After a Mock Slave Auction and a Resolution Against Racism, Battle Against "Critical Race Theory" in a Small TownBreaking News
Nevaeh Wharton was busy with homework one evening in late April when her phone pinged with a warning. A friend had texted to say something disgusting was happening in a private Snapchat group chat.
When the 16-year-old woke the next morning, another message was waiting for her: She had been discussed in the group. Pretty soon the whole story trickled out. A group of mostly White students attending two of Traverse City’s high schools, including Nevaeh’s, had held a mock slave auction on the social media app, “trading” their Black peers for money.
“I know how much I was sold for: one hundred dollars,” said Nevaeh, who is half-Black. “And in the end I was given away for free” — to the friend who first warned her about the group.
The Snapchat group, titled “slave trade,” also saw a student share the messages “all blacks should die” and “let’s start another holocaust,” according to screenshots obtained by The Washington Post. It spurred the fast-tracking of a school equity resolution that condemned racism and vowed Traverse City Area Public Schools would better educate its overwhelmingly White student body and teaching staff on how to live in a diverse country.
But what happened over the next two months revealed how a town grappling with an undeniable incident of racism can serve as fertile ground for the ongoing national war over whether racism is embedded in American society.
Events in Traverse City would demonstrate how quickly efforts to address historic disparities or present-day racial harassment in schools can become fodder for a campaign against critical race theory, fueled by White parents’ growing conviction that their children are being taught to feel ashamed of their Whiteness — and their country.
The equity resolution was unprecedented in Traverse City, an idyllic lakeside vacation spot with a population of 16,000 that is more than 90 percent White and politically split between red and blue. The two-page document, inspired by nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death last year, suggested more training for teachers and adding overlooked viewpoints to the school system’s libraries and curriculum.
Although at first it drew vocal support — especially from families and children of color — it has since inspired equally vehement opposition, led by mostly White, conservative parents who contend that the resolution amounts to critical race theory in disguise. The theory, known as CRT, is a decades-old academic framework that holds racism is systemic in America, but which has become a catchall phrase conservatives wield to oppose equity work in schools.
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