Film condemning critical race theory in Utah schools musters muted response
Those responding to the new film backed by Utah Sen. John Johnson that targets critical race theory aren’t going overboard or out of their way in offering their two cents.
Asked for her response, Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association, which represents teachers and other education officials, pointed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and teachers as a more pressing concern.
“We look to our elected representatives to support our public schools during this trying time rather than chase after nonexistent conspiracy theories that call into question the professional integrity of our dedicated educators,” she said. “Our students deserve to learn accurate and honest history to help us all build a better future.”
The film, “Identity Marxism: The Rise of Critical Race Theory,” argues that critical race theory has seeped into the curriculum in Utah schools, bolstering the notion of an oppressor class, mainly white people, and an oppressed class, people of color. “The history of this nation is being challenged and prosecuted for being systematically racist,” says the film’s narrator.
Johnson served as executive producer for the film, putting up a large share of the funding needed to create it. Brandon Beckham directed and produced the film.
Photo supplied, Utah Senate
In the film, a multitude of speakers interviewed — Utah parents, Natalie Cline from the Utah Board of Education and others — speak alarmingly of critical race theory, and the film uses anecdotal incidents to bolster the case that it’s in schools, though that idea is disputed by many.
It offers anecdotes about an incident in the Granite School District in Salt Lake County and another at Mountain Ridge High School in Herriman.
In a third anecdote, Weber State student Maude Beckman says in the film that critical race theory seeped into a class she took at the Ogden university when a professor asserted that white privilege “was a thing” and wouldn’t allow counterarguments against the notion.
Weber State, incidentally, has come under fire from some Black students, who say they have faced discrimination at times at the school.
Weber State spokesperson Allison Hess, asked to comment on the new film, said this: “The film draws some broad conclusions about the university by relying on a single anecdotal source. As part of a well-rounded academic experience, we explore a variety of social issues about how we engage with one another. Weber State is committed to creating an environment for the free and open exchange of ideas.”
Rather than a curriculum to teach in the classroom, as seen by critical race theory foes, other academics say critical race theory is a means of trying to understand the evolution of racial norms and attitudes.
“CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people. Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race,” Rashawn Ray and Alexandra Gibbons write in an essay for the Brookings Institute. “Sociologists and other scholars have long noted that racism can exist without racists.”
Whatever the case, Johnson, a professor of data analytics and information systems at Utah State University, feels strongly on the topic and worries about critical race theory. He has been mulling legislation in the current Utah legislative session targeting critical race theory, though he doesn’t think it will pan out.
“I put up a lot of money for (the film),” he said. “That was my role as executive producer.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to clarify John Johnson’s role in the film as executive producer, a chief financial backer. It also corrects the final paragraph, identifying Johnson as executive producer. The update also identifies the film’s producer and director, Brandon Beckham.