America teaches us that America is a racist country.
June 12, 2021 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Why Everyone Is Wrong About Critical Race Theory In Schools A Very Special Clapback Mailbag by Michael Harriot, from The Root "The problem with this controversy is that there is no controversy. In fact, there are more states who are trying to ban Critical Race Theory than there are schools that teach Critical Race Theory."
posted by RobinofFrocksley (38 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
Could Harriot possibly be suggesting that one of the moral panics du jour has yet again been entirely confected by a right wing noise machine now fully devoted to the illegitimate retention of power, any pretence at legitimacy having been pissed up the wall by its choice of leadership in 2016?

Shocked, I tell you. Shocked.
posted by flabdablet at 8:28 AM on June 12 [84 favorites]


My Grandma would say that anyone getting as upset as the people who want CRT and The 1619 Project banned has a guilty conscience.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:59 AM on June 12 [68 favorites]


We white people may not be directly or wholly responsible for white privilege but we sure as hell have the responsibility to acknowledge we benefit from it and the need to get rid of it.

That's CRT in a nutshell. That's what they're afraid of. They're afraid of not being unquestionably better than someone because of some immutable characteristic of themselves.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:29 AM on June 12 [41 favorites]


Me, a filthy immigrant, living here on unceded Lakota land, being constantly slapped in the face with WILDLY ABUNDANT racism, hearing the country isn't racist: lol

(that said, there is a lot of well intentioned racism on the left that is still racism when it comes from people who identify as "the good guys" but I don't want laws banning these ideas, I want them defeated in open and honest debate. Which the right is too cowardly and disingenuous to ever manage.)
posted by seraphine at 9:33 AM on June 12 [17 favorites]


Agree with both YCPR and seraphine, and all of the comments above. But I think the framing of Harriot's piece misses the mark. "Methinks the essayist doth protest too much." The Right is correctly afraid of these ideas because they disagree with them. Harriot:
So Critical Race Theory does not teach that America is a racist country.
America teaches us that America is a racist country.
Well, no. If that were the case we wouldn't be having these battles. It's CRT that makes this connection and argument. It's the Right who are denying this, even though they are wrong.

Harriot:
If you have ever used a version of the phrase: “Not all white people..” you are employing a basic tenet of Critical Race Theory. CRT says that, because white people collectively benefit from racism, they are unlikely to eliminate it.
Yes. Correct. That's what scares the Right. Saying we aren't teaching CRT while at the same time widely communicating what is clearly one of the tenets of CRT isn't being honest.

It's better to take the fight directly back at the right-wing propagandists and electeds and loudly proclaim "Yes, we are teaching these principles because they are true and here are the objective proof points."
posted by PhineasGage at 9:54 AM on June 12 [9 favorites]


America teaches us that America is a racist country.

Well, no. If that were the case we wouldn't be having these battles.


People who are not taught this, via simply living or observing, every single day, aren't likely to be taught it by CRT either. I think Harriott is saying that CRT as an academic pursuit is useful for all kinds of things but it's not gonna do this job, and it's ridiculous to point to it and say that it is, no matter the motivation for saying so.
posted by dragstroke at 10:38 AM on June 12 [16 favorites]


That's CRT in a nutshell. That's what they're afraid of.

Possible also the bill for reparations.
posted by mhoye at 11:04 AM on June 12 [5 favorites]


Saying we aren't teaching CRT while at the same time widely communicating what is clearly one of the tenets of CRT isn't being honest.

The idea that America is a racist country is hardly exclusive to the academic domain of critical race theory, and in fact long predates it.
posted by eviemath at 11:20 AM on June 12 [25 favorites]


If you have ever used a version of the phrase: “Not all white people..” you are employing a basic tenet of Critical Race Theory. CRT says that, because white people collectively benefit from racism, they are unlikely to eliminate it.

