I knew that critical race theory was spreading rapidly through America’s institutions, including not just schools and corporations, but also the military. But I was still taken aback when the burger at my favorite tavern arrived branded (literally) as a CRT special. It was, fortunately, mere coincidence. The Clear River Tavern in Pittsfield, Vermont was not after all making a political statement. But almost everyone else is.
The burghers in places as far-flung as Loudoun County, Virginia, Fort Worth, Texas and Langley, Washington have turned out in recent days at local school board meetings to protest the CRT-inflected curricula that their districts have been inflicting on students. The protesters — mostly parents of enrolled students — regard the emphasis on critical race theory as state-sponsored propaganda aimed at indoctrinating children in racial grievance, allegiance to authoritarian leaders and hatred of their own country. As if to prove these accusations well-founded, supporters of CRT have been rounding up children to stage counter-protests. At the Washington State protest, for example, the parents, according to the Everett, Washington Herald, were ‘met by over 360 counter-protesters, nearly half of whom were South Whidbey School District students, who marched to the protest site from nearby South Whidbey Community Park in support of the school board’s progressive actions’. The youngins were well trained. They came bearing the obligatory signs, including ‘Don’t Censor Our Education’, ‘Respect Education’, Trans Rights,’ and, of course, ‘Black Lives Matter’.
Is the popular outrage against CRT truly a pro-censorship movement? Is it disrespectful of education?
The way to tell is to look at what vexes the anti-CRTers — and what they favor instead. Among the more widely watched videos is one of a citizen opposing his school board’s pro-CRT stance: the T-shirted, tattooed British expat Simon Campbell sticks it to the Pennsbury, Pennsylvania school board. The audience cheers as Mr Campbell charges the school board, ‘It seems to me that you think you can supersede the United States Constitution.’ As the cheers die down, he continues, ‘I’ve got news for you school board president Benito Mussolini, your power does not exceed that of the US Constitution and the First Amendment Rights of the citizens of this great nation.’ His five minute bravura performance needs to be savored in the original.
Mr Campbell was moved to speak by an email from the district’s director of ‘Equity, Diversity & Education’ in which she advised the superintendent on how to censor public comments she disagreed with — and the president of the school board agreed with that proposal. This is a good place to pause on the terminology. The defenders of critical race theory frequently create a maze of distinctions. If you challenge the 1619 Project as an instance of CRT, they loftily inform you that you don’t know what you are talking about. CRT is an exquisitely refined doctrine that has been crafted by law professors over the years — and has nothing to do with Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times’s confected fantasy about the slave origins of American society. Or if you challenge the Ibram X. Kendi’s virulently anti-white ‘anti-racism’ agenda, the proponents of CRT sneer that Kendi’s approach differs entirely. In schools, the rubric under which CRT is most commonly deployed is ‘DEI — Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’. And once again, school officials intone from Olympian heights that DEI and CRT are as different as apple pie and applejack.
Marc Lamont Hill, host of UpFront on Al Jazeera English, and Joy Reid, MSNBC national correspondent, have been the most conspicuous figures in the left’s effort to diffuse public ire against CRT by drawing opportunistic distinctions among the various embodiments of the basic creed. Both have had CRT’s most celebrated critic Christopher Rufo on their shows in efforts to cut him down to size. The don’t-let-him-get-a word-in-edgeways style of interview has pleased CRT partisans but only further infuriated the general public. That public fully understands that the basic message of CRT is that America is ‘systemically racist’, that white people hoarding their privileges is the engine of systemic racism and that nothing short of a total transformation of American society can bring about ‘racial justice’. The 1619 Project, anti-racism and DEI are just euphemistic variations on this theme.
When someone like Simon Campbell summons the US Constitution and the First Amendment to his side of the table, he has a point. CRT and its progeny are a doctrine aimed at delegitimizing America. These doctrines aim to unseat the US Constitution as a racist document. They see the First Amendment as protecting white supremacy by giving white people exclusive control over public speech. And they treat the whole dynamic of the county as a contest over ‘power’. In that contest, censorship by the proponents of CRT is fully warranted, since they are battling the unfair advantages of the white racist regime.
It is an open question how deeply members of the K-12 educational establishment understand this nonsense. America’s school teachers and school administrators are not exactly the cream of the intellectual crop. Most of them have been through those indoctrination mills called schools of education where John Dewey mingles with Paulo Freire and retired terrorist (‘guilty as hell, free as a bird’) Bill Ayers. All they know about education is that it is supposed to be ‘transformational’. The question ‘transformed from what to what?’ gets answered with the all-purpose progressive catechism, ‘from oppressed to free’, which serves as a license to destroy any claims of culture, civilization, tradition, moral order, or knowledge that stand in the way.
