The Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

People reading controversial Senate Bill 2113, which all 54 African American members of the Mississippi Legislature voted against, will not find the money phrase banning critical race theory until the very bottom of the final page of the bill.

In nondescript type, running along the bottom of the page is “ST: Critical Race Theory: prohibit.” That is the only mention of CRT.

The phrase cannot be found in the summary at the top of the legislation. It is not in the text of the three-page bill.

Because of the unusual way in which the legislation was crafted, there is a real chance that the phrase “Critical Race Theory: prohibit” will not be placed in Mississippi’s legal code. Or put another way, there is a possibility that the teaching of critical race theory will not be banned at all even after Gov. Tate Reeves does what is expected and signs the bill into law.

“You can teach critical race theory because it is not in the text of this bill,” proclaimed Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, the House minority leader, who is also an attorney.

READ MORE: Despite objection from every Black Mississippi lawmaker, anti-critical race theory bill passed to governor

Each year the publisher of Mississippi’s code (or laws) includes new laws passed by the Legislature. That updating process is far from exact. There is a joint legislative committee that oversees the code, but the members seldom meet, normally leaving the work of crafting the updates to the editors and legal staff.

Perhaps the editors will seek out the short title — “Critical Race Theory: prohibit” — and incorporate those words in the code. But based on precedent, there is a good chance they will not.

Incorporated into the code might just be what the bill actually says, which is no university, community college or public school “shall direct of compel students to affirm that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or that individuals should be adversely treated based on such characteristics.”

Supporters of critical race theory say that is not what critical race theory does. Instead, CRT explores the impact of racism on the nation, especially on the legal system.

Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, who presented the bill last week to the House during more than six hours of sometimes emotional debate that exposed old and current racial wounds, said that the teaching of critical race theory would be prohibited if the teaching adhered to the tenets spelled out in the bill of making someone feel inferior or superior.

When asked if the only critical race theory class in the state at the University of Mississippi Law School would have to be canceled if the bill became law, Hood said, “That will be up to Ole Miss.”

The presenters of the bill in both the House and Senate left more questions unanswered than answered during debate.

Sen. Michael McLendon, R-Hernando, the primary author of the legislation, said he heard from many of his constituents who had learned of critical race theory “on the national news” and wanted to ensure it would not be taught in Mississippi.

So if the bill does so little or at the least is exceedingly vague, why did Black House members spend such an inordinate amount of time trying to kill it last week? Why did all 14 African American senators walk out in an unprecedented move before the vote on the bill earlier this session?

READ MORE: Every Black Mississippi senator walked out as white colleagues voted to ban critical race theory

Black legislators argued the bill sent the wrong message, perhaps even causing teachers to be hesitant to teach the state’s history that is ripe with racial strife. When Black members tried to amend the bill to ensure the continued teaching of the state’s history, including all its warts, the white majority blocked those efforts.

Perhaps the more appropriate question is why did legislative leaders spend so much time and energy passing such a vague bill that might not accomplish the stated goal?

Some say it is politics. Anti-CRT sentiment has been a big talking point in the conservative media.

Both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Reeves, who could be squaring off next year in a Republican gubernatorial primary, spoke of the evils of critical race theory last year during the Neshoba County Fair.

“This bill is only before us so that some of you can go back home and have something to campaign on,” said Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville.

While it might be questionable whether the critical race theory ban will be in the legal code, the language still could be found on the screens in the House and Senate as the proposal was debated. The language also was on the legislative calendar and in the legislative computer system.

So legislators could say they were voting to ban critical race theory even if the state’s legal code never reflects that vote.

READ MORE: Inside Mississippi’s only class on critical race theory

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.