There Is No Debate Over Critical Race TheoryRoundup
tags: culture war, teaching history, critical race theory, Moral Panic
Ibram X. Kendi is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and the director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research. He is the author of several books, including the National Book Award–winning Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and How to Be an Antiracist.
The United States is not in the midst of a “culture war” over race and racism. The animating force of our current conflict is not our differing values, beliefs, moral codes, or practices. The American people aren’t divided. The American people are being divided.
Republican operatives have buried the actual definition of critical race theory: “a way of looking at law’s role platforming, facilitating, producing, and even insulating racial inequality in our country,” as the law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who helped coin the term, recently defined it. Instead, the attacks on critical race theory are based on made-up definitions and descriptors. “Critical race theory says every white person is a racist,” Senator Ted Cruz has said. “It basically teaches that certain children are inherently bad people because of the color of their skin,” said the Alabama state legislator Chris Pringle.
There are differing points of view about race and racism. But what we are seeing and hearing on news shows, in school-district meetings, in op-ed pages, in legislative halls, and in social-media feeds aren’t multiple sides with differing points of view. There’s only one side in our so-called culture war right now.
The Republican operatives, who dismiss the expositions of critical race theorists and anti-racists in order to define critical race theory and anti-racism, and then attack those definitions, are effectively debating themselves. They have conjured an imagined monster to scare the American people and project themselves as the nation’s defenders from that fictional monster.
The evangelist Pat Robertson recently called critical race theory “a monstrous evil.” And over the past year, that “monstrous evil” has supposedly been growing many legs. First, Republicans pointed to Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Three days after George Floyd’s murder last year, President Donald Trump recast the largely peaceful demonstrators as violent and dishonorable “THUGS.” By the end of July, Trump had framed them as “anarchists who hate our country.”
Then “cancel culture” was targeted. At the Republican National Convention in August, Trump blasted “cancel culture” as seeking to coerce Americans “into saying what you know to be false and scare you out of saying what you know to be true.”
Next came attacks on the 1619 Project and American history. “Despite the virtues and accomplishments of this Nation, many students are now taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but rather villains,” read Trump’s executive order on November 2, establishing the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission.
And now the Black Lives Matter demonstrators, cancel culture, the 1619 Project, American history, and anti-racist education are presented to the public as the many legs of the “monstrous evil” of critical race theory that’s purportedly coming to harm white children. The language echoes the rhetoric used to demonize desegregation after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, in 1954.
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