Racism with no sign through the word

In the past two months, the state of Ohio actively retreated from its commitment to promote equity and combat racism in its schools. The reactionary march backward constitutes a withdrawal from constitutional principles, American social commitments, historical trends since at least 1954, and very likely its own laws. The partners in this reactionary dance are the right-wing, Republican-dominated state legislature; Attorney General Dave Yost; Gov. Mike DeWine; and the State Board of Education. I have written about the intertwined issues elsewhere.]  

The State Board of Education’s recent decision to repeal its 2020 Resolution 20 condemning racism and promoting equity, and replace it with Resolution 13 that is silent about the real problem of racism and inequity, defines our moment. This resolution of retreat contradicts itself by refusing to place its endorsement of “excellence in education” in any meaningful context. 

These steps parallel national trends and are inseparable from anti-democratic, false notions of “freedoms” and “rights.” In fact, the proponents of banning the teaching of inclusive, documented American history in schools; rescinding public commitments to equity and combatting racism; and restricting the free speech of teachers and students never raise issues that are widely felt in Ohio.  

Instead they imitate the proposals of other states’ Republican leaders. [] Ohio Republicans follow the “handbooks” or “playbooks” presented on the websites of the nationally organized, well-funded Heritage Action, 1776 Project, and Citizens for American Renewal, among others.  

These propaganda sites begin with false presentations of critical race theory, which is not itself the issue, and teaching about race in K-12 schools. Next, they offer sample legislation (followed in Ohio); instructions on how to disrupt schools and school boards (followed by two mothers at the Columbus Academy); and guidance on how to run for boards of education. 

The Ohio legislative proposals, the AG’s and governor’s statements, and the resolutions debated by the State Board of Education are racially biased and partisan. They are ignorant about and misrepresent the issues they claim to address. The proposals distort our understanding of race, racism, and teaching American history in K-12 schools. They make false allegations about schools teaching critical race theory, a field of legal studies almost exclusive to law schools. By misrepresenting a set of false issues, they are asserting the Second Big Lie (second to the lie about the 2020 presidential election). [See Ohio House Bills 322 and 327;]

Acting against the wishes of most Americans and Ohioans who support the teaching of “uncomfortable history” [], the Governor states in one breath that he supports “teaching the good and bad of American history,” but opposes “divisive” critical race theory. [] Critical race theory is not taught in Ohio schools, and confronting “the good and bad” necessarily leads to disagreements. AG Yost, who has a casual relationship with the U.S. Constitution [], also does not support teaching what isn’t taught. “[B]ut he can’t say for certain whether the State Board of Education’s 2020 resolution condemning racism ‘violated state or federal laws.’” [

Right-wing ideologues on the largely appointed State Board of Education attempted for a year to rescind or replace its noncontroversial July 2020 statement that condemned racism and committed Ohio’s schools to equity for minority children. Ohio joined more than 630 other jurisdictions in committing to combat racism.  

The illogical and racist “compromise” bill that passed on October 13 repeatedly contradicts itself . In muddled terms, it “affirms its condemnation of racism, hate speech, hate crimes, and violence in the service of hatred,” but “repeals, effective immediately, the RESOLUTION TO CONDEMN RACISM AND TO ADVANCE EQUITY AND OPPORTUNITY FOR BLACK STUDENTS, INDIGENOUS STUDENTS AND STUDENTS OF COLOR.” [

These efforts return the state’s schools to the era before the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate is not equal.” They erase the decades’ incomplete progress. Their efforts join residential segregation, redlining, opportunity zones, tracking, special schools for “high achievers,” and likely illegal “public vouchers” for private schools, now falsely represented as “scholarships.” The white fright and flight that followed legal efforts to enforce the 1954 court ruling overturned the historical prohibition of the use of public funds for private education. This great reversal strikes at the heart of democratic values, the role of schools in achieving them, and the growth of future generations. 

Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History at The Ohio State University. Author of many books on social history, he writes and speaks frequently about the nondebate about critical race theory and Ohio Republican politics.