Critical race theory.

Those three words can ignite a passionate discussion among both supporters and opponents of the concept. Dr. Ricky Jones, however, doesn’t think the debates are really about the intellectual and social movement despite it grabbing headlines for much of the past year as more than two dozen states have legislation proposed to ban the teaching of it.

Jones sees the controversy as following a pattern of attempts to reject the teaching of Black studies.

“Black studies has been a resistance movement to balance the scales of justice,” says Jones, professor and chair of the University of Louisville’s Department of Pan-African Studies. “Race and racism are foundational to how America was developed. If we can’t honestly discuss that, we have a problem.”

Jones is one of Wofford College’s guest speakers for Black History Month, and he’ll give a lecture titled “Black Studies and the Critical Race Theory Lie” at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 16 via Zoom. Register here.

Jones has dedicated his career to these discussions.

He transferred to Morehouse College after beginning college at the U.S. Naval Academy with plans of enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps. Years later, he realizes he had a “healthy disregard for authority.”

While at Morehouse, he appreciated the legacy of the men who studied on the campus before him and embraced his enjoyment of discussion and reading. Dr. Tobe Johnson, a longtime professor and chair of the college’s political science department, inspired Jones to pursue a career in academia.

After Morehouse, Jones attended the University of Kentucky. He became the second African American to earn a Ph.D. in political science from the university. While there, he never encountered Black faculty or other Black Ph.D. candidates.

“I was alone and that made me acutely aware of these schisms,” Jones says.

That experience and a sense of responsibility to serve contributed to his desire to address racism.

“I’m a kid from public housing with a Ph.D.,” Jones says. “That doesn’t happen a lot.”

In addition to teaching Pan-African studies, he writes a column for the Louisville Courier-Journal and the USA Today Network. He also hosts the “Ricky Jones Show,” a radio show and podcast on iHeart Media. He’s taking a break from the radio show while writing his third book, “Colin, Confederates and Con-Artists: Race, Sport and American Lies.”

Jones says writing the column and hosting the radio show allows him to share thoughts more frequently and broadly than traditional academic writing.

“People don’t want to sit down and read books, and our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter,” Jones says. “A 500-to-700-word column is more approachable.”

Jones’ inbox often has messages from people disagreeing with his stance on race relations. There are occasionally threats and attacks against his family. It doesn’t slow him down, though.

“Hate mail doesn’t bother me,” Jones says. “It fuels me.”