Now, I usually mind my own business when I overhear a conversation, but this wasn't the case last week in the swimming pool at the YMCA waiting for my water aerobics class to begin. I was slowly warming up and idly listening to a conversation between a man and woman treading water nearby. I wouldn't say I "know" them but they, too, are regulars.
Then I heard her ask him: "What is this 'critical race theory?'"
And he began to reply: "It teaches kids that from the time they are born that they are guilty."
I actually felt my blood boil at what I considered a gross misinterpretation. I charged through the 10 feet of water that were separating us.
"Wait! Wait!" I said. "That's not what it is at all."
He turned toward me and firmly stated, "You may have your opinion but I am talking."
For a second I actually thought it might escalate into a shouting match, something entirely out of my comfort zone. So I backed off and chose an exercise spot a bit distant as the class began. But I could hear the rest of his answer, an extremely negative and incorrect account of critical race theory as I understand it.
I was upset. Which actually was good for my energy level as I jogged and kicked and vigorously pushed and pulled the water-resistant dumbbells. And I thought during the entire class about what had just happened.
This was a man I'd spoken to many times in the past. He and his wife had recently taken a scuba diving trip to Tahiti, and I'd told him about my diving experiences in the Red Sea many years ago. We'd also commented about the teachers and the classes as they resumed earlier this year.
And, although the Y should not be a place for political discussion, I'd heard him expound during the recall election on how he was all for it and go on to criticize Gov. Gavin Newsom. Which was dismaying but had not sent me into a fury.
Now, I had 45 minutes of exercise time to consider what made me so angry that I had thrust myself into their conversation. What had I hoped to gain from it? And now what, if anything, should I do? I made my decision.
When class was over, as everyone dried off and packed up, I grabbed my belongings and approached the guy.
"Excuse me," I said, and he looked up. "I want to tell you I am sorry."
He smiled slightly and mumbled something like, "That's OK."
"I should not have interrupted you," I continued. "And I am sure we have things in common that we can agree on."
"We both like water aerobics," I said.
Then he laughed pleasantly. I responded in kind and walked away.
My understanding of critical race theory (CRT) is that it includes the lives of Black residents in American history and the impact of slavery from the beginning. This sounds quite different from my education in the 1950s. It was relatively recently, upon reading Jill Lepore's "These Truths: The History of the United States," that I received a broader view of our nation's founding and early years.
But I am aware of the great divide in America of facts and alternative facts so I went to good old Merriam-Webster -- online because it had to be up to date -- and found the following definition:
Critical race theory: "a group of concepts (such as the idea that race is a sociological rather than biological designation, and that racism pervades society and is fostered and perpetuated by the legal system) used for examining the relationship between race and the laws and legal institutions of a country and especially the United States."
Learning the complete history of our country and its institutions and how and why laws were passed sounds like the definition of education to me. And I don't feel any guilt due to the actions of my ancestors, only sadness for the injustices.
These issues, historical and current, sound like a good thing to explore and discuss -- without interrupting each other -- so we can move forward in a better way.
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, "Valley Views," appears on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.