This phrase sort of confused me. I think rather than "employing a basic tenet of" a better phrase (and what I think the author meant?) would be "enacting a basic tenet of racism as demonstrated/predicted by CRT." When someone says, "Not all white people," they separate themselves (presuming it's a "white person" saying it) from those other white people ("I'm not like them because I'm not racist") while simultaneously reaffirming their membership in the in-group ("but I am white"). They are, de facto, defending systemic racism by denying their participation as passive beneficiary and therefore (partly) responsible for its dismantling.

The thinking that underlies the evergreen right-wing attacks on "revisionist" history or "liberal anti-American" curricula is really telling, when you look at it. In a lot of their agitprop, they'll use some variation of "indoctrinate," rather than or alongside "teach." The slippage between these two words reveals a fundamental assumption of authoritarian right-wing thinking: that at its most basic, (the purpose of) teaching is indoctrination, to lay down a series of immutable rules to follow that will reproduce the status quo and all its hierarchies, from the most immediate family relationships to broader social relationships. It isn't about learning anything new or different, or developing the individuality of the student or about empowering them for new opportunities, except insofar as those opportunities are to move up the pyramid in more-or-less acceptable ways. (The only learning that's really valid from this perspective is of either technical or managerial knowledge.) The role of the teacher is unquestioned authority, the student unquestioning recipient. And the authority of the teacher should reinforce the authority of the parent, and vice versa, all the way up the ladder to dear leader. ("It was good enough for me, and for my parents and grandparents before me, so it's good enough for you!")

But when the teacher teaches something that differs from or challenges what the parent holds to be true, then the student is going to come home and contradict the parent. The system breaks down, because rather than the teacher reinforcing the nested, overlapping systems of order and authority, they are undermining them. In effect, the teacher becomes a rival authority who is trying to steal the power from the accepted "rightful" wielders.

From the authoritarian perspective, this isn't "learning" or advancement of any sort; it's simply unthinking dissidence, defiance, disorder. The student isn't "thinking for themselves," from the right-wing perspective; they are just mindlessly reciting whatever anti-American slogans that their "cultural marxist" professors drilled into their minds. Because the authoritarian mindset relies on and emerges from a willingness to accept the word of authority simply because it is the word of authority (and thus you get the opportunity to be the authority to those below you), any ideas that threaten it are simply opposing forms of their own authoritarian systems of thinking. In very simplistic terms, they can't imagine that someone could learn and perhaps willingly change their beliefs, so when it happens to someone else, they assume it to be the "evil" counterpart to their authorized "truth."
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:46 AM on June 12 [48 favorites]


Because the authoritarian mindset relies on and emerges from a willingness to accept the word of authority simply because it is the word of authority (and thus you get the opportunity to be the authority to those below you), any ideas that threaten it are simply opposing forms of their own authoritarian systems of thinking.

See ANY Peter Navarro interview to watch this in action. He will say something and grow increasingly agitated when interviewers question his position.

Small "A" authoritarianism: "It's true becuase I said so!"
posted by Max Power at 12:02 PM on June 12 [7 favorites]


"It's true becuase I said so!"
posted by Max Power


Eponysterical?
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:58 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]



"It's true becuase I said so!"
posted by Max Power

Eponysterical?


I stole this name from Homer Simpson who stole it from a hair dryer!

Don't know who own's Homer, Fox?
posted by Max Power at 1:11 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I wish someone would mention that our number one founding principle is that the government is not allowed to have an opinion on the things people say, including in schools. They're not allowed to do this thing they're trying to do, and yet they're doing it anyway, and no one's going to stop them.
posted by bleep at 1:34 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


The thing I think it's hard for many white people to accept is that "racist" doesn't necessarily mean they actively hate black people and wish bad things upon them. Understandably, most people don't want to be characterized that way. But when you look at things like redlining (oh my GOD, redlining!), and the facts that blacks are 6X more likely than whites to be arrested and convicted for drugs despite the fact that white people possess, consume and sell illegal drugs at higher rates, that majority white schools receive $23 billion more in funding than majority non-white schools despite having the same number of students, that black people disproportionately wait longer to vote and to receive emergency services, that there are fewer hospitals and healthcare services in black neighborhoods, that people in non-white neighborhoods pay more for car insurance compared to white neighborhoods with comparable statistics, that black people are disproportionately killed by police and that the only significant variable in predicting whether someone would be shot is if they were black, and so on and so on and so on -- it becomes pretty hard to deny that, even if you don't wish bad things for black people, we are participating in systemic racism. In fact, it's pretty much impossible for us not to be participating in, and benefitting from systemic racism. Saying that "America is a racist country" doesn't mean that every white person in the United States hates black people, it's just telling it like it is. And why shouldn't people be educated in how it is?

