All 14 black Mississippi state senators walked out before a vote on a bill that forbids teaching students at public schools and colleges that ‘that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.’
The bill later passed passed 32-2, with only two Democratic legislators – David Blount and Hob Bryan, both white – voting against it. It now heads to the Mississippi state House for approval.
The unprecedented walkout on Friday followed a two-hour debate when Democratic lawmakers asked whether or not Critical Race Theory (CRT), which centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society, is actually taught in Mississippi schools.
‘Have you identified one teacher, one school district where this is happening?’ asked Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons, a Democrat.
Republican Senator Michael McLendon conceded on the Senate floor that he had not heard of any schools teaching students that they were inferior or superior based on their race, but said an overwhelming number of his constituents had raised concerns about the curricula being taught across the country based on what they heard ‘on the national news.’
The bill’s passage makes Mississippi the latest state to take a legislative stance on Critical Race Theory – although the controversial teaching is never mentioned by name or defined within the document. Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Florida, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Tennessee have already banned the academic theory, according to Newsweek.
All 14 black lawmakers on the Mississippi state Senate walked out on Friday before a vote on Senate Bill 2113, which would outlaw teaching public school children and college students that any sex, race or national origin is ‘superior or inferior’
While the bill’s author Senator Michael McLendon (pictured) conceded on the senate floor that he had not heard of any schools teaching Critical Race Theory, a number of his constituents had raised concerns about the curricula being taught across the country based on what they heard ‘on the national news’
Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons (pictured) requested a roll call, and led all 14 black lawmakers out of the chamber before a vote was held
‘I had so many constituents in my district that were concerned over the teachings that they have heard from around the country, they want to make sure that this was not a problem with Mississippi, so that’s why this bill was brought forward,’ McLendon said when asked why he introduced the bill.
‘So it’s a problem across the country; is it a problem in Mississippi?’ Simmons asked.
‘Well, we try to make laws for the future as well as today,’ McLendon replied.
Simmons requested a roll call, which led all 14 black lawmakers to walk out of the chamber before a vote was held.
Republicans have a supermajority on the legislative body, and do not need a single Democratic vote to pass legislation. Senators David Blount and Hob Bryan, who are both White, were the only two legislators to vote against the bill.
Simmons called the bill ‘vague’ in a statement issued after the walkout, and bemoaned that its wording didn’t ‘create boundaries.’
‘We felt it was unfair to have such a bill introduced or passed as it really demeans a large segment of our population,’ he wrote.
‘We felt like it was a bill that was not deserving of our vote,’ he told reporters. ‘We have so many issues in the state that need to be addressed. We did not need to spend time on this.’
Democratic Senator John Horhn argued that portions of Mississippi’s history that would no longer be able to be taught should the bill become law.
‘I think this bill is going to put a chilling effect on that journey. I think it’s going to slow us down on coming together, and I think it’s going to drive a wedge between us that doesn’t need to be driven,’ he said.
Simmons is pictured as he called on black senators to walk out in protest
Senator John Horhn (pictured) argued that portions of Mississippi’s history that would no longer be able to be taught should the bill become law
Senators David Blount (left) and Hob Bryan (right), who are both White, were the only two legislators to vote against the bill
But McLendon asserted that Senate Bill 2113 ‘is not changing anything about our past,’ asserting that ‘all this bill says is that no child shall be told they’re superior or inferior to one another.’
After the walkout, outside the Senate chambers, Horhn said that ‘what they’re trying to do is scare people, and scare people with false information and misleading data.’
Democratic Senator David Jordan, who taught in Mississippi schools for 33 years – 13 of which he taught in segregated schools, according to CNN – said the bill was a ‘waste of time.’
‘If anybody is suffering from racism it is people of color and we feel we don’t need this bill … We are satisfied without it. What do you need it for? We have been the victims of it,’ he said during his remarks.
Senators were unable to agree on what, exactly, Critical Race Theory was in two hours of debate.
Republican Senator Chris McDaniel said that the teaching deals in subjective theory and not in facts, and that only facts should be taught in public schools.
‘Our kids need objective facts and not subjective notions of theory,’ he said.
But the ‘systemic racism’ taught in Critical Race Theory, Horhn said, is a matter of fact and exists across the criminal justice system, in health care and in the housing system, noting that Mississippi is the ‘only state in the country that does not have a fair housing law.’
Senator David Jordan (pictured), who taught in Mississippi schools for 33 years – 13 of which he taught in segregated schools, according to CNN – said the bill was a ‘waste of time’
Black caucus members walked out in protest of then-Governor Kirk Fordice’s policies before he delivered his State of the State address in1993, but no Capitol observer could recall any instance of members leaving en masse before a vote on a bill
Senate Bill 2444, the state’s teacher pay plan, was then passed without discussion.
‘Though our votes were not counted because of the chain of events, Senate Democrats stand in support of raises for our educators,’ Simmons said in his press release.
Now that the bill has passed through the state Senate, it would have to be approved by the House to pass into law.
Black caucus members walked out in protest of then-Governor Kirk Fordice’s policies before he delivered his State of the State address in 1993, but no Capitol observer could recall any instance of members leaving en masse before a vote on a bill, according to Mississippi Today.
Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is currently backing legislation that would bar schools and private businesses from making students or employees feel ‘guilt’ or ‘any form of psychological stress’ because of their national origin, sex or race.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (pictured) is pushing a bill that would bar schools and private businesses from making their students or employees feel ‘guilt’ due to their race
‘No individual is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, solely by the virtue of his or her race or sex. No race is inherently superior to another race,’ said Republican Sen. Manny Diaz (pictured), the bill’s sponsor
‘This was directed to make whites not feel bad about what happened years ago,’ said state Senator Shevrin Jones, pictured, of the legislation
Like Mississippi’s legislation, it would outlaw teachings that assert certain individuals are ‘inherently racist [or] sexist] – or ‘morally superior’ – or that characterize individuals’ status as ‘privileged’ or ‘oppressed’ based on their race, sex or national origin.
‘No individual is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, solely by the virtue of his or her race or sex. No race is inherently superior to another race,’ said Republican Sen. Manny Diaz, the bill’s sponsor.
It is not about ignoring the ‘dark’ parts of American history, but rather ensuring that people are not blamed for sins of the past, Diaz said.
But critics, like Democratic state Senator Shevrin Jones, said the bill was ‘directed to make whites not feel bad about what happened years ago,’ and that critical race theory is not taught in Florida schools to begin with.
‘We know for a fact what this is. This is Governor DeSantis’ move to try to stop the teaching of true American black history. Our history is a part of American history, and also my white counterparts are a part of that very history,’ said Jones, who is the only Black member of the state’s Senate Education Committee that approved the bill.
CRITICAL RACE THEORY: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
The fight over critical race theory in schools has escalated in the United States over the last year.
The theory has sparked a fierce nationwide debate in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests around the country over the last year and the introduction of the 1619 Project.
The 1619 Project, which was published by the New York Times in 2019 to mark 400 years since the first enslaved Africans arrived on American shores, reframes American history by ‘placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the center of the US narrative’.
The debate surrounding critical race theory regards concerns that some children are being indoctrinated into thinking that white people are inherently racist or sexist.
Those against critical race theory have argued it reduces people to the categories of ‘privileged’ or ‘oppressed’ based on their skin color.
Supporters, however, say the theory is vital to eliminating racism because it examines the ways in which race influence American politics, culture and the law.