Op-ed: Critical Race Theory is American history

By James Michael Brodie

Across the country, lawmakers, educators (including the Board of Regents at my alma mater, the University of Colorado), and other interested parties are taking up discussions regarding Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project.

The conflict among many White Americans is whether or not to acknowledge what actually happened to enslaved Africans and their descendants, and the role that American laws, policies and actions have played in the institutionalization of racial disparities.

Some, when faced with long-running evidence of race-based discrimination, continue to not only deny that evidence, but argue incorrectly that teaching about racism is in itself racist. Their solution is censorship and denial of any true exploration of race in the halls of Academe.

This partial history is a short examination of how the United States has codified the denial of full citizenship to Black Americans:

  • Africans were enslaved people. As such, they had no citizenship rights or rights to patent inventions, own property, get married, raise families, or build familial wealth.
  • Enslaved Black women were used as guinea pigs for gynecological experiments, operated on without anesthesia.
  • Southern Whites created the “One-Drop” rule to determine whether a person was “pure” or had blood that was tainted by blackness.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on March 6, 1857, (Dred Scott v. Sanford) that Black people had no rights that White people were bound to respect.
  • The Southern states, in their Articles of Secession, cited their desire to keep Africans enslaved because they were deemed genetically inferior.
  • After the end of the Civil War, and two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, federal troops came to Texas to tell Blacks that they were free. “Juneteenth” became a federal holiday in 2021.
  • The end of Reconstruction meant that every Black elected official was removed from office. Black men were stripped of their right to vote by use of the Grandfather Clause, literary tests, making Black voters correctly guess the number of jellybeans in a jar, and murdering Black people who attempted to vote.
  • The Ku Klux Klan was founded as a terrorist organization that lynched Black citizens. Confederate monuments sprang up to reinforce the rise of the Klan. This would happen every time major headway was made toward equal rights.
  • The Supreme Court ruling in 1896 in the Plessy v. Ferguson case established the doctrine of “Separate but Equal.” The Supreme Court would not strike that down for almost 60 years — until 1954 in the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case.
  • Woodrow Wilson became president and purged every Black employee from the rolls of the federal government in Washington, D.C. Wilson screened DW Griffith’s racist homage to the Klan “Birth of a Nation” in the White House.
  • Black athletes were banned from every major sports league.
  • Black communities in Wilmington, N.C., Tulsa, Okla., Rosewood, Fla., and several other towns were burned to the ground by White mobs.
  • Lynchings of Black people were commonplace, with postcards created to commemorate the acts.
  • More Confederate monuments were built.
  • Black people who were light enough to pass for White did so just to keep jobs or to avoid persecution.
  • The military was segregated by law.
  • Charles Drew, who was the first person to figure out how to store blood plasma for transfusions, resigned from the American Red Cross because of its policy of segregating the blood of Black and White donors.
  • Redlining kept Blacks from getting loans, credit, or buying homes.
  • Black soldiers were denied benefits they earned under the GI Bill.
  • In 1951, Henrietta Lacks became the unwitting source of the HeLa cell line developed by Johns Hopkins University Hospital. She was being treated for cervical cancer. While the cell line has driven a multi-billion-dollar industry, her family says it has not been compensated for her cells support, nor consulted on how her cells are used.
  • In protest against the 1954 Supreme Court’s Brown decision, Georgia added the Confederate emblem to its state flag.
  • Politicians such as Lester Maddox, George Wallace and Strom Thurmond promoted the preservation of segregation.
  • After passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, several Southern Democrats left the party to become Republicans — what became known as the Southern Strategy.
  • More monuments to the Confederacy were built (see earlier notation as to why).
  • Black people are more likely to be pulled over by the police than Whites (who, by the way, are more likely to be arrested for carrying illegal substances).
  • Blacks are more likely to be arrested for committing the same offenses as Whites, more likely to get charged, more likely to be convicted and  given longer sentences, and three times as likely to die in police custody.
  • A 2020 lawsuit revealed that the National Football League used the controversial practice of “race-norming,” which assigned Black players a lower level of cognitive function than white players. This made it harder for Blacks to prove they qualified for payouts from the 2017 $1 billion concussion settlement for players suffering from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
  • Today, at the state university where I earned my degree, only 1 percent of the students on a campus of more than 35,000 are Black. The football team, however, is 70 percent Black.

That we have reached a point in our nation’s life where we are literally arguing whether our documented history should be taught in a democratic society should shame those who insist on running from the truth.

This is an argument that we should not be having at all.

History is history.

James Michael Brodie is a Baltimore-based writer, journalist, and author. His books include Created Equal: The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators and Sweet Words So Brave: The Story of African American Literature. A University of Colorado graduate in English, Brodie is also president of The Black and Gold Project Foundation, which includes the podcast collection of personal narratives titled: The Black and Gold Project: Our Past, Our Present, Our Future.

Other commentaries in The Chester Telegraph by James Michael Brodie:

The author also recommends this video:

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  1. Dr Dawn Owens Robinson says:

    Well said my brother. It’s crazy that we still only make up 1% of the CU Boulder student population in 2021. That’s what it was in 1985. Our country is in a state of despair. We cannot hide from our past by not telling the truth. Hiding the true US history will lead to continued degradation of US compassion and empathy for “others.” History is meant to teach, to serve as a foundation to grow, develop and prevent the atrocities of our past. The 1619 Project is a vital truth that must be told: such a well written piece about the US history that we haven’t been taught. If we stop CRT teaching, it will set us back decades.

