Politicians Continue to Lie About Critical Race Theory

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Students line a busy intersection and overpass protesting against a Jefferson County School Board proposal to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history, in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Several hundred students walked out of class Thursday in the fourth straight day of protests in Jefferson County. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) AP

The bottom line is Critical Race Theory is not and will not be taught in public schools. It is a subject for law schools and upper level university classes. It is not what its critics, the vast majority of whom having no idea what it is, say. Most of it, as far as I can tell, isn’t even controversial. The political Right is using it as a foil to rev up their base because they have no ideas of their own on which to run.

This article tells us why Critical Race Theory is “the perfect right wing troll.” It says, “The American right is currently in an utter panic over ‘critical race theory‘ being taught in public schools. On Fox News, there’s been an explosion of hysterical coveragecomplete with contradictory segments where hosts claim they ‘don’t see people for skin color’ before whining that ‘the United States of America elected an African-American as president of the United States’ and ‘the biggest entertainers, the biggest sports stars are African-Americans.’ Republicans who otherwise claim to be defenders of free speech are busy trying to pass laws canceling any kind of talk they deem ‘critical race theory, which, in practice, amounts to bans on talking about historical facts. Across the nation, white parents are crowding school board meetingsmelting down over this ‘critical race theory’ thing they’ve heard so much about. Yet with so many white people across the country in a total freak out over ‘critical race theory,’ it appears few, if any, of them could even explain what it actually is. That’s because, despite what Fox News is telling them, critical race theory — the actual academic framework that was developed in law schools to understand the historical reasons our legal system perpetuates racial inequalities — is not, in fact, being taught to 3rd graders or even 11th graders. Claims otherwise are a complete lie, ginned up by right-wing propagandists who are desperate to keep the GOP base whipped into a racist frenzy.”

We learn, “It is important to note that the fabricated fury over ‘critical race theory’ is a cleverly constructed right-wing troll. Liberals who want to respond with a quick, easily digested rebuttal are instead boxed into a frustrating corner. Because pointing out that critical race theory is not being taught in public schools is a trap, as it could be construed to imply that there’s something wrong with critical race theory. And any straightforward defense of critical race theory implies that schoolchildren are somehow expected to understand graduate school-level academic theories. But in fact, the real issue at hand is that conservatives don’t want white kids to learn even the most basic truths about American history. To understand what’s really going on under all the scare-mongering, it’s important to know that when conservatives talk about ‘critical race theory,’ they aren’t talking about the actual academic framework developed by law professors. Instead, as Sean Illing at Vox explains, ‘conservatives have appropriated critical race theory as a convenient catchall to describe basically any serious attempt to teach the history of race and racism.’ Of course, telling people that you oppose teaching the truth about American history sounds bad. So instead, conservative pundits and Republican politicians use the term ‘critical race theory,’ using the thin justification that the facts teachers are sharing have often been unearthed by people doing academic research within this framework. The word ‘theory,’ in particular, has a long history of setting off poorly educated conservative voters who think it just means ‘not facts’ and don’t know that, in academia, it is used to mean an analytical framework for developing factual information. Think of the hysterics around evolutionary theory, for instance, which many conservatives would dismiss as ‘just a theory,’ not grasping that it was empirically sound. And that’s the crux of it: Schoolchildren aren’t really being taught critical race theory, but critical race theory — the actual framework, not the right-wing scare term — is a legitimate academic pursuit that has turned up important facts that white supremacists of yore have covered up. And it’s those facts — things like the practice of redliningthe truth about what the Confederacy stood forwhat Martin Luther King Jr. really believed, and the history of lynching and events like the Tulsa race massacre — that conservatives want to silence. That is why, for instance, they are so afraid of schools teaching the 1619 Project by the New York Times. Not because, as they falsely claim, it’s inaccurate. No, the real objection underlying all the noise is that the 1619 Project is true. Conservatives want facts, the thing that all people claim they want children to learn, to be replaced with flat-out lies about American history.”

