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Statement on White House Memo Barring Federal Agencies from Race-Related Trainings

READ: White House memo barring federal agencies from race-related training sessions

“The President, and his Administration, are fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals within the United States….The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.”

On September 4, 2020, the White House Office of Management and Budget released a memorandum calling on Federal agencies to “cease and desist” using taxpayer dollars to fund any trainings on “critical race theory” and “white privilege.” Calling Critical Race Theory “divisive, Un-American propaganda,” OMB Director Russell Vought promised that he would issue more guidance to implement the President’s directives to agencies.

Critical Race Theory is not propaganda. It is a scholarly framework that describes how race, class, gender, and sexuality organize American life. As such, it is foundational to anyone who practices law, policy, social work, or medicine, or examines inequities in educational achievement, wealth, or other indicators of success in our society. Critical Race Theory offers an important analytical lens through which to view the larger structures and cultural assumptions that guide American society. It helps explain why, for example, Black people die in the hands of police at a much higher than average rate, even though most individual police officers have never killed a Black person. There are structural reasons why, historically and in the present day, Black people have been disproportionate victims of police violence. Critical Race Theory explores and explains these structures.

Vought’s memo is as misleading as the President’s directive is dangerous. Both mischaracterize Critical Race Theory as a way to teach white people that they are inherently racist. In doing so, the President is politicizing the study of race and racism. He has taken a valid subject of academic inquiry and weaponized it to fuel a broader culture war. The effect is to promote white heteropatriarchy as the only authentic American experience, delegitimizing all other histories as un-American, inauthentic, and threatening to our core values.

The truth is that Critical Race Theory affirms the most fundamental of American values: freedom. A free press, freedom of speech, and free inquiry represent the backbone of our democracy, and they are the cornerstone of a good education in the United States. An education grounded in truth, critical thought, and academic inquiry–not polemical attacks–is crucial to informed citizens making decisions for the benefit of society. This is the goal of Critical Race Theory, and it is why it is studied and taught from the classroom to the boardroom. For a president who has staked his political reputation and reelection hopes on sowing division and hatred, it is clear why he fears the prospect of a more critically engaged citizenry.

The undersigned members of the Department of History at UNC-Chapel Hill stand with our colleagues in and outside the academy who teach and write about the history of racism in the United States and the construction of whiteness and privilege. We condemn the President’s politicization of the scholarship of race and racism, and we repudiate his misuse of an executive agency for his own political gain. If he is able to do so with impunity, he will have eroded the very freedoms we all hold so dear.

In order to see current signatures and sign, click here.

Statement by Faculty in the Department of History, UNC-Chapel Hill, December 2019

The History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill condemns the Board of Governors’ (BOG) agreement to give $2.5 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) for the long-term custody and maintenance of the Confederate Monument known as “Silent Sam.”

In addition to its major financial expense, the agreement carries even higher costs for the University’s commitment to fact-based knowledge and for our efforts to confront the historical legacies of racist ideologies and institutions.

Historically accurate accounts of past events are based on facts and historical documents. The SCV ignores overwhelming historical evidence about the causes of America’s Civil War, the centrality of slavery to the Confederacy, and the white supremacist system of the Confederate government. Its false historical narrative states that the “preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight.”

Historians reject this lost-cause mythology. Empirical evidence from Confederate policies, political leaders, and military officers demonstrates that the Confederacy was established to defend the continuing enslavement of millions of people. To deny this evidence is as wrong as to deny the evidence for the Holocaust. To give our University’s money to an organization that promotes historical falsehoods contradicts our professional commitment to teaching, research, and public service.

The History Department therefore calls on the BOG to rescind the settlement. Establishing a UNC-funded “charitable trust” for the SCV goes against our core values as historians and faculty members. The settlement harms the people of North Carolina, undermines historical understanding, and damages the national and global reputation of our University.

For a PDF of this statement, click here.

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