By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
Dictators know an illiterate crowd is the easiest to rule, thus the history of reading is replete with book bannings and burnings.
– Laurien Alexandre
The Critical Race Theory (CRT) hysteria train arrived at the Ohio Legislature in May and June when Republican legislators introduced bills to restrict discussions on racial history and sex in schools. The bills (HB 322, HB 327) also ban political subdivisions or state agencies’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts.
According to the African American Policy Forum (AAPF), as of September 2, 28 states have introduced legislation with restrictions on what can be taught or learned about the systemic forces which have led to current racial disparities and inequalities.
CRT is a catch-all term to silence discussions on race and racial justice. CRT is also, most notably, a political tool designed to foment outrage and rally the base needed to achieve favorable electoral outcomes for conservatives.
I spoke with Tim Johnson about the implications of HB 327. Mr. Johnson is a policy analyst for the Ohio Poverty Law Center and previously worked in the Ohio Legislature as an aide to several state senators and representatives. He has also served as a policy advisor for the Ohio Senate Minority Caucus, covering health and tax policy. The following is our discussion.
Perryman: Please provide us with a synopsis of HB 327.
Johnson: House Bill 327 essentially has four components. There is the K-12 component, which essentially bans the teaching of “divisive concepts.” The bill punishes K-12 schools who teach what the bill terms divisive concepts by withholding funds, and a teacher can also lose their teaching license.
Perryman: The second part?
Johnson: The second part is for higher education, which is a little different. In layman’s terms, you’re allowed to teach concepts that are divisive in higher ed because they do want “academic freedom.” But, still, you can’t affect someone’s grade if they refuse to believe in a specific divisive concept. Also, if an investigation says that’s what happened, there are penalties, including withholding funding from the university.
Perryman: How about components three and four?
Johnson: So, think state departments like the Department of Medicaid, Department of Health, or any other state agency. The bill does not allow them to do any training, participate in any grants, do any workshops or seminars that have to do with the teaching of divisive concepts.
We are worried about that specifically because many state departments focus on things like health or criminal justice or look at racial disparities. Our concern is that the bill’s language will see looking at racial disparities and systemic oppression as divisive concepts and not allow them to continue or begin work in those specific areas.
One obvious example would be the work addressing infant mortality. We know that the rate of African-American babies dying is nearly three times that of white babies. There are a lot of systemic barriers and other things that contribute to that. So that’s the third aspect.
And then, the fourth part of the bill addresses political subdivisions, things like the city government, the county government, township governments, school boards, library councils, and these other quasi-governmental entities.
Perryman: How do the bills affect political subdivisions like city government?
Johnson: They are prohibited from consulting or training, giving out grants, or doing seminars or workshops that teach divisive concepts. For example, a local sheriff or police department that wants to bring forth implicit bias training for their police force would not be able to do so. Again, one of the divisive concepts in HB 327 states that there is no such thing as implicit or unconscious bias, and teaching so is teaching a divisive concept. So that’s an example of how they would not be able to address something that they see in their community that’s important to them.
Perryman: Please define the term divisive concepts.
Johnson: Under House Bill 327, divisive concepts are defined as: (1) Any specific nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex is superior to another or that the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist. (2) That any person by virtue of their nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex is inherently racist or sexist, whether consciously or unconsciously, so that gets to the implicit or explicit bias, conscious or unconscious. (3) Individuals shouldn’t be discriminated against or receive a certain type of treatment based on their nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex. (4) Members of a specific nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex should not attempt to treat others without respect to their own nationality, color, ethnicity, race or sex. (5) That a person’s moral character is inherently determined by their nationality, color, ethnicity, race or sex. (6) An individual by virtue of their nationality, color, ethnicity, race or sex bears some responsibility for actions committed in the past. (7) Meritocracy, traits of hard work, or having a good work ethic are racist or sexist and created to oppress a specific type of nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex. (8) Any other form of race or sex-stereotyping or any other form of race or sex scapegoating, which is a catch-all provision in the bill, which essentially means if we didn’t list it previously and we find out that you’re teaching or explaining this, you can still be held responsible if we feel it fits into another category.
Perryman: What are the implications of the bill?
Johnson: I do think there will be a lot of fear in K-12 education.
You will see some teachers and school districts pare back some of the history that they’re teaching or the way that it’s currently taught, to try to make it as inoffensive as possible to the students learning it, which I don’t think will necessarily convey an accurate depiction of whatever it is that they’re trying to teach.
You could also have a school district, for example, getting rid of certain textbooks or library books on hand that talk about specific issues, especially around race or sex. So, they will get rid of certain books and not allow their students access to them because they’re afraid if someone reads them and becomes offended, there could be a report filed. That would mean trouble for the school district or the school librarian, whoever that person is.
Perryman: How about economic consequences?
Johnson: It’s hard to parse that out. However, if HB 327 passes, I can see people who otherwise might have wanted to come to Ohio to teach or learn or even enroll their kids in school if they’re going to move for a job, maybe not necessarily wanting to do so because of some of the rules that would be in place.
Perryman: Political implications?
Johnson: Politically, that’s the entirety of what’s driving this. “Critical Race Theory” continues to be a huge topic that has motivated the conservative base around the country, arguably helping to shape the governor’s race in Virginia. So, CRT is already a big topic in several high-profile races here in Ohio right now.
The governor’s race, for instance, and the primary between Mike DeWine and Jim Renacci. Jim Renacci has made this a big topic, saying that Mike DeWine has allowed critical race theory in our schools and on our state school board. So, I foresee this being a big thing for folks to highlight as a significant issue for at least the next year or so.
You’ll also see a lot more angry school board meetings with parents showing up and protesting. I think you’ll see a lot more parent groups at the statehouse as well, demanding that HB 327 or something similar is passed. I think politically, this is where all this is coming from. It’s almost all politics.
Perryman: Please talk about the potential societal costs of sanitizing our education and having a country’s true history whitewashed.
Johnson: I don’t have any specific numbers, but we all can imagine just how huge that would be. If kids are taught this sanitized, whitewashed version of history, those kids will grow up to be our next generation of leaders, lawmakers, and decision-makers. In that case, they will make decisions and put in place policy based on the specific lens they were taught.
For instance, if they were taught that, maybe a long time ago, bad things happened, but they had no bearing on what’s happening today. Or, if any specific group of people has significant disparities compared to others, that is a result of the character of that group and the people that make up that group and their own problem to deal with. So, the result is that you’re going to see disparities exacerbated, and you’re not going to see people willing to take that on.
For the last few years, there was a significant movement in the state legislature to tackle criminal justice reform and do things for infant mortality because they viewed racial disparities as something that we should work to fix. I’m worried that that attitude will go away. Instead, the blame will be placed on those suffering in those situations rather than what the government can do to help. The education of the people who are coming after you and I will be a lot less empathetic, a lot less understanding. Because, ultimately, they will make policy decisions based on that lens.
Perryman: Where do we go from here?
Johnson: Right now, we’re doing all we can to push back on these bills in terms of having testimony and organizing groups together. The Ohio Poverty Law Center is part of a coalition called Honesty for Ohio Education. We’re working with members of the general assembly who might be willing to maybe vote against this. We’re also trying to raise this issue more in the media and spotlight attention on it.
We’ve also tried to organize locally. For example, Honesty for Ohio Education is looking at school board candidates, trying to get more people who support diversity, equity, and inclusion, and things like that in local school board races.
Perryman: Is there a bright side at all anywhere for what has been described as a “manufactured” political concern?
Johnson: It’s been pretty bleak, honestly, trying to get the folks with power to recognize the harm they’re going to do by passing these bills. Then of course, there are the folks who know what harm they will do by passing the bills, and that’s their intent in the first place. So, it is not the rosiest picture.
Governor DeWine has said that he doesn’t support teaching CRT, which we know isn’t being taught in schools anyhow. DeWine, however, says that he wants to sign something that unites us rather than divides us.
Yet, the issue is so politically charged and politicians desperately want to be able to run on this and not have their political enemies try and hit them for supporting CRT.
Perryman: Thank you.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD at email@example.com