Also: Michael Harriott is a national treasure. He has opened my eyes to so many things that I had never thought about particularly deeply before because... well, because I'm white and I didn't have to.
posted by slkinsey at 2:57 PM on June 12 [54 favorites]


It’s possible all of this revanchist blowback against CRT won’t have the outcome they think it will.

Facts are a helluva pesky thing.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 3:32 PM on June 12 [14 favorites]


Saying that "America is a racist country" doesn't mean that every white person in the United States hates black people, it's just telling it like it is. And why shouldn't people be educated in how it is?

It is as simple as acknowledging that the playing field for Americans is not even, it has never been even, and it will likely never reach evenness.

And common-clay-of-the-new-West Americans hear a common refrain, over and over -- that any attempt to rectify this is wrong, that any course corrections will be at their expense and come out of their pockets, and that the field is _already_ tilted too far in the other side's favor.
posted by delfin at 3:42 PM on June 12 [3 favorites]


Even reparations and equity look like hard-work in America -
Judge suspends debt relief program for farmers of color after conservative law firm, white farmers sue Biden
posted by phigmov at 5:27 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


...any course corrections will be at their expense and come out of their pockets...

AND EGOS.

Salving their egos is almost more important, lest we forget Lyndon B. Johnson's quote:

“If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you.”

In other words, in a very real sense, white people of all economic classes in the US have been paying the white people in power to keep them convinced by any means necessary that they are better than black people, no matter the price to them. Every new group of Europeans that immigrated to the US have agreed to pay that price upon acceptance to whiteness. Black people have "paid" as well to keep them deluded; OK, not so much "paid" as been robbed on physical, psychological, spiritual, and material levels.

“He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.” — Crystal Minton to NYT reporter Patricia Mazzei. Remember that, in January 2019?

We should never underestimate the power people feel when they believe they're better than someone else, and how much of a rage they fly into when that belief is threatened, especially if that's all they have in this life.
posted by droplet at 5:28 PM on June 12 [20 favorites]


This is a good article that deftly and correctly uses basketball analogies to explain in-group benefits. Basketball analogies are the only things Americans can generally agree on.

But I would emphasize that many of these laws are written, by accident, to exclude white supremacist curriculum, like the United Daughters of the Confederacy curriculum that teaches that Black people deserve to be enslaved, from state curricula. This could be used to change state textbooks to teach real history....
posted by eustatic at 5:34 PM on June 12 [4 favorites]


Seconding the admiration of Michael Harriot. About 1/2 of what he writes has me nodding in agreement, about 1/4 is totally new thinking to me and illuminating, and about 1/4 of what he writes makes me (a white guy) uncomfortable. It's that last quarter I try to pay particularly close attention to because I pretty much always learn something once I figure out why it makes me uncomfortable.

Tangentially related: a political cartoon by Rob Rogers referencing critical race theory in the context of the funeral of Emmett Till.
posted by Nelson at 5:47 PM on June 12 [17 favorites]


Maybe because CRT is being framed as anti white? How about it instead is told as a part of reframing of the true origins of various American laws and policies? Maybe we could do a true origins of America's foreign policy as a follow up.
posted by asra at 6:59 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


I thought this story out of New Jersey was in a similar vein to the Texas story Big Al 8000 linked above.

School Board: We’re changing the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the school calendar.

Irate Parents: What? How very dare you! You might as well just get rid of all the holiday names and simply call them “days off!”

School Board: You know what? That’s a great idea. That’s exactly what we’ll do. Will just give the kids a day off and your family can celebrate whatever you feel like.

