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Apartheidist Republicans Abuse “Critical Race Theory” to Protect White Power

Among the ignorance and prejudice stuffed into their anti-civics scarecrow letter to the Department of Education this week, Republican legislators included a Fox/Noem-parroting swipe at “Critical Race Theory” (mock quotes and capital letters in original). As I noted Wednesday, Republican legislators aren’t using those words meaningfully or inviting intelligent debate on the influence of racism on our society; quite the contrary, they are seeing to shove everyone’s head in the sand and not talk about our society’s failure to live up to its Declaratory creed and what we might (should!) do to rectify that failure.

Messiah University history prof and decent evangelical John Fea points us toward an essay by   UC Irvine comparative lit and anthropology prog David Theo Goldberg explaining further how Republicans (including the Heritage Foundation, which is keenly interested in suppressing voting as well as intelligent discourse about racism) and most others squawking about critical race theory don’t know (or don’t want to know) what they are talking about:

The exact targets of CRT’s critics vary wildly, but it is obvious that most critics simply do not know what they are talking about. Instead, CRT functions for the right today primarily as an empty signifier for any talk of race and racism at all, a catch-all specter lumping together “multiculturalism,” “wokeism,” “anti-racism,” and “identity politics”—or indeed any suggestion that racial inequities in the United States are anything but fair outcomes, the result of choices made by equally positioned individuals in a free society. They are simply against any talk, discussion, mention, analysis, or intimation of race—except to say we shouldn’t talk about it [David Theo Goldberg, “The War on Critical Race Theory,” Boston Review, 2021.05.07].

Anti-CRT squawkers are invoking “critical race theory” as just another catchy term to drag voters into their lazy default of Red-baiting. Lazy red-shirt wavers like the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Greater New York (CACAGNY), (which, explains Goldberg, “filed an amicus brief in the failed Supreme Court case challenging what the group characterized as discrimination by Harvard University against Asian American applicants,” and pages of whose materials he received from some anonymous mailer) are just forcing new themes into their old talking points…and showing their racism in the process:

Another measure of the ideological dishonesty can be found in the cheapness of these screeds’ intellectual genealogies. According to CACAGNY, CRT simply substitutes “race struggle” for “class struggle” in the work of “such hate promoters as Marx, Lenin, Gramsci, Schmitt, Marcuse, Foucault, and Freire.” Apparently critics cannot be bothered to imagine sources other than white men. For them there was no Frederick Douglass, no W. E. B. Du Bois, no Zora Neale Hurston, Fannie Lou Hamer, or Frantz Fanon, no Aimé Césaire, Alain Locke, or Charles Hamilton Houston, no Stokely Carmichael, Charles Hamilton, or Audre Lorde—and on and on. Their list of progenitors is instead plainly meant to conjure “neo-Marxist” bogeymen, the association with Marxism or socialism the surefire means to parodic conservative dismissal. Needless to say, I have not seen any mention, let alone analysis, of the substantive body of literature on racial capitalism and racial neoliberalism [Goldberg, 2021.05.07].

Goldberg concludes that the anti-CRT shouters are trying to (1) distract us from the right wing’s own “paucity of ideas”:

First, the coordinated conservative attack on CRT is largely meant to distract from the right’s own paucity of ideas. The strategy is to create a straw house to set aflame in order to draw attention away from not just its incapacity but its outright refusal to address issues of cumulative, especially racial, injustice. In a perverse misuse of Martin Luther King, Jr., colorblindness remains the touchstone of clearly uninformed conservative talking points on race. As critics such as Eduardo Bonilla-SilvaPatricia Williams, and myself, among many others, have long pointed out, colorblindness—the individualizing response to structural and systemic racial injustice par excellence—hides the underlying structural differences historical inequalities reproduce [Goldberg, 2021.05.07].