The article continues, “That’s why the feigned umbrage over ‘critical race theory’ is such an effective troll. Responding requires nuance, an explanation of why it’s both false that critical race theory is being taught in schools, but also that the real-world practice of critical race theory is not bad or scary or ‘anti-white.’ Unfortunately, our political discourse doesn’t have much room for nuance, much less lengthy explanations. And so it’s easy to get Republican voters, already wanting to believe that white people are under attack from ‘woke mobs,’ to get all ginned up on conspiracy theories about ‘critical race theory,’ and not look at what the real-world critical race theory actually is, much less the historical facts that Republican politicians want to cover up. While they scare white voters into a panic over their children learning too many details about Jim Crow, Republican legislators are busy passing up draconian restrictions on the right to vote reminiscent of that era of racial segregation. Indeed, the idea that ‘critical race theory’ was just the kind of phrase that would easily scare conservatives can be traced back to the time that Andrew Breitbart was still alive. He and the other editors at Breitbart understood that ‘critical,’ ‘race,’ and ‘theory’ are three words their readers don’t really understand well — but do fear — and smashed together, could be leveraged as a Voltron of racist paranoia. Salon reporter Alex Seitz-Wald found, in 2012, that a search for ‘critical race theory’ on Breitbart ‘returns an astonishing 871 results, over 680 from the past month alone.’ Rarely, if ever, was the term used accurately.”

This article tells us, “As critical race theory has emerged as a central talking point and fundraising tactic for Republicans, Fox News has been flooding the zone and mentioning it at an accelerating pace. A new study from Media Matters for America, a left-leaning nonprofit, found nearly 1,300 mentions of the term over the course of three and-a-half months. The Internet Archive database also found a sharp uptick in segments under the term over the past few years.

Fox News has mentioned “critical race theory” nearly 1,300 times in the past 3.5 months — doubling month over month

According to the article, “Although critical race theory is not part of K-12 education in the US, local squabbles and highly specific campus incidents have been at the heart of Fox’s coverage. The critical race theory segments dovetail with the network’s other big focus in 2021, cancel culture. Unlike when former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were the leaders of the Democratic Party, President Joe Biden has proven more difficult for the network’s most viewed opinion hosts to caricaturize. Critical race theory mentions have grown at a near exponential pace in recent weeks, with Fox personalities mentioning it a record 244 times last week alone, more than the entire month of May and twice as many than for all of March, according to the study.”

This article tells us, “Fox News failed to fully disclose the professional conservative ties of 11 guests featured in numerous segments about the teaching of critical race theory in schools, according to a new report from Media Matters, a liberal watchdog group that monitors conservative media. Fox News hosts introduced guests who oppose critical race theory as concerned parents, teachers and school board members, while downplaying or ignoring their official ties to larger conservative organizations and causes, according to the report. While many of the guests are indeed parents or school officials, the Fox News segments rarely included their professional biographies: among them, Republican strategists and lobbyists, staff of conservative think tanks, and media personalities.”

The article also tells us, “The Media Matters report highlighted guests including Ian Prior, who leads the school board recall effort in Loudoun County, Virginia. In at least 15 separate appearances, Prior was portrayed as a father first, while scant mention was made of his long ties to groups like the National Republican Congressional Committee or his work as communications director for the conservative Super Pac American Crossroads and the Department of Justice under President Donald Trump. A representative for Fox News emailed some examples of its efforts to identify guests, including Prior, who anchor John Roberts identified as a Loudon County parent and founder of FightForSchools.com, a political action committee formed to unseat school board members. Other examples included guests named by Media Matters who Fox news identified as an informal adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign and another as a co-chair for Moms for Liberty Northeast Florida Division. Prior said in an email to NBC News: ‘I worked for Republican organizations and the Department of Justice for approximately 6 years. I’ve been a concerned parents for 8 years and will be for the rest of my life. That is, and always will, be my absolute priority over anything else.’ The report also revealed that Lilit Vanetsyan, a Fairfax County teacher whose fiery speech against critical race theory at a school board meeting went viral this month, is a political activist affiliated with the conservative organization Turning Points USA and a correspondent with the pro-Trump media outlet Right Side Broadcasting Network. On Fox News, she was described simply as ‘one of the teachers who was at that school board meeting.’ “

