Attack on “Critical Race Theory”: Racism and McCarthyism

John Reimann: The Republican attack on so called critical race theory has to be seen in its context. Just in the last few days, the republican controlled US Supreme Court made two important rulings. One was to further gut the federal Voting Rights Act. The other was to help the capitalists further hide their political control. by throwing out a California law that required so called nonprofits from disclosing their donors, these donors would include such capitalists as the far right wing Koch brothers. In other words, the Republican drive to establish Bonapartism with a white nationalist base is alive and well. It is in this context that we must see their attacks on critical race theory. Here is a discussion on the topic introduced by Sean Gallagher. Sean recently got his PhD on slavery during the American Revolution. And he is likely to be directly affected by these attacks on critical race theory. Shawn explains.

Below is the rest of the transcript of this discussion on the attack on “Critical Race Theory”. Also see the video of the discussion. There is also a podcast available here

Sean Gallagher: I think just to start out, it’s important to note that I think a lot of people see these anti CRT bills, these critical race theory bills that are being advanced by Republican state legislators, they see this really is just kind of finding the culture war for the midterm elections. And I don’t want to deny that that’s not part of it, I think it clearly is that part of this is giving red meat to the MAGA base to turn out votes in 2022. But it is also important to note that this is actually about that these anti CRT bills are actually trying to effect a real kind of kind of anti communist purge of education in real ways, from the K 12 level through the colleges, that these bills are actually meant to affect something.

And I’d like to start out with just real quickly, this is from the Heritage Foundation, you know, you might know the Heritage Foundation it a is a very influential right wing Think Tank. And they published a report a recent report on critical race theory. And it’s really long, I can provide the link to you all later if you want. But I’ll just read this one quote from the middle of it, they say, “The Black Lives Matter insurgency in the year 2020, with its protests and riots, has demonstrated that CRTs teachings have moved beyond the ivory towers and ivory walls.” In other words, among right wing thinkers, there’s this idea that combating the teaching of of race and the history of racism, like in education in some way, a ways to kind of tamp down or suppress or undercut, the mass protests of working class youth, particularly black youth, that we’ve seen in the past year against police brutality, against mass incarceration, and all these other things.

So in other words, they see the disciplining of teachers, and the kind of gutting of history curriculum as very much something that’s supposed to affect a political outcome of suppressing protest. And so if that’s what they see it as I think that we should also recognize that it’s not just talk, it’s not just culture, war, bluster that it’s actually meant to do something.

And so just kind of the basic facts: So like 26 states throughout the US are, are currently considering some version of like anti CRT bills, and I’ll explain what’s in those bills in a second. But so far, nine states have passed some version of anti critical race theory, education bills. And so just to give an example of what’s in those: the bill that was just recently passed in Georgia, and again, this applies to any state funded school, not just k 12. But the state universities as well. The bill that just passed in Georgia says says that the US The United States is not a racist country. And so fundamentally, you cannot teach in schools that the United States is a fundamentally racist country. And this is where it gets a little more tricky. They say, you can’t teach things that ‘impute fault blame or a tendency to, to oppress on any one social group.” Right?

So you can teach that social groups exist, you can talk about class, and race and gender in your classroom, but you cannot teach anything that quote, “imputes fault blame or a tendency to oppress” to any of those social groups. Right. And so you can find if you think about it, you can find ways to be like, Well, yeah, I mean, of course, when I teach slavery in the United States, I wouldn’t teach that all white people supported slavery that all white people were slaveholders. Of course, I would talk about white abolitionists and things like that. You could see the ways these like anti CRT bill on paper wouldn’t prevent you from talking about the history of racism or slavery or native removal or things like that in US history. But in practice, that’s what they’re meant to do. Because all of these are often couched in a sense of like students feelings about those issues, too much of the legislation is about, you can’t teach things that make students feel like they should feel guilty about the history of racism in this country. So if you have a white conservative student, right, all they have to do is hit “record” on their teacher and say, “here’s this teacher trying to lay a guilt trip on me, trying to say, like, all white people are bad or something,” even if the teacher is in fact, just teaching kind of histories of racial oppression and racial formation United States. I think the scariest bill is one that’s yet to be passed. And that’s one that’s being debated by Pennsylvania legislatures, a penny of Pennsylvania legislators, I’m sorry, the proposed Pennsylvania bill says

It has much of this boilerplate language that you cannot teach that any social group is inherently oppressive or put blame on past abuses on to any particular social group, they have all that language too. But on top of that, they say that teachers cannot assign any texts that espouse racist ideas. Now, again, on the surface, that sounds good, right? That means “Okay, well, if you can’t assign texts that espouse racist ideas, that means you can’t assign students to read some far right demagogue, right? You can’t like assign some far right demagogue’s book in your classroom. But in practice, what that means is you actually can’t assign the primary sources; you can’t assign the evidence of how African Americans have been oppressed and exploited in this country.

So for instance, if you can’t assign any text that espouses racist views, how could you teach students about the Douglas-Lincoln debates in 1858, right? The very famous Douglas-Lincoln debates right for the Senate seat in 1858. Which is taken to be a kind of snapshot of feelings about abolition and feelings about slavery in the United States on the eve of the Civil War, right in which both Douglass in which Douglas is accusing Lincoln, right and the Republican Party of promoting, kind of promoting like interracial sex and promoting racial equality and all these things in which Douglass then also pontificates about how the US has always been a white man’s country and must remain a white man’s country. How could you teach those debates if you can assign any text that espouses a racist view? Right, you know, or how could you teach the colonization of North America, if you can’t assign texts, where Europeans are giving their views on Native Americans, right, which are often incredibly racist views of what they think about the savagery of Native people. Right?

