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Wendell Berry Recognized Kristi Noem’s White Fragility Before Kristi Noem Was Born

House Bill 1012, the only watered-down fragment of Governor Kristi Noem’s anti-“critical race theory” posturing that survived the Legislature, is still sitting on the Governor’s desk. The Governor has until next Friday (15 days after the Legislature calls long recess—see SD Const. Art. 4 Sec. 4) to sign HB 1012 and the other bills sent to her last week. Gov. Noem may save HB 1012 for a final signing ceremony to get maximum press for her flimsy grandstanding.

But while we wait, maybe we can make a pitch for her to veto her bill. After all, she reversed course last year and conjured up technical reasons to veto the transgender bill that she originally said she was excited to sign. Maybe her Beltway campaign team will tell her she can get more mileage out of blaming the Legislature for fouling her proposal and keep the issue hotter for the campaign trail.

Or maybe Governor Noem could experience an outbreak of conscience and recognize that her effort to stifle discussion of systemic racism and other topics she deems “divisive concepts” is itself a part of her oppressor class’s long pattern of protecting its privilege. Wendell Berry pointed out the racist culture’s impulse to avoid discussing racism in 1970 book The Hidden Wound (a book just a little older than Kristi and me):

As Berry notes, many accounts of Southern culture were unable to face this. The oddly nostalgic book Kentucky Cavaliers in Dixie used “a poeticized, romanticized, ornamental gentlemanly speech, so inflated with false sentiment as to sail lightly over all discrepancies in logic or in fact, shrugging off what it cannot accommodate, blandly affirming what it cannot shrug off.” Looking for models of honest treatment of race, Berry even found much Christian preaching evasive, and much Christian practice hypocritical [Joshua P. Hochschild, “Race and Anti-Fragility,” Commonweal, 2020.08.05].

Our flaws prick our conscience. We shield ourselves from such pricks with lies and enforced silence:

Berry saw racism as something constructed to protect a sensitivity. He compares racism to Puritanism; the two “have meshed so perfectly in the United States” because both are contrived to insulate uncomfortable lies from being exposed by the uninhibited honesty of childlike candor. They deny something in human nature in order to enforce an oppressive code of behavior [Hochschild, 2020.08.05].

House Bill 1012 embodies Wendell Berry’s 1970 critique: the bill attempts to make discussion of racism and related concepts taboo, under the pretense of protecting students and employees in higher education from “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other for of psychological distress.” Vetoing HB 1012 would be a brave repudiation of oppressor’s fragility and an invitation for the simple honesty that we need to address the reality of racism in America.


  1. Eve Fisher 2022-03-16 12:26

    Wendell Berry knew what he was talking about. The Civil War and the South has been romanticized, time and again, by media (The Birth of a Nation; Gone With the Wind; Band of Angels, etc.) and in the simple fact that people STILL refer to Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, et al as statesmen or generals instead of as the traitors to the United States of America they were. And STILL promote the idea that the Civil War and the Confederacy were about “states rights”, when it was clear in every statement of secession it was about slavery:
    “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” Alexander H. Stephens, Confederate Vice President, “Cornerstone Speech”
    All white supremacists still hold Stephens’ words to be true and self-evident, and there are, sadly, far more white supremacists among us than this country wants to admit.

  2. Mark Anderson 2022-03-16 12:58

    When I was brought into Memphis to interview for a job at the Memphis College of Art, which no longer exists by the way. When I had my talk with the students, I was asked where I was from, I said South Dakota. One student immediately responded, “another God damned Yankee” I made a joke that it’s “South” Dakota. Another student then explained to me that Memphis is the unofficial capital of Mississippi. That was 35 years ago, not much has changed.

  3. All Mammal 2022-03-16 13:26

    ‘A People’s History of the United States’ by Howard Zinn is the most accurate account of our besotted country, because it is not based on the victors, more truthfully, it is full of eye-witness documented accounts of what happened from Columbus’ disgusting, horrific arrival on up until the eighties. And it is not soft and fuzzy ‘ocean blue, purple mountain majesties.’ It is a miracle some of us have thirst for the abrasive truth. Disclaimer: this book changed everything I thought I knew and was proud of. It made the truth all the more beautiful and worthy of our unyielding fight not to forsake it. As the book’s author writes:
    “One can lie outright about the past. Or one can omit facts. Outright lying or quiet omission takes the risk of discovery which, when made, might arouse the reader to rebel against the writer. *To state the facts, however, and then to bury them in a mass of other information is to say to the reader with a certain infectious calm: yes, mass murder took place, but it’s not that important-it should weigh very little in our final judgements; it should affect very little what we do in the world…
    One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth….It is therefore more deadly.”