In this article we learn, “On Capitol Hill, at least 39 Republican senators said history education that focuses on systemic racism is ‘activist indoctrination,’ according to The New York Times. Lawmakers in nearly half the country have used this moment as an opportunity to introduce legislation that seeks to ban schools from teaching that racism is endemic to this country’s institutions. We reached out to 46 lawmakers in 23 states who have either introduced or supported such legislation to ask them: What is critical race theory? How do you define it in your legislation, and what would educators be banned from teaching? Most didn’t respond to requests for comment, but we will update this story with their comments if they figure out what it is they’re trying to ban. As for those who did write back, Idaho State Rep. Wendy Horman told Refinery29 that HB 377, which passed in the Idaho Senate in April, neither defines critical race theory, nor prohibits it from being taught in schools. (The concept did, however, come up during a committee meeting regarding the bill.) ‘There are Democrats and Blacks who also have concerns about CRT, so while the political response is mainly being led by Republicans it is not exclusively true that all Blacks or Democrats support CRT,’ Horman told Refinery29 via email. ‘Although they did not ultimately vote yes, members of both those groups were involved in the discussion and drafting of H377 in Idaho. I see this less as an ideological issue and more as an issue of the humanity that we all share.’ Okay. A representative for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been particularly vocal in the ‘culture wars’ regarding critical race theory, defined the concept as ‘an ideology rooted in identity-based Marxism.’ They added, “No one should be stereotyped based on the color of their skin. It’s appalling that children are being divided into ‘oppressor’ and ‘oppressed’ categories anywhere, and it won’t happen in Florida.’ Sure.” As we can know from previous posts on this blog, that’s a complete lie.

The article continues, “Kentucky State Rep. Joe Fischer, along with 5 other state representatives, pre-filed a bill that would bar Kentucky schools from teaching such concepts as: ‘An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.’ The legislation also bans discussions that suggest that ‘values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs can be assigned to a race or sex,’ and doesn’t allow “advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government.” Got it. Fischer told Refinery29 that the bill does not define critical race theory or ban teaching it in schools. Instead, he said, ‘it prohibits the teaching of 12 specific myths that underlie virtually all race-based or class-based ideologies, including Nazism, Maoism, Marxism, and many others.’ Well, then!” So social studies teachers are banned from teaching their students what Marxism is, what the Nazis believed and why they perpetrated the Holocaust, and why China instituted their agricultural revolution that led to the deaths of millions. We can’t teach students about those aspects of history.

We learn, “In a memo on legislation that seeks to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Pennsylvania schools, State Reps. Russ Diamond and Barbara Gleim cited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘Critical race theory further divides us by making the immutable traits of race and gender a prime factor in how we view others — exactly the opposite of Dr. King’s dream,’ they said. Wow. When reached for comment on HB 952, which prohibits teaching the 1619 Project in public schools, Missouri State Rep. Brian Seitz also cited the late Dr. King. He told me, ‘I boil down Critical Race Theory (you can research its origins) as an attempt to teach that because of one’s race, you are to be labeled either ‘the oppressor’ (because of your skin pigmentation) or ‘the oppressed’ (because of your skin pigmentation).’ Sounds like everyone studied the same fact sheet in preparation for this question. ‘This is RACISM in and of itself, the exact opposite of the values championed by men like Martin Luther King Jr.,’ Seitz added. He said that the 1619 Project is the ‘primary vehicle for this theory’ and is a ‘a blatant attempt to change the foundational principles of our nation, in a march towards socialism.’ Huh. And then there was Tennessee State Rep. John Ragan, who sponsored an amendment to a bill seeking to ban critical race theory in public schools, and simply had this to say: ‘? Please identify the press or media organ you represent.’ Hmmm.” None of those politicians has the first clue about what Critical Race Theory actually is. They are all singing from the same lie.

