TN Politics: In Final Act, Republican Lawmakers Take Aim at History

May 7, 2021

Mark White, chair of the Tennessee House Education Administration Committee, backed a bill that would remove funding from schools where teachers explore themes of systemic racism in history. 

The Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up a session this week in which lawmakers passed a number of bills designed to consolidate Republican power in Nashville and send a clear and hostile message to minority groups.

While one bill -- creating legal immunity for people who run over protesters in the street -- was eventually set aside over concerns that it would not pass immediate judicial scrutiny, the legislature did opt to impose its own history curriculum in Tennessee's public schools. The bill, which passed in the final hour, forbids teaching "Critical Race Theory" or CRT. 

Though lawmakers provided no examples of it being taught to students in Tennessee, Republican legislators such as Mark White of Memphis did say that parents had called to say they were not comfortable having their children "exposed to certain things," and many legislators cited an anecdotal story of a child who wondered aloud to her parents, "Am I racist?"

In answer to that child's question, lawmakers quickly and collectively acted to remove discussions about systemic racism from public schools, which some African Americans have suggested is evidence of systemic racism. Political analyst Otis Sanford says this is an effort to "sanitize" history and for lawmakers like White to protect their jobs as Tennessee's conservative voters move farther to the right.