top of page
sad young couple sitting in table on dark background.jpg


Critical Race Theory Part I BY WORLD-OUTLOOK.COM

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

Right-Wing Campaign Tries to Prevent Teaching Facts of History

This is Part I of a three-part series

By Geoff Mirelowitz and Argiris Malapanis

Over the past year a sharp debate has broken out over how to teach U.S. history. At its center are virulent attacks on critical race theory (CRT). “Now suddenly the term is everywhere,” wrote the New York Times on November 8, 2021.

Leonard Pitts, a syndicated columnist who is African American, put this in perspective in a July 20, 2021, column. “I have forgotten more about race than most people have ever known. Apologies if that sounds like braggadocio,” Pitts said. “Yet until maybe six months ago, I had never heard of ‘critical race theory.’ ”

His next point is compelling: “A search of the Nexis database finds that the term ‘critical race theory’ appeared in U.S. newspapers 1,361 times in the 21 years between January 2000 and New Year’s Day, 2021. It has appeared 6,000 times in the six months since [Emphasis added].” The term is “everywhere” because demonizing it is now one of the primary talking points for U.S. conservatives and the right wing.

Critical race theory, which the New York Times describes as “a graduate-level academic framework that encompasses decades of scholarship,” is primarily a course of study at the university level. Its originators are not demanding it replace the curriculum in elementary schools or high schools. Nor is it the only approach on the subject at the graduate level. These facts do not matter to those who attack it.

The very fact that academics developed CRT is used by the right wing to discredit it. Rightist ideologues and politicians now attribute the study of anything that has to do with racism, at any level of education, to the “liberal elite” and academics who, they claim, seek to “indoctrinate” young people with anti-American and unpatriotic “poison.”

People talk before the start of a rally against the academic doctrine known as critical race theory at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Virginia, on June 12, 2021. (Photo: Yahoo! Life)

What is critical race theory?

“Critical race theory originated over 30 years ago among legal scholars,” Pitts explains accurately. “[I]t holds that race is a social—not a scientific—construct and offers a framework for understanding the role of systemic racism in the law and in legal institutions. It is taught, if at all, in law school—not high school.”

Yet in the recent race for governor in Virginia last November, the victorious Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin made it “a signature issue,” reported the British daily The Guardian, in an article headlined “How did Republicans turn critical race theory into a winning electoral issue.”

“What we won’t do is teach our children to view everything through the lens of race,” declared Youngkin at an October campaign event. “On day one, I will ban critical race theory.” Indeed, Youngkin’s first executive order issued January 15, 2022, after assuming office, prohibited the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts,” including critical race theory.

However, there is no evidence that CRT is actually taught in a single school in Virginia. Nor is there evidence it is taught in any public elementary or high school districts across the country.

It is true that all history cannot be understood solely “through the lens of race.” There are certainly other factors. But it is equally true that issues of “race” and class are often intertwined and are deeply relevant to many aspects of social, economic, and political life in the United States. Moreover, for most of U.S. history, public and private education has ignored, distorted, and consciously hidden the true story of African Americans and the ways it is central to the country’s development.

Malcolm X on Afro-American History

For this reason, one of the most important speeches by Malcolm X, one of the 20th century’s outstanding revolutionary leaders, has remained in print for decades as the book Malcolm X on Afro-American History. Malcolm presented that talk to a meeting of the Organization of Afro-American Unity in January 1965.

Malcolm explained why this history is so important. “We’re going to have a series that will beg to have a series that will be

designed to give us a better understanding of the past, I should say a better understanding of the past, in order that we may understand the present and be prepared for the future,” he said.

Youngkin is not alone in campaigning against critical race theory. Conservatives and right-wing figures across the country have echoed his pledge to ban a theory that is generally not studied below the university level.

“Why are states banning critical race theory?” was the headline of an article published on the Brookings Institution website. The article documents the nine U.S. states that had passed such legislation as of November 2021: Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Arizona’s Supreme Court overturned the statute in November. It is noteworthy that only two of these states “actually mention the words ‘critical race theory’ explicitly,” says the article, noting that nearly “20 additional states have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation.”

The White House launched an opening salvo in this campaign in September 2020, when Donald Trump was still president. A memo from the Executive Office of the President issued by then Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Russell Vought concluded: “The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.”

This followed a series of appearances by right-wing ideologue Christopher Rufo on Fox News. In mid-August 2020, Rufo told conservative TV show host Tucker Carlson he was “declaring a one-man war against critical race theory in the federal government and I’m not going to stop…until we can abolish it within our public institutions.” On August 20, Rufo tweeted, “My goal is simp

le: to persuade the President of the United States to issue an executive order abolishing critical race theory in the federal government.”

On September 5, after the OMB issued its memo, Trump tweeted: “This is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue. Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish.”

This campaign against critical race theory picked up steam in early 2021 in the aftermath of the January 6 riot and attack on U.S. Congress. It is not unreasonable to see that as an effort to shift the focus of political discussion at a time when the right wing was on the defensive.

Backlash against 2020 mass anti-racist protests

What explains the efforts by Trump, Youngkin, and others to weaponize this issue? Part of the answer lies in the historic explosion of action against police brutality and racism in the United States after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.

