Education Opinion Social Justice/Advocacy

OPINION: A Nonprofit Response to the Legislation Around Critical Race Theory

COVID-19 was a pandemic that had policymakers assure us that “We are all in this together,” but the recent legislative debate in Texas around Critical Race Theory has signaled that unity appears to only be a means to ends in a public health crisis, but not a priority in other aspects of society. Preventing the discussion of these important topics may lead to many nonprofits having to consider how they pick up the slack in light of the proposed censure on teachers.

The nonprofit sector has a longstanding history of educational involvement including fighting against educational inequality, advocating for special education services, protesting to desegregate schools, and often serving as guardrails to work alongside educational institutions to provide basic needs, supplement educational support, and aiding to ensure that no one falls through the cracks. From tutoring programs, scholarship initiatives, or fostering the love of reading—education nonprofits have often helped to supplement the education of young people through various programs and services.

Nonprofits of all kinds have long been doing the work of advocating for racial justice and equality, but they must now seek opportunities to educate their stakeholders and the public on history and how its affects necessitate their existence. The fact the government constantly fails to provide for its citizens is one of the primary reasons the nonprofit sector exists – to pick up where the government cannot, or refuses, to go. Nonprofits must take note of these developments and consider what it may mean for their programming. While many organizations across the country have been striving to incorporate elements of justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion (JEDI) within their programming, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Napoleon once said, “What is history, but a fable agreed upon?” In essence, what we know about the past is told by those who wrote it—in other words, the only part of history that is often recorded is simply the narrative of the victors. Critical Race Theory is a movement that calls for a revisionist history approach, or the recognition that the main narrative may not be the only story. With many history books used within education often neglecting to include adequate portrayals of slavery, segregation, and racism, supplementary instruction is likely necessary in order to tell the full story—the good, bad, and ugly. When examining the historical timeline of the United States, you can see “Slavery Ended” and “Civil Rights Act” passed, but the before, in between, and after of those pinpoints in history have many implications that are prevalent today (i.e., Black Lives Matter, criminal justice reform, homelessness policies, etc.).

It appears that many Texas lawmakers are attempting to keep the dead hands of history alive and well in order to maintain the narrative that slavery and racism are in the past. The reality of it is that Ruby Bridges is in her 60s, Rosa Parks passed away in 2005, and Harriet Tubman and Ronald Reagan where alive at the same time in history. The “past” is not a distant of a memory and reconciling that truth with its systemic legacy may now be the gap our sector needs to fill.  

Critical race theory provides an opportunity to understand history holistically. There is much to be said on this topic but speaking truth to power and seeking to dismantle structural racism is not a single conversation, or a checklist of tasks that must be accomplished—it involves a conscious culture shift that our sector can lead.  

About the author

Colton Strawser, Ph.D., CFRE

Colton C. Strawser, Ph.D., CFRE is the President of Colton Strawser Consulting. His work focuses on empowering organizations to create change through research, evaluation, fundraising, and capacity building. He can be found on Twitter at @Colton_Strawser.