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Mississippi law-enforcement officers posed in a lynch mob-themed photo with suspect Eric Boykin, which drew a storm of criticism after WLBT posted it on its website and on social-media channels. Leo Carney says that this is a clear example of why more honest dialogue about race and systemic racism is urgent in America. Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

From WLBT ‘Lynching’ Photo to Critical Race Theory, Honest Dialogue About Racism Urgent

My first reaction to a recent photo reminiscent of a lynch mob that WLBT posted on its website on May 26, 2021, was outrage. I instantly thought of the slave patrols that hunted American Descendants of Slavery in the 1700s (ADOS) and the convict leasing programs that emboldened law-enforcement officers to participate in this inhumane behavior. Gray Television now owns WLBT, an NBC-affiliated television station based in Jackson, and its sister station FOX 40, as well as WLOX in Hattiesburg. Much of their content seems to cater to a certain audience.

Changing Channels: The Civil Rights Case that Transformed Television
In 1964, the United Church of Christ and two Black Mississippians, Aaron Henry and Reverend R. L. T. Smith, challenged the broadcasting license of WLBT due to its racist exclusion and negative reporting of Black Mississippians. They won. Photo courtesy University of Mississippi

WLBT took down the racist photo from some social channels after warranted backlash from viewers who found it insensitive to the Black communities who are still living through these stereotypes. But the photo is still on WLBT’s website today.

I reached out to a source who recently worked at WLBT. That person explained to me how often egregious, offensive acts like this occur in our newsrooms. 

However, the issue is not about who posted the photo. It has more to do with a lack of understanding about race and how patterns of systemic racism and other injustices toward ADOS communities amplify the need to think critically about race in America. 

The misinformation that exists in regards to ADOS extends well beyond our online media outlets. Ivy League Institutions like Harvard University have a history of targeted racism toward the Black (ADOS) community, and recently participated in an ahistorical smear campaign against the ADOS Advocacy Foundation. The Shorenstein Center on Media and Public Policy and the Harvard Kennedy School recently attacked ADOS activists for advocating for reparations and a specific Black agenda. ADOS Advocacy Foundation leaders released a rebuttal to Harvard’s allegations. This is an example of how misinformation leads to unsubstantiated allegations that are damaging to the public. 

A Theory About ‘Race’

Critical race theory (CRT) is an academic movement of civil-rights scholars and activists in the United States who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream approaches to racial justice. Critical race theory also examines social, cultural and legal issues as they relate to race and racism. To be clear, CRT is typically only taught on the graduate level. Ironically, the once-segregated University of Mississippi—the same university and college town that protested James Meredith’s enrollment in 1962 and still struggles with public Confederate memorabilia, remembering lynching victims, and internal racist emails—plans to offer CRT in its law program starting this fall. 

One of the leading scholars of critical race theory is Kimberle’ Crenshaw. While at Harvard Law School, Crenshaw founded the Critical Race Theory Workshop, which originated the term. In 1981, Crenshaw was part of the legal team that assisted lawyer Anita Hill during her testimony at the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Since 1995, she has been a full-time faculty member of Columbia Law School, teaching constitutional law, civil rights, feminism and CRT. She is also a professor at UCLA. 

Kimberle Crenshaw
Kimberle’ Crenshaw teaches at Columbia Law School, where she is the founder and director of the Center for Intersectionality & Social Policy Studies, established in 2011. Photo by Kimberle’ Crenshaw /Facebook page

Crenshaw’s work opened the door for more dialogue about intersectionality and race in America as well as gives context to the systemic racism that was not addressed in the post civil rights era. Housing discrimination, exclusionary zoning, predatory lending and mass incarceration are perfect examples of systemic oppression that continue to affect Black (ADOS) communities. 

Public policies like redlining and gentrification segregate many of our communities. Race plays a huge role in the policies that our lawmakers introduce into legislation in Mississippi. Elected officials are as complicit with maintaining white supremacy just as decision makers in a newsroom at WLBT. The murders of unarmed Black men and women are a testament of the need to teach the hidden history behind the targeted suppression of ADOS. 

Red Flags Persist Among Skeptics of CRT

Dr. Crenshaw and others have come under a ton of scrutiny for what many GOP lawmakers call a practice that ”teaches kids to hate the U.S. and each other. Emily Bloch of the Florida Times-Union reported on the recent decision by the Florida Board of Education to place tougher guidelines on how teachers deliver U.S history lessons. This comes on the heels of states like Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Iowa adopting similar political initiatives. Reportedly, conservative lawmakers in nine other states continue to press their colleagues for similar legislation. 

Mississippi’s Gov. Tate Reeves expressed his displeasure with any notion of teaching CRT on a recent episode of “Super Talk” with host Paul Gallo. “I am not aware of any school district that currently allows for it,” Reeves said. “Should that become an issue, I believe we ought to pass legislation, pass a law to make these school districts unable to teach CRT in our classrooms.We’ve seen that in other states. I’m willing to do it.” 

Gov. Ron Desantis
Gov Ron DeSantis speaking with reporters on March 25, 2021 inside the FIU MARC building in Miami, Fla.: “We are going to get the Florida political apparatus involved so we can make sure there’s not a single school board member who supports critical race theory.”  Photo by Carl Juste/Courtesy Miami Herald

The Ocean Springs School Board recently banned a curriculum called “BrainPop” that taught Black history in one of its sections. State Sen. Angela Burks Hill of Picayune took to Facebook to openly express her concerns about teaching our children the history of race in our schools. “There are a number of lawmakers who say they are willing to consider legislation in the 2022 session that would ban the possibility of critical race theory being taught in Mississippi schools,” Frank Corder of Y’all Politics, a conservative politics blog, wrote.

Critical Race Theory forces an honest conversation about race in America that can help end division and lead to equitable solutions. Why are so many people afraid of the truth? How long will racist institutions freely distort Black history? 

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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