In one of the largest waves of political protest in U.S. history, millions of people of all skin colors registered their deep opposition to the murders of Floyd, Breanna Taylor, and others across the country—disproportionately African Americans—and the practices of police departments throughout the country that make such violence commonplace.

A consequence of these powerful actions was greater attention to these examples of racism, and others, as well as widespread discussion about them. Tens of millions, especially young people, began to ask at demonstrations, in classrooms, and elsewhere: “Why are Blacks and other people of color so often the victims of cop violence?” “What is the source of racism?” and “How can we end it?”

The wave of protests subsided, in large part because the Democratic Party—whose officials sought to identify to some degree with those who took to the streets—used its resources and influence to persuade those who turned out that the next step was to re-direct their energy to electing Joe Biden and other Democrats to public office in November 2020. The result is that cop violence has continued unabated but mass protest has waned.

Those who defend the status quo are threatened by both the protests and the discussion the street actions generated.

The right-wing effort to demonize CRT can be understood as a backlash to the protests and their impact. It is a response to the renewed interest in grasping the source of racism and how to uproot it.

In order to sow confusion and divert the discussion that quickly spread throughout U.S. culture and society, the right-wing ideologues organized a nationwide campaign. Mainstream conservatives, like Youngkin, joined rightists like Rufo in attacking critical race theory. Rather than an overt defense of white supremacy, “Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and other rightwing media,” wrote The Guardian accurately, “have turned it [CRT] into a catch-all buzzword for any teaching in schools about race and American history.”

Increasingly, conservative media and politicians deem any discussion of the history of slavery, segregation, or other racist discrimination in the United States to be “unpatriotic,” “divisive,” and even “racist.” The use of such terminology is not accidental. It’s a deliberate attempt to shift the discussion that exploded when millions poured into the streets in 2020 to fight cop violence and racism.

Laying the groundwork for this cultural war

Rufo told Carlson on FOX TV that CRT is a kind of “cult indoctrination.”

The president of the Loudoun County, Virginia, Republican Women’s Club, Patti Hidalgo Menders, explained: “They may not call it critical race theory, but they’re calling it equity, diversity, inclusion.” She continued, “It’s dividing our children into victims and oppressors and what’s a child supposed to do with that?

The well-known right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation hosted a January 2021 panel where the moderator, Angela Sailor, declared, “Critical race theory is the complete rejection of the best ideas of the American founding. This is some dangerous, dangerous philosophical poisoning in the blood stream.”

Promoting this backlash, Rufo wrote on Twitter in March 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. [Emphasis added] … 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.”

Rufo and those he speaks for fear the millions who acted against cop violence. They seek to alienate large sections of the population from those who know that opposition to racism is not “cultural insanity.”

Begin with facts and evidence

This “recodification” is the latest tactic in a long effort to obfuscate the actual history of the United States. The study of history, like any other social or natural science, must begin not with theories but with facts and evidence. Theories can be derived from evidence, then debated and discussed. But Rufo and others are not looking for a genuine debate about the strengths or weaknesses of critical race theory. Their false claims about what its originators intend are primarily aimed at blurring or distorting the facts of history. The goal is to prevent precisely the kind of discussion Malcolm suggested is necessary.

The New Hampshire state Commissioner of Education announced an effort recently to encourage individuals to “inform” on teachers who may discuss history in the classroom in a way some do not approve of. According to Carl Ladd, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, “Commissioner [Frank] Edelblut has created a website to report complaints, anonymously if you wish, so that teachers and administrators can be easily reported for teaching history, economics or civics that doesn’t conform to the informant’s personal view of the world.”

This kind of witch-hunt can cost teachers their livelihood. A case in point is the firing of Matthew Hawn from his job in his hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee. “Hawn said he’d never heard of critical race theory until he was accused of teaching it,” said an article in the December 6, 2021, Washington Post. “But in May, the same month Hawn was fired, the Tennessee legislature passed a law banning it from its schools and forbidding educators from teaching that ‘an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive.’ ”

Teacher Matthew Hawn with his dog in his hometown Kingsport, Tennessee (pictured in inset). Hawn was fired from his job in May 2021 after being accused of teaching critical race theory. Hawn said he’d never heard of critical race theory until he was accused of teaching it. (Photos: Earl Neikirk / Washington Post)

Hawn, who is white, was fired “after some parents and students complained when he assigned essays and videos that conveyed Black perspectives, and when he told students in his ‘Contemporary Issues’ class that, ‘White Privilege is a fact,’ ” reported The Root magazine.

In Colleyville, a suburb near Dallas, Texas, a Black principal resigned, accused of sanctioning the teaching of critical race theory, said an article in the December 10, 2021, New York Times. Elsewhere in the state, books have been pulled from library shelves and talks by award-winning writers canceled, as a result of the “Stop Critical Race Theory” campaign.

What are among the historical facts that should be explored and discussed?

Chattel slavery in North America—primarily of Africans brought here forcibly and under the most inhuman and grotesque conditions—began in 1619. That system of unspeakably brutal oppression lasted for 246 years, continuing to enslave generations of the descendants of the originally enslaved people. It was central to both the economic life and social relations, first of the 13 original colonies, and then of the nation that was founded. It established anti-Black racism as a defining feature of much of life in the U.S., rationalized by claims of white supremacy.