To the Editor:
As an African American educator, supporter of critical race theory, and a Ph.D. student immersed in the study of CRT, I was eager to read the article, “Critical Race Theory and the Fight Over History Standards: 6 Things to Know” ( Jan. 19, 2022). However, my enthusiasm turned to disappointment when I saw the article’s use of the term “bête noire.”
Today, the idiom is commonly used to mean “black beast”— or something that is strongly disliked or feared. Merriam-Webster defines the idiom as someone or something “strongly detested or avoided.” That definition is offensive, given that the term equates black with something to be avoided. Sadly, the definition of this term underscores that bête noire is an offensive term. Its meaning reinforces messages of superiority, while making people of color feel subordinated.
I encourage you to read Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education by Edward Taylor, David Gillborn, and Gloria Ladson-Billings. The book illuminates the complexities of race and racism and how political, educational, and legal structures support the established power system that reinforces that “racism is normal in American society.” The uninformed use of the term “bête noire” constitutes a microaggression against your readers of color. According to Peggy Davis, a professor of law at New York University School of Law, “Microaggressions are stunning, automatic acts of disregard that stem from unconscious attitudes of white superiority and constitute a verification of Black inferiority.”
I feel an apology is required. Anything less avoids the necessary conversations in schools about the pervasiveness of racism and unintentional subtleties. As educators, we must commit to push our knowledge about race in this country so that we can resist the oftentimes unconscious oppression that defines the nonwhite experience.
Sharon P. Wilson
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2022 edition of Education Week as The Hidden (or Unconscious) Racism of Words