Ray Carter | April 22, 2021
Senate advances ban on critical race theory
Members of the Oklahoma Senate have overwhelmingly approved legislation that would prevent schools from mandating coursework based on Marxist-derived critical race theory.
“The roots of everything we’re talking about are coming out of the curriculum of something known as critical race theory,” said Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant. “Now the curriculum that we’re talking about is not specific to it, but the underpinnings of everything we’re talking about in that bill are in that theory. This is a theory that teaches that racism is inherent in skin color. It teaches a lie called intersectionality. It teaches about system racism, inherent racism, and automatically assumes white supremacy in anyone who establishes themselves or is white themself. It is a poison to the minds of our kids.”
House Bill 1775, by Rep. Kevin West and Bullard, would prevent state colleges from requiring students to take “any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling” and states that any “orientation or requirement that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex shall be prohibited.”
The bill also prevents K-12 schools from requiring or making part of a course any material that declares “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
It also bans teaching that any individual “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex” or that “members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.” Under the bill K-12 schools could not teach that “an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex” or 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.” The legislation also prohibits teaching that students 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 members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”
Bullard said training and courses containing those elements have been conducted in both state universities and Oklahoma K-12 school districts.
“My kids saw their mother fight for what was right, to be a disruptor, to occupy a space of whiteness …” —Sen. Carri Hicks
“It’s many. It’s not one. It’s not two. There are several instances where this is happening,” Bullard said. “Since I have run the bill and the bill has become public, I have had many, many different emails from parents and teachers alike who have seen this in their schools and were thankful that we were running the bill.”
Democrats argued teachers will no longer be able to teach history, psychology, and other courses in accordance with state and professional standards if HB 1775 becomes law.
“As a former educator who struggled to teach difficult concepts to small children with integrity and discovery and exploration that led to a rich understanding of the challenges that we have overcome as a country and those that still exist, this would have made me stop,” said Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City.
“We need to give freedom to those people in our state that are willing to do this hard work, the room to do this,” said Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman. “This bill throws cold water on any teacher, any administrator that wants to have these difficult conversations.”
“This is a slap in the face to our Oklahoma public educators,” said Sen. Jo Anna Dossett, a Tulsa Democrat who also taught school.
Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, said that “racism exists today and it’s built on the racism that existed that created this country.”
“You cannot start with a classroom setting talking about history and say, ‘I don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings because you’re white and white folks were the slave owners and black folks were the slaves, and I don’t want to hurt the children’s feelings right now because they’re white and make them think that they are wrong,’” Young said. “But they ought to know that part of the privilege that they are enjoying right now came out of that system.”
Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, said parents should talk to school boards and superintendents about their concerns rather than seek changes in state law.
“We keep talking about local control except for on this matter,” Matthews said.
Hicks also said HB 1775’s passage would deter future generations from challenging status-quo assumptions about race and gender, citing her own election as an example of busting through glass ceilings.
“I wasn’t supposed to win. I wasn’t supposed to be here,” Hicks said. “And yet my kids saw their mother fight for what was right, to be a disruptor, to occupy a space of whiteness, to occupy a space that challenges gender roles and stereotypes.”
Hicks is white. Her predecessor was former Sen. Ervin Yen, an Oklahoma City Republican who was the first Asian American to serve in the Oklahoma Legislature.
HB 1775’s supporters countered that the legislation upholds the principle of a colorblind society where people are judged based on their individual merits and character, not their skin color or other characteristics.
Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, noted training derived from critical race theory has been implemented in Norman schools.
“They’re injecting racism in a generation of young people that really didn’t have it in them,” Standridge said. “And so I would encourage a yes vote on this so this doesn’t continue.”
“This categorization of people is clearly setting the stage for a Marxist train of thought, which is anti-American,” said Sen. Jake Merrick, R-Yukon. “It is anti-freedom. It’s anti-Oklahoman. And so I oppose this idea that we can suggest that racism is innate, inherent within someone because of the color of their skin.”
HB 1775 passed on a 38-9 vote that broke along party lines with Republicans in support. It now returns to the Oklahoma House of Representatives for further consideration.
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.