Vocal opponents of critical race theory aim to perpetuate the myth of meritocracy and the single story of American exceptionalism, author Clint Smith said Monday night.
It’s all part of a pushback against learning the history that has made our country look the way it looks today, he told the crowd at Liberty Hall.
Smith is a poet, a journalist and the author of “How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America,” among other works. The book explores the brutal history, legacy and lasting effects of slavery. Smith on Monday addressed critical race theory in the context of responding to those who oppose the concept that they think is CRT.
He shared the story of a man named Jeff. A son of the confederacy, Jeff’s childhood memories included visiting the cemetery with his grandfather, “singing the songs of the old Dixie,” hearing stories of all the brave men buried there who had fought and died for their families, culture and homes — “and how this actually had nothing to do with slavery, and that was just propaganda that was trying to destroy the reputations of these men,” Smith said.
For Jeff, it’s not a matter of empirical evidence that the Civil War was the southern states’ attempt to keep enslaved people as property, Smith said. So it’s not just about needing to reassess history — “It represents an existential crisis. It represents a threat to his sense of self, because if he has to accept that the confederacy would fight a war predicated on maintaining the use of slavery — which is what it was — then he would have to accept that what his grandfather told him was a lie.”
Smith said people feel like they don’t know who they are, because so much of who they are — and their knowledge of their relationships and communities — is tied to the lies that they’ve been told.