“We’ve needed new language for these issues. ‘Political correctness’ is a dated term and, more importantly, doesn’t apply anymore. ‘Cancel culture’ is a vacuous term and doesn’t translate into a political program; ‘woke’ is a good epithet, but it’s too broad, too terminal, too easily brushed aside. ‘Critical race theory’ is the perfect villain.” Christopher Rufo, The New Yorker, June 18, 2021
Critical Race Theory has become a flashpoint for conservatives. They are protesting, demonstrating, and generally acting as if this idea will be the end of American civilization. But what is Critical Race Theory and how did it come about?
In the 1970s, a Harvard Law School professor, Derrick Bell, became frustrated at the limitations of the civil rights movement. He and other legal scholars recognized that “civil rights laws and court victories had not actually managed to eradicate racial injustice.” (Washington Post, May 29)
These people believed too many institutions were perpetuating racism. One legal scholar, Columbia Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, said, “We need to pay attention to what has happened in this country… so that we can become the democratic republic we say we are.
We believe in the promises of equality, and we know we can get there if we confront and talk honestly about inequality… critical race theory is a way to talk openly about how America’s history has had an effect on our society and institutions today.” (Columbia News, July 1)
In 1989, the first Workshop on Critical Race Theory was held. Since then, the theory has been debated in law schools and graduate programs. It’s not taught in K-12 schools or undergraduate college classes, and very few people had heard of it.
Christopher Rufo, a conservative filmmaker, was searching for an idea to pull conservatives together in the culture wars. In July 2020, he heard of Critical Race Theory. He began writing magazine articles about CRT, and on Sept. 2, he appeared on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” The next day he was contacted by Trump’s White House, and he was on his way.
Now a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, Rufo wrote, “We have successfully frozen their brand – ‘critical race theory’ – into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category. The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’”(Washington Post, May 29)
Rufo has been wildly successful in his goal to make CRT toxic. Because of his campaign, teaching the facts about America’s history of racism is being effectively eliminated in many schools. In Texas, “the Republican-dominated state Senate has passed a bill to eliminate a requirement that public schools teach that the Ku Klux Klan and its white supremacist campaign of terror are “morally wrong.”
The cut is among some two dozen curriculum requirements dropped from the new measure, along with studying Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the works of United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez, Susan B. Anthony’s writings about the women’s suffragist movement, and Native American history.” (Huffington Post, July 19)
So to protect their children, conservatives want to eliminate teaching about the crimes of the KKK, the struggle for civil rights, the fight for women’s suffrage, the history of abuses against Native Americans, and anything else that might upset their little snowflakes.
That means ignoring the 1857 Dred Scott decision where the Supreme Court ruled that black people could never be citizens. No discussions about Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, which legalized segregation.
We must ignore the causes of the Civil War, or why the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were necessary. We’ll need to skip the reasons behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Explaining these events might make the snowflakes uncomfortable.
This is just a fraction of what could be eliminated because conservatives think that teaching the truth is unpatriotic. Germany faced a similar situation and decided the truth was too important.
Would Germany be a better country if their schools never taught about the Nazis or ignored the Holocaust? Could they discuss World War II without mentioning Hitler and what he did?
That’s what American conservatives are aiming for here. They’re wrong. We can’t become a stronger, healthier country by ignoring our history. Protecting snowflakes isn’t a justification. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” And it will.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.