Steve Patterson: The grotesque politics of race, rage and fear – Here we go again!
How many have heard of “critical race theory”? Better yet, how many have the slightest notion as to what it really is? My bet is quite a few readers have at least encountered the term, but don’t have a clue as to what the so-called theory examines.
If you haven’t heard of “critical race theory,” you surely will. It is the centerpiece of the latest Republican-inspired scare tactic designed to frighten the public, create a scenario that outrages sensibilities by obscuring history, and creating alarming, ghastly rage over school curriculums. The sad and tragic fact is this nonsense has resonance with a large swath of the electorate. It recently had a huge impact in statewide elections in Virginia, leading to upset victories by otherwise underdog Republican candidates. Republicans in Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, and Tennessee are already in a frantic rush to pass legislation protecting children from the theory’s devastation. And the biggest circus barker of them all, Tucker Carlson, hyperbolically calls it a “poison” that will end civilization as we know it!
Anybody remember the Scopes Monkey Trial?
It’s the oldest trick in the demagogue’s play book. Scare the public about some nonexistent Demon and paint oneself as the only one capable of slaying the demon! It’s shameful, despicable, contemptible, loathsome, and abhorrent, and unfortunately effective! Warning: beware of self-professed demon slayers!
The only problem with this new “boogie man”(read demon) is that this obscure academic theory is not being taught in any Mississippi classroom, or for that matter in any elementary or secondary classroom in America, nor is it even being contemplated as being taught in those sacred spaces! So, it’s obviously, once again, a solution looking for a problem that does not exist. In other words, it’s a grotesque, despicable political ploy designed to outrage the public by appealing to irrational bigotry, prejudices, and unfounded fear of historical truth. Yet, Republicans all across America insist on weaponizing this little-known and scarcely understood academic construct for their own benefit.
It’s all undeniably rubbish! Putrid rubbish, in my estimation. And, oh, BTW, thundering hordes of violent, machete-bearing Hispanics are not gathering on the southern border planning a bloody assault on American soil, either. Nor is JFK, Jr., soon to be resurrected to endorse Donald Trump, as some crackpots incredibly believe! And, no, Covid is not a Jewish plot created by Bill Gates! It’s all incredibly insane rubbish! Who comes up with these things? Good question, but I have an idea.
The CRT plot follows an age-old marketing gimmick wherein only Republican ”patriots” stand resolute against this obscure academic theory that allegedly threatens to corrupt our children’s innocent minds. Mississippi’s Governor Tate Reeves and House Speaker Phillip Gunn have both already sounded the alarm and started fanning the flames of fear in language reminiscent of 1960’s segregationists. They have both vowed to ban the consideration of this mysterious theory in all public schools.
In obedience to those goals, the Senate recently passed legislation purporting to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in all public-school curriculums, including state universities and community colleges. Actually, the measure just says that nobody can teach that any person is inferior to another in areas of race, religion, sex, etc. In my view, this legislation is, on its face, an unconstitutional assault on academic freedoms. But, what’s the Constitution, when we’ve got to protect the innocent minds of our children from these radical academic notions? The Senator who introduced the legislation couldn’t even define “critical race theory,” but nevertheless, it is a threat to be banished? Hmmm.
In today’s environment, I wonder if those whose names are on the ballot can muster the courage to stand up to this hogwash. Leadership requires courage, but political suicide ensures that one will never be the leader. As for me, I would not stand with those who perpetrate such a dishonorable notion, especially at the same time real problems demanding honest leadership go unaddressed! Sadly, however, I well understand the sway bigotry, fear, race, and rage still hold in my beloved state, and I won’t be surprised to see how others react.
So what exactly is “critical race theory? What are its origins? And what does it ask our individual intellects to contemplate?
“Critical race theory,” simply put, is an academic theory organized over 30 years ago among legal scholars that holds that race is a social, not scientific, construct and offers a framework for studying and understanding the role of systemic racism in the law and the development of public policy in historical context. It is taught, if at all, in law schools, and perhaps a select few graduate seminars in sociology and political science departments. Not in high schools and certainly not in elementary curriculums!
Our modern desire to gain immediate expertise on complicated issues like “critical race theory” by simply glancing at headlines, listening to partisan talking heads on television, or reading expansive Facebook postulating does not work with issues of this gravity. “Critical race theory” is not a simple idea, which is why it’s in law school or select graduate studies. Plus, it requires critical thinking, and that’s in short supply these days, especially in the Mississippi Legislature.
An article published last year in the American Bar Association Journal does as good a job as anything I have read describing the theory and explaining how it might be examined in an educational setting. The article titled ”A Lesson on Critical Race Theory” is lengthy, but well worth reading. I encourage anyone who is intellectually curious or particularly agitated at the concept of “critical race theory” to read this article before developing an opinion as to the theory’s merits. Trust me, there is no simple, sound-byte-way to fully understand the huge body of evidence supporting the theory.
The man behind critical race theory, as detailed in a New Yorker article, is a former Harvard Law School professor named Derrick Bell. Professor Bell was an accomplished civil rights lawyer before spending his later years in academia. His original thoughts, which eventually were dubbed “critical race theory,” advanced the idea that civil rights legal victories, the promises contained and guaranteed in the U S Constitution and civil rights legislation, had little practical impact on American racial discriminatory practices. The reason for this, according to Bell, is that racism is embedded in our legal public policy constructs (oftentimes unintentionally) and institutions. In other, more simple words: systemic racism.
Does systemic racism exist? Well, my life experiences teach me it most definitely does. After almost 50 years of involvement in public policy development and surviving and at times prospering in the economy of the state with the largest proportion of Black population in the nation, I am witness to systemic racism. Almost daily. As a banker, I saw it with the deplorable practice of “Red Lining” and prohibitions to making loans in geographic areas where African Americans lived.
I even witnessed the objections to public kindergartens that called the idea a baby-sitting service for Blacks. I would have to be blind not to see it at work in jury selections, incarceration rates, gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts, and refusals to adequately fund poorly funded public-school districts. And make no mistake, Mississippi’s refusal to expand Medicaid makes no sense without racism!
History is indeed replete with both benign neglect and purposefully aimed examples of institutional racial discrimination. It’s systemic throughout our history.
Yes, racism is real. Yet the cynical Neanderthals in charge of public policy in the nation’s poorest and most diverse state spend their time stoking fears and prohibiting even the discussion of an obscure academic theory that attempts to better understand our biggest problems.
Banning “critical race theory” is nothing more than a political charade. A distraction reminiscent of cynical political tactics of the past. Remember the so-called “war on Christmas”? Or how about “sharia law is being implemented” or gay wedding cakes? There are no words, at least none I dare use in this space, to describe the cynicism of those who employ these transparent manipulations, or the gullibility of those that fall prey to the charade and let them get by with it!
One would think that with our planet on fire, Covid raging, Democracy itself under attack, hospitals in crisis, schools in turmoil and bullets flying around our children’s heads in the streets, caring leaders would not actually contend that some obscure academic theory poses the largest threat to our children.
But, alas, that would require thinking about someone other than themselves, an ethos in short supply at the Capitol today.