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Black and accused of teaching “critical race theory”: Principal caught up in right's new malestrom

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It was June 3, 2020, and James Whitfield couldn't sleep. He hadn't been able to sleep for the last several days. As a Black man, the deaths of three Black Americans, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, weighed heavily on his mind. Their slayings by white people had been dominating the news — sparking once again national conversations about race and racism in the United States.

Last summer, protest after protest made waves across the nation. It was no different in Texas, and Whitfield, who had weeks earlier been named the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School, couldn't just sit back. He said he felt like he had a platform that other Black Americans didn't have and he wouldn't let that go to waste.

At 4:30 a.m., he wrote a letter to the school community declaring that systemic racism is "alive and well" and that they needed to work together to achieve "conciliation for our nation."

"Education is the key to stomping out ignorance, hate, and systemic racism," Whitfield wrote. "It's a necessary conduit to get 'liberty and justice for all.'"

Then, the feedback to that letter was nothing short of spectacular, Whitfield said. He didn't hear a single negative comment. He felt there was a consensus in the community. But, a little over a year later, his words would backfire.

At a July 26 Grapevine-Colleyville ISD school board meeting, Stetson Clark, a former school board candidate at Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, would use the letter to accuse Whitfield of teaching and promoting "critical race theory."

At the podium, Clark named Whitfield four times, even though the board asked him not to criticize particular employees. The first time, someone in the audience yelled out, "How about you fire him?" Clark continued to name Whitfield, completely ignoring the rules, and called for the board to fire him.

"He is encouraging the disruption and destruction of our district," Clark said.

When his time wrapped up, Clark walked away from the podium to cheers from the audience.

And in the ensuing days, Whitfield found himself at the center of the debate over how race is taught in Texas schools. He received a disciplinary letter from the district a few weeks later and was placed on administrative leave soon after that. On Monday, the school board will meet, and his future at the district could be at stake.

For some advocates and experts, Whitfield, 43, has become an example of what could happen to educators who try to address issues of racism or inequality in the classroom, especially now that Texas lawmakers have passed a new law targeting what they say is critical race theory.

Colleyville is a majority-white city with only 1% of residents identifying as Black or African American, according to census data. The median household income tops $150,000.

"I am the quintessential boogeyman for these people," Whitfield said. "Anything that has to do with anything related to equity, or inclusion or diversity — they're going to try to attach it to CRT."

Republicans target critical race theory

Critical race theory is an academic discipline that holds that racism is inherent in societal systems that broadly perpetuate racial inequity. Teachers say that it's rarely taught in high school classrooms, though some say the discipline informs their approaches as they try to make their lessons more inclusive in a state where only about a quarter of students are white.

Over the summer and spring, the perceived threat of critical race theory has turned into a Republican rallying cry in an apparent pushback against increased conversations about diversity and inclusion and unpacking implicit bias. Republican leaders have claimed it's indoctrinating students and teaching white students that they are racist. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has called it a "ridiculous leftist narrative." Gov. Greg Abbott has called for it to........

© Salon

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