A framework used to understand why a disproportionate number of students of color are suspended from school, or why family wealth is lower for Black or Latino families, or why Black researchers might not receive as much research funding as their racial or ethnic counterparts — that’s how Faye Belgrave explained her thoughts on critical race theory to a respectful Hanover County crowd Thursday night.
Together Hanover, a social, political and community activism group, and the Hanover NAACP hosted “The Truth About Critical Race Theory” at the Mechanicsville Branch Library, where about 60 people — plus more than 100 who were streaming the forum online — packed a meeting room to hear about an issue that’s dividing communities around the country.
Attendees heard from Belgrave, director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Cultural Experiences in Prevention, as well as Paul Perrin, director of VCU’s health psychology doctoral program. Belgrave and Perrin explained their perspectives on the decades-old academic construct known as CRT, before taking questions from the crowd.
Meanwhile, outside on the library lawn, opponents of CRT — including dozens of members of the conservative Hanover Patriots organization — milled about and camped out in lawn chairs. Someone brought a banner that said: “Hanover School Board: Education Not Indoctrination.”
Belgrave said CRT was created in the 1970s and acknowledges racial inequities that stem from historical oppression of people of color, but that it advocates for equity. She said CRT doesn’t set out to discriminate against white people — “why would we — we want people to feel motivated ... to feel empowered” to acknowledge “the significance of race in life experiences and outcomes.”
Addressing the increasing number of K-12 parents who have spoken out against what they say are CRT-related teachings in schools locally and nationally, Belgrave said CRT is not a course that’s taught in K-12 schools.
“The concepts, the terms are simply not appropriate,” she said. But CRT can be used to provide context to this country’s history of enslavement, she said, and that “can be used to inform practices and reduce disparities” everywhere, from schools and the criminal justice system to housing, health care and the job market.
Belgrave said CRT “provides that framework for helping us understand” why those disparities exist.
Perrin explained that while individual racism often leads to discriminatory perspectives, CRT is generally studied as it relates to structural and institutional racism — polices, practices and procedures that are embedded within today’s institutions but that stem from racism that’s often inadvertent and unintentional.
He said it can help examine why predominantly white neighborhoods have better access to healthy foods and supermarkets — or better schools or health care.
“Think about the systems that create that gap,” he said, before asking whether those gaps would exist without systemic and institutional racism.
Hanover NAACP President Pat Jordan led the night off by saying that the meeting was intended to help audience members “learn some facts about a subject that is very controversial.” The streamed meeting was being recorded, she said, and will be available on the organization’s Facebook page.
“I don’t know enough about it — none of us in this room have the knowledge we need,” Jordan said, referring to CRT. “When we can learn to understand that and state that, that’s when we can truly grow.”