In a 1981 interview, Reagan administration official Lee Atwater explained the Republican Party’s strategy to gain the votes of racists without appearing racist themselves. He said, “You start off in 1954 by saying, ‘Ngger, ngger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say ‘ngger’ – that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing; states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract.” He continued, “Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than Whites… ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Ngger, ngger.’” This is the Southern Strategy. However, it seems that today the Republican Party has found its new southern strategy: the Critical Race Theory debate.
Christopher Rufo, the conservative activist who manufactured the caricature of Critical Race Theory being debated, expressed a similar strategy in his fight to prevent education about racism in the United States. He tweeted 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.” He followed in another tweet, “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 recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” The Critical Race Theory debate is a boogieman manufactured by the Republican Party to excite their base and garner more votes at the expense of Black Americans.
“The Critical Race Theory debate is a boogieman manufactured by the Republican Party to excite their base and garner more votes at the expense of Black Americans.”
The Critical Race Theory debate is not about the Critical Race Theory. According to the Brookings Institution, nine states have passed supposed “anti-CRT” bills, and an additional 20 states have introduced or plan to introduce similar “anti-CRT” legislation. However, none of these bills mention Critical Race Theory by name. As reported by the institution, “The legislations mostly ban the discussion, training, and/or orientation that the U.S. is inherently racist as well as any discussions about consciou and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, and oppression.”
For example, as reported by UpNorthNews, bills passed in Wisconsin this October banned schools from teaching: “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 author of one of the bills, Rep. Chuck Wichgers, provided a list of terms he believes would violate the bill. These included: diversity, equity, and inclusion; anti-racism; cultural awareness; oppressor v. oppressed; patriarchy; representation and inclusion; and whiteness.
According to The Tennessean, Tennessee passed a bill that prohibits public or charter schools from teaching that: any individuals are “inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive” because of their race or sex; and a meritocracy is racist or sexist or designed to oppress members of another race or sex.
Earlier this year, Iowa passed bills banning educators from teaching that: The U.S. or the state of Iowa is fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist; an individual by virtue of race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, either consciously or unconsciously; and anyone should “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress” because of one’s race or sex.
Texas passed a bill mandating educators teach that slavery and racism are deviations from the founding principles of the United States. Ignoring, of course, that several of the founding fathers who laid out the nation’s founding principles owned slaves themselves.
“When the education system fails to teach American children about the realities of systemic racism…there is no way they can engage in the critical work of tearing down those systems to create an equitable society.”
Aside from garnering the votes of racists, there is another even more disheartening motive for the Republican Party’s use of the Critical Race Theory Debate: to preserve systems of oppression and promote White Supremacy. While none of these bills even mention Critical Race Theory, they prevent educators from teaching about systemic racism. The reality is that people cannot address an issue they do not know exist. So, when the education system fails to teach American children about the realities of systemic racism and oppression in their nation, there is no way they can engage in the critical work of tearing down those systems to create an equitable society. The result then is that systemic racism and systems of oppression continue to exist.
The Critical Race Theory Debate is the Republican Party’s strategy to protect White Supremacy in America. If we hope to create an equitable nation, we must reject this and ensure that people are equipped to play their part with an education rooted in the realities of the United States.