According to this article, “This summer’s spate of state-level bills aimed at censoring the content of history teaching in public school classrooms—bills that have made much of the supposed double threat of ‘critical race theory’ and the New York Times’ 1619 Project—might seem somewhat random. But in fact, conservative attacks like these on humanities curricula that discuss race and racism in the United States follow a long-established pattern. First, right-wing fears are always more about a vague idea of the content of such curricula than about classroom realities. (In Indiana, suburban parents have been ‘angered‘ by the supposed presence of critical race theory, or CRT—typically a graduate-level elective offered to law students—in their schools, despite the fact that their schools do not teach it.) Second, because activists on the right view the schools as the grease that makes slopes slippery, they tend to use school curricula to talk about a host of related social issues. (Anti-CRT activists lump together everything they don’t like, from Marxism to Black Lives Matter to progressive education, and call it CRT.) And third, these battles have always been waged over the stories that get told about the American past, present, and future. In that sense, the angry right wing is correct: The stakes couldn’t be higher. Earlier battles over curriculum provided the template for today’s anti-CRT, anti–1619 Project political campaigns. In the late 1930s, for instance, activists in right-leaning patriotic groups such as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion warned their fellow Americans about a subversive set of textbooks. The fact that the textbooks written by Columbia professor Harold Rugg were widely popular and had been used for years in schools across America did not matter. The books, conservatives warned, represented an attempt by ‘radical and communistic textbook writers’ to turn American children against America. In reality, the books intended no such thing. Their lead author, Harold Rugg, an engineer turned professor of pedagogy whose intellectual roots lay in the Progressive education movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, took pains to categorically deny his participation in any communist or socialist movement. His vision of a good education, Rugg explained, consisted of ‘young people confronting social conditions and issues squarely and digging to the very roots of our changing culture.’ Rugg hoped his books would lead students to think critically about the most difficult questions in American history, including racism and inequality. In his teachers’ guides, Rugg encouraged teachers always to ask students, ‘What do you think?’ Rugg published a series of historical textbooks that encouraged students to confront the country’s chronic problems of racism and class conflict—problems that loomed large in the collective consciousness during the Depression years, a time of great national stress. In Culture and Education in America (1931), Rugg denounced the ‘exploitative tradition’ in American society. In a middle school textbook, Citizenship and Civic Affairs, he taught American children about ‘the question of equality and classes in America.’ It was a harsh fact of American society and history, according to the book, that some people did not receive a fair reward for their hard work, while others got rich without much work at all. Embedded in those lessons was an idea that terrified conservatives of the 1930s. American children, they feared, would hear that U.S. history was not only a story of greatness but a story of struggle. However, once the anti-Rugg campaign gained momentum among right-wing parents, what the books actually said mattered less than opponents’ stories about them. In Binghamton, New York, for instance, the school superintendent had read the books and liked them. As he told the press in 1940, ‘it’s the kind of book I want my children to have. To say it is subversive is absurd.’ But the books’ reputation eclipsed all chances for reasonable debate. As one opponent declared, ‘I haven’t read the books, but—I have heard of the author, and no good about him.’ To avoid ‘controversy,’ the superintendent pulled them from the district’s schools. Elsewhere, school boards did more than just pull the books from their shelves. In towns from New Jersey to Wisconsin, panicked patriots lit bonfires of the books. Perhaps even worse, as historian Charles Dorn has found, other textbook writers censored themselves in order to avoid Rugg’s fate. The anti-Rugg crusaders, even if they did not know much about the actual Rugg textbooks, narrowed the curriculum and steered children away from any topic that might cause similar outrage.”

The article continues, “The pattern of conservative backlash against progressive education’s approach to teaching social issues was well-established by the 1950s. Self-described patriotic groups like the American Legion and National Council for American Education warned of ‘unpatriotic’ teachers and professors and wrung their hands about the ‘problem of making loyal Americans out of the boys and girls.’ In a number of cases, these pressure groups managed to get textbooks deemed subversive pulled from schools. These groups were among many right-wing organizations that campaigned to purify American history textbooks of supposedly subversive ideas. Concepts identified as offensive included describing segregation as a problem or, in the words of one Florida legislator, touting the ‘superiority of the Negro race.’ In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, conservative groups predictably raged against school integration. But they also campaigned against curricula that would, in their view, upend white privilege and pride. The California far-right publication American Nationalist was typical when it warned against racially egalitarian ideas polluting white children’s minds. One of its pamphlets, which featured a photograph of a young white girl dancing with a Black classmate in Chicago, countered arguments, common among midcentury liberals, that children’s supposedly ‘natural’ lack of hierarchical consciousness around race meant that teachers and curricula had the power to intervene to encourage a new way of thinking in the next generation. This youthful absence of prejudice, the writers argued, proved nothing. ‘It is true, of course,’ the pamphlet explained, ‘that young children normally display no race consciousness until so taught by their parents, but it is also true that they have no sense of honesty, modesty, or even hygiene.’ By the 1970s, backlash against supposedly progressive curriculums had ossified into predictable outcries about unpatriotic content, which often meant targeting material that dignified Black voices. Even if conservative complaints were rote, their activism was literally explosive. In Kanawha County, West Virginia, in 1974, white parents reacted with violent rage to false rumors about the contents of popular textbooks. In this case, a new series of English language arts textbooks had been approved by the state. One school board member, Alice Moore, warned that the books were full of anti-Christian, anti-American, anti-white propaganda and indoctrination.”

