State lawmakers heard Tuesday from a staffer on a new state commission who advised them to oppose “race neutral” policies if they want to make Maine fairer and more just, a position commonly supported by advocates of Critical Race Theory (CRT).
“Structural racism floods institutions in Maine and across our country. It’s the driving force behind many of the disparities we see all around us,” said Morgan P. Urqhart, acting policy and communications director for the Permanent Commission on Racial, Indigenous, and Tribal Populations (PCRITP).
“Policies that are race neutral will ultimately maintain existing disparities,” she said. “Disparate impacts require disparate solutions.”
The idea that laws should not be race neutral — but should instead treat people differently according to the color of their skin or their ethnicity — is central to progressive policies inspired by CRT.
In his famous book advancing Critical Race Theory, “How to Be and Anti-Racist,” Ibram X. Kendi stated the PCRITP’s philosophy in starker terms: “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past
discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
Proponents of CRT-based policies argue that race neutral or “color blind” policies that treat people the same regardless of their skin color are in fact racist. And because treating people the same regardless of their skin color is racist, they argue, laws should treat people differently according to their skin color in order to be anti-racist.
Established in 2019, the PCRITP received funding to grow its staff and mission when Gov. Janet Mills signed LD 1034 into law in 2021. Part of PCRITP’s mission was embodied in another bill, which Mills also signed into law in 2021, that now enables lawmakers to request “racial impact statements” from the commission for any legislative proposal.
Much as a bill’s fiscal note shows the cost of a given bill, each racial impact statement is “an assessment of the potential impact that legislation could have on historically disadvantaged racial populations.”
In Maine, heated debate around the role CRT should play in public institutions has mostly focused on public schools.
But Tuesday’s PCRITP presentation, along with other documents the PCRITP has produced, show that controversial CRT theories are now embedded in Maine’s legislative process and government.
“The Permanent Commission represents a broad cross section of people most impacted by racial harm and colonization who have been excluded from policy making throughout Maine’s history,” Urqhart told lawmakers.
“It’s primary role is to identify and eliminate systemic injustices embedded in the state’s infrastructure, policies, and practices,” she said.
She said the solution couldn’t be limited to just legislation.
New laws can provide relief in the short term, but they “generally are embedded in and reactive to the racist structures in our current systems.”
“We need to reexamine those systems and how they intersect,” she said.
You can read the PCRITP’s 2022 annual report here: