"Critical Race Theory," Racism, and Just the Facts

Claims that anti-CRT parents made a racist objection to a photo of an interracial couple are based on bad reporting

The latest in the controversy over “Critical Race Theory” in schools is the suspension of a black high school principal in Texas after parents at a school board meeting in July accused him of promoting “CRT” and demanded his firing.

Claims of blatant racism are already swirling around the story, particularly after reports that the backlash against the principal included a parental complaint about a photo on his Facebook page showing him “in an embrace” with his wife, who is white.

The facts of the story, so far, are fuzzy. Some parents criticized Colleyville Heritage High School Principal James Whitfield—the first black principal in the school’s 25-year history—at a school board meeting in July. According to The New York Times:

Some speakers who identified themselves as parents complained of a “social justice” focus in the curriculum or criticized “political activism” concerning race in the district, which includes most of Grapevine and Colleyville, as well as other parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

In particular, a man identified as Stetson Clark assailed “critical race theory” and accused Whitfield of promoting the “conspiracy theory” of “systemic racism” (which he defined as the belief that all institutions in America are deliberately designed with the intent of oppressing nonwhite people). He complained that Whitfield had encouraged “all members of our community to become revolutionaries by becoming antiracists” in an email following the murder of George Floyd—and had recommended some overly radical texts.

Whitfield says he received overwhelming support from the community. Then, earlier this week, he was put on administrative leave. He says he was given no reason for the suspension except that it was “in the best interest of the district” and was given no details on what would happen next.

In talking to the media, Whitfield also brought up a previous incident in which a complaint was made about the wedding anniversary photos of himself and his white wife. That complaint was completely unrelated to the “CRT” controversy and was made in 2019, shortly after he took the position. (There is also precisely zero evidence that whoever made the complaint about the photos was also part of the anti-“CRT” backlash.) The Washington Post, whose initial report suggested that the complaint was connected to the dispute, has issued a correction:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the date a parent complained about Principal James Whitfield’s social media photos. The complaint was made in 2019. The story has been corrected.

The photos, which the district has now released, are not just of Whitfield hugging his wife; while they are certainly not even close to being obscene, some of them are quite intimate and a bit, well, steamy. There’s a difference between hugging and making out.

Was the upset parent who claimed that this is not how a school principal should present himself to the community “triggered” by interracial sexuality—or simply being puritanical? Who knows. People do get puritanical in pretty ridiculous ways, especially when it comes to educational settings, with no racial angle whatsoever. In the 1990s, before the social media, there was an incident in which a university employee was told to remove from his desk a photo of his wife on a beach in a bikini because some people thought it was inappropriate. My mother, who teaches piano, once had a parent complain about an art album lying on the coffee table in the room where she gives lessons, which contained some Renaissance nudes.

In this case, the photos were on Whitfield’s personal Facebook page, not in a work setting. But the social media blur the lines between public and private.

Should Whitfield have been asked to remove the photos? No. Should he have been suspended? We don’t have all the facts. What we do know is that the story was egregiously misreported. The initial account misstated the date of the complaint about the photo, wrongly implied that it was linked to the complaints about “CRT,” and gave a misleading description of the photo—all in a way that suggested a clearcut racist incident. Then, when the errors were corrected and the facts turned out to be much more complex, the narrative changed to “but it still has to be racial.” It’s because of things like this that many people have issues with “anti-racism” in its current form.