Select Page

Cultural Hysteria: The battles over what we teach in history class is not about Critical Race Theory

“Not only do they not know about it, they don’t want to know about it. They don’t care about what the ideas are. They can take the name, fill it with meaning, and create this hysteria, and that can be a winning issue when they really don’t have any other agendas to push. Obviously they don’t get that one of the main points of critical race theory is that to understand racism in our history only as a matter of prejudice or bias—as a matter of individuals who are morally bankrupt—is not to understand the history of race in America. The whole point of critical race theory was to repudiate the idea that we can talk about racism only as a quality of individuals rather than as a structured reality that’s embedded in institutions.” – Professor Kimberle Crenshaw

“This is the Tea Party to the 10th power…” – Steve Bannon, Trump’s former adviser discussing Critical Race Theory

In recent months critical race theory has been hotly debated in school board meetings across the country. A legal theory that’s over forty years old, has become the newest and latest boogeyman White people have created to fight back against the truth coming out of discussions of systemic racism. Critical race theory, also known as CRT, is not the real target. The words “critical race theory” have become a proxy for anything related to telling a different version of American history than what has been traditionally taught. The battle to maintain the status quo has picked up steam and “critical race theory” is the tool being used to scare Americans into not taking a close look at the ugly parts of American history.

What many miss, is that right wing think tanks, talking heads and news organizations have been on a mission to deliberately change the narrative since issues of systemic racism became mainstream. Fox News in particular has been gouging its viewers in the eye with “critical race theory” stories for months. MediaMatters for America reports that Fox has mentioned “critical race theory” nearly 1,300 times in the past 3.5 months.

This is no accident. There is a concerted effort to muddy the waters in terms of what our children and teachers will learn about America. The efforts to kill any anti-racism teaching is quietly aligned with bans on teaching anti-sexism lessons as well. The reason no one knows this is because using what I call “weapons of mass distraction,” the right has tricked Americans into thinking it’s all about race when it clearly is about much more. When I read the bills being proposed and passed in state after state it became abundantly clear.

As an example, Wisconsin Senate Bill 411, introduced on June 10, 2021 states that it is:

“relating to: anti-racism and anti-sexism pupil instruction and anti-racism and anti-sexism training for employees of school districts and independent charter schools.”

I spoke to a group of progressive Whites recently and asked them if they knew about the anti-sexism training prohibition in the Wisconsin bill and they were completely unaware.

This is why the battle must be waged against these efforts by paying close attention—not to what they say—but instead to what they do. Don’t get distracted by “critical race theory,” because if you do, you will lose way more than you realize. By the time you figure it out, it will be too late to slow it down, and will require lawsuits to reverse the trends. This battle will not be won in school board meetings. That’s where the distraction is taking place. I describe it as a pick pocket rubbing up against your shoulder while reaching into your pocket to steal your wallet. Don’t be so easily duped. The statehouse and Congress are the places where the battle should be fought.

Some have argued that this began with President Donald Trump last year banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” at the federal level. Although that Executive Order appears to be the genesis of this current battle, it was simply the first noticeable salvo of the war. The battle has been raging for a significantly longer time in conservative think tanks. This is a culmination of decades of pushback to the gains and demands of the Civil Rights Movement.

A December 2020 report entitled Critical Race Theory, the New Intolerance, and Its Grip on America written by Jonathan Butcher and Mike Gonzalez at the Heritage Foundation is a 42-page diatribe on critical race theory. It is clear from the first few paragraphs where the current language used to discredit “critical race theory” comes from.

“The Marxist analysis of society made up of categories of oppressors and oppressed; An unhealthy dollop of Nietzschean relativism, which means that language does not accord to an objective reality, but is the mere instrument of power dynamics; The idea that the oppressed impede revolution when they adhere to the cultural beliefs of their oppressors—and must be put through re-education sessions; The concomitant need to dismantle all societal norms through relentless criticism; and The replacement of all systems of power and even the descriptions of those systems with a worldview that describes only oppressors and the oppressed.”

They go on to say, “CRT’s intolerance can be found in schools, the workplace, and the entertainment sector, ‘normalizing’ belief in systemic racism for the average American.” All of this is within the first two pages of the report. They conclude by saying:

“Critical Race Theory began as an academic concept, but we can find the ideas all around us today, from schoolhouses to the corporate world to Hollywood. Racism and intolerance should have no place in America, but CRT is more than just a philosophical objection to discrimination. When followed to its logical conclusion, CRT is destructive and rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based…”

A close reading of the report shows clearly that this is not a new battleground. This very detailed report was researched and written months before Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13950 on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping in September 2020 but was published in December 2020.

