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Harmful compassion


WORLD Radio - Harmful compassion

A Minnesota lawyer challenges proposed legislation mandating ethnic studies starting in kindergarten

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Up next: teaching about race in public schools.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is touting a bill that requires schools to teach ethnic studies starting in kindergarten.

But a woman from Minneapolis recently testified against it and her comments went viral. Here’s part of what Kofi Montzka told Minnesota lawmakers:

KOFI MONTZKA: You may ask, ‘Why in the world would a black person speak against ethnic studies?’ Because not everything that sounds good is good.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s not good, Montzka said, because it tells kids of color that they are oppressed and systemically disadvantaged.

MONTZKA: I’m sick of everyone ignoring the progress we’ve made in this country pretending like it’s 1930. We used to have a race-based system. We got rid of it, and now you’re all trying to bring it back.

Kofi Montzka is an attorney and the mother of three boys. She joins us now. Kofi, thank you for joining us.

MONTZKA: Thank you.

REICHARD: When you said that this legislation is trying to bring back a race-based system, what did you mean by that?

MONTZKA: Well, the law differentiates between white people and people of color a lot, like I was shocked when I read it. You know, it talks about white people have it fine, but people of color are harmed by schools. White people are chronically favored in institutions and people of color are disadvantaged. They talk about stratification in this world based on on race, our legal system used to have a stratification based on race, and we don't have that anymore. And they're basically trying to make kids believe that we're living, they're living under Jim Crow when they're not.

REICHARD: Let’s talk about critical race theory. This legislation does seem to be injected with critical race theory, which has been a growing trend in many states. You’ve spoken out against critical race theory as well. What’s the problem with it?

MONTZKA: Well, it pits people against each other and causes a lot of unnecessary division. I wouldn't care about division if White people were truly oppressing us, then I would fight back and I wouldn't care about the division. But this causes an unnecessary division. It tells black kids that they're victims, and there's no reason to try. I can't help but think we've had an increase in carjackings with young kids of color. And I just I wonder if I would do the same thing, if I grew up under a system where I was told that you that you won't make it. I mean, I grew up I had a mom who was on crack. You know, my mom, my sister, and I lived in a one bedroom unit, we all shared a bed, I didn't think anything of it. We, you know, I had a lot of other trials as a kid. But I would go to school every day. And I was told by the school that no matter what your race, no matter what happens in society, your trials make you stronger, and you can make it, and the kids today are getting the opposite message. So I think CRT is bad.

REICHARD: Kofi, I know that you’re a Christian, a believer. How does your faith inform you about racial curriculums and what we should teach kids about race?

MONTZKA: Well, the Bible says it's the you know, your character and how you act and what you do, your fruit that matters. And with CRT, it seems like it's just your outward appearance. If you're white, you're born a racist, you're racist because your ancestors were racist, you're benefiting from it. And so just based on the color of your skin alone, you are bad. It's not based on what you do. And for black people, it just, it seems like like we can't address sin, we can't acknowledge anything they do that that is wrong. If anything happens in this world, it's racism. And we can't actually get at the root of the problem, we can't address that we have in Minneapolis, St. Paul, like 90% of black households are single parent households. We can't address that. All we can do for any of the problems is say racism. And so it's not compassion. These people think they're having compassion, but but it's not a biblical compassion. In the Bible with the woman caught in adultery, you know, Jesus said, who condemns you? And she said, "No, one Lord." And then Jesus said, "Neither do I." So Jesus is compassionate. But then we forget the last part, "Go and sin no more." We're missing that. We can't say that in society today to anybody. And in the end, it's hurting the black community more because we do have more single parent households, and it's just harder to make it but it's increasing in other groups, too, even in the white community, and it just has, has bad consequences.

REICHARD: Let’s talk specifics. Are there any other things in the bill that are harmful to people of color?

MONTZKA: Yeah, there's a part of the bill, this bill is it's terrible on so many fronts, but just a few other things that bothered me that are specifically related to people of color are suspensions. For the entire state of Minnesota, they are removing the ability of schools to suspend the kids. And so so it bothers me because they're lowering the standard, they said, the law is benign on race, it just says removing suspensions. But when I was at the hearing at the House, they specifically said, we're removing suspensions, because more black kids get suspended from schools than white kids. So we're just going to lower the standard for everyone. And I think lowering the bar for everyone, because of us, and everybody knows, it's because of us, it makes us look bad. And it tells black kids that we have very low expectations of them. And they can't behave as good as little white kids. It, it also hurts black kids the most. Because if it's black kids that are getting suspended a lot, and usually from school, from a classroom full of black kids, this teacher is going to have one disruptive black kid, and they're not going to be able to remove that kid and it's going to distract the teacher from teaching all of the other little black kids who are in the class trying to learn. So they act like this stuff is to help us. But really, we are the ones that are hurt the most. And they're not willing to do the hard, nuanced work of figuring out why there are more suspensions of black kids, what can we do to stop that, because in the end, they're going to end up in the criminal justice system, crying racism again, because we didn't figure out how to fix this at an early age. And the other one is they want more teachers of color, so they’re removing all testing to become a teacher in Minnesota, which makes us look dumb. And to me, it's racist on its face to even say that. They said that in the hearing, this is why we're removing this. And you can't help but wonder if the teachers can't pass the test, because we have such low achievement rates for reading and writing for kids of color in Minnesota. So of course, we're not going to be able to compete in the marketplace. And really, if we as people of color want to be thought of as equal, we want to have self-respect and the respect of others. The only way to do that is to live up to the same standards in society as everybody else. There's no substitute for that. None. None at all. And we can do it, we were created equal. And I wonder if people believe that or not? Why do you think you have to lower the bar? It really bothers me.

REICHARD: Okay, I'm gonna open the floor up here. Any other remarks or other observations, Kofi, that you'd like to make?

MONTZKA: Well, I just want people to wake up and not be so dumb. I'm sorry for using such simple language, but not everything that sounds good is good. You've got to dig deeper. And I really want people of color to push back against this because it truly hurts us more. So Frederick Douglass has this speech that he gave right before slaves were freed and it's called 'What shall be done with the slaves if emancipated?' So the slaves weren't even emancipated yet and he says "Our answer is do nothing with them. Mind your business, and let them mind theirs. Your doing with them is their greatest misfortune, they have been undone by your doings and all they ask now and really need at your hands is just that you leave them alone." But at the end of this, he gives the most hopeful message, he says, "Just treat the black man as an equal and a brother." And if yeah, if we could, if Frederick Douglass is saying we could make it back then when there was still slavery in place, then we can make it now.

REICHARD: We’ve been hearing from Kofi Montzka, who is part of Takechargemn.com, an organization to improve lives of people of color through faith, family, and education. Kofi, thanks so much!

MONTZKA: Thank you.

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