Ricky L. Jones
Every time I was pulled into the countless, nauseating discussions about critical race theory (CRT) in 2021, I did my level-best to redirect the conversation. I’d always offer some variation of, “This whole anti-CRT movement isn’t really about CRT. It’s a canard. Most of these people don’t even know what CRT is. In reality, this is the latest right-wing attack on legitimate education about race and racism. This is another mendacious attempt to maintain white supremacy and education is a major battleground.”
In one conversation at Louisville’s Muhammad Ali Center, we discussed America’s enduring educational racial achievement gap. I said, “Of course a huge percentage of Black kids lag in American education. It’s not designed for them. They don’t see themselves in leadership, instructors, or curriculum. Everything centers on whiteness. You want to say our kids are less intelligent because they do poorly on your tests? Really? I could design a test right now that very few, if any, white people in this city could pass.”
Watch the conversation
Lo and behold, my fellow troublemaking Courier-Journal columnist Joe Gerth called me on it. He reached out and said he’d like to take the challenge. “Oh, Joe,” I thought. “Here we go. Well, school’s in.”
So, I sat down one day, constructed the 25-question “Gerth Test”, and sent it off to my man Joe. It wasn’t a BS, clown or pop culture test. It wasn’t about rappers, reality stars or sports. It rejected the idea that all Black people are good for is bouncing, throwing and catching balls or singing and dancing a jig. No, no. The “Gerth Test” was serious. The passing grade was 60%.
Well, poor Joe failed . . . miserably. He got 5 out of 25 correct. That’s a mind-blowing 20%!
Read about Joe Gerth’s test experience:A Black professor told me a white person couldn’t pass this test. Here’s what happened
I know what some of you are thinking, “I hate Joe Gerth! Of course, he failed. He’s an idiot!”
To be sure, there are a lot of people who don’t like Gerth. It’s easy to understand why. He isn’t a warm, fuzzy or neutral fellow. He doesn’t try to make everybody happy. The man actually stands for something. He’s unfailingly thoughtful and curious. He pokes, prods, chides, provokes and even insults as he bravely fights it out in his columns. They’re fire! That’s why I call him “Smokin’ Joe.” I love it!
On matters of race, Gerth is solid. From Confederate statues to structural racism to education, he usually gets it right. What I’m trying to gently say is, Smokin’ Joe is one of the best our white brothers and sisters in the area have to offer when discussing race. And he got five questions correct. FIVE!
I know what you’re thinking now. “I hate you too, Ricky Jones! You’re a part of the problem. You make everything about race. You hate white people. You’re the biggest racist I’ve ever met! You probably made your test so obscure and difficult that nobody could pass it just to prove a point!”
Here’s the reality. I didn’t put that much thought into the “Gerth Test.” I constructed it in about a half-hour or so. Any high school or college student who had taken a decent introductory Black Studies class could pass it. Joe Gerth didn’t fail because he’s an idiot. He failed because, as Carter G. Woodson said, he’s been miseducated.
Smokin’ Joe failed because he’s a product of an American educational system that not only centers on whiteness, but largely excludes everyone else. He failed for the same reason most of you will if you take it. You simply haven’t been taught anything substantive about Black people in your educational experience and your social experience has conditioned you to demonize and disregard them.
Here’s an important admission. Not only will most white people in the city fall short on the “Gerth Test,” most Black people will fail as well. Why? The answer is obvious. They’ve been educated in the same racially flawed structures as whites and come out the other side just as damaged. Unfortunately for them, that has led to untenable levels of ignorance, self-loathing, and sad inferiority complexes.
There is no easy way out of this. We now live in the most multiracial, multicultural, and multiethnic America we’ve ever known but our educational systems don’t reflect that. Neither do they deliver accurate accounts of multiple races contributions to the forward flow of history. Problematically, not only are our students miseducated, but most of our teachers can’t help because they are also products of the same system. They can’t teach what they don’t know.
We and our children are in trouble.
More from Ricky L. Jones:Beware! ‘Very fine’ racists may be coming to a Louisville school board near you
It’ll take serious multigenerational work to solve this if people really want to. The first step is admitting white supremacy in American education is a problem. On second thought, the first step is for you to take the “Gerth Test” and admit how big of a problem YOU have. Let me and Joe Gerth know how you do.
To take the test click here.
Dr. Ricky L. Jones is professor and chair of the Pan-African Studies department at the University of Louisville. His column appears bi-weekly in the Courier-Journal. Visit him at rickyljones.com.