Irate Parents: ASDFGHJKL
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:16 PM on June 12 [33 favorites]


America already teaches CRT in most schools. They just call it "Active Shooter Drills" instead.
posted by srboisvert at 5:20 AM on June 13 [10 favorites]


Maybe because CRT is being framed as anti white? How about it instead is told as a part of reframing of the true origins of various American laws and policies? Maybe we could do a true origins of America's foreign policy as a follow up.

One thing that Harriot's article reminds me of is that the core of CRT can be simply illustrated by just 2 things.

The US Supreme Court's decision in Dredd Scott

and The US Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.
posted by mikelieman at 6:47 AM on June 13 [8 favorites]


I like to approach this stuff from the other end. All perceived "racial" differences are the result of diet, climate, latitude and genetic isolation over time. But we have not speciated like Darwin's finches. We are still genetically pretty much the same Homo Sapiens that started leaving Africa about 50k years ago, with a smattering of Neanderthal and Denisovan for spice. One trait we all seem to have in common is a proclivity for xenophobia, fear of the outsider, the other. And when this fear is addressed by proclaiming your own particular flavor of human to be unquestionably superior, then you have racism and its horrors. Unfortunately this "solution" seems to be endemic as well. This stuff has deep roots among us apes...
posted by jim in austin at 8:41 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


because white people collectively benefit from racism, they are unlikely to eliminate it

This is so well said. I need this to be my mantra when dealing with the WT that have breeded their way into dominating what used to be my family... 'my' as in the small family unit whose collective emotional life I was once a part of. Not 'my' possessively through economic ownership, oh no, that I could never afford, because:

We should never underestimate the power people feel when they believe they're better than someone else, and how much of a rage they fly into when that belief is threatened, especially if that's all they have in this life.

It's so ironic. It seems to me that Americans have been conditioned to cling to the notion that Canadians are somehow magically non-racist (they/we aren't), and Canadians cling to American conversations about racism because apparently only Americans have been willing to develop the language to thoroughly illustrate and elucidate the value of racism vs non-racism. What do they call that in nature...... like a perfect feedback loop for the racism in the North American imperially-molded collective subconscious. Canadians are by default "not racist" because we simply don't talk about it, much like how "only Americans" are racist because they have to talk about it (otherwise along the downward spiral our species continues to flow... unless maybe there's something about this tension of opposites that's holding humankind afloat as it attempts to stare directly into its own condition).

Sorry if this comment is not particularly helpful. Meanwhile in Canada, in just over a week we have gone from the bodies of 215 indigenous children discovered at an Indian Residential School to a hate-motivated mass killing of a "muslim" family (lol NO THEY'RE NOT INDIAN THEY'RE MUSLIM because that's why we cut that place up, isn't it???? BECAUSE NO WE CAN'T GO THERE BUT OTHERWISE RACISM FOR ALL). For *the* population that claims to be the most "pure" of racism in the world, my thoughts do get this whiplash sometimes as a result of living here while brown. I'm from Canada where owning indian kids has been the critical race theory until now (and boy oh boy do White Canadians also love to rant on about "how good the natives have it", blah blah blah). You guys have something called Critical Race Theory? Please can we have some too??

Also this is a good point: One trait we all seem to have in common is a proclivity for xenophobia...
posted by human ecologist at 10:45 AM on June 13 [9 favorites]


I've had a personal conversastion in which a normal, white Canadian in a professional capacity tried to relate to me a story they'd heard of a friends's daughter attending a UBC communication studies class. In that class, they role-played colonialism, so the white students labeled themselves colonizers, or something, I don't know the details. And it made the student feel very sad and guilty, or something.

The problem, in my view, was that this otherwise liberal-sounding white, professional, Canadian parent then rhetorically asked me, what in the world are they teaching in communication studies? It didn't occur to them that I don't, on the face of it, see anything wrong with that picture. And rather than discuss our differences, they quickly backed off the conversation. In another instance they asserted that these leftist ideas of anti-racism were "divisive".

