CRT Not What You've Been Told, Florida Professor Tells PublicHistorians in the News
tags: Florida, culture war, critical race theory
Critical race theory is not what you probably think it is.
That was the message of J. Michael Butler, a professor of history at Flagler College in St. Augustine, at a community discussion on the controversial topic held Saturday at the LaCita Country Club in Titusville.
A crowd of about 60, mixed race and mostly older, attended the two-hour event, which was sponsored by the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex board of directors and the Humanity Task Force for Social Justice, Inc. Spectrum News 13 anchor Tammie Fields moderated the event.
Butler's presentation — entitled "Critical Race Theory: What it is, What it is not" — was followed by a robust Q&A with audience members.
The version of "critical race theory" assailed by conservative politicians and media critics, often in defense of contentious legislation and executive actions, is an intentional distortion, argued Butler, who has authored two books on the civil rights movement in Florida.
What those critics call critical race theory or "CRT" is a catch-all term, used to demonize what they view as "liberal" ideas about the history of race in the United States, Butler said.
"It is a weaponized word. You can distort it, and present it in a way that's frightening, dangerous, scary," Butler said during his presentation.
The conflation only serves to obscure Black history and foil anything resembling constructive public debate, he said.
Butler pointed to a January incident in which he was disinvited from a seminar on the civil rights movement for Osceola County teachers when school officials worried, without evidence, that his talk would include critical race theory. The incident drew national headlines.
"It's so obviously used for political reasons that its interpretation at the local level leads citizens to argue with each other for reasons that have nothing to do with intellectual honesty. That's an example of this" he said.
In reality, critical race theory is a niche academic school of thought that is mainly taught in law school classrooms, he said, as one way of making sense of the history of law and the courts in light of the nation's ugly (and deeply entrenched) racial past. Critical race theorists typically argue that laws in the U.S. have historically been structured to favor white people over other races, for instance.
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