  2. Don Dalton says:

    Mr. Brodie,

    It’s true that our country was founded by many who were slaveholders. It’s also true that there was an inherent contradiction in the notion that “all men are created equal” when many were held in slavery. This was wrong, and many of the founding generation recognized it was wrong and fought against it. Racism is wrong. Judging people by their skin is wrong. Everyone who objects to CRT acknowledges the evils of slavery and of its place in the founding of our country, and I find none of these critics– not one– who claims that that evil was good or necessary, or who denies that it existed, or who is working to end the teaching of the bare facts of slavery or racism. Not one. What they object to is the theory that goes beyond the facts and presents a narrative that is somewhat distorted, and that advocates for judging people by the color of their skin.

    The problem with CRT is that it paints all white folk as inherently evil, even if unconsciously so– as my link showed in the examples taken from leading CRT theorists. I don’t believe this is true. I believe there are good people of all races and colors and creeds. If there weren’t good people, slavery never would have ended and we would never have striven for equality, and we’d never have had a black president or black scholars or black lawyers and doctors, etc. We simply cannot judge people by their race.

    The critics of CRT do not object to teaching the history of racism or slavery. They do not object to teaching American history. This is your straw man. They do object, however, to the particular interpretation of that history that CRT advocates– but not to the teaching of the history itself. Critics object mainly to the doctrine of demonizing people by the color of their skin, and that includes little children. This is racism, even if it pretends to be its exact opposite.

    The entire debate over CRT is far more subtle than mere talking points over “teaching history.”

  3. Pamela Fisher says:

    It is disheartening to see America continue to deny its past. America has not lived up to its promise in the Constitution but is slowly moving. It would be a major setback if the teaching of CRT is not included in the curriculum at CU. It should be included in the curriculum of every college and university in this country. This curriculum will correct major flaws in teaching American History. History has been written by the victors but it’s time it includes the stories of those do did not win.

  4. James Michael Brodie says:

    Mr. Dalton.

    Please point out where race was not used in the creation of the United States.

    DEFINITION * from the article you cited)

    “Critical race theory is an academic discipline that holds that the United States is a nation founded on white supremacy and oppression, and that these forces are still at the root of our society. Critical race theorists believe that American institutions, such as the Constitution and legal system, preach freedom and equality, but are mere ‘camouflages’ for naked racial domination.”

    Find the error in there, my friend. Your “strawman” theory does not hold up.

  5. Brilliantly said, just brilliant! (Drop the mike)

  6. Don Dalton says:

    Mr. Brodie has created a straw man to knock down.

    Christopher Rufo is a prominent critic of CRT. In the main points of his criticism of CRT, nowhere does he object to the teaching of the history of racism, and I’ve not found any critic of this theory who objects to teaching the facts of slavery. https://christopherrufo.com/crt-briefing-book/?mc_cid=340fbeafe6

    I personally belief firmly in teaching the history of racism and of the horrors of slavery, and I believe we should work hard to root out racism. But I don’t believe that this is what CRT is about. CRT is very much about judging people by the color of their skin; in other words, racism.

  7. D Lee says:


    This commentary is so comprehensive and complete, that it should be required reading for all politicians and educators!

  8. Linda Marie Soares says:

    Mr. Brodie you have nailed it. And yet, we ARE still having this conversation. You have opened up enough information to move life forward in the right direction. I am proud of you and your efforts. This will not fall on deaf ears. “Let them that have ears hear”

  9. Charles Nathan says:

    Thank you for this well written and informative opt-ed.

  10. Holly Olivarez says:

    Agreed that the history of the United States is the history of the United States. It is a shame that the history of the United States has not been taught in schools as it is, and the parts that are remain harmful (such as using terms like ‘slaves’ rather than ‘people were enslaved’). Thank you for writing this important piece that spells out what to do so clearly.

  11. Ed Wiley says:

    As a longtime follower of your articles, essays and books, I truly appreciate your wonderful summation of the reason behind the backlash. Thank you James Michael Brodie!

  12. Yes, thank you James Michael Brodie for this excellent article;
    I feel Critical Race Theory in America needs to be included and taught in
    the educational systems/programs in America; this history is very important
    for everyone; this is the truth of American History; and
    reparations need to be made.

  13. Judith Hokhmah says:

    Expertly researched and expressed. It’s brings forth a “whb-sankofa” moment to know the history without which we know not how or why we must ‘go forward’. It’s speaks to a spiritual and historical imperative before us all, now.

  14. This is an excellent summary of a controversial topic, that should not be controversial. The confusion about what is or is not CRT is being deliberately pushed to the public and mixed up with telling the full truth about our country’s history. I don’t see this as going away any time soon as we learn more about the true history of Indians, Mexican Americans and Asians in the building of this country. It’s not pleasant and it’s hard to hear, but it has to be stated or we will never get over the racism that plagues us. Some people don’t want to get over it and are pushing for a race war. Hopefully we will learn to live in a diverse nation equitably without that happening. Thank you for an excellent article.

  15. Helen Littlejohn says:

    The author perfectly expresses the need for this country to once and for all accept the reality and completeness of our history. Until we do so, we cannot move forward and will be marred with the burden of ignorance perpetuating inequity and hatred. The same point can be made about all of our so-called “minorities” who are rightful citizens of this land.