An Update on Critical Race Theory and The Right’s War on Education

Right Wingers continue to lie about Critical Race Theory and obfuscate what it really is, using those lies to attack education, specifically history education.

We begin with this article out of Virginia. “Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin has decided that next month’s off-year election is a referendum on something called critical race theory. CRT, he says, is a sinister force working to divide Americans by injecting race issues into education. ‘To judge one another based on the content of our character, not the color of our skin,’ he told a rally in Ashburn, Virginia, last month, ‘means we’re going to ban critical race theory.’ It is fashionable these days for progressives like myself to sneer at the hue and cry against critical race theory in the schools. But let’s get real: Some textbooks taught to Virginia children have contained virulent antiwhite propaganda. Consider this passage from a Virginia public school textbook: ‘From the first recorded landing of Negroes at Jamestown in 1619 until the end of the colonial period, Virginia opposed a mixed population of the two races,’ it says. ‘Above all the Colony was determined to preserve the racial purity of the whites. This determination is the foundation upon which Virginia’s handling of the racial issue rests, and has always rested.’ Can we at least agree that such divisive rhetoric should not be allowed in schools? It can have bad effects. I know, because the passage above, along with a lot of other racist bilge, was taught to me in 1961 in a state-mandated elementary school course in ‘Virginia History’; the textbook from which that quote comes, A Hornbook of Virginia History, edited by J. R. V. Daniel, was published in 1949 by the Virginia State Library for use in schools.”

The article also tells us, “One Youngkin supporter told The Washington Post that CRT is ‘just such a focus on race. My children weren’t raised that way. I wasn’t raised that way. We have friends of every religion, creed. They’re well-traveled. They just don’t view the world through that lens. And I think it is so unfortunate, and sad, and so divisive for anybody to put that lens in front of them.’ That brings up two points: First, politicians (and even some newspeople) are using the term critical race theory the way Vizzini in The Princess Bride used the word inconceivable. They seem to think it means something like ‘Trotskyites,’ whose malice Stalinists blamed for every shortcoming of the Five-Year Plan. (For those who want to know what it actually means, Reginald Oh provides a useful introduction here.) It does not even mean ‘every use of the concept of race in history classes that might make an older white person uncomfortable,’ which appears to be what Youngkin means by it. In fact, its use in politics was originated by a right-wing ‘journalist’ looking for a handy weapon to attack any attempts to combat racism in education and the workplace. In 30 years as a legal academic, I got to know CRT and its proponents well. I have read many papers and attended many academic panels where their views are presented. I found some electrifying and others to be over-the-counter sleep aids. CRT is an academic movement, born in law schools, with all the virtues and limitations that name implies. It has a lot to offer, and it generates some very interesting disagreements among people who take the trouble to learn what it is. What it is not is a disease or a conspiracy hovering behind any teacher or book that suggests that racism is a problem in the 21st century. The second point is that even if critical race theory were exerting some massive influence on K–12 education in America (it isn’t), and even if critical race theory had as its aim the instilling of shame in white students (it doesn’t), none of its efforts would compare in scope and determination with the systematic and successful 75-year campaign by Virginia and other southern states to control what was taught to students, and what students, Black and white, were allowed to read and think about race and racism. When we consider Virginia parents complaining that they “weren’t raised that way,” this history needs to be considered.”

It continues, “In fact, a rigorous program of ideological conformity has been a part of southern culture since the 1831 Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia. On the excuse of preventing more slave revolts, not only were antebellum schools and universities purged of antislavery teachers and books, the very mails were censored to ensure that no antislavery publications reached Dixie. The historian Clement Eaton christened this process of ideological purification ‘the intellectual blockade,’ and it survived intact at least until Appomattox. The blockade briefly fell after the Civil War, but, as the historian Fred Arthur Bailey of Abilene Christian University wrote 20 years ago in ‘Textbooks of the Lost Cause,’ the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, newly energized by the triumph of Jim Crow, began a successful campaign during the 1890s to require the teaching of ‘state histories’ written by neo-Confederates. These textbooks explained that slavery was a benign system, that secession was legal and justified, that the Confederacy’s Lost Cause was noble, and that Confederate leaders were American patriots. But eternal vigilance is the price of racial conformity. In 1948, a few weeks after President Harry Truman announced a modest federal civil rights program, southern leaders began to worry anew whether schoolchildren were learning the proper attitudes toward race and the South. In Richmond, legislators created the Virginia History and Textbook Commission. That commission was dominated by segregationist politicians—most prominently including state Senator Garland Gray. (Gray, a Southside planter, a few years later would chair another state commission, this one studying Brown v. Board of Education. That ‘Gray Commission’ would recommend a voucher plan under which no white student would be required to attend a school with Black children.)”

