By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
An unnamed, unidentified Black man at the raucous Temecula school board’s mid-March meeting was the latest to feel the wrath of the countless number of livid, dyed-in-the-wool opponents of anything that smacks of teaching critical race theory in the schools.
The man had the temerity to oppose the board’s ban on the teaching of critical race theory. He then got the boot from the meeting for objecting to a racial slur hurled at him.
At last count, nearly 200 right-wing think tanks, advocacy groups and parent groups have railed against teaching critical race theory teaching in the schools. Fox News, predictably, has been on a virtual non-stop crusade against anything that remotely smacks of critical race theory.
It’s a straw man issue concocted by the right, since almost no school district in the nation mandates that critical race theory be included in the curriculum. The straw man issue was created as yet another hammer to browbeat, cow and intimidate school boards, whip up fury among the Republican Party’s conservative base, and, most importantly, pile-drive Democrats with the usual falsehood that they are trying to shove racial guilt down white throats.
Let’s be clear. There’s nothing new about the term critical race theory. The term goes back almost four decades. Back then a handful of Black scholars and writers came up with the term to name what, for decades, had simply been called battling racism.
The reaction at first was, well, really no reaction. It seemed a puzzling, overloaded and very academic term that was subject to just about any meaning and interpretation.
Donald Trump’s presidential election in 2016 changed that. He publicly demanded a cease-and-desist to any school district and/or teacher that dared stuff students with what he branded “left-wing indoctrination.”
In plain English, he meant any mention of the pernicious history of racial bias in America.
Trump railed that this fanned the very racism America had supposedly long gotten past. Worse, it scapegoated whites as the perennial bad guys for all of America’s racial sins.
Trump followed his diatribe with an executive order that virtually wiped out any diversity training for federal employees.
The great fear of the conservative attackers, though, is not that teaching about America’s past and present history of racial and social injustice will poison the minds of minority students, but that it could seep into curriculums and presentations to influence a lot of white elementary and high school students.
This could have a far-reaching political consequence, in that it could decrease the generational racial polarization that Republicans bank on to maintain political control in a nation on the verge of becoming an ethnic minority-majority.
The study of race and racism is not just a mere academic exercise. It’s a crucial body of scholarly work that has established a direct connection between political power, social organization and language.
It has influenced wide fields within education, and been the basis of countless court decisions, state and federal laws, and local ordinances that have attacked and provided remedies for racial inequities.
The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision is a classic example of how studies on the damaging impact of racial segregation on school children can play a huge role in law. The studies helped sway a few doubting and reluctant Supreme Court justices of the need to outlaw school segregation. The wide body of race studies has been a staple in fields such as the humanities, the social sciences and teacher education.
The detractors understand this. The Heritage Foundation is always providing the intellectual, legal and financial muscle to counter so-called liberal and racial policy issues.
It has churned out a set of counter-position papers that cite 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, LGBTQ clubs for students, diversity training in federal agencies and organizations, and California’s ethnic studies model curriculum, to name a few; it says these are the products of activists and teachers brainwashing Blacks, Hispanics, gays and young people.
The counter attack against critical race theory uses the same game plan that is used to oppose or roll back every past Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act and affirmative action plan. Indeed, anything in law and public policy that even smacks of race is always under conservative fire.
Critical race theory opponents have latched onto, and shamelessly mangled, the color-blind mythology that any talk of racial bigotry and bias and its devastating impact on American society is racism. This deft turn of the tables has made legions of school districts wary about touching the forbidden subject in any way.
The Temecula School District was only the latest in the right-wing steamroll of any teaching that seeks to bring an honest, balanced representation of history. For the right, it’s yet another straw man issue.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network Saturdays at 9 a.m.