And so the proposed Pennsylvania bill is essentially meant to wipe history from people’s consciousness, I think, in important ways. And so what these bills are meant to do is to fundamentally break or to distort people’s consciousness, right? It’s important to realize how much the protests of the past year have often had a historical dimension, right? They’ve been about police brutality, they’re about racism. They’re about mass incarceration, they’re about all of these things.

But they often take the form of, “we need to tear down this Confederate statue.” Or they often take the form of, “therefore I support like the 1619 Project”, right? And teaching the 1619 Project. And so they’re about these present issues, but they’re often fought as over how should we remember the past. And because of that, I think this increasingly white nationalist Republican Party, I think that they very much see a way to tamp down these movements, is to kind of discipline how history is taught to turn as much as possible to turn history into civics, into civics propaganda, actually, in which all we do is kind of teach like the wisdom of James Madison and the other founders and framers. And yeah, and so that’s why I think it’s important for the left and for Marxists to take up These issues, no matter what you think about, like the 1619 Project or things like that, or our own critiques of kind of like the NGOs and the liberals that tend to dominate in some these particular moments of protest, I think it’s important for Marxists to realize what’s really going on, which is that this is a replay of the 1950s. This is a replay of the purging of the Red Scare in education, in which the McCarthyists were doing everything they can to find out communist professors and communist educators and making sure that the history school taught to post war children showed the exception of the United States, that this is the same thing played out over again. And yeah, I’ll just I’ll stop there.

John Reimann So Sean, you were you were talking about the other day about some professors who have tenured professors have already been fired? And what impact you think that will have? Can you? Can you talk about that, please?

Sean Gallagher Just to give a name here. Garrett Felber, who is an historian at Ole Miss. And he wrote a book on the Nation of Islam, that’s very well written. It’s a very well received history of the Nation of Islam. And so this is Garrett Felber at Ole Miss has been denied tenure at at the University of Mississippi, which effectively is a firing. In the academic system system professors come up for tenure. And if they’re denied tenure, that essentially means they’re going to be let go at the end of their contract. So he’s essentially been fired. And there’s no academic reason why he should have been denied tenure. He published a book. He serves on academic committees. He teaches. He’s not abandoned his teaching duties. He’s incredibly active in academic circles. So there’s no reason there’s no reason on the basis of his work to deny him tenure, but he’s been denied tenure. And the head of the department there says that it’s because he became difficult to communicate with when he was on sabbatical, and that he became aloof in the department or something like that. But it’s clear what’s really going on is that he’s being candid, because he’s a prison abolitionist, and that he’s written a series of pretty forthright pieces, condemning mass incarceration in the United States, and is also involved in a lot of prison abolition, but also just more broadly, like social justice causes, right. And he’s known as an historian. He’s one of the few I would say, who really does carry the moniker of historian activist in a lot of ways, and that’s clearly why he’s been fired.

Relatedly: University of North Carolina Press is a huge University publisher. Right? They published tons of academic works. It’s a crucially important academic publishing house, the UNC press right, and they recently let you know, they recently like the Board of Trustees, you know, one of the kind of UNC governing boards, informed the head there that they were going to be let go. And that’s almost clearly because that they had taken part in, in in the form of writing, they had taken part in calls to bring down Silent Sam and kind of other Confederate monuments in and around UNC. And that’s clearly the reason that they’re being let go.

And then I’m sure you guys you all know, even though Nicole Hannah Jones finally got tenure at UNC, there was a big kerfuffle over that. And so in all these ways, this is meant to send a chilling effect, right? Like these Boards of Directors, and these trustees of every university, which are all a bunch of capitalists, they can’t fire every professor, right? But what they can do is create a chilling effect, is making examples of some particularly kind of well known or influential activists in academia. And that’s clearly what is going on. You know, if I said the anti CRT stuff reminds me of kind of the Red Scare in education in the 50s.

What’s going on with like Felber and Nicole Hannah Jones and things like that reminds me so much of like academia in the 60s, right? So like, there’s a very famous historian Staughton Lynn, who wrote a number of books on the American Revolution. And he was denied tenure at Yale, because he visited Hanoi, during the Vietnam War.

And he was, he was probably the most well known of a number of academics who were pushed out of the academy for trying to essentially link the faculty to the student movement in other ways, or to say that historical organizations should take positions against the Vietnam War, and things like that. And I see all of this as a repeat of that. And so I mean if we believe that academics are workers, which I believe they are, that I think we need to be taking this serious seriously What’s going on here?

Cheryl Zuur I’ve been following this battle for a while as part of being the campaign of the right wing and the white supremacists in this country and really around the world. And of course, the big problem with it, and the big weakness is that it doesn’t that this…. I hate that term critical race theory, by the way, I think it’s it’s so academic, and I mean, an ordinary person, a working class person, here is like, “what does that mean?” Why did the academics… leave it to them to come up with some vague, abstract term.

Sean Gallagher I just wanted to add: this is my own pet theory. So take it with a grain of salt. But I think that the reason why the attacks on the kind of the attacks to propagandize education are framed as anti CRT bills, is because critical race theory sounds so academic, right? You can’t just say, “we’re not going to allow you to talk about racism in class.” But what they can say is, they can fill this narrative of like, “critical race theory, here we go again, with these academics,” right? “Who are trying to teach your kids a bunch of weird nonsