or systemically racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, or has negative or positive characteristics that inhere in the individual's DNA. That an individual should be discriminated against, favored, or receive differential treatment solely or partly because of the individual's race or sex.

"That an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, bears responsibility or is to be held accountable for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex. That any individual should feel or be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological or emotional distress on account of that individual's race or sex. That the concept of meritocracy or traits such as a strong work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by a particular race or sex to oppress another race or sex.

"That the concepts of capitalism, free markets, or working for a private party in exchange for wages are racist and sexist or oppress a given race or sex. That the concepts of racial equity and gender equity, meaning the unequal treatment of individuals because of their race, sex, or national origin, should be given preference in education and advocacy over the concepts of racial equality and gender equality, meaning the equal treatment of individuals regardless of their race, sex, or national origin."

New Hampshire's bill would ban state funding for institutions that include certain defined "divisive" modules in their education or training. These divisive concepts include that "One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;" that "The state of New Hampshire or the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist;" that "An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;" that "An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex;" that "Members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex; that "An individual's moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex;" that "An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;" that "Any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or" that "Meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race. The term "divisive concepts" includes any other form of race or sex stereotyping or any other form of race or sex scapegoating."

Tennessee's bill states that teachers and other employees in the public education system are prohibited from including or promoting the following: "One (1) race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;" "An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;" "An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual's race or sex;" "An individual's moral character is determined by the individual's race or sex;" "An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;" "An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual's race or sex;" "A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex;" "This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist;" "Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government;" "Promoting division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people; or" "Ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual's race or sex."

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