…rewrite history to undermine arguments for institutional reforms to eradicate systemic racism:

Second, the conservative attack on CRT tries to rewrite history in its effort to neoliberalize racism: to reduce it to a matter of personal beliefs and interpersonal prejudice. (Even in this case, you will search in vain at The FederalistNational Review, Fox News, the Daily Caller, and Breitbart News for coverage of a recent story in which a group of white high school students “auctioned” their Black peers on Snapchat.) On this view, the structures of society bear no responsibility, only individuals. Racial inequities today are at worst the unfortunate side effect of a robust commitment to individual freedom, not the living legacy of centuries of racialized systems. The British Race Report shares with the 1776 Project this project of historical erasure. The problem is not the actual histories of slavery, racial subjugation, segregation, and inequity but, as historian David Olusoga observes, how those histories are represented, taught, and mobilized for contemporary ideological purposes. Hence the attack on work spelling out the historically produced social conditions establishing ongoing racist systems—especially the New York Times’s 1619 Project, which is explicitly dismissed as the product of CRT thinking [Goldberg, 2021.05.07].

…and enflame a base made skittish by change to protect white privilege:

Third, race has always been an attractive issue for conservatives to mobilize around. They know all too well how to use it to stoke white resentment while distracting from the depredations of conservative policies for all but the wealthy. Conservatives see their worldview under threat of being eroded; Tucker Carlson now openly alludes to the white nationalist “replacement” conspiracy theory, the fear of white people being diminished and displaced by Blacks, Latinos, and immigrants. “Whiteness,” James Baldwin wrote, is “a metaphor for power.” At a time when the power, privileges, and indeed numbers of the GOP base are under pressure, the conservative assault on CRT is only the latest effort to maintain white domination—economically, politically, and legally [Goldberg, 2021.05.07].

That’s the American apartheid I’ve been talking about. When our Republican legislators order our Department of Education not to take federal money that might lead to teachers and students talking about racism, they are really trying to prevent conversation and education—not to mention voting—that could lead to changes they don’t want, to a world that does not uphold their worldview that they by their whiteness are entitled to privilege and power.

Related Reading: One decent South Dakota legislator, Senator Reynold Nesiba from Sioux Falls, knows what’s really happening when the Republican majority tries to ban critical race theory or other topics related to perfecting our inclusive union; he just explains in slightly gentler terms:

“What’s partly going on here is that this rhetoric is aimed at a national audience,” he said.

He said having conversations about delicate topics is helpful and that the Legislature would benefit for diversity, equity and inclusion training during the next session.

“We need to understand — our students and teachers and legislators — how to develop intercultural competencies so we can talk over racial and national differences and figure out how we can all get along. We are all South Dakotans,” Nesiba said [Abby Wargo, “St ate Lawmakers Tell Department of Education to Not Pursue Federal Grants for History, Civics Classes,” Rapid City Journal, 2021.05.15].

Talk about what’s really happening, offer real civics education, and racists lose power.


  1. Eve Fisher 2021-05-15 08:40

    There’s a great article in Religion Dispatches by Peter Laarman: “How the Right’s War on ‘Critical Race Theory’ Taps into the Powerful Religion of American Innocence” commenting on Goldberg’s article:
    “When she writes that religious conservatives can no longer seize the banner of “wholesome family values,” Goldberg overlooks what lies much deeper than sex phobia in the hearts of anxious white Christians. What claims their most passionate loyalty by far—and what raises their hackles when it’s called into question—is the religion of America itself: a religion centered in the idea of American Innocence and the corollary conviction that no one who chronicles the rise of This Great Country of Ours should be allowed to question the reality of ongoing moral progress on these shores.
    “What the recent slaps at “critical race theory” from the likes of Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, and the thirty GOP senators who signed an angry complaint letter condemning Biden’s extremely modest proposal for some race-conscious educational grantmaking all have in common is a loathing of the disloyalty they perceive among those who would dare to challenge the approved narrative.

    “That narrative, going all the way back to Cotton Mather, insists that white men’s colonization of North America and the building of the American empire (continentally and beyond) is and must be the work of Divine Providence. The core American religion holds that any failures or “mistakes” along the way (e.g., the extermination of the indigenous peoples, the enslavement of millions of kidnapped Africans to build the wealth, the subjugation and exploitation of women, the vicious treatment of Asian immigrants, etc.) cannot alter the central fact that ours remains a virtuous history, that we were and are a redeemer nation, a city set on a hill, a beacon of democracy and human rights that still sends its bright beams of hope around the world.

    “What so infuriates the keepers of the flame is how the witness of Black people, going back to the very beginning, interferes with and ultimately defeats the myth of the Virtuous Republic. This is why anti-Blackness is baked into the increasingly vehement defense of the approved narrative: the one thing the mythmakers cannot tolerate is the persistence of this faithful witness. ”

  2. Mark Anderson 2021-05-15 10:22

    Don’t worry folks the Lying Loser party is failing and flaying. They knew it themselves years ago when they wrote their party had to expand. Now just look at them, Women in national office 38% Democrat, 14% Lying Loser. 23% of the congress are racial or ethnic minorities of that group 83% are Democrats, the rest 17% Lying Loser of course. The old white boy party, formerly Republicans still believe they can represent ALL Americans with their privilege and now of course, their lies.

  3. Porter Lansing 2021-05-15 11:00

    Mr. Pay is fully woke in his observation.
    There aren’t 2% of SD residents that even heard of CRT before FoxNews declared it the new villain.
    -Certainly not Kastlewood Kristi.

    Bringing it closer to the barstool most of y’all are more familiar with.

    Here’s a music video about South Dakota and the critical race example of 90% Lakota children being placed in white foster/adoption situations.
    It’s named “LAKOTA BLUES”

    -Pay attention grudz; you Indian hater!

  4. cibvet 2021-05-15 12:31

    The fear of repubs is that when people of color become the power majority, then white people will be treated like they have treated others now and in the past.

  5. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-15 17:19

    Well…cibvet…you’ve hit the nail on the head….Conservatives cannot envision an American Society that is inclusive and egalitarian. An important part of the Conservative dogma is confrontation and conflict (see Margery Taylor Green, or the ousting of Liz Chaney). For the Conservative Revolution to succeed, there must be constant tension and division. Race is the priority issue on which they base their many attacks on democracy and American civic life. We’re in for 30 years of it.

  6. DaveFN 2021-05-16 05:36

    Noem’s disdain for “action civics” appears to be that for participatory democracy. I know it’s a tall order, but would she please explain if that is the case or not, and either way, articulate the distinction she would make between the two, if any?

  7. Jake 2021-05-16 09:06

    DaveFN-she can’t, pure and simple!

    It might require some deep thought..

  8. Mark Anderson 2021-05-18 17:44

    You know folks I read today about an African American woman who had her house appraised. It came in at 110,000 and 125,000 so for the last appraiser, she removed all photographs and had a white friend act as her brother to let the appraiser in and the house was appraised ar 259,000. Apparently this is common. I’m sure the pubs would teach this right? Who do those lying losers think their fooling.

  9. mike from iowa 2021-05-22 14:33

    For the record and slightly OT, Marvin Gaye’s epic swipe at America’s involvement in senseless slaughter in Vietnam and Americ a’s streets- “What’s Going On” turns 50.

  10. grudznick 2021-05-22 15:02

    Mr. Anderson, are you saying the bar and pub industry controls the appraiser’s union?

    The good news for this lady is that the sale is made in an open and competitive market, and those paying cash who don’t have to rely on an “appraisal” price with whatever rinkydink banks will pay the going rate. Please let your friend know it will be OK.

  11. John 2021-05-28 06:52

    Conservative columnist lays out the case why we should all learn “woke” history.

    “And it’s true that white-supremacist ideology pervaded institutions and systems — labor policies, construction contracts, city planning, racist policing, the exclusion of Black children from public pools. Place names I know well — Ladue, Kirkwood, Webster Groves — were scenes of exclusion, oppression and petty cruelty.

    How to process all this? If being “woke” means knowing the full story of your community and country, including the systemic racism that still shapes them, then every thinking adult should be. And books such as Johnson’s are a needed corrective to history as pious propaganda. But for a fuller explanation of what patriotism means in a flawed nation, there are more reliable guides.”

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