According to the article, “The Textbook Commission ordered (and extensively edited, rewrote, and censored) its own set of textbooks, whose use was required in schools. These textbooks, only slightly revised in 1964, were only ‘withdrawn’ by the State Board of Education in 1972; even after that, as the William & Mary history professor Carol Sheriff explained in 2012, some school systems defiantly continued their use. One of the three, Virginia’s History and Geography, explained that the Lost Cause was inspired by state’s rights and pure altruism: ‘Virginians love the United States and did not want to leave it. But Virginians wanted people in every state to have their rights.’ After the war, it said, ‘Robert E. Lee, because of his greatness, his bravery, and his love for Virginia, would always be a hero.’ Another, Virginia: History, Government, Geography, explained that slavery ‘made it possible for the Negroes to come to America and make contacts with civilized life.’ They were lucky to live ‘far away from the spears and war clubs of enemy tribes’ in Africa. Plantation life was ‘happy and prosperous.’ True, there was a teeny, tiny bit of whipping, but ‘whipping was also the usual method of correcting children,’ and anyway, ‘all slaves were given medical care.’ A third, Cavalier Commonwealth: History and Government of Virginia, explained that Virginia’s slave masters ‘regarded themselves as benefactors of a backward race,’ and ‘indeed in some respects they obviously were.’ Slaves were given ‘plentiful food . . . warm cabins, leisure and free health care.’ Finally, the book I quoted at the outset, A Hornbook of Virginia History, told students: ‘The debt the Negro race owes to Virginia and the South has never been less recognized than it is today. Virginia took a backward race of savages, part cannibal, civilized it, developed many of its best qualities.’ Please remember: These textbooks were prepared by a state commission using tax dollars and taught in public schools in courses students were required by law to attend—Black students as well as white. Parents worried about how textbooks will affect white students need to cope with the fact that three generations of Black students were subjected to these books.”

We learn, “In fact, the entire hue and cry against CRT is not about ending division; it is about preserving it. It is not about racial reconciliation; it is about inspiring racial panic, of the kind that swept the South in the 1830s, the 1890s, and the 1950s. That this phony scare is active in states outside the South is a sign of the success the conservative movement has achieved in exporting the religious, political, and racial values of the South to states in the heartland. It is no longer only in the old Confederacy that questioning of the racial order is seen as next to treason. Glenn Youngkin is simply the latest in a line of mountebanks willing to stir race hatred and fear to gain power. He knows how it is done; like me, he learned it in school.”

We next look at this article, telling us, “Following Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the race for Virginia’s governorship, Sinclair Broadcast Group correspondent Kristine Frazao acknowledged that critical race theory is not taught in Virginia’s public schools. This comes after Sinclair repeatedly insinuated that critical race theory is widely taught at the K-12 level, and after Youngkin ran on banning it from the state’s schools. On November 3, when covering Youngkin’s victory, Frazao noted that he ‘spoke out against … critical race theory.’ She then acknowledged it ‘has been discussed among educators but is not actually taught in Virginia public schools.’ Frazao’s report, which led with this acknowledgement that critical race theory has been a fake issue all along, aired on dozens of Sinclair-owned or -operated local TV stations, including on the morning and evening editions of Sinclair’s news show, The National Desk. Several of these stations air in markets that include Virginia: WJLADT, WRLH, WXLV, and WSET.”