"Divisive" has, forever, been simply leftist and/or Democrat and/or centrist code for "confrontational", for declaring reverse racism. So while the problem of CRT has been stirred up by the right-wing, the uncritical rejection of ideas like privilege, colonialism, structure, discourse, has always been socially dominant regardless of political beliefs. Because America is racist.
posted by polymodus at 1:28 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


One trait we all seem to have in common is a proclivity for xenophobia, fear of the outsider, the other.

You have a point up to "seem" as Im not sure if it's a trait per say nor Intinct but I tend a agree many past and present countries have that appearance. The only Xenophobic label I might ascribe and that would be partial is Cambodia, 1975-1979. Though up to 5 countries had advisors there. Eliminating currency from the people, mass relocation, sealed boarders and proclamations made to leave the country alone, i.e. self sufficient society as a goal, indicate a Xenophobic government but not the people which is the point. It is a trait to have tendencies to label other countries Xenophobic.
posted by clavdivs at 2:20 PM on June 13


clavdivs : Not talking particularly about nations. Xenophobia apples to everything from high school cliques to the entirety of the world that is unlike you and raises a primordial fear of the other...
posted by jim in austin at 2:38 PM on June 13


I don't know how you'd test this idea, but I bet that the percentage of people in the USA who do think of racism entirely as an individual moral failing, like being an adulterer or a thief, is pretty high. Perhaps due to the influence of Christian ethics over the centuries, we seem to think of the topic of morality as the free agent and their free choices and their individual responsibility for those choices. Many people seem to think that any gesture at discussing the historical or social context of a moral situation must be an evasion of one kind or another, since these things problematize thinking about individual choices and responsibility. Throw in a belief that society is ordered according to Natural Law and the question of the moral standing of an entire social and economic system must seem even incoherent.
posted by thelonius at 6:24 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


"Xenophobia (is an expression of perceived conflict between an ingroup and an outgroup and may manifest in suspicion by the one of the other's activities, a desire to eliminate their presence, and fear of losing national, ethnic or racial identity.) apples to everything from high school..."

Sure sounds like High School football to me. Proclivity? Do you believe the majority of humans think this way with regularity?
As I understand it Xenophobia may exhibit behavior in the individual but it is through society that it becomes law, code, a ritual, etc. reinforcing whatever is a perceived threat.
posted by clavdivs at 8:35 PM on June 13


I'm going to withdrawl that last comment Jim in Austin. I'll admit I'm just trying to look for something that is already established on a subject we most likely agree more on then not and it feels like I'm putting you on the spot and that's not fair.
posted by clavdivs at 9:26 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I don't know how you'd test this idea, but I bet that the percentage of people in the USA who do think of racism entirely as an individual moral failing, like being an adulterer or a thief, is pretty high.

Absolutely. I think much of America basically thinks of racism as something like Covid. Either you've got it, and you're a bad person who goes around burning crosses and dragging people behind trucks, or you don't, and you're fine and none of this is your fault.

The truth is far more nuanced, and to see that I need only look back at my stepfather, Russell. He was a poor white rural southerner. Grew up on a farm. Hardly educated. Never had much of a job beyond putting up billboards or trying to sell insurance. If he wasn't Johnson's lowest white man, he wasn't too far from him.

He was the classic example of poor whites who had much more in common with the poor blacks in their communities than the upper crust rich whites. And to some extent he understood this. He was around poor rural southern blacks all his life, worked alongside them and respected them. The blacks he knew were "hard working people, give you the shirt off their back if you need it," which was about the highest praise he could offer. He was somewhat more suspicious of all those other blacks who went around stirring things up and causing trouble for the decent black folks he knew.

His best friend in the world was a black man. The two of them even started up a business together at one point, doing pit barbecue for family reunions, company picnics, and so on. They'd show up on site the night before, set up their pit made of metal gratings and cinder blocks, unload a huge pile of wood and start a fire, and then spend the night tending that fire and cooking the meat to prepare for lunchtime the next day. They never made much money at it - neither one of them had the first clue how to be a businessman - but that didn't matter. The whole thing was just an excuse for the two of them to ditch the wives and spend a warm summer night outside together drinking and telling each other lies. They had a splendid time.

One key thing I remember about him happened in 1989, when Douglas Wilder was running for Governor of Virginia. He would go on to win and become the first black man elected Governor in the United States. And believe me, rural South Central Virginia was absolutely losing its shit about this. We were in town for something, and Russell was among a bunch of his fellow good old boys talking about how scandalous it was that a black man was running for Governor. And one of them said to him, "Well, Russell, you ain't gonna vote for that n****r, are you?"

And Russell allowed as how, yeah, he thought he was going to vote for him. Amid the chorus of shocked disbelief, Russell said, "We've had white men running things up to now, and look where that's got us. Let's see what the n****r can do."

So here's a man who liked, respected, and befriended the black people of his community. He was someone who could refer to a black man as a n****r while voting to make him Governor. At the end of the day, was Russell racist?

Oh, hell yes! And not because he used the n-word to refer to Douglas Wilder. Just saying that word would damn him in the eyes of modern woke culture, but that misses so much. He might have liked the black people he knew, but he understood at a gut level that they occupied a different social sphere, and it was beneath the one he occupied. Their lives were different from his because they were black and he was white. And it would never have occurred to him to question or challenge that. He paid them to come over and help with things from time to time when he needed it, as they did with each other. But it was never the other way around. They never asked him to come over and bush hog the back field or help them put out hay or what have you. And I don't think he would have ever wondered why that was.

That's cultural, or I guess systemic is the word now. It was the water he swam in, as we all do, and his generally friendly and respectful relations with individual black people doesn't change that. That's what we have to deal with, and CRT is an attempt to examine and understand that. Maybe if right-leaning white people could see that concept instead of taking it as an accusation of Thelonius's individual moral failing, we'd be able to get somewhere. But no, it probably wouldn't make any difference.
posted by Naberius at 11:26 AM on June 14 [19 favorites]


Fantastic story, Naberius. I'd offer a "yes, and," by suggesting we match "Maybe if right-leaning white people could see that concept instead of taking it as an accusation" with our own continuing search for ways to communicate that distinction more clearly.

The Racist Right ain't gonna care nor respond to any phrasing in good faith, but we need to keep trying and trying and trying to find ways of reaching the educable middle. An admonition used a lot on MetaFilter is to "consider how that landed" rather than how a statement was intended. We owe the same to people like Russell, especially if we're seeking ways to educate and persuade and ennoble them.
posted by PhineasGage at 11:57 AM on June 14 [2 favorites]


From my local paper: a chapter of “Moms for Liberty” complains that elementary students should not read the autobiographical “Ruby Bridges Goes To School”, in part because “the book didn't offer "redemption" at its end.”
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 3:10 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


We should never underestimate the power people feel when they believe they're better than someone else, and how much of a rage they fly into when that belief is threatened, especially if that's all they have in this life.

No lies detected.

Having said that, we also want to be very, very careful about avoiding the trap (which middle- and upper-class white liberals fall into with depressing regularity) of pretending that racism, even in the severely limited sense of “proudly selfconscious bigotry”, is somehow a unique pathology of Those Other Whites Over There (in this case, poor ones).
posted by non canadian guy at 4:19 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


the trap (which middle- and upper-class white liberals fall into with depressing regularity) of pretending that racism ... is somehow a unique pathology of Those Other Whites Over There (in this case, poor ones)

Oh yes! And as the movement around Pres. 45 has shown us, race/racism is perhaps even more fundamental to middle/upper-class white identity than it is to the working/precarious classes.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:03 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


It's always those people over there but not us for every one of us. We are the good, the righteous at best; they are the deluded, stunted, structurally, unconsciously to out and out wilfully and selfishly cruel at worst.

But not us. Well... maybe this person standing to me. But not me because I am working on it.

For that I deserve some credit. I'm not making myself right by making someone else wrong. But they are.

Rinse and repeat.
posted by y2karl at 7:29 AM on June 20


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