According to the article, “These warnings stoked a fire that had been smoldering for decades. For weeks at the start of the 1974–75 school year, outraged parents boycotted the schools and their ‘dirty books.’ Protesters shot and vandalized school buses. They threw firebombs into empty school buildings. They exploded a dynamite bomb at the school district headquarters. Their fury, once again, was only loosely connected to reality. In this case, protesters had circulated flyers at the picket lines, warning that the books were sexually graphic. Opponents also objected to the inclusion of excerpts of work by Black authors such as Eldridge Cleaver and George Jackson. By doing so, the textbooks—one conservative parent told a school board meeting—reduced the English language to ‘the language of the ghetto.’ Outraged white parents took to the streets to defend their children from exposure to such words and ideas. The supposed excerpts about sex were nowhere to be found in the actual textbooks under review. Still, protest leaders such as Alice Moore defended their opposition to Black authors. They were tired—as Moore said—of being called ‘racist’ merely for ‘insist[ing] on the traditional teaching of English.’ When it came to conservative outrage, the actual content of the books did not matter. As one boycott leader explained, ‘You don’t have to read the textbooks. If you’ve read anything that the radicals have been putting out in the last few years, that was what was in the textbooks.’ In addition to the immediate violence and destruction of the boycott, the Kanawha County campaign led to familiar long-term damage. Teachers censored themselves. As one teacher remembered, she and her colleagues were terrified by all the ‘chaos.’ Another teacher remembered checking with her principal before she taught a lesson in biology class about the asexual reproduction of mollusks. She did not want to be accused of warping young minds about sex. Teachers stopped teaching books such as 1984 and Brave New World, on the off chance that someone might find them too controversial.”

The article concludes, “Today’s backlash against the alleged teaching of critical race theory in America’s schools, like these earlier flare-ups over humanities curricula, holds the same potential to curb honest reckonings with the American past and present. As with prior reactionary movements, opponents of CRT maintain that American history is not meant to be merely another set of facts for children to learn. Instead, history must be a well of inspiration, a pure source of greatness from the past. From this perspective, CRT is any dangerous drop of doubt that will contaminate comforting white fantasies about America’s past, present, and future. Classes in subjects that include the history of race and racism might be banned or canceled, due to the chilling effect of the backlash; some schools have already gone there. Even worse, teachers and students may resort to a stultifying self-censorship, avoiding topics that are vitally important precisely because they help students understand the true contours of America’s troubled history. It’s impossible to face history if teachers are always looking over their shoulders. And for those cynically leading the charge against CRT, that’s precisely the point.”

In this May 25, 2021, file photo, a man holds up a sign against Critical Race Theory during a protest outside a Washoe County School District board meeting in Reno, Nev. (Andy Barron/AP)

This article by Professor Areila Gross also discusses why conservatives are attacking CRT. It says, “Twenty-one states have introduced or passed legislation in recent weeks to ban the teaching of ‘critical race theory,’ a school of legal academic thought that most legislators had likely never heard of before this year. These laws get critical race theory wrong, but that’s not really what they’re about, anyway. They’re part of a backlash against movements for racial justice. Their proponents don’t want Americans to adopt policies to address persistent racial inequalities — and to make sure of that, they want to keep Americans from learning our own history. So what is critical race theory? In 1989, a diverse group of legal scholars convened a conference in Wisconsin to address the challenges of a stalled civil rights movement and increasingly conservative courts. They wrote about how the legal system historically created racial hierarchies — and even the notion of race itself. They showed that even seemingly neutral legal structures and policies could perpetuate racial injustice. Over the years, critical race theory has moved out of law schools into other academic disciplines. Still, it’s not something that’s taught in K-12, and most college students will go four years without encountering it. In any case, most of these state laws have nothing to do with critical race theory. Idaho’s law, for example, lists as the object of its ban ‘tenets…often found in critical race theory’ — but it’s just plain wrong. The tenets are: ‘That any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin is inherently superior or inferior; That individuals should be adversely treated on account of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin; That individuals by virtue of their sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by others of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin.’ One generalization it’s easy to make about critical race theory is that it is opposed to racial (or gender or ethnic or religious) hierarchies of any kind. Nor do critical race theorists argue for the kind of individual blame discussed here. The whole point of studying the history of structural racism is to understand how racial inequality can be ‘locked in’ by institutions and systems even without individual racist action in the present.”