Taking a close look at that Executive Order will show how it was a blueprint using the same language as the current bills being introduced around the country.

Section Five banned teaching that:

  • (a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
  • (b) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
  • (c) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex;
  • (d) members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex;
  • (e) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex;
  • (f) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
  • (g) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex; or
  • (h) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.

Wisconsin Senate Bill 411 prohibits teaching that:

  • (a) One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
  • (b) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
  • (c) An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race or sex.
  • (d) Individuals of one race or sex are not able to and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.
  • (e) An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by the individual’s race or sex.
  • (f) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals of the same race or sex.
  • (g) An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of the individual’s race or sex.
  • (h) Systems based on meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or are created by individuals of a particular race to oppress individuals of another race.

The language is mostly identical in the Senate bill and the Executive order. I’ve looked at bills in two dozen states and find that the language in the Executive Order is in most cases the exact same language used in a large majority of the state bills with a few states using just portions of the provisions from the Executive Order. I have never seen so much copying and pasting by elected officials in my life.

Just one-third of these twenty-five bills use the term “critical race theory.” Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Utah mention and/or directly prohibit critical race theory in their bills. Iowa uses the same title as the Trump Executive Order in its bill. Florida and Missouri prohibit teaching using the Pulitzer Prize winning 1619 Project from the New York Times Magazine as well.

As of early June 2021, bills have been passed or introduced in each of these states; Arizona (January 2021), Arkansas (January 2021), Florida (December 2020), Georgia (May 2021), Idaho (April 2021), Iowa (January 2021), Kentucky (June 2021), Louisiana (April 2021), Maine (February 2021), Michigan (May 2021), Missouri (January 2021), Montana (May 2021), New Hampshire (March 2021), North Carolina (March 2021), Ohio (May 2021), Oklahoma (May 2021), Pennsylvania (June 2021), Rhode Island (March 2021), South Carolina (May 2021), South Dakota (January 2021), Tennessee (February 2021), Texas (March 2021), Utah (May 2021), West Virginia (March 2021) and Wisconsin (June 2021).

Florida was the first state to get the ball rolling on this. If we look back to the events which led up to the Trump Executive Order we get a sense of how this all came to overwhelm school board and legislative hall conversations around the country.

The Washington Post noted that “critical race theory” was mentioned just 132 times on Fox News in 2020 but had been mentioned 1,860 times since then.

On September 1, 2020 a little known, former documentary film maker, Christopher Rufo made his debut on Fox News telling Tucker Carlson that “Critical race theory has pervaded every institution in the federal government.” The Discovery Institute Research Fellow told Carlson “What I have discovered is that critical race theory has become, in essence, the default ideology of the federal bureaucracy and is now being weaponized against the American people.” Fox News reported that, “Rufo added, that Trump should ‘immediately issue’ an ‘executive order and stamp out this destructive, divisive, pseudoscientific ideology at its root.’”

Trump was watching the show and the following day asked for some action on this. Two days later, Russell Vought, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies regarding “Training in the Federal Government.”

“It has come to the President’s attention that Executive Branch agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to date “training” government workers to believe divisive, antiAmerican propaganda. For example, according to press reports, employees across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that “virtually all White people contribute to racism” or where they are required to say that they “benefit from racism.” According to press reports, in some cases these training have further claimed that there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job. These types of “trainings” not only run counter to the fundamental beliefs for which our Nation has stood since its inception, but they also engender division and resentment within the Federal workforce…The President has directed me to ensure that Federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions. Accordingly, to that end, the Office of Management and Budget will shortly issue more detailed guidance on implementing the President’s directive. In the meantime, all agencies are directed to begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on “critical race theory “white privilege,” or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil. In addition, all agencies should begin to identify all available avenues within the law to cancel any such contracts and/or to divert Federal dollars away from these unAmerican propaganda training sessions.”

On September 28, the Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping Executive Order was issued by President Trump.

“Today, however, many people are pushing a different vision of America that is grounded in hierarchies based on collective social and political identities rather than in the inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual. This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans. This destructive ideology is grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world…Unfortunately, this malign ideology is now migrating from the fringes of American society and threatens to infect core institutions of our country. Instructors and materials teaching that men and members of certain races, as well as our most venerable institutions, are inherently sexist and racist are appearing in workplace diversity trainings across the country, even in components of the Federal Government and among Federal contractors…But training like that discussed above perpetuates racial stereotypes and division and can use subtle coercive pressure to ensure conformity of viewpoint. Such ideas may be fashionable in the academy, but they have no place in programs and activities supported by Federal taxpayer dollars. Research also suggests that blame-focused diversity training reinforces biases and decreases opportunities for minorities.”

