IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why Mississippi’s ‘critical race theory’ ban is such a mess

Mississippi Republicans claim they successfully banned critical race theory from classrooms, but that’s not quite what happened.


After aggressively pushing misleading talking points about critical race theory last year, many Republicans are quietly moving on from their culture war fight. In Virginia, for example, GOP legislators largely abandoned the issue. Something similar happened in Indiana.

But in Mississippi, anti-CRT forces had more success — sort of. The Associated Press reported:

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill Monday to limit how race can be discussed in classrooms, and it became law immediately.... The short title of Senate Bill 2113 says it would prohibit “critical race theory.” But the main text of the legislation does not mention or define the theory, and many supporters of the bill also have said they cannot define it.

In other words, state policymakers sought to ban critical race theory from classrooms, which is a misguided idea in the first place, and passed legislation that has been signed into law. But Mississippi didn’t really ban the concept from curricula, since the new state law doesn’t even reference critical race theory by name.

Instead, Mississippi now prohibits any school — including universities — from teaching that any “sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.”

That’s fine, I suppose, but that’s not what critical race theory says, reinforcing suspicions that the Republican-led state government just passed a new law to ban a concept elected officials simply don’t understand.

As the AP report added, “Critical race theory is an academic framework that examines how racism has shaped public policy and institutions such as the legal system, and how those have perpetuated the dominance of white people in society.” It does not, in other words, teach that some groups are “inherently superior or inferior” to others.

Making matters worse, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves recorded a pre-taped video, released online yesterday, celebrating the bill he’d just signed, arguing that the policy is necessary because critical race theory is “running amok.”

The governor added, “Children are dragged to the front of the classroom and are coerced to declare themselves as oppressors, that that they should feel guilty because of the color of their skin, or that they are inherently a victim because of their race.”

Note, these weren’t off-the-cuff comments Reeves made during an interview. The governor and his team prepared a specific script, which he read on camera from behind his desk. He meant to say this.

And that’s unfortunate because there are literally zero documented instances in which Mississippi children have been subjected to these circumstances. In fact, as the Mississippi Free Press noted, as recently as last summer, the governor said he wasn’t aware of any school district in the state that allowed for the teaching of critical race theory. Reeves added at the time that he didn’t think an anti-CRT law was necessary.

The Mississippi Free Press report added that during the legislative debate, Republican Sen. Michael McLendon, who wrote the so-called “ban,” also conceded that he was not aware of critical race theory being taught in any Mississippi classrooms.

So, if GOP officials in the state banned a concept they failed to define, taking aim at an academic framework that’s already missing from schools, why should anyone care? Because Mississippi, for no good reason, has injected confusion into an important subject.

Yvette Butler, a University of Mississippi law professor, explained the new statute “is broad, vague and allows the state to strip funding from schools for violating it.”

No good will come of this.