Why a culture war over Critical Race Theory? Bans on congressional discussion of race in America go back to 1836
What is Critical Race Theory and why are Republican governors and state legislators saying such terrible things about it? If you are among the 99% of Americans who had never heard of this theory before a month or two ago, you might be forgiven for believing that it poses a grave threat to the United States through the indoctrination of our schoolchildren. To clarify the reasons behind the sudden rise in attacks against this little-known theory, it can first help to consider an earlier campaign of silencing in US history—the effort to shut down any discussion of slavery in Congress through a gag-rule that lasted for almost a decade in the 1830s and 1840s.
In 1836, in response to a flood of anti-slavery petitions, the House of Representatives passed a resolution (Rule 21) that automatically tabled all petitions on slavery without a hearing. By doing so, they effectively prohibited even the discussion of slavery in Congress. The Senate, for its part, regularly voted not to consider such petitions at all. Southern Representatives and their Democratic allies in the North believed that any attention paid to slavery was divisive in that it heightened regional tensions and promoted slave rebellions. They argued that the drafters of the Constitution never intended for the subject of slavery to be discussed or debated in Congress.
At the beginning of each session after 1837, during discussion of the House rules, the ex-President and then Representative John Quincy Adams would attempt to read anti-slavery petitions he had received. Originally, only Whigs supported his efforts, but more Democrats joined him each session, so that the majority against Adams gradually decreased until the gag-rule was repealed at the beginning of the 1845 session.
Parallels between the gagging of anti-slavery petitions and the campaign to prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory are clear, if unnoticed before now. Like the Southern delegations who opposed discussion of slavery, opponents of Critical Race Theory believe that any discussion of persistent racial inequities in legal and other institutions is unacceptable because it is "divisive." Ben Carson and Christie Noem (Gov. ND-R) have asserted that Critical Race Theory is "a deliberate means to sow division and cripple our nation from within."
In fact the theory, based on an understanding that race is not biological but socially constructed, yet nevertheless immensely significant for everyday life, provides a way to investigate systemic racism and its consequences. It recognizes that racism did not exist solely in the past, that structures embedded in laws and customs persist in the present and permeate social institutions. These structures, intentionally or not, lead to the treatment of people of color as second-class citizens or less-than-full human beings.
As their central charge, critics frequently take the theory's argument that in the US racism is "structural" or "systemic" as synonymous with saying that the United States is "systematically" or "inherently" racist. However, doing so conflates "systemic" with "systematic": "systemic" practices are those that affect a complex whole of which they are a part; "systematic" practices are planned and methodical. To say an attitude or pattern is structural does not mean that it is unavoidable and unchangeable, that it cannot be addressed and its effects reduced through reforms. Indeed, a central tenet of the theory is that racism has produced its effects through specific, historical institutions, and that reduction of racial inequities can be accomplished, but only once the existence of such injustices is recognized.
Most lines of attack on Critical Race Theory depend in similar ways on misunderstandings or distortions. Whether subtle or not-so-subtle, unintentional or willful, their effect is the same: they misrepresent the theory. The opponents criticize what they call the theory's "race essentialism"— their misconception of Critical Race Theory as saying that an individual, based on their race, is "inherently" racist or oppressive. Against the idea of structural or "inherent" racism, the critics assert that racism only expresses personal choices and actions. But we need not accept their assumption that racism must be either structural or personal; both can surely exist at the same time.
Nor do we need to agree with the opponents that the theory considers all white people "inherently privileged" because of their race. In the 1930s, Social Security benefits were denied to domestic workers, the right to organize a union was withheld from propertyless farmworkers, and federally funded mortgages were denied to people of color generally through the practice of "redlining." The vote was denied to many people of color via poll taxes and other legal obstacles. Recognizing this pattern is not the same as saying that white workers, voters, and mortgage holders are "inherently privileged." Yet recognizing such a pattern does mean that some of the inequalities and disadvantages under which people of color have labored as a result of discriminatory legislation can be addressed through reformative legislation.
When State Senator Brian Kelsey of Tennessee supported a ban on teaching Critical Race Theory in public schools, he stated that the theory teaches "that the rule of law does not exist and is instead a series of power struggles among racial groups." However, to acknowledge that laws have been shaped by social structures and cultural assumptions of a particular time does not mean that the rule of law does not exist. Rather, it poses a challenge for us to root out the racist patterns and practices that have been invisibly at work in the idea of "equality under the law."
Finally, the detractors charge teachers with "imposing" or "forcing" the theory on their students. But these critics are not in fact calling for independence of thought. Rather, their charge seeks to suppress thought that questions historic and continuing inequities and inequalities, just as, almost two hundred years ago, representatives of Southern slave-owners and their Northern sympathizers imposed a gag-rule on their anti-slavery Congressional colleagues.
