In the latest conservative attack against the teaching of critical race theory in schools, an Oklahoma lawmaker has proposed new legislation that would force history teachers and educators to teach students that no one race was oppressed under slavery, and no single race was solely responsible for the evils of bringing slavery into the United States.
Marlene Lenthang of NBC News reported that the new Oklahoma House Bill, 2988, filed by state Rep. Jim Olsen “would limit how slavery is taught in schools and ban teaching that ‘one race is the unique oppressor’ or ‘victim’ in slavery’s history.”
According to Lenthang, “the bill [also] prohibits state agencies and public school districts from placing culpability on one race and teaching ‘that one race is the unique oppressor’ or ‘another race is the unique victim in the institution of slavery.’”
If that weren’t enough, Olsen’s bill also bans teaching that slavery persisted longer in the U.S. than in other countries and insists that America has no greater culpability for slavery occurring in the world than any other nation.
Not surprisingly, the bill also prohibits any teaching connected to journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times’ 1619 Project.
“Public schools that fail to comply would see the state Department of Education withhold up to 5% of their monthly state funding under the bill,” Lenthang said. “Similarly, state-supported two-year and four-year higher education institutions that fail to comply could have 10% of state funding withheld.”
In an interview with NBC affiliate KFOR, Olsen justified his bill by claiming it is designed to teach students about slavery “in balance and context.”
“It doesn’t prohibit anybody from teaching that America had slavery [or] that it was evil,” Olsen said. “It doesn’t prohibit teaching that we’re better for not having slavery.”
Still, criticism of Olsen and his proposed censorship of history has been swift from a number of areas.
In a tweet, Hannah-Jones called the bill an “anti-history memory law,” accusing Olsen and his supporters of being “opposed to truth.”
These anti-history memory laws literally are opposed to truth. The ban includes banning teaching: “That America, in general, had slavery more extensively and for a later period of time than other nations.” We were 3rd to last in the Americas to abolish. https://t.co/mIKjBA8lAw
— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) December 15, 2021
The University of Oklahoma Chapter of the American Association of University Professors also came out against the bill, calling it “disturbing.”
The group said in a statement, “[Republicans] are cranking this legislation out faster than the courts can keep up. In the meantime, we have no intention of lying to our students or bowing to this assault on truth and academic freedom.”
In an interview with KFOR, state Rep. Forrest Bennett agreed, calling Olsen’s ideas “embarrassing” and a “waste of time.”
“This doesn’t help people,” Bennett said. “It does nothing to further the conversation about race, and I think it’s an important one to have. It also distracts from so many of the other issues that are facing Oklahoma today.”
Democratic state Rep. Monroe Nichols also criticized Olsen and his bill on social media, tweeting: “Throughout history, we’ve had Holocaust deniers, 9/11 deniers, Sandy Hook deniers… don’t give Rep. Olsen too much credit for his denial and romanticizing of American slavery. He’s just joining an exclusive club of hate and division that none of us really want to be a part of.”
Throughout history we’ve had Holocaust deniers, 9/11 deniers, Sandy Hook deniers…don’t give Rep. Olsen too much credit for his denial & romanticizing of American slavery…he’s just joining an exclusive club of hate & division that none of us really want to be a part of.
— Rep. Monroe Nichols (@Monichols) December 14, 2021
Olsen’s bill is just one of several racist proposals to emerge in Oklahoma in the past year. Lenthang reported that Gov. Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 1775 in May 2021, “which prohibited public school teachers from teaching that ‘one race or sex is inherently superior to another,’ or that ‘an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.’”
Shortly after his endorsement, a group of civil rights advocates sued the state over the law, saying that it violated both students’ and teachers’ free speech.