Two bills that limit classroom discussions on systemic racism fail, activists anticipate their return
A pair of proposals that would restrict classroom conversations around so-called “divisive concepts” failed to pass this legislative session. However, activists are concerned they may return in 2024.
House Bill 7 and Senate Bill 247 are commonly called the “Anti-Divisive Concepts” bills or the “Erasing History” bills. These bills would prohibit certain state agencies, local boards of education and institutions of higher education from teaching divisive concepts to students, employees and contractors.
While the definition of divisive concepts varies, they are often considered hot button issues regarding race, sex, nationality or religion. These topics include racial superiority or inferiority, forms of systemic oppression and white privilege, among others.
State legislators define divisive concepts as any topic that suggests the following:
- Any race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin is inherently superior or inferior
- Individuals should be discriminated against or adversely treated solely because of their race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin
- The individual moral character of an individual is solely determined by their race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin
- Solely by virtue of an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin, the individual is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously
- Individuals by virtue of race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin
- Fault, blame or bias should be assigned to a race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin, solely on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin
- Any individual should be asked to accept, acknowledge, affirm or assent to a sense of guilt, complicity or a need to apologize solely on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity or national origin
Several state activists including ACLU of Alabama publicly criticized the pieces of legislation. Dillon Nettles is a policy analyst with ACLU. Nettles said the bills keep Alabamians uneducated on relevant issues of discrimination.
“It seeks to sanitize and whitewash U.S. history by requiring a really inaccurate and incomplete narrative about the country,” he said. “Lawmakers are really trying to prevent students from having open dialogue about racism and, certainly, the violence that has characterized this nation’s history.”
Supporters of the bill argued students should never feel guilty or ashamed of their identity in the classroom. Nettles agreed. However, he said the bill does more than prevent discomfort in the classroom.
“I don’t think that any of us disagree,” he said. “No student [and] no individual [wants] to feel guilty about their identity and who they are, but what [lawmakers] also really fear is that an educated population will challenge the status quo and make it even harder for these other efforts to come to fruition. In future years, Alabamians [and], we hope, future lawmakers become more aware of the interlocking of issues of race, class and gender equity.”
In addition to prohibiting classroom discussions of divisive concepts, HB7 and SB247 would prohibit certain public entities from hosting courses, trainings and orientations on these topics. These entities, including public schools and colleges, would also not be able to apply and accept grants, federal funding or private funding for teaching these topics.
Nettles argued these bills are a form of censorship in schools.
“Racism and our racist history continues to drive the inequity we see today, and that is across the board in our education system and healthcare,” he said. “There’s been an acknowledgment by lawmakers that it’s better to not talk about it than to have to find real solutions.”
HB7 was introduced this January and SB247 was introduced in April. HB7 was sponsored by Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville), while SB247 was sponsored by Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road). Both bills were read twice in their house of origin but were indefinitely postponed on May 31. This year’s legislative session ended on June 6.
However, Nettles said he believes the bills could return next year.
“I believe they will come back, unfortunately… We will continue to fight them,” he said.
These bills are also not the first of their kind. Similar “divisive concept” proposals were introduced to Alabama’s House and Senate last session. Both bills were seeking to be read a third time before the session ended.
More information on either bill can be found on the Alabama Legislature’s website.