The racist and fascist American right is once again deceiving the American public, this time declaring that criticizing racial theories is an existential threat to the United States. It emerged after this concept, just as it did with politically correct ideas in the 1990s, as it does with the so-called cancellation culture now.
In addition to criticizing racial theories, politicians have enacted laws prohibiting the state of Texas, Idaho, Florida, Montana, Iowa, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. It is used in school and public university courses. Six other states and dozens of local school districts continue to debate whether critical racial theories in public schools need to be banned.
If you understand these banned weeds, they are not at all about the danger of teaching critical racial theories. In fact, they do not seem to reflect the understanding of this theory.
Instead, these prohibitions specifically hope to eliminate the 246-year history of African slavery in the British American colonies and the United States, as well as all general references to the history of institutional racism in the United States. These prohibitions specifically include the award-winning 1619 project, edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose tenure was recently rejected by the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees.
This week in Loudoun County, Virginia, a group of anti-critical racial theory parents gathered in the parking lot outside the school board meeting, “What they have been doing is changing the narrative. Critical racial theory is a “cultural response framework” and “cultural response teaching.” . This is just a Trojan horse,” said a panting parent.
Some proposed bills, such as the one that failed to pass in the Rhode Island legislature earlier this year, reveal the true intentions of those who prohibit criticism of race theories. The initiator of the bill wrote: “The bill will prohibit the teaching of divisive concepts and prohibit any person from being uncomfortable, guilty, painful or painful at all because of his race or gender.”
It is absurd for anyone to define the “concept of division” as equivalent to teaching the complete history of the United States and its history of systemic racism. However, the part that makes anyone “feel uncomfortable” or “painful” is very instructive.
The Rhode Island Act exposes the vulnerability of whites, an absolute narcissistic desire to create myths, denying, diverting and defending racism by labeling any anti-racist efforts as racism. Don’t mind the need to teach the truth and hold the people and the system accountable for the racism and sexism in the United States, past and present.
The fact is that any interpretation of history and human conditions will inevitably bring “distress” or “pain”, because both have a very ugly side. The essence of all prohibitions on critical racial theories is bait and conversion, declaring that the more inclusive history teaching and racism in the United States are racist acts. This strategy treats whites, especially white men, as victims, and black and brown scholars, especially black female public intellectuals, as villains.
No consideration was given to the “discomfort” or “pain” of blacks, browns, and Native Americans regarding the teaching of white-centered and whitewashed history. When black or aboriginal students do somehow understand the racism that led to the systematic enslavement of their ancestors or discover genocidal policies against their people, whether in the classroom or outside the classroom, they will not worry. Most students in public schools in the United States are black and brown, but the only fundamental issue that the bill focuses on is white “individuals.”
But none of the current false debates about critical racial theories are about critical racial theories. Critical racial theory is more than just integrating black, Brown, and Native history into American history. The theory is quite complex and originated from critical legal research in the law school community.
It focuses on exposing the deep-rooted systemic racism in all areas of American law, local, state, and federal policies, and daily American culture and customs.
Critical racial theorists even questioned the most basic and sacred assumptions about American society. They do this through biography, fables, and storytelling, not just through direct intellectual debate.
These theorists adopted an interdisciplinary approach, drawing lessons from law, literature, sociology, political science, psychology, physics, and history to demonstrate the degree of penetration of American racism in American history and culture. They humanize the theory, and at the same time decompose concepts, structures and contradictions from the inside out, solving American racism on the quantum and cosmic level.
One of the most outstanding critical racial theorists is the late Derek Bell. His two allegorical non-fiction books “We Are Not Saved” and “Face at the Bottom of the Well” were best sellers in the New York Times in the 1980s and 1990s. book. I first met Bell in a lecture he gave at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1990, when I was a senior, majoring in history and minoring in black studies. Bell read the Racial Preference Permit Act, which is an early draft of the final chapter of Faces of the Well.
Its parable is about the legitimacy of a law that allows individual businesses to have the right to exclude blacks from working in their institutions or seeking services after paying compensation taxes. These companies will display their permission to exclude and discriminate against anyone in a conspicuous position.
In collating this fable, Bell drew inspiration from American law and history, Jim Crow, and residential apartheid practices across the United States as a possible solution to the racial integration that the United States could not achieve.
Law students and civil rights activists present were angry at Bell’s fable. Some people, such as my late friend Charles Houston Jr. (the son of Charles Hamilton Houston, was one of the creators of the strategy that led the U.S. Supreme Court to declare legal apartheid unconstitutional), almost calling this former civil rights lawyer traitor.
Others felt that Bell was not doing enough and hoped that he called for stronger measures to compensate slavery, Jim Crow, and centuries of economic exploitation and other remedies.
I find the idea of using law to expose the contradiction between American law and American racism is very attractive. But even if I have less than 18 months to complete my master’s degree in history, I still can’t fully understand the meaning of Bell’s work. However, it is obvious to me that many of the law students who attended that day in late October did not get a Bell at all. Probably because the law school is the first time they have heard of critical race theory.
In the past four years, other critical racial theorists have contributed to the field, including MacArthur “Genius” award winner Patricia J. Williams, cross-feminist Kimberly Crenshaw and Li Chad Delgado. Yes, in literature and history, there are others whose works contain most or all of the main elements of critical racial theory, making it both new and old.
Like Octavia Butler, author of “A Thousand Clans,” Kiese Laymon, author of “Long Division,” and “Never Caught: Erica Armstrong Dunbar, author of The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge, Roxanne Gay, author of Bad Feminist (Roxane Gay) and Christo Fleming (Crystal M Fleming) write about how to be less stupid about race. They have all found a way to transform intensive theory into textual art, and apply the core ideas of critical race theory to observe the daily intersection between the past and the present-and at the same time propose possible futures.
But these are not public schools in the United States. The level of knowledge and analysis required to understand, teach, and interpret critical race theory as a theory is at least an advanced course for senior college students majoring in American history, legal studies, literature, social psychology, cultural anthropology, or sociology. Most people who encounter critical racial theory don’t know about it until law school or graduate school, and most students don’t see it at all.
This is the panacea that fascist conservative politicians and experts have been trying to use as a factual pawn for the past six months.
Perhaps the erroneous use of critical racial theory as a means of prohibiting the truth about Central American systemic racism against American history and culture is just another strategy used by fascist conservatives in the long-term game in the so-called culture war.
Just like the many lies that former President Donald Trump told his supporters for the uprising of January 6th, crooks attacking critical racial theories are also peddling the myth that America is always great and beautiful. Regardless of all evidence to the contrary.
Bell relentlessly wrote in “Face at the Bottom of the Well”: “Racism is an indispensable, permanent and indestructible part of this society.” By trying to ban a theory that truly reveals the full truth about American racism, attackers who criticize racial theory are actually exposing their own deep-rooted racism and deliberate ignorance.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.