Things Get Heated During Critical Race Theory Panel At OPSA Conference, Leaving Students And Members With Questions Unanswered

The Oklahoma Political Science Association held its annual conference from Nov. 4-5, in Durant, Okla. inviting students and members to join conversations and debates on Oklahoma’s political issues.

OPSA welcomed State Sen. David Bullard, Dr. James Taylor, Jabar Shumate of Urban League OKC, and Ronaldo Diaz, a professor at Oklahoma State University, to discuss the concept of Critical Race Theory in light of the new House Bill, 1775.

This bill, passed earlier this year, states that no students enrolled in an institute offering higher education “shall be required to engage in any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling,” and forbids the teachings in all schools that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Before the panel, Taylor handed out a CRT “cheat sheet” to the audience that included explanations of things like racial justice, defined on the sheet as “racial favoritism.”

Presenters at the Oklahoma Political Science Association discussed new legislation reeling in Critical Race Theory (Photo by Zoe Taylor).

Dr. Taylor stated his impression of CRT matched the handout, saying, “The belief that people of European descent make society racist for their own benefit.”

The theory’s developer’s define CRT as an acknowledgment of racial disparities due to society’s construction of race. Proponents of CRT feel that learning about race from this lens is important because it allows those who experience racism to have a voice. 

Bullard said his first encounter with CRT was researching the origin, which he states was in Frankfurt, Germany at a “Marxist university.” 

Bullard stated that the university launched several “critical theories,” based in a Marxist view. However, according to the New York Times, UCLA and Columbia Law Professor, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, is credited with coining the term Critical Race Theory.

Ronaldo Diaz countered that by stating, “Critical Race Theory is the voice of the marginalized.” Diaz added, “We cannot and must not promote a false image of our past simply because it creates discomfort in any one of us. It is in this discomfort that change and understanding manifest.”

The panel then opened to anonymous audience questions. One audience member asked about what guidance would be given to K-12 educators who want to teach CRT effectively and equitably while following the law. 

Bullard responded to the question by stating, “You will teach things according to the Oklahoma standard.” He went on to say, “If in order to teach history, you’re telling me, you have to tell a child that there is a superior race currently right now, you don’t need to be in a classroom.” 

He added that those who wanted to teach CRT should not be teaching children.

Diaz criticized the bill saying, “The danger in the bill, the way it’s written is very general and can be interpreted as saying that teachers have to whitewash history and only teach certain elements and certain sides of history as we know it.”

Jabar Shumate, attending the conference via Zoom, noted that this is not a cut and dry issue and that Oklahoma teachers live in shock and fear due to the law’s ambiguity.

Bullard left the panel about thirty minutes early, leaving unanswered questions among the audience. The panel continued after Bullard left; however, questions geared towards his interpretation of the bill remained, creating a lack of clarity for other panelists and the audience.