JACKSON • The Mississippi Senate on Friday passed what was advertised as an anti-critical race theory bill but, which in practice, would change very little if anything about what is taught in public schools.
Senate Bill 2113 passed the body 32-2 after all of the Black lawmakers walked out of the chamber while the vote was being recorded. Sens. David Blount and Hob Bryan were the only two Democratic lawmakers who voted against the bill.
The bill forbids public schools from forcing students to agree “that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or nationality is inherently superior or inferior," which is not what proponents of critical race theory describe is the aim of the theory.
The legislation does not define what critical race theory is, does not list any penalties for teachers who violate the law and does not actually ban educators from teaching anything.
Democratic senators criticized the legislation as unnecessary and said it would create problems for public school teachers who want to teach Mississippi’s true history, which has been marred by racial injustice.
“My question is why is this bill necessary?” Democratic Sen. David Jordan of Greenwood asked.
The author of the bill, Republican Sen. Michael McLendon of Hernando, declined a request from the Daily Journal on Thursday to define critical race theory. When asked by Senate colleagues during floor debate, he would not offer a definition.
“There are so many different definitions of what it is,” McLendon said during debate Friday.
McLendon also said the purpose of the bill was not to prevent the teaching of any part of history.
Critical race theory originated in various fields of academia and holds that racism is embedded in institutions like legal systems and other policies, often without any conscious intent by the people who work in those systems. Supporters believe it describes how racially disparate outcomes continue to exist in many areas of American life.
Many conservative lawmakers have increasingly used the term to describe interpretation of history as well as contemporary political rhetoric that they claim emphasize "white guilt" or undermine traditional narrative of American history.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who has made improving public education a core goal of his, declined to speak to the Daily Journal as he was leaving the Senate chamber.
The bill now heads to the House, where it will likely be referred to the House Education Committee. Representatives will have the option to take up the Senate bill as early as next week.
Both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves have criticized critical race theory and vowed to prohibit the academic framework from being taught in public schools.