  4. 96Tears 2022-03-16 14:04

    Who cares if HB 1012 is watered down or goes unsigned, it served Fake Governor Kristi Noem’s purpose. She is now a self-declared, baldfaced liar and a self-declared racist with this statement that HB 1012 is “to block Critical Race Theory (CRT) as the basis of education for South Dakota students.” Name one school in our state where CRT has ever been included in the curriculum. Can’t, right? Same holds true for the state universities.

    Liar liar. Racist Racist. Your name is Kristi Noem.

    Soulless. A heart of coal. Her brain was replaced with tater tots. Loves only her own image. Loyalty is only to herself.

    If I ruled the world, I would sentence Fake Governor Noem to five years in an orange jumpsuit and chains to serve hard labor on the custodial staff at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice at Montgomery, Alabama, and to explain to visitors why Critical Race Theory is a threat to national security and should be banned.

  5. Steve Pearson 2022-03-16 14:50

    It is time for us to do what we have been doing, and that time is every day.

  6. All Mammal 2022-03-16 17:48

    96 Tears- I am devotedly endeared to your fun yet accurate lyric: “Liar liar. Racist Racist. Your name is Kristi Noem.”
    Love your tune on a common disgruntlement.
    I have been sitting idle in a pickup for too long today with a coupla strongly aftershaved, trump flag owning coworkers and I have kept DFP in my focus to grasp onto the proof there are logical South Dakotans. It is unreal what grown ass adults will cling onto. And they have jobs! They’ve raised families! Ay yay yay. ¡Dios mio! The only way to not digress into an amoeba to squabble with them is to: “Liar liar. Racist Racist. Your name is Kristi Noem.” thanks

  7. All Mammal 2022-03-16 17:57

    There are two of them so it is a eeny meeny miny moe deal and the loser at the end of Noem and the one that comes before that; always both lose. I learned the best way to slide their evolution onwards is to basically bully them:/ and it is sort of easy but then you have them copy you too much. I have until dark. So they might come around and join up I’m hoping.

  8. All Mammal 2022-03-16 21:01

    John- I have noticed a kinship amongst dirty wife beater wearing white guys. They share deep-rooted cultural rituals, like using women, tricking children and conning the elderly. I think they can sense right away whether or not a new comer grew up in a household where the father figure used racist profanity. There are certain cues that tell if one was exposed to and complacent with that kind of ‘culture’.
    It is a nervous, aggressive set of characteristics that make them feel safe together by always knowing who to hate and take their own fear and shortcomings out on. They also always have a pecking order like dogs because they don’t think for themselves. They need masters.
    Their bland, soggy cracker solidarity lies in their racist, woman-hating, reptilian-brained, fake white pride.
    My assessment is based on daily interaction with a mini gang of bigots. And the majority of police and statesmen. Some not even white, just as long as you diss women while relying on them for everything, you are welcome to the club. To me, its all one “liar liar. Racist racist. You are Kristi Noem” culture.
    I am interested in the video you posted, though. I just can’t watch it because I’m in the doghouse for the remainder of this commute and don’t want to rock the boat by shouting above the radio to ask for my earphones.

  9. 96Tears 2022-03-17 12:16

    Dr. Kurtz – The hideous agenda of Noem’s ludicrous HB 1012 is what is SHE defining? Those goal posts seem to float wherever she wants. Fewer than 1,000 South Dakotans have more than an accurate inkling of what is Critical Race Theory. For the rest of the state it means what the spastic Right defines it at the moment. Kind of like the old question “What is pornography? I dunno but I’ll know it when I see it” — except worse. Much worse. It’s 21st Century Nazi book burning. Mind control. Thought police, with the only credential needed to crack down on someone else is to be a fellow paranoid, untethered white supremacist.

    This is what Noem has unleashed with her legal fig leaf to protect the suppression of free thought. Just another gimmick in the Freedumb File.

    Back in the 90s, the fad among these neanderthals was to stop so-called “secular humanists” in our schools and public institutions. It didn’t matter that none of these mouth breathers knew what a secular humanist was.

    When you can invent alternative facts on the fly, you don’t need proof to back your bullsh#t. All you need is a buzz word like secular humanist, or Critical Race Theory, or cap-and-trade, or EPA, or commies, or queers in our bathrooms and you, too, can sound like a barroom expert to rev up the local rednecks into a root hog frenzy. It won’t matter what else you say, you are bonafide as long as you blather about the current fad in buzzwords for dummies.

    By the way, were any real problems solved yet by this legislature? Didn’t think so, either.

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