We learn, “The Texas bill just signed into law doesn’t mention critical race theory, but uses this same language, which is not surprising, since both are borrowed from Trump’s Executive Order against anti-racism training. The Texas law, however, is even more pernicious, because it suggests that even teaching about the concept that one race is superior or inferior, or that one race should be adversely treated on account of their race — in other words, teaching about the history of racism and of racial discrimination — is barred. That means kids in Texas might not learn that Texans enslaved people of African descent and fought two wars to protect slavery. They might not learn that Texas courthouses in the 1950s had signs reading, ‘Colored Men and Hombres Aqui,’ to enforce segregation. They might not learn about the exclusion of Mexican-Americans from Texas juries, or the lynching of Black men and their white allies.”

Professor Gross writes, “I am a legal historian who writes and teaches about the history of law, slavery, race and racism. I teach a course for undergraduates called Law, Slavery and Race, and I just helped pass a requirement for all law students at my university to take a course on Race, Racism and Law before they graduate. There is no law against critical race theory here in California, but if there were, could these courses survive? Teaching the history of race, racism and law is not about blaming white individuals today for the actions of white individuals in the past. It is we as a nation that must be held collectively accountable for the role of the legal system in creating and upholding racial hierarchies — and we as citizens and lawyers who can help dismantle them. We are giving students the knowledge and tools to do that. And that, I believe, is the real reason for all of these laws. This round in the culture and memory wars is part of a much longer campaign to shut down movements for racial justice, especially when they attract white allies. It’s no coincidence that this rash of laws in 2021 followed the unprecedented multiracial Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, and growing pressure on politicians as well as businesses to address the history of systemic racism. I hope that everyone who cares about freedom, education and equal justice before the law will stand up against these laws that seek to turn back the clock and shut down the teaching of history.”

This article tells us how Christopher Rufo began the lies about CRT to discredit anti-racism training. “Marooned at home, civil servants recorded and photographed their own anti-racism training sessions and sent the evidence to Rufo. Reading through these documents, and others, Rufo noticed that they tended to cite a small set of popular anti-racism books, by authors such as Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. Rufo read the footnotes in those books, and found that they pointed to academic scholarship from the nineteen-nineties, by a group of legal scholars who referred to their work as critical race theory, in particular Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell. These scholars argued that the white supremacy of the past lived on in the laws and societal rules of the present. As Crenshaw recently explained, critical race theory found that ‘the so-called American dilemma was not simply a matter of prejudice but a matter of structured disadvantages that stretched across American society.’ This inquiry, into the footnotes and citations in the documents he’d been sent, formed the basis for an idea that has organized cultural politics this spring: that the anti-racism seminars did not just represent a progressive view on race but that they were expressions of a distinct ideology—critical race theory—with radical roots. If people were upset about the seminars, Rufo wanted them also to notice ‘critical race theory’ operating behind the curtain. Following the trail back through the citations in the legal scholars’ texts, Rufo thought that he could detect the seed of their ideas in radical, often explicitly Marxist, critical-theory texts from the generation of 1968. (Crenshaw said that this was a selective, ‘red-baiting’ account of critical race theory’s origins, which overlooked less divisive influences such as Martin Luther King, Jr.) But Rufo believed that he could detect a single lineage, and that the same concepts and terms that organized discussions among white employees of the city of Seattle, or the anti-racism seminars at Sandia National Laboratories, were present a half century ago. ‘Look at Angela Davis—you see all of the key terms,’ Rufo said. Davis had been Herbert Marcuse’s doctoral student, and Rufo had been reading her writing from the late sixties to the mid-seventies. He felt as if he had begun with a branch and discovered the root. If financial regulators in Washington were attending seminars in which they read Kendi’s writing that anti-racism was not possible without anti-capitalism, then maybe that was more than casual talk.”

