On the southern steps of Mississippi State Capitol last week a group of protesters gathered in front of a bronze box.
It was empty, but on a pile of paper scattered inside. These were printouts of dozens of bills that have died in the state legislature in recent months; account yes expand the coverage of health care for young mothers; bill to help provide healthy eating options in rural and underserved communitiesaccount yes return the right to vote to previously prisoners.
All failed to vote in a legislature controlled by an overwhelming majority of Republicans.
“These are bills that Mississippi residents have never had the opportunity to pass a law,” said Nsombi Lambright, organizer of the Mississippi Poor People Campaign, addressing the assembled crowd.
“And so when such bills are not passed in the process, people rarely have a voice, we rarely have the opportunity to come back and say, what happened?”
However, only a week earlier the state was in the spotlight for the relevant legislation had adopted as a priority: a law banning the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in Mississippi schools, colleges and universities.
Critical Racial Theory is an academic practice that explores the ways in which racism operates in U.S. law and society.
Mississippi, the crucible of the civil rights movement and the state with the largest share – about 38% – of black people anywhere in the United States, became the last of 15 states enact laws prohibiting the teaching of discipline. This issue has become a major appeal to right-wing politicians in America’s long cultural wars.
The bill was voted on the guerrilla line. When it passed in the state senate in January, every black senator abstained and came out in protest. Every vote for the bill in the House came from a Belarusian republican legislators.
When he signed the bill, Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, said legislation will combat “indoctrination in our state”. He argued, without citing evidence, that “children are dragged into the hallway and forced to declare themselves oppressors, taught that they should feel guilty because of the color of their skin or that they are by nature victims because of them. race ».
The Mississippi Department of Education has repeatedly stated that critical theory of race is not taught in public schools. The report shows he is taught in only one higher education class across the state, at the University of Mississippi Law School.
Many observers of the bill, including Democrats in the State House, have argued that the bill is a direct reaction to the two parties’ efforts to remove the Confederate military coat of arms from the state flag. which took place in 2020 after the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“This is retribution and revenge for the fall of the flag,” said Sheikh Taylor, a spokesman for the Democratic State. “And I dare say many of my Republican colleagues have been under tremendous pressure to raise this.”
He added: “What is he [the governor] has shown that he is ready to pursue a policy of divisions, which is a strong red meat for his far-right base ”.
Taylor sits on the committee of universities and colleges and has become one of the most outspoken opponents of the bill as it passed through the legislature.
“The whole discussion was centered around ignorance. For me, it’s ignorance no not knowing. It is a readiness not to know, ”he said. “History needs to be told as it is – it doesn’t need to be disinfected, bleached, or can’t we sanction our public school systems and our districts for teaching history?”
Like many other CRT accounts across the country, wording Mississippi legislation is short and vague. It prohibits public schools and universities from forcing “students to personally affirm, accept or adhere to … that any gender, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently higher or lower.” It also prohibits public schools from making “distinctions or classifications of students based on race”.
Although the CRT is not directly defined, the bill stipulates that any school, college, or university that violates these principles may lose public funding.
Lawyers warned stunning impact on campuses of schools and colleges across the state. Students also began to prepare for the uncertainty of how the legislation could be implemented.
Although there was a spring break last week, a number of students, high schools, colleges and universities took to the streets of the state to protest.
Telesia Bracey, a 17-year-old Jim Hill High School student, addressed the crowd. It was the first protest she had ever attended, and she told the Guardian that history was her favorite subject.
Her speech began with a reference to the case of Brown v. The Board of Education, a landmark Supreme Court ruling that established segregation in public schools, unconstitutional.
“But we’re here,” she said. “Nearly 68 years later, talking and fighting for the reality of continually erasing not only the history of blacks but also the history and legacy of oppression as slavery, Jim Crow, mass imprisonment, police brutality and discrimination were some of Houdini’s famous tricks and can be made to disappear.” .
Macy Brown, a 20-year-old political science student at Jackson State University, said campus organizers are now in the early stages of monitoring how and whether the law will affect their education.
“It’s a very broad bill, which makes it even scarier and easier to manipulate,” she said. “We are now in the process of making sure we fully understand what the bill is actually trying to do. And then, secondly, to figure out how to ensure that our history is not diluted at any level of education – from kindergarten to higher education.
For 34-year-old Jeremy Markell-Bridges, who is studying technology at a public college on the Mississippi Coast, these opportunities have been staggering.
“I am afraid of what we see now. We have a generation of people who do not understand that what they say or do can be offensive to certain people, ”he said. “Manipulating history does what it always does. It confuses people and recreates the same problems over and over again. ”