“Slavery is not just something that just happened with the people who were white to people who were Black,” said Lisa Kinnemore, a member of Georgia’s state board of education, as it deliberated a resolution on Thursday restricting classroom discussion of racism. “Black people were actually slaves to Black people. It goes all the way to back even to ancient times, slavery in Egypt and Rome and all around the world.”
This sentiment — an explicit rejection of the horrors of American slavery and its roots in white supremacy — underpinned the 11 to 2 vote by the board to adopt a resolution to provide a framework for policy revisions on the teaching of race and sex in Georgia’s classrooms.
Kinnemore’s comments left Jason Esteves, chair of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, momentarily speechless as he discussed the vote with The Intercept shortly after the meeting.
“Look, this won’t impact [Atlanta Public Schools],” he said. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. This will have an effect on counties that are more conservative, that were still making moves toward equity and inclusion.”
Parents — mostly white — have been storming school board meetings across the state over the last few weeks, heeding a call by conservative demagogues to fight against “critical race theory” being taught in schools. Gov. Brian Kemp wrote a letter to the state board of education last month, calling critical race theory a “divisive, anti-American agenda” which “has no place in Georgia classrooms.” Kemp echoes a wave of protests across the country over the last two months, from rich Virginia suburbanites launching a campaign to oust the state school board to a disrupted meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, with parents protesting mask mandates — unmasked, of course — along with critical race theory.
In practice, these white parents haven’t been railing against the arcane legal theory but against the idea that students should be taught that racism is a real, current problem created by longstanding structural inequality. Local school board meetings have devolved into vitriolic shouting matches, with boards looking for ways to control public comment afterward.
The board drafted the resolution without public input and then blocked comments from the YouTube livestream. Impassioned pleas, it seems, are fit only for those on one side of this argument.
“Eventually what they want is for people not to talk about it any more.”
“There was so much energy and excitement behind, finally, making some movement toward those issues,” Esteves said. “We’re now seeing a complete reversal. The state board of education just took away their cover and gave opponents a weapon to use against those efforts. Eventually what they want is for people not to talk about it any more.”
About three out of five of Georgia’s public school students are children of color. Demography projects Georgia will become a majority-minority state within the next decade. But even as Republicans continue to argue against the legitimacy of the November election, the political reality remains: a purple state on the knife’s edge of flipping permanently Democratic because it has run out of racially resentful white voters.
Kemp and others have begun to implicitly draw a connection between the eroding defense of white supremacy among white voters and their own political futures by describing anti-racist education initiatives as inherently political. Basically, they’re saying the quiet part out loud.
Take Kinnemore, for example. Then-Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Kinnemore to the board in 2013 after her kamikaze run against a well-respected local Democratic legislator in DeKalb County.
Kinnemore, who is Black, lives about a mile due south from my house, in a community that is about 90 percent Black, in the shadow of the largest memorial to the Confederacy in America. I note in passing that the keepers of the Stone Mountain carving have been open to recontextualizing the monument despite the wailing of Lost Cause revisionists, because the redolent racism of the carving’s history is noxious. Those white supremacists are Kinnemore’s audience. Her political existence is a 4Chan-style trolling operation designed to elicit pain from Black parents for the amusement of white supremacists.
Her appointment is in no way an attempt to build support for conservative politics among nonwhite voters. Republicans do not have a plan for that here. Instead, they hope to preserve the racial biases of young white voters intact as long as they can, staving off losses as older white conservatives die and younger ones change after contact with the real world.
The resolution contains language barring instruction in ways that suggest that racism is acceptable. But it also says the state school board believes that no teacher, administrator, or other school employee should offer instruction suggesting that “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a members of a particular race to oppress members of another race; (or) that the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States; or that, with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.”
How one teaches the political dimension of slavery on the crafting of the Constitution, with the three-fifths compromise, the ramifications of the Civil War, the lingering effects of Jim Crow, the Trail of Tears and the reservation system, turn of the century anti-Asian discrimination, the civil rights movement, and the many, many other facets of white supremacist ideology on America is a lesson left to the reader’s imagination.
The resolution does not itself impose standards for the state’s schools, Georgia education board chair Scott Sweeney said. “It does not mention critical race theory per se. This is not something going directly after critical race theory. What it is trying to do is draw a distinction between divisive ideologies in finding their way into standards. This is a foundational statement more than anything else. With regard to divisiveness, for example, can you imagine any supremacist ideology making its way into standards? I cannot. So, this is agnostic with regard to those types of divisiveness.”
The nature of racism today is what is left unsaid and unexamined. One has to assume there is no white supremacist ideology baked into the current curriculum for his statement to be considered true.
The board’s vote drew swift condemnation.
The nature of racism today is what is left unsaid and unexamined.
“The prohibitions outlined in the resolution would undermine Holocaust education in Georgia,” said Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the southern division at the Anti-Defamation League. “Indeed, it could prohibit teaching that the Nuremburg laws were taken from Jim Crow America. The resolution is fundamentally contradictory. It claims to respect First Amendment rights and strongly encourages educators, who teach about controversial public policy or social affairs issues, to explore them from diverse and contending perspectives. Yet, the resolution clearly would prohibit a teacher or student from talking about systemic racism or inequity in America. And the resolution is so vaguely written that it undoubtedly will come under constitutional challenge and may suffer the same fate as President Trump’s divisive concepts executive order.”
“Discussions about race and its place in our history and in current events are an important part of education and one that Georgia educators will continue to address,” added Craig Harper, executive director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. “The non-binding resolution adopted at a special called session of the State Board of Education does not prohibit educators from continuing to teach and discuss all aspects of our history as they do now. The board members’ conversation highlighted the importance of including more people and perspectives. Our many communities and educators, who have valuable insights and expertise, must work together to determine how Georgia will address these critical issues moving forward.”
Esteves expects teachers to gear up for a fight.
“Teachers can speak out and talk about how this limits their ability to have really important conversations in their classrooms,” he said. “School boards can affirm their commitment to equity and inclusion. They can resist any efforts to disrupt or pause equity initiatives.”