June 24, 2021
News outlets are abuzz with opinions – right, left, and center – on “critical race theory,” the scholarly movement (40 years old, by the way) that puts the social constructs of race and racism at the center of efforts to understand U.S. systems of power and privilege. From what I’ve read and heard, most opinions are at best uninformed, and in most cases, alarmist and politically manipulative. Of greatest concern is the rush of Republican state governments to ban the teaching of critical race theory on the grounds that it teaches schoolchildren to “hate America,” and to “make white children ashamed of their identify.”
It’s tempting to write off the the anti-CRT frenzy as the latest chapter in the so-called “culture wars” – “us against them” battles for “the soul of the nation” that the political right desperately wants, and really needs, to fight in the absence of any positive policy agenda. Saying “no” to everything except tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy just doesn’t cut it from a policy perspective, surely not with the country still reeling from the COVID pandemic, half its people living in economic precarity, and the terrifying impacts of the climate crisis becoming more evident by the day. (Abortion and gun rights no longer pack the motivational punch they have for a long, long stretch; the effort to demonize the anti-queer/trans movement has failed to get traction; and the Q-Anon conspiracy fever is just too much of a hot mess, unlikely to deliver its crazed adherents reliably to the polls.)
But minimizing the danger of attacks on CRT would likely be a grave miscalculation. The legislative suppression of a valid line of scholarly inquiry and discussion is highly disturbing in its own right, to be sure, but it is all the more frightening when linked, as I believe it is, with two other concerted (and so far successful) suppression efforts on the part of the organized political rightwing – i.e. those aimed at curtailing voting rights, and choking off the people’s right to collective public protest. What emerges is a sinister formula for neo-fascist success in a degraded American political culture: 1. Let only the “right” people access the polls. 2. Criminalize popular complaints about oppressive conditions. 3. Ban “unpleasant” historical truths.