A month ago, I mailed a letter to all the parents of my daughter’s New York City private school, Brearley, asking them to speak up against the school administration’s illiberal and indoctrinating antiracism initiatives and divisive obsession with race. That letter went viral and has helped bring about much needed attention to the explosive adoption of critical race theory throughout our country. Having been unexpectedly thrust into the media spotlight, I feel an obligation to dispel several common misconceptions pertaining to this movement.
There appears to be widespread belief that opposition to critical race theory is a view held solely by the political right. This perception is wrong. It is certainly true that the conservative media has almost exclusively embraced viewpoints unfavorable to critical race theory while the liberal-oriented media has been overwhelmingly approving. But our polarized media does not seem to accurately reflect the view of most Americans.
Since my letter became public, I have received several thousand supportive emails and messages from people across this country, including many from self-described Democrats and liberals. The tone of most of the messages sent to me is not at all political in nature; instead, the tenor is one of desperation and powerlessness.
I have received emails from parents expressing devastation that their kids, as young as five years old, are coming home from school after being taught to feel guilty solely because of the color of their skin. I have received messages from grandparents feeling hopeless that their grandchildren are being brainwashed and turned against their own families. And I have received notes from teachers brought to tears because they are being required, day after day, to teach fundamentally divisive, racist doctrines and being forced to demonize their own students.
Perhaps the most powerful – and most frightening – of the notes I have received are the several dozen from those who identify themselves as having immigrated to America from the former Soviet Union or from countries in formerly communist Eastern Europe. These emails are never political in nature and are nearly identical in message: These first-generation Americans all write that they have “seen this movie before.” They are familiar with the propaganda, the tactics of indoctrination and the pervasive fear of speaking up that plague today’s United States. Simply put, they cannot believe this is happening here.
A second common misconception about critical race theory is that it is confined to educational institutions. This, too, is false. Over the past year, the tenets of critical race theory have become pervasive throughout society, in our corporations, in our scientific and medical community, and in our military. Coca-Cola’s diversity training materials have encouraged employees to “try to be less white.” United Airlines has announced a plan for half of its new pilots to be women or people of color. The Walt Disney Company has reportedly asked employees to complete a “white privilege checklist.” The American Medical Association released a three-year roadmap that rejects equality and meritocracy and espouses “racial justice.” The Department of Defense has recommended many steps to its diversity and inclusion initiatives, including examining changes to recruitment policies, aptitude tests and senior leadership promotion criteria.
Many who read my original letter to Brearley parents incorrectly concluded that its main theme was race. It was not. What I wrote was, first and foremost, about the school’s unwillingness to have discussions about race and debate about the school’s antiracism initiatives. The moral of this misconception, however, goes far beyond a single letter. It touches the heart of democracy itself.
Democracy fundamentally cannot work properly if we cannot openly have discussions and debates on the difficult issues facing our country. We have allowed a small but very vocal minority, amplified by the power of social media, to shut down nearly all debate on the topic of race and critical race theory. The simple cry of “racist” or the threat of that cry will nearly always do so. This cannot be allowed to continue. Regardless of one’s own beliefs on the roots of racial disparities, on the existence of systemic racism or on the merits of critical race theory, we must together agree that we can no longer allow a small group of Americans to bully the rest of us into silence.
We are just a few election cycles from the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, yet we find the country embattled over the date of its true founding — 1619, as critical race theory espouses, or 1776? This fight is also a misconception. As every good history teacher knows, history is not a set of dates but a continuous story. We must begin to have a national conversation about the story we went to tell our children and about the future we want for our country.
Do we really want to extinguish our founding principles, or do we want to reaffirm them and work harder to make sure they apply to all Americans? Do we really want to abandon the precepts of free speech – if not by statute, then by fear – or do we want to foster diversity of thought in our schools, workplaces and communities? Do we really want to adopt the thoroughly Marxist concept of equality of outcome, or do we want to strive for equality of opportunity for all those who seek it with talent and effort? Do we really want to encourage divisiveness and wallow in victimhood, positions that will weaken us and almost certainly lead to ethnic strife, or do we want to use our diversity as a strength to help face the many global challenges ahead?
Lastly, do we really want to make skin color the defining feature of America, or do we want to return to the colorblind dreams of our storied civil rights leaders, and to the true inclusiveness for which they preached?
I know where I stand on these questions. But what say you, America?
Andrew Gutmann is a father of one and a former investment banker turned software developer and entrepreneur who now works with his family’s chemical business. He can be reached at his website, speakupforeducation.org.