The article continues, “Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent explained how Youngkin relied on right-wing media outlets, such as Sinclair, to spread lies about critical race theory: ‘For months, Youngkin and his allies have pumped that raw right-wing sewage directly into the minds of the GOP base, behind the backs of moderate swing voters, via a right-wing media network that has no rival on the Democratic side. … Consider critical race theory, or CRT. Let’s acknowledge that Youngkin isn’t using CRT as just a base motivator. He campaigns on it in swingy areas, and this will be partly a referendum on whether the issue can lure back the suburbs. But to focus only on that misses the full story. Youngkin and his allies have transmitted some of their most visceral and hallucinogenic versions of the anti-CRT demagoguery straight to the base via right-wing media. Among these are Youngkin’s ugly falsehood that CRT has comprehensively infested Virginia’s school system. … Indeed, Matt Gertz of Media Matters estimates that Fox News ran up to 100 segments on CRT in Virginia last spring, even though it isn’t taught in Virginia schools.’ “

It tells us, “Sinclair’s national programming didn’t promote hysteria over critical race theory as often as Fox News — in part because Sinclair doesn’t operate a 24-hour cable news channel. But at least some of the segments it did air on the subject were broadcast directly into Virginia newscasts and on Virginia stations.

  • On May 7The National Desk’s morning edition interviewed failed Republican congressional candidate Kim Klacik about critical race theory — after falsely teasing the segment as an interview with an ‘expert’ on the subject. Klacik said critical race theory is designed ‘to make people feel less confident and inferior.’
  • On June 3The National Desk interviewed Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch — a right-wing political organization that has pushed lies about voting and the 2020 elections. He claimed critical race theory was helping to ‘turn kids into racists, or at least they suggest that they’re racist.’
  • On June 23, Sinclair national correspondent James Rosen covered a raucous school board meeting in Loudoun County, Virginia. During his segment, he used an invoice to suggest that the school system was teaching critical race theory to students.
  • On June 24The National Desk interviewed Virginia anti-critical race theory activist Ian Prior, who is also a longtime Republican political operative and runs his own political communications consulting firm. Prior returned to the show at least once more on August 11.

“Sinclair repeatedly aired unchecked GOP lies about critical race theory throughout 2021 and hosted a town hall on the topic, streamed from its Washington, D.C.-area station, which featured multiple anti-critical race theory activists.”

This article shows us Professor Allen C. Guelzo’s concerns regarding CRT, showing even award-winning scholars can be fooled by the lies. “Critical race theory, Guelzo says, is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant in the 1790s. It was a response to — and rejection of — the principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason on which the American republic was founded. Kant believed that ‘reason was inadequate to give shape to our lives’ and so he set about ‘developing a theory of being critical of reason,’ Guelzo says.” Unfortunately, Professor Guelzo is wrong on all counts there. Kant didn’t develop critical theory, and he gives us only a superficial view of Kant’s writing.

The article continues, “But the critique of reason ended up justifying ‘ways of appealing to some very unreasonable things as explanations — things like race, nationality, class,’ he says. Critical theory thus helped spawn totalitarian ideologies in the 20th century such as Marxism and Nazism, which taught that all human relationships are relationships of power between an oppressor class and an oppressed class. For the Marxists, the bourgeoisie were the oppressors. For the Nazis, the Jews were the oppressors. And today, in 21st century America, critical race theory teaches that Whites are the oppressors.” Again, this is false. It bears no relation to the actual critical theory.

We read further, “In CRT, ‘all White people are instinctively white supremacists,’ Guelzo says, adding, ‘I say ‘instinctively’ because this is not a function of reason.’ This is why its advocates talk about ‘systemic racism’ — a CRT term that has crept into our public discourse and has even been embraced by President Biden. ‘Systemic sounds like systematic, except of course that it isn’t,’ Guelzo says. ‘When you try to find something that is systematic, then you have to go find evidence.’ But ‘systemic implies something so deep and so instinctive that you’re not even conscious of it. … [that] there is an instinctive bias that is built into people of certain colors.’ ” Once again, nothing he says is true. CRT does not say all whites are “instinctively white supremacists.” Systemic racism is racism built into the legal and social systems of the country, not because white folks are “instinctively white supremacists,” but because it was built that way over time. He’s imbibed all the worst lies about CRT and has been completely fooled. Suffice to say, the rest of the claims in the article are just as wrong. This is sad because I have a great deal of respect for Professor Guelzo and his scholarship. I don’t believe he consciously misleads us. I think he’s been taken in by trusting what he’s read.

This article tells us, “The national debate over critical race theory — if one can even call it a debate — has been filled with half-truths, unfulfilled definitions, and a whole lot of obfuscation and obstruction. It feels, at times, as if we’ve walked into an unfinished simulation where certain objects carry a vague resemblance to real things, but if you actually want to navigate the space, you’re going to have to take a lot of untrustworthy people’s word for what’s what. As a journalist who covers education policy, I find myself perpetually baffled by what’s going on. The actual critical race theory argues that racism isn’t just what happens when an individual decides to hate a group of people, but rather an ideology that has been embedded in American institutions. Its relevance to the education system should be clear enough: You don’t even have to open a history book; you just have to walk around New York City when kids get out of school, witness the deep segregation in the student body, and guess what happened. It makes sense, then, that C.R.T. does, in fact, have some influence on the ways curriculum gets written across the country in an effort to address inequality. These are all just basic facts. Anti-critical race theory activists and politicians argue that the country’s schools have been invaded by a destructive virus of an idea that will turn children into hateful, identity-obsessed Bolsheviks. Much of this is in bad faith.”

Finally, this article tells us, “A Black principal who resigned after critics accused him of teaching critical race theory to students said educators are ‘dealing with people that are delusional’ as school district culture wars rage on. ‘They’re not grounded in any sort of reality,’ the principal, James Whitfield, told Insider. ‘It is important that we meet that delusion with what’s real and we speak truth, and we’re unapologetic in our stance to stand firmly in what is true and right.’ Whitfield announced his resignation as principal of Colleyville Heritage High School near Fort Worth, Texas, last week after a saga that dates back to summer 2020, which was sparked after sent a letter to the school community saying that systemic racism is ‘alive and well’ as racial justice protests swept the nation. In the letter, which was reviewed by Insider, Whitfield urged the community to ‘commit to being an anti-racist.’ Whitfield, 43, told Insider that he initially received positive responses to the letter, but that changed in July 2021. During a July 31 Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District board meeting, a former school board candidate alleged that Whitfield was teaching and promoting ‘critical race theory,’ a learning approach that examines racial bias in US laws and institutions. The academic theory, which is mostly taught at the university level and doesn’t feature in Colleyville Heritage High School’s curriculum, has become a target in the last year for conservative leaders and parents concerned by baseless claims of students being indoctrinated. The man said Whitfield has ‘extreme views’ and called for his contract to be terminated as other attendees at the meeting applauded and cheered in the background.”

The article continues, “Whitfield denied promoting critical race theory and told Insider that it has been eye-opening to see non-partisan school boards turn into ‘political battlegrounds.’ Whitfield was placed on leave paid leave on August 30, though the district told CNN at the time that it was not related to the critical race theory accusations. According to a settlement document reviewed by Insider, Whitfield agreed to resign last week and will remain on paid leave until August 15, 2023. In a joint statement, the school district and Whitfield said they ‘have mutually agreed to resolve their disputes.’ Whitfield told Insider he’s ‘devastated’ and that he misses his students and staff. He said he’s gotten mostly positive support and encouragement since the backlash, but has also been called harsh names and received racist messages in the mail. Whitfield isn’t quite sure what his next chapter will look like, but he said he wants to continue having an impact in young people’s lives.”

One comment

  1. I guess it’s worse to be called a racist that to actually be one. The character assassination tactics of politics was in full gear during this last cycle of pre-election commercials and pundit interviews. They embraced the fear tactics of creating the boogie man in the closet rather than revealing they have a sum-zero platform and no real plans for governance. The pursuit of power and wealth on the backs of a scared constituency. Disgusting!

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