As though they didn’t have enough pressing national issues on their plates, five Republican congressmen — Glenn Grothman (Wis.), Ralph Norman (S.C.), Bob Gibbs (Ohio), Pat Fallon and Ronny Jackson (both of Texas) — have introduced legislation to ban the teaching of critical race theory in D.C. public and charter schools.

Grothman, the bill’s chief sponsor, said in a news release that, through critical race theory curriculum, “students are being taught that they are defined by the color of their skin, not the content of their character.” “This neo-racist ideology,” warned Grothman, “should have no place in our public education system, especially in our nation’s capital.”

Set aside for a minute the confusion over just what is critical race theory. Understand, also, that D.C. schools don’t teach critical race theory but do provide anti-racist training for educators and classroom discussions of systemic racism.

Concentrate, instead, on the “neo-racist ideology” that Grothman alleges critical race theory teaches. Such an ideology held a firm grip on D.C. public education, as well as the entire nation’s capital, for decades. This was long before academics began examining how systemic racism has shaped American public policy.

I have intimate knowledge of the experiences that informed notions about racism’s incarnation in the legal systems and policies of 19th- and 20th-century Washington, D.C.

Whether or not Grothman wants this fact taught, the truth is many Black people in D.C. and in the Deep South were raised under state-sponsored racism.

We attended public schools, lived in neighborhoods, went to movie theaters, ate in restaurants, prayed in churches and were laid to rest separated from White people, by law and custom. This focus on group identity — a practice purportedly loathed by apostles of conservatism — was not a mutually agreed upon arrangement. White people made those decisions, including to engage in the practice of denying equal job and housing opportunities.

And those judgments have had devastating consequences. The International Monetary Fund stated in a 2020 report on the economic cost of discrimination in the United States: “Racism has restrained Black economic progress for decades.”

The telling of this history is not for the purpose, as charged by Grothman and critical race theory critics, of stoking cultural conflicts or “to set American against American.” It is simple truth-telling.

Many of us don’t need critical race theory to know who did what to whom: who looked us in the face and said there were no job openings, declined mortgage requests, ignored skills and downplayed qualifications. Who otherwise stacked the deck, giving preference to the whiteness of skin.

Grothman suggests the retelling of American history is divisive. He implores schools to tell the story that “share[s] the wonderful gift we all have, to live the American Dream if we work for it.”

That Dream stared me in the face as I read pages of The Washington Post when I was a 1960 teenager looking for work:

“BOYS-WHITE Age 14 to 18. To assist Route manager full or part-time. Must be neat in appearance. Apply 1346 Conn. Ave. NW.”

“STUDENTS Boys, white, 14 yrs. and over, jobs immediately available. Apply . . . 724 9th St., N.W.”

“SALESMAN, white. With a successful background in sales or one who feels he could be successful if given the right opportunity and training.”

The Dream is there, “if we work for it,” preaches Grothman. “If we only had a chance,” we prayed.

America, Grothman said, is seen as the land of opportunity throughout the world. “CRT, however, teaches school children,” he said, “that America is a horrible country.”

I was not taught that. Neither were my public-school-educated children or my school-age grandchildren.

But I know that students being taught about the lack of affordable housing and racial housing patterns in their city will have to learn that the 1948 Washington Real Estate Board Code of Ethics dictated that “no property in a white section should ever be sold, rented, advertised or offered to colored people,” as explained by Wendell E. Pritchett of the University of Pennsylvania Law School in a 2005 paper about the system.

I was 9 at the time. Those weren’t empty words. The Code was strictly enforced over the years, forcing Black people in the District to pay higher rents in the limited areas to which we had access and where housing was noticeably inferior. Students would learn that the results of that discrimination are reflected in this city’s single-family zoned majority-White neighborhoods.

Now, this isn’t a matter of teaching children how bad we are. But it does teach how bad things came about. A look at history also explains why the school system’s Eurocentric focus forced Black educators to take it upon themselves to introduce Black history to ensure we knew about our role in America’s growth and development.

Hopefully, out of today’s educational processes will come students intellectually and socially mature enough to understand that critical examination does not equal demonization — and that in life’s dealings, truth trumps fiction every time.

And, congressmen, call it what you will.

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