The article continues, “As Rufo eventually came to see it, conservatives engaged in the culture war had been fighting against the same progressive racial ideology since late in the Obama years, without ever being able to describe it effectively. ‘We’ve needed new language for these issues,’ Rufo told me, when I first wrote to him, late in May. ‘ ‘Political correctness’ is a dated term and, more importantly, doesn’t apply anymore. It’s not that elites are enforcing a set of manners and cultural limits, they’re seeking to reengineer the foundation of human psychology and social institutions through the new politics of race, It’s much more invasive than mere ‘correctness,’ which is a mechanism of social control, but not the heart of what’s happening. The other frames are wrong, too: ‘cancel culture’ is a vacuous term and doesn’t translate into a political program; ‘woke’ is a good epithet, but it’s too broad, too terminal, too easily brushed aside. ‘Critical race theory’ is the perfect villain,’ Rufo wrote. He thought that the phrase was a better description of what conservatives were opposing, but it also seemed like a promising political weapon. ‘Its connotations are all negative to most middle-class Americans, including racial minorities, who see the world as ‘creative’ rather than ‘critical,’ ‘individual’ rather than ‘racial,’ ‘practical’ rather than ‘theoretical.’ Strung together, the phrase ‘critical race theory’ connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American.’ Most perfect of all, Rufo continued, critical race theory is not ‘an externally applied pejorative.’ Instead, ‘it’s the label the critical race theorists chose themselves.’ “

We also learn, “I spoke by phone with Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor with appointments at Columbia and U.C.L.A., and perhaps the most prominent figure associated with critical race theory—a term she had, long ago, coined. Crenshaw sounded slightly exasperated by how much coverage focused on the semantic question of what critical race theory meant rather than the political one about the nature of the campaign against it. ‘It should go without saying that what they are calling critical race theory is a whole range of things, most of which no one would sign on to, and many of the things in it are simply about racism,’ she said. When I asked what was new to her about the conservative movement against critical race theory, she said that the main thing was that it had been championed last fall not by conservative academics but by Donald Trump, then the President of the United States, and by many leading conservative political and media figures. But the broader pattern was not new, or surprising. ‘Reform itself creates its own backlash, which reconstitutes the problem in the first place,’ Crenshaw said, noting that she’d made this argument in her first law-review article, in 1988. George Floyd’s murder had led to ‘so many corporations and opinion-shaping institutions making statements about structural racism’—creating a new, broader anti-racist alignment, or at least the potential for one. ‘This is a post-George Floyd backlash,’ Crenshaw said. ‘The reason why we’re having this conversation is that the line of scrimmage has moved.’ As she saw it, the campaign against critical race theory represented a familiar effort to shift the point of the argument, so that, rather than being about structural racism, post-George Floyd politics were about the seminars that had proliferated to address structural racism. I asked Crenshaw whether she thought that the anti-racism seminars were doing good. ‘Sure, I’ve been witness to trainings that I thought, Ennnnnh, not quite sure that’s the way I would approach it,’ she said. ‘To be honest, sometimes people want a shortcut. They want the one- to two-hour training that will solve the problem. And it will not solve the problem. And sometimes it creates a backlash.’ Many liberals had responded to the conservative campaign against critical race theory by arguing first that those loudly denouncing it often had no idea what they were talking about, and second by suggesting that the supposed grassroots outrage was really the work of Republican operatives. Both responses made sense, but Crenshaw was suggesting a deeper historical pattern, in which the campaign against critical race theory was not an aberration but long-lasting retrenchment. ‘The fact is there aren’t any easily digestible red pills,’ Crenshaw said. ‘If we’re really going to dig our way out of the hole this country was born into, it’s gonna be a process.’ On this, at least, Rufo might not have disagreed too much. His adaptation of the term “critical race theory” was itself an effort to emphasize a deep historical and intellectual pattern to anti-racism, and he, too, found it predictable that people encountering it for the first time would be outraged by it. The rebranding was, in some ways, an excuse for politicians to stage the same old fights over race within different institutions and on new terrain. At my lunch with Rufo, I’d asked what he hoped this movement might achieve. He mentioned two objectives, the first of which was ‘to politicize the bureaucracy.’ Rufo said that the bureaucracy had been dominated by liberals, and he thought that the debates over critical race theory offered a way for conservatives to ‘take some of these essentially corrupted state agencies and then contest them, and then create rival power centers within them.’ I thought of the bills that Rufo had helped draft, which restricted how social-studies teachers could describe current events to millions of public-school children, and the open letter a Kansas Republican legislator had sent to the leaders of public universities in the state, demanding to know which faculty members were teaching critical race theory. Mission accomplished.”

2 comments

  1. Mr. Mackey…
    You have enlightened me so much on CRT and what is going on with this issue.

    Thank you for your effort and dedication to historical facts in the context they took place.

    Your presentation in your blog is something all Americans should read.
    I even share your knowledge with my grandkids.

    Keep up the great work,
    Rob

    1. Thank you for those kind words, Rob. I am very glad you found the posts to be useful.

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