Tennessee Lawmakers Move to Ban Education Against Racism in State’s Public Schools

In recent months, Republican-led states have already moved to enact racist and hyper restrictive voter registration laws, strip rights from LGBTQ individuals and attack trans students and their families — but their ongoing efforts to attack Democrats, populations of color and other diverse individuals don’t appear to be stopping there. In another shocking example of the type of racist behavior a state legislature can get away with, Tennessee lawmakers have decided to ban teaching about racism and critical race theory in public schools.

Natalie Allison of the Tennessean (a Nashville-based affiliate of USA Today) reported that, at the very end of their current legislative session, “Republicans in the [Tennessee] House made the legislation a last-minute priority, introducing provisions that ban schools from instructing students that one race bears responsibility for the past actions against another, that the United States is fundamentally racist or that a person is inherently privileged or oppressive due to their race.”

“Critical race theory teaches that racism is ingrained in U.S. institutions and that people who are white benefit from it,” Allison wrote. “The concept and whether schools, churches and other corporations should subscribe to it has been a source of controversy within institutions for several years but has received heightened attention in recent months.”

The bill brought about a serious debate on the Senate floor, where Tennessee’s three Black representatives spoke out against it at length. Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Raumesh Akbari said the bill is designed to teach students revisionist history. Sen. Katrina Robinson added that she was “deeply and profoundly offended” that such legislation would even make its way into the state capitol. 

While Republicans were adamant that such a bill was needed, Allison reported that proponents of the legislation could not cite a single example from anywhere within the state where such topics were currently being taught. According to Allison, the closest thing anyone could come up with was the story of an anecdote involving an anonymous 7-year-old whose mother said the child came home from school asking if she was a racist. And there’s no documentation that even this story is true.

Sen. Brenda Gilmore told the assembled lawmakers that she believes the new law would “rob” teachers of their ability to teach “true history.”

“Contrary to what some people may think, being an African American, I do not cast blame, but I think we do have to admit that slavery did occur,” Gilmore said. “It was a dark period in our history. We have to acknowledge the wrongs of our society even when it’s a difficult conversation to have. And as a result of slavery, in 2021, racism still does exist.”

According to Allison, schools that are found to be teaching any concept surrounding racism would lose state education department funding and would be excluded from federal grant programs. 

Among the concepts and subjects the bill would ban from being taught in the state:

* The idea that any individuals are “inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive” because of their race or sex

  • The idea that a person could receive adverse treatment due to their race or sex

  • The idea that an individual bears responsibility for past actions by other members of their race or sex

  • The idea that our meritocracy is racist or sexist or designed to oppress members of another race or sex

  • The idea that the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist

  • The idea that the rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups

  • The concept that Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness


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