Dispatches from the Potomac#39 | Critical Race Theory

This is a translation of an article originally written in November 2021 for publication in the January 2022 edition of the Marubeni Group Magazine, M-SPIRIT.

Washington D.C. Office General Manager, Marubeni America Corporation    Yoichi Mineo

Overturning the conditions of the election

A mother teaching her child the meaning of the Brown v. Board of Education case on the steps of a US Court.

At the beginning of November 2021, there was a governor’s election in the state of Virginia where I reside. The duel was between the Democratic candidate who is experienced, well-known & well-connected with the government, and has experience as a former governor, and the Republican candidate who is a former top executive from an investment fund and who has no prior political experience. Up until a month and a half ago, everyone believed that it would be an overwhelming victory for the Democrats. But from the latter half of September, the tide turned, and right before the election day, the favorability ratings for the candidates reversed slightly. And as it turned out, the Republication candidate ended up winning the election.

One of the reasons that was raised for the Democrats losing the election was the opposition of parents to the Democratic-supporting teachers who have been teaching “Critical Race Theory” in schools. In the state of Virginia where Democrats are strong, what is this “Critical Race Theory” which provoked such antagonism to completely overturn the election conditions?

As a general description, it is a theory that race as a concept is not something decided by nature through a person’s skin color, hair type, facial features, or other physical characteristics, but rather is an artificial construct by a people forming a society aimed at oppressing and exploiting a certain group of people.

Under this theory, a prejudiced society that has “constructed” race with the aim of discrimination will not be able to solve the problems of discrimination rooted in its society with its laws and policies. One example that has been raised is the 1954 Supreme Court decision of the case Brown v. Board of Education. This decision overturned the Kansas state law which allowed the racial segregation in the education of African American students from white students (African American students were removed from white classrooms), but there is a theory that what was happening in the background was the concern of rioting by the African American military veterans who fought for the US in World War II and the Korean War, to protest against the classroom segregations. Through the decision of that case, the problem of racial segregation in the classroom was solved on the surface, but the assumption that “African Americans will riot” which it was based on (precisely an act of “constructing” race), will not be solved by law or court decisions. In order to solve this issue, the public needs to understand the root of racism. This is what the people that advocate this theory declare. Furthermore, as a specific method for developing an understanding of the root of racism, early education on this topic is thought to be justified.

It is difficult to imagine that this complex theory itself was being included in the education curriculum of elementary schools and high schools in Virginia. Instead, the reality is probably the general teaching of anti-racism towards the discrimination experienced as a result of this theory. On the other hand, the assertion by the Republican campaign that this theory was being taught in classrooms (and that the problem lies with the Democrats who promote this theory), reached the ears of at least a group of the voters, and fostered antagonism towards the Democrats. Why is this?

Expanding to the antagonism towards individuals and to concerns in education.

First of all, this theory would discard the past laws and policies as being unable to solve the problems of racial discrimination and would involve criticizing American society as a whole. Those with a strong sense of patriotism would hear this and may feel that this is a rejection of their country and them.

This bold idea which attempts to solve a problem that has permeated all of society would in practice be based not on adjustments or internal reform, but rather calls for actions from the outside. If anti-racism based on this theory was actually being taught in schools, it may have been using methods that would be half-forcing these children who have not yet experienced society into subscribing to this theory, rather than drawing on past experiences or the views of the parents. While there may be differences in them, these methods may have been a cause in alarming the parents.

Also, in putting this theory into practice, there has even been a type of argument that “requiring only one correct answer using numbers is a standard made by white people and is therefore discriminatory.” Some parents interpreted this as “it is okay to not achieve a correct answer,” and worried that the academic ability of their children will decline.

Since it relates to the education of their own children, which is an issue close to parents, it is a convincing argument that parents and voters who had these objections and worries would place their vote against the Democrats.

I myself experienced the impact of this Critical Race Theory which was a big topic in this recent election. It was when I was having a conversation about taking walks with an African American who I am close to and can have relatively complicated talks with. He said that even if he sees something he likes on a lawn or gate from someone’s house, he will not stop to look. The reason is because “it’s dangerous if someone sees him looking.” Being also non-white and considering myself a minority, I said, “Yes I get it,” but the response from the African American was thought-provoking. “No, you are okay. It’s not okay for me.” Just by a person’s skin color, you will be seen as suspicious even if you are not doing anything wrong. At least, that is what he as an African American believes.

This moment confirmed how difficult this issue is.