By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
They are at it again. It is the continuing shrill attack by the Republican Party and the right-wing echo chamber on the issue of critical race theory.
This time the assault came from white Mississippi state senators. By a nearly unanimous vote, all except two senators voted to ban the teaching of critical race theory in the state’s public schools.
The bill craftily did not mention race theory. It blandly forbids public schools in the state from forcing students to agree “that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.”
The only reason the vote to pass the bill wasn’t unanimous was because the Senate’s Black Democratic members boycotted the vote.
Now keep in mind not a single public school in Mississippi has anything remotely close to a curriculum that compels students to learn about race and racism and its pernicious effects. The vote on the issue was so ludicrous that even the bill’s sponsor stumbled and bumbled in trying to answer why the bill was needed to oppose something that doesn’t even exist.
The best he could come up with is that the legislation was a safeguard against the future. Huh?
Presumably, this meant that at some unknown distant time and place, some school district in the state might slip something through that required discussions of race into the classroom.
At first glance, the Mississippi vote is comically ludicrous. Only a tiny handful of school districts, all in major urban areas such as Washington, D.C., have anything in their curriculum that encourages students to think about and discuss racial issues in the classroom.
Yet, beneath the seeming silliness of hysteria over what is a non-issue, there is a cold, cynical, political calculation. It can be summed up in two words: intimidation and control.
First, a quick thumbnail sketch at just what is causing conservatives to raise the roof on a spurious issue. Critical race theory is a dated term that’s a scholarly euphemism for defining, discussing and combatting racism and its effects. There is nothing particularly new or radical about this.
That all changed with President Donald Trump. He demanded a cease and desist to any school district and/or teacher that dared compel students to be subject to “left-wing indoctrination.” He meant any mention of the pernicious history of racial bias in America.
Trump railed that this fanned the very racism that 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 rant with an executive order that virtually wiped out any diversity training for federal employees.
A pack of conservative writers, academics, bloggers, politicians and especially Fox News then piled on. They screamed that critical race theory was a new, sneaky, insidious plot to indoctrinate, rearrange, distort and twist history, and malign whites as the fount of all racial evil.
Republican-controlled state legislatures quickly took the cue. The backlash has gained furious steam.
According to an Education Week survey, two dozen states have introduced bills or taken steps to restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism. Mississippi is just the latest.
The conservative attackers’ real concern is not that teaching about America’s past and present history of racial and social injustice will poison the minds of minority students. Their concern is that it could seep into curriculums and presentations to influence a lot of white students. That could have a far-reaching political consequence.
It could decrease the generational racial polarization that the GOP banks on to maintain political power and control in a nation that is on the verge of becoming an ethnic minority-majority nation.
The counter attackers understand this. The ultra-right Heritage Foundation provides 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 in schools, diversity training in federal agencies and organizations, and California’s ethnic studies model curriculum, to name a few, as supposedly the product of activists and teachers instilling Blacks, Hispanics, gays and young people with the evil white’s brainwash.
Critical race theory opponents have latched onto shamelessly mangled, the color-blind mythology that any talk of racial bigotry and bias and its continued devastating impact on American society is racism. This deft turning of the tables has made legions of school districts wary about touching the forbidden subject in any way.
Mississippi won’t be the last state to look silly passing a bill to ban something that doesn’t exist. Anytime the issue is racism, expect more silly stuff from those who see a threat in any discussion, or worse, action to do something about it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “Duped! The GOP’s Lock on America’s Underclass” (Middle Passage Press). He hosts the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network Saturday at 9 a.m.