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-Silva, Patricia 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 Federalist, National 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, “State 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.