Our word of the year is Critical Race. That’s not critical race theory, but critical race. We will explain the distinction and the reason for our selection in a moment.
Before we do, let us list our three other possible choices for this year. They were: Woke — or should that be “still asleep”? Freedom — or should that be “free dumb”? Democracy — or should that be “autocracy”?
Seriously, 2021 was a crazy and convoluted year in which rationality was abandoned, the Big Lie became the purported truth, and personal preferences triumphed over concern for the common good. That’s what caused us to choose critical race as our phrase for the year.
It is not a race to the finish. It is a race for the future. The performance of America and Americans will determine this nation’s condition moving ahead in this 21st century.
The race will not be a 100-yard dash. It will be similar to a pentathlon but comprised of many contests. Major ones will include: competition with China; domestic conflict; climate change; pandemic persistence; and race relations.
Competition with China: As we wrote in a recent blog, “The U.S. and China are in competition on all fronts… The competitive race for global supremacy in this 21st century and beyond is definitely between the U.S. and China.” President Biden’s 3 hour-plus virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, covering a variety of topics, illustrated the range and nature of that competition and conflict.
Experts agree that China’s influence around the globe has grown substantially, and the gap between the U.S. and China vs. the other nations in the world has grown significantly over the past decade or so. They also tend to believe that even though the race is on, there are reasons such as trade and investment ties for these dominant powers to communicate and cooperate, even while they compete.
Domestic Conflict: Unfortunately, the conflict and competition within this nation may be more intractable and difficult to overcome than that from outside our boundaries. Begin with the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. Consider U.S. Rep Paul Gosar’s (R-AZ) anime video of him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and attacking President Joe Biden. Realize that Rep. Lauren Boebert’s (R-CO) bigoted anti-Muslim remarks about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) demonstrate that this is not an isolated incident.
Reflect on the right-wing extremist Proud Boys showing up and threatening to disrupt school board and public health meetings. These are just the tip of the iceberg and ominous signs that what has been a contentious and uncivil conflict could turn into continuing violence and a civil war.
Climate Change: While the political climate has heated up and become an intensely polarized one, the environmental climate has possibly heated up even more rapidly. Look at the events across the United States, the out-of-control wild fires in the West, the flooding in the Southeast, and the unprecedented winds and flooding in the Northeast.
The COP 26 climate summit, convened in Glasgow, produced a number of agreements — developed countries agreeing in principle, for example, to provide some financial support for the consequences of climate change in the developing world— but no firm and enforceable individual commitments to cutting emissions and controlling climate change.
Pandemic Persistence: While climate change continues to advance toward killing much of the planet and millions of its inhabitants, the COVID-19 pandemic has already killed 5 million around the world and over three-quarters of a million in the United States. The majority of those dying in the U.S. today are anti-vaxxers and non-mask wearers. Their resistance harms not only themselves but puts others in peril.
As we move into the winter months, there has been a resurgence in many states and there is a fear that a fifth COVID-19 wave is on the way. Now, with the new Omicron variant emerging from southern Africa and spreading worldwide, the question arises: when or will there be an end to this pandemic and how will we confront and combat the inevitable next one?
Race Relations: Some of the aforementioned issues are of more recent origin; race relations is not. Slavery has been America’s original sin from its founding. Progress has been made in atoning for this sin over the nearly two and one-half centuries of the USA’s existence. But the not-so-great debate about critical race theory being taught in K-12 school classrooms — when it was not being taught — combined with the failure to pass a national voting rights bill, and at least 19 states passing legislation restricting voting rights, shows that more needs to be done.
Add to this the innocent verdict in the shootings by vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which proved that American justice is neither color-blind nor race-neutral. On the other hand, the convictions of three white men for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia suggests that there is still progress being made — albeit slow — in the race relations race.
Competition with China, domestic conflict, climate change, pandemic persistence, race relations. They are some of the major multifaceted components of the critical race that the United States is in today. It is a race that the United States must win for this country to survive as a world-leading democracy and constitutional republic in which we citizens can find ways to work together to craft a “more perfect union.”
This is our theory in 2021. And, that is why “critical race” is our word of the year.
Originally published by the Frank Islam Institute for 21st Century Citizenship. For more information on what 21st century citizenship entails, and to see exemplars from around the world, please visit our website.