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The outpouring of protest following the death of George Floyd last year made it painfully obvious that we are far from the postracial dream of not long ago. Those intense divisions have moved from the streets to the classrooms, as half the states have passed or are considering legislation restricting the study of critical race theory. With Governor Doug Burgum’s signature, North Dakota becomes the latest state to ban CRT in public schools. Conservative leadership has made the issue into a cause célèbre for the Republican Party and the culprit for contemporary disharmony. Teaching the centrality of race in U.S. history, they say, foments hatred of America. Structural racism is a thing of the past, they argue. Contrary to what liberals conjure, America is a just and meritorious country.
These policies are having real effects. It cost the job of one high school principal in Texas, and pundits in Virginia turned the governor’s race into a referendum on CRT. Criticism against “woke” politics and the raucous debate surrounding the New York Times’s 1619 Project point to the key question lingering on this stage: How should the nation remember slavery?