To claim that these trainings which foster an understanding of American history that is much more accurate from what is generally taught is disingenuous if not outright hypocrisy. To not understand how clearly these things are attached at the hip would be foolish. Do you honestly believe that the Executive Order with his name on it, was written by the Donald Trump?

Rufo is now the poster boy for anti-crtitcal race theory campaigns. He has appeared on talk shows and even has a so-called documentary on YouTube that has been viewed over 95,000 times. The promotion machine behind Rufo has tried very hard to even convince Black people that he is a genius.

The Washington Post reported that, “He has worked with conservative think tanks including the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute and the Discovery Institute in Seattle.” The same report stated, “In March, he wrote on Twitter that his goal was to conflate any number of topics into a new bucket called critical race theory.”

“I basically took that body of criticism, I paired it with breaking news stories that were shocking and explicit and horrifying, and made it political. Turned it into a salient political issue with a clear villain.”

To make his mission perfectly clear, Rufo showed his hand by stating on Twitter on March 15, 2021:

“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.’ We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”

There is a clear attempt to arouse fear and resentment among Whites in the U.S. by blaming “critical race theory” for current divisions in the country. It is easier to use this proxy than to talk about what they really mean. When he mentions what is “unpopular with Americans” he clearly means White Americans.

Recently a colleague sent me a document that is being spread far and wide as a tool to defeat “critical race theory.” It comes from an organization called Citizens for Renewing America where the aforementioned Russell Vought is now the President. Their website states, “Your gift to Citizens for Renewing America, a 501(c)(4) organization, will support mobilizing grassroots to hold Washington DC and state legislatures accountable while bringing the battle to the Left.”

The document titled, Model School Board Language to Prohibit Critical Race Theory, is something every person who thinks this is about just “critical race theory” needs to read in detail. It’s available online. They claim the following:

“The purpose of this policy (or resolution) is to prohibit: the teaching and promotion of critical race theory, divisive concepts, and other forms of government-sanctioned or -facilitated racism in our school district and to uphold the foundational American principle that all people are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Section five details all of the concepts that fall under the umbrella of “critical race theory.”

“Additional terms and concepts below that either wholly violate the above clauses, or which may if taught through the framework of any of the prohibited activities defined above, partially violate the above clauses in what is otherwise broadly defined as “critical race theory”:

This is a short list of some of those things deemed dangerous to America that should be prohibited learning for students and staff alike.

Critical Race Theory, Social Emotional Learning, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Culturally responsive teaching, Anti-racism, Anti-bias training, Conscious and unconscious bias, Cultural appropriation/misappropriation, Cultural awareness, Cultural competence, Culturally responsive practices, Diversity training, Educational justice, Equity, Implicit/Explicit bias, Inclusivity education, Intersectionality, Microaggressions, Multiculturalism, Oppressor vs. oppressed, Racial healing, Racial justice, Racial prejudice, Racial sensitivity training, Restorative justice, Restorative practices, Social justice, Structural racism, Systemic racism, Unconscious bias, White privilege, White supremacy, Woke.

This is a short list of concepts they are fighting to prohibit. As I’ve tried to say to people for several years, those who build a system to benefit themselves, that allows them to justify treating others horribly don’t just give up those systems and turn over a new leaf. They fight to maintain their system because it offers them tremendous benefits. The anti-sexism training part of the Wisconsin Bill is important to understand. It is not just about anti-racism. If you believe it is, you will fight the wrong battle and I guarantee you will lose. Wake up and see the real truth behind these efforts. The conversations since George Floyd was murdered has led these folks to create a new tool to prevent “woke” White people and BIPOC communities from getting the truth out. The sexism, racism and many other types of marginalization present in this country are being openly talked about for the first time in this nation’s history and these people want to make those conversations go away. The words of Frederick Douglas are still just as instructive today as when he spoke them in 1857.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress…Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others.” – Frederick Douglas

About The Author

Reggie Jackson

As an award-winning Senior Columnist for the Milwaukee Independent, Reggie Jackson covers a range of African American issues. He is also co-founder of Nurturing Diversity Partners, and volunteers as Head Griot for America’s Black Holocaust Museum (ABHM) in Bronzeville.