Democrats of the Mississippi State House of Representatives say they are considering taking legal action against SB 2113. The bill would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 public schools and in the state’s public universities.
Even though the academic theory is currently not taught in Mississippi schools, the controversial bill passed last week after more than six hours of debate from the floor. It passed 75-43 with three white members- two Democrats and an independent – joining all Black lawmakers in voting against it. The bill now goes to Governor Tate Reeves for his signature.
Representative Chris Bell says the bill makes it hard to attract outsiders to visit or do business in Mississippi.
“If Mississippi wants to go forward in this world’s economy and be a leader like we say we want to do, then we’ve got to stop this,” he said. “This is not going to bring a single business to Mississippi. It’s not going to bring a single tourist here.”
It’s still not clear what the results of the three-page bill will be if it is signed into law. The bill’s title says it prohibits the teaching of critical race theory, but that phrase is nowhere in the legislation. Without it being placed in the Mississippi legal code, there’s a chance that it still won’t be banned in classrooms. The fear, some Democrats say, is that the language of the bill is vague and will affect the way educators teach history. Currently, the University of Mississippi School of Law is the only place where a class on CRT is taught.
Rep. Zakiya Summers says the verbiage sends a clear picture.
“The language means something to me,” she said. “You cannot pass a bill like this and continue the rhetoric that we can all work together.”
Representative Willie Bailey of Greenville says he feels the CRT bill has now become a political talking point for Republicans.
“This bill is only before us so that some of them can go back home and have something to campaign on,” he said.
Critical race theory has been taught on the university level for years. It is an examination of the impact of systemic racism on the nation. Both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Reeves started speaking about CRT months ago with Reeves saying he was prepared to allocate funds from the 2023 state budget to fight it.
Black legislators offered several amendments before the final vote to ensure that schools didn’t have to fear losing state funding. Republicans voted down those proposals.
Rep. Bryant Clark’s father, Robert, was the first Black person elected to the Mississippi Legislature in 1967. He agrees that the bill will be used as election-time fodder.
“In Mississippi, certain things should be off limits. Certain things are hitting below the belt. Certain things should not be brought up. This bill turns my stomach. I know it turns some of y’all’s stomachs as well,” he said. “We are debating an issue that does not exist in Mississippi. It’s an insult to the citizens of the state to tell them we have to throw this issue out to you in order to win elections.”
In January, every Black lawmaker at the capital walked out when the bill passed in the Senate. If Reeves signs it into law, Mississippi will join at least 14 other states in banning or otherwise limiting critical race theory in public schools.