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Davis Journal

‘Critical Race Theory’ is actual history

May 20, 2021 12:12PM ● By Bryan Gray

Along with noisy protests about children wearing masks, school board members throughout Utah are also facing criticism about the teaching of what is labeled “Critical Race Theory.”

I understand why some parents are sensitive about it. Depending on how the idea is taught in the classroom, it can promote the “blame game” and create divisiveness between races and ethnic groups. 

However, we must not use this opposition to erase the historical context of race.  From “red-lining” neighborhoods to keep racial minorities from purchasing homes to “Whites Only” signs at luncheon counters and motels to barriers from voting in elections, the access to the “American Dream” has been narrowed from racial minorities.  

In August, a book about black artist Winfred Rembert will be published. It’s a tale of violence and discrimination that Americans cannot ignore.  Rembert passed away two months ago at the age of 75, but not before he jotted down his memories of being arrested in a civil rights demonstration and his subsequent near-lynching and prison term.

Here are a few excerpts about the treatment of black prisoners:

“They had a big vat at the camp built out of wood and tin, a few feet deep. It was filled with creosote…One day a guard walked up to this kid and pushed him in the creosote bin. I’m telling you, that kid was burning.  His skin was falling off. He lived, but he was messed up. He already only had one eye. I really felt bad for the guy. After that, whenever he thought something else was going to happen to him, he would just tap-dance around the place.”  (He was so afraid of white prison guards he would dance for them while they jeered and laughed.)

“In 1971 I was introduced to the sweatbox.  They put you in this wooden box where you can’t stand and you can’t sit down.  You’re in a crouch. You can’t see out.  It’s dark except for daylight coming through the cracks, and it’s real hot in there – sweating hot.  They keep you in there from three to seven days.

“You use the bathroom on yourself. They didn’t have to find a reason to put you in the sweatbox. They just wanted to be cruel to you.  I remember being scared the guards might come and throw some gas in there and kill me…Twice a day they would open the door and push in a cup of water and two slices of bread…”

In Bainbridge, Georgia, he was assigned to digging ditches.  

“You’re in a ditch and you got a shovel and you’re digging. The object was to throw the dirt on the top out of the ditch where there were already tall piles of dirt, 10 or 12 feet high.  If you can’t get your dirt up there, the guards would crack you upside the head with nightsticks…Sometimes the water in the ditch was up past your ankles.

Injustice in the prison system wasn’t only limited to black inmates. But Utahns should not use their opposition to “Critical Race Theory” as a means of refusing to shoulder the history of racial disparities which still impact minorities today.  That’s not theory, it’s history.