It is instructive that opponents of Critical Race Theory deny what the theory does not assert—that each white person is inherently, essentially racist, and that the institutions of American society are fundamentally, unchangeably racist. It may be easier to legislate these denials and to gag educators than to acknowledge what the theory does assert, and then work to make the difficult changes that are called for in the legal and the educational systems of our country. By denying that racism is entrenched and unyielding, they render it more entrenched and more resistant to attempts to address its consequences.
Frank Palmeri is Professor of English at the University of Miami and author of State of Nature, Stages of Society: Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse. Ted Wendelin is an Instructor at the University of Colorado, Denver.
'Exploited the crazies': How the GOP used Trump's election lies to hide the fact that they're losing power
According to a report from the Guardian's Sam Levine, Republicans who have always dabbled in playing to the red meat crowd are now ramping up their efforts to use that voting bloc to remain in power by disrupting and questioning election results.
Faced with changing demographics and states -- - notably Arizona and Georgia --- that were once reliably Republican but are now sending Democrats to Congress, Republicans are looking for ways to stop the bleeding as their power melts away.
According to Levine, Donald Trump just gave them the roadmap by blatantly saying the election was stolen from him -- which has been well-received by more than just conservative extremists.
As his Guardian report notes, "... fanned repeatedly by Donald Trump throughout 2020, the myth of a stolen American election has shifted from a fringe idea to one being embraced by the Republican party. The so-called big lie – the idea that the election was stolen from Trump - has transformed from a tactical strategy to a guiding ideology."
According to UC Irvine law professor Richard Hasen, Republicans embracing Trump's "Big Lie" is a sign of an emerging trend that doesn't bode well for future elections.
"Voter suppression is not new, the battle lines have been drawn over that for quite some time. But this new concern about election subversion is really worrisome," he explained.
Edward Foley, a law professor at the Ohio State University, concurred, adding, "I do think it's a relatively new phenomenon, unfortunately, and disturbing. We've had disputed elections in the past, but we've never had the denial of the basic mathematical reality of counting votes."
With the Guardian's Levine noting polls show that a majority of Republicans still believe that Trump is the "true president," he spoke with a former GOP operative from Florida who made a very candid admission that Republicans are seeing their position of power wither away and are being forced to embrace Trump's tactics .
"In the past, party elders, party leaders … exploited the crazies in order to win elections and then largely ignored them after the elections," explained Mac Stipanovich. "What has happened since then is that Trump opened Pandora's box and let them out. He not only let them out, he affirmed them and provoked them. And so now they're running wild and they are legitimatizing these delusions."
You can read more here.
Jan 6 was 'just the beginning': Extremist-fighting sheriff makes a frightening prediction about the next 10 years in America
In an interview with the Daily Beast, a sheriff who oversees a region that is a hotbed of right-wing militia activity warned that what Americans witnessed on Jan 6th, when supporters of Donald Trump stormed the nation's Capitol, was not a one-time thing and more attacks can be expected.
Speaking with the Beast's Heath Druzin, Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich noted the country is only now beginning to see what militias can do.
According to Druzin, "As sheriff of Spokane County in eastern Washington for the past 15 years, Knezovich certainly knows about extremism. He oversees law enforcement in the heart of militia country, just a short drive over the Idaho border from what used to be the headquarters for the neo-Nazi group The Aryan Nations," with Druzin adding, "As the GOP continues its lurch off the deep end, with even some elected officials participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, and state party leaders making common cause with militias, Knezovich, a Republican, is an outspoken voice against far-right extremism."
The sheriff, he notes, is no fan of protests from either the far right or the far left, writing, "Knezovich thinks America will be grappling with extremism for many years to come. But despite his stand against anti-government groups, he has also drawn the ire of social-justice advocates—and praise from some Republicans—for his habit of lumping in left-wing protesters with dangerous, far-right extremists."
"These are tyrants, these are true dictators that want to pull our country apart," Knezovich explained when discussing rightwing militias. "And they want to hide behind, 'Well, America was born out of revolution.'"
According to Kate Bitz, of the anti-extremism watchdog Western States Center, Knezovich is a bit of a mixed bag, but definitely knows what he is talking about.
In an interview, she told the Beast, "Knezovich has really intimate knowledge of just how ugly things can get for local elected officials and law enforcement when anti-democratic groups begin to build real local power. He is a lot more vocal about this issue than many other local elected officials and law enforcement leaders, which is great," before cautioning, "That said, his analysis of our local situation (in Eastern Washington) is very much wedded to this kind of 'both sides' conception of politics. So we've also seen him habitually describe groups that organize for racial justice as being supposedly equally dangerous to law enforcement as the far right."
According to the report, the sheriff stated that more moderate voters need to hit the voting booths come election time, which would help tamp down the rise of extremist politicians who help to incite violence against the very government they are a part of which led to him discussing the Jan 6th riot that occurred after former president Donald Trump incited "Stop the Steal" rallygoers to march on Congress.
"What happened on January 6 was the worst thing that I think I've ever seen happen in my nation, because that threatened the entire stability of this nation," he explained before predicting, "We will live through about 10 years of hard times, because that's the cycle of these things. And we're in at the very beginning of this."
You can read more here.
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