Michigan House votes to ban 'race or gender stereotyping' in curriculum; Dems boycott vote

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House saw heated debate Tuesday before approving a bill that would ban state curriculum from featuring the promotion of "race or gender stereotyping."

Republicans, who supported the proposal, contended it would combat bias in classrooms and advance toleration. However, Democrats — who refused to participate in the vote — said their GOP counterparts were trying to "whitewash" history and change how the subject is taught.

"Facts are facts," Rep. Abraham Aiyash, D-Hamtramck, said of the country's past. "And if it makes you uncomfortable, so be it. But that doesn't change the facts."

The bill passed 55-0. The vote came amid national debate over how educators and policymakers should handle the subject of race. Critical Race Theory, an academic framework found in legal studies and academia that examines history through the lens of racism, has spurred controversy and confusion in Michigan and around the country for months.

Rep. Andrew Beeler

The bill the House approved on Tuesday doesn't specifically mention Critical Race Theory. The proposal's sponsor, Rep. Andrew Beeler, R-Port Huron, said the topic means too many different things to too many different people. Instead, Beeler's bill would prevent state curriculum from including ideas that "all individuals comprising a racial or ethnic group or gender hold a collective quality or belief" or that "individuals are born racist or sexist by accident of their race or gender."

The bill also says curriculum can't feature the belief that "individuals bear collective guilt for historical wrongs committed by their race or gender."

Beeler said a yes vote on the bill meant "taking a firm stance against the absurd claim that individuals bear collective guilt for historical wrongs committed by those who happen to share their race or gender."

"We either combat racism and sexism in our classrooms, or, I believe, we condemn ourselves to repeating the mistakes of the past," Beeler said during a speech on the House floor.

The GOP lawmaker said the idea for the bill came from constituents who had horror stories about their children's experiences.

Rep. Kyra Bolden

Rep. Kyra Bolden, D-Southfield, spoke against the bill, saying her African-American great-grandfather was shot, castrated, dragged behind a truck and thrown in a river in the 1930s. His death certificate said he accidentally drowned, Bolden said. Stories like that one should be told, she said.

"Things like this happened," she continued. "It happened to my family. Slavery happened. Lynching happened. Red-lining happened. Government-sanctioned violence based on race happened.

"I, too, would like to stick my head in the sand and pretend it didn't, but I can't because it happened to my family and many other families in this nation."

But Rep. John Damoose, R-Harbor Springs, said people should read the bill and ignore the "rhetoric" about it. The proposal is about people being judged by the content of their character and not their race or gender, he argued.

"This bill, when honestly considered, represents the heart of the entire civil rights movement," Damoose said.

In an unusual move, Democrats refused to vote on the bill after they said Republican leadership declined to let state Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, a Black woman, speak on the House floor about it.

Gideon D'Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Jason Wentworth, R-Farwell, said Democrats had submitted the names of five members who wanted to speak on the proposal and Johnson's name wasn't included.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Jennifer Chambers contributed.