With legions of teachers and school administrators imbued with this outlook, it is little surprise that CRT looks like a fine new pedagogical instrument. It is yet another hammer for battering the pillars that uphold the ideal of America as a society committed to those unevenly yoked goals of liberty and equality. Why not just replace them with ‘diversity’ and ‘equity’? The reasons why not may be invisible to today’s educators, but fortunately not to the parents who show up at the school board meetings.
‘They caught you red-handed with an enemies list to punish opponents of critical race theory. You’re teaching children to hate others because of their skin color,’ declared Dick Black of Ashburn, Virginia, addressing the school board in Loudoun County, Virginia before the board abruptly adjourned the meeting and called the police to arrest the protesters for trespassing. Among the other speakers was Xi Van Fleet, a woman who survived the Cultural Revolution in Mao’s China, only to find critical theory back on the educational agenda in the US where students are being taught ‘to loathe our country and our history’.
‘You talk about critical race theory which is pretty much teaching your kids how to hate each other, how to dislike each other,’ averred Tie Smith addressing the Bloomington Public School Board in Illinois on June 9. Smith explained that CRT was taking away his accomplishments as a successfully self-educated black man.
In Southlake, Texas, voters by an overwhelming margin and with record turnout replaced the entire Carroll school board with a slate of candidates opposed to the district’s ‘Cultural Competency Action Plan’, another DEI scheme. They denounced the plan as creating ‘diversity police’ and ‘reverse racism’.
In Tredyffrin Township, Pennsylvania, residents packed a school board meeting to complain about a ‘racial equity’ curriculum that they said labels white students as oppressors. According to the Tredyffrin-Easttown, Pennsylvania Patch, resident Deana Wang told the board, ‘America is great because of two reasons; this county nurtures innovative minds that drive progress on a global scale, and American people seek to embrace constructive criticism. Critical race theory is creating the indoctrination environment that will constrain children’s creative sense of self and consequently limit their analytical productivity as adults.’
Look wherever you might across the United States, populist uprisings against public schools for embracing CRT are underway. CRT proponents are fighting back, not just via figures such as Marc Lamont Hill and Joy Reid, but also by organizing their counter-protests. But for once the numbers and the energy are on the side of those who seek to uphold traditional values and accurate history. This is a grassroots movement which has substantial political implications for the 2022 midterm elections. The Biden administration beginning on inauguration day has gone all-in in its support for CRT, the 1619 Project and related endeavors. The Anti-CRT Burghers have a lot to chew on.
On June 25, Biden signed a new Executive Order to advance ‘Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce (DEIA).’ The White House released a ‘Fact Sheet’ with the EO explaining that despite ‘decades of progress…systemic racism and gender inequality are still felt today’. The new EO established a ‘government-wide initiative’ to ‘reinvigorate’ such efforts. Agencies are directed to develop strategic plans, establish chief diversity officers and expand DEIA ‘training throughout the Federal workforce’.
We know pretty much what ‘DEIA training’ looks like. It is remarkably similar to systematic bullying and intimidation combined with censorship of any and all dissenting opinions. We owe the schools a debt of gratitude for teaching the public in advance how critical race theory plays out in the lives of real people.
We may owe something as well to the military’s rapid deployment of this ideological warfare. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, in a busily incoherent word salad, explained to the House Armed Services Committee on June 24, why he supports critical race theory in military training, i.e. he wants to ‘understand white rage’. This came on top of the chief of naval operations Admiral Michael Gilday refusing to explain to the House Armed Services Committee on June 15 why he recommended that all US sailors read Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How To Be An Antiracist and declining to say whether he personally upheld Kendi’s quixotic views that ‘white people are another breed’ and that they ‘invented Aids’. We can weigh these remarks against secretary of defense Lloyd Austin’s declaration that ‘We do not teach critical race theory. We don’t embrace critical race theory and I think that’s a spurious conversation… We are focused on extremist behaviors and not ideology, not people’s thoughts, not people’s political orientations. Behaviors are what we are focused on.’
Against this we have the testimony of former Space Force commander, Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Lohmeier, whose book Irresistible Revolution: Marxism’s Goal of Conquest & The Unmaking of the American Military sums up the criticisms that resulted in his being relieved of his command. We also now have a public letter signed by Allen West more than thousand former members of the military who take issue with ‘the politicization and ideological purging of our military’, and who declare, ‘The focus of our military should be on training, readiness and defense of our Nation, not leftist cultural “wokeness”.’
DEIA training as a comprehensive government-wide policy may prove popular with parts of President Biden’s base, but Americans in general are likely to choke on this menu. We sense that our CRT burgers are made of suspicious stuff and may well be poisonous. This is not to steer anyone away from the Clear River Tavern, if you find yourself driving up Vermont’s bucolic Route 100. Distinctions are always in order. The Tavern’s CRT burger, with bacon and onion rings is delicious. The Biden version is unpalatable at best — and when it comes to schools, is rightly provoking a rebellion in the cafeteria.