Teaching systemic racism in NC sparks backlash, KKK editorial cartoon

Posted February 2, 2021 5:43 p.m. EST
Updated February 2, 2021 9:04 p.m. EST

— A divided State Board of Education will revisit on Wednesday proposed changes to what public school students learn about the U.S. in social studies classes.

The debate centers largely around three terms being added to the curriculum: systemic racism, systemic discrimination and gender identity.

Some board members have objected to the word "systemic" – and the tone of the word.

“I am diametrically opposed to that," Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson said Tuesday. "I do not believe that we live in a systemically racist nation, nor have we ever lived in a systemically racist nation.”

The board started working last summer – as people took to the streets across North Carolina and the nation to protest racial injustice – to include diversity and inclusion into the standards for social studies.

Advocacy groups like the Family Policy Council agree with Robinson, arguing that the proposed standards shine a biased and negative light on U.S. history.

"Clearly, we still have issues we are facing that we need to deal with," said John Rustin, president and executive director of the Family Policy Council. "But if it is suggested to our students that our nation is systemically racist and we have these systemic issues, then what hope is there for recovery, repair and moving on in the future?"

But Equality North Carolina says the word “systemic” rings true to the ongoing oppression of marginalized groups. The LGBT advocacy group wants textbooks to reflect America’s history unfiltered.

“These words are important to know that we are analyzing a system at large," said Rebby Kern, director of education policy for Equality N.C. "While truths might be uncomfortable to talk about, how can we prepare educators [and] families, as well as students, to have these conversations in a meaningful way to build empathy and understanding?”

The debate inspired an editorial cartoon Tuesday on Capitol Broadcasting Co.’s opinion page that depicts Republican members of the State Board of Education as a hooded Ku Klux Klan member trying to erase history.

“That cartoon doesn’t really bother me," said Robinson, the state's first Black lieutenant governor. "What bothers me is the hypocrisy behind it. That’s what bothers me, that you would portray a Black man, just because he is in the GOP, as a Klansman."

While Capitol Broadcasting is the parent company of WRAL, CBC Opinion operates separately from WRAL News.

"Editorial cartoons are creative and provocative, using hyperbole and satire. No one believes Republicans on the State Board of Education are members of the Ku Klux Klan," Opinion Editor Seth Effron said in a statement. "The editorial cartoon by Dennis Draughon is meant to point out that these members of the state board are trying to wipe out from the social studies curriculum the record of racism, which includes the Klan and the segregationist practices that were imposed in our state and nation’s history.”

Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt has proposed replacing the words “systemic racism” with "racism," “systemic discrimination” with "discrimination" and “gender identity” with "identity."

"These [proposed] standards are divisive. This should give us pause to pump the brakes, slow down and revisit this issue and not pass these standards [Wednesday] or on Thursday,” Robinson said.

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