When I read Senator Lee’s press release yesterday I suspected something was amiss, and I was right. The Department of Education did make some minor changes to a small ($5million/year) grant program that conservatives had been up in arms about, but it had nothing to do with Critical Race Theory as the senator alleges. Lee’s original public statement on this issue, his Deseret Newsopinion piece and this press release have all been consistently inconsistent with the facts. The newspaper op-ed was particularly inflammatory, and disturbing. I know he wants to appeal to his far-right base, but race is a sensitive subject in America in 2021. Rhetoric that might yield short-term political gains could very well harm our chances of achieving long-term racial harmony.
The United States is becoming a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, more secular society. That reality is not going to change. America may come later to Utah than other states, but it will arrive. White Christians are 44% of the population, and fundamentalists are only a third of those. These percentages fall each year. US History is usually taught to high school juniors, and in the 2021/2022 national class of high school juniors, nonwhite students will most likely be a majority. There will be more students studying American history whose ancestors were here before the Pilgrims arrived, were brought here as slaves, crossed the Rio Grande River or other parts of the southern border, or came from Asia, than have European heritage. I am not sure how excited some of these students will be to sit through a history course focused on the glorious triumphs of white men over people who looked like them.
The truly backward state legislatures in Oklahoma and Texas have passed anti-Critical Race Theory legislation that, in a few years, may make the teaching of a fact based version of American history impossible. What is scary is that some in these legislatures may not care. The Oklahoma legislature helped keep the details of the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 excluded from Oklahoma history textbooks for three decades.
Racial issues are, under the best of circumstances, hard to deal with. It is always wrong for a politician to use race for short-term personal gain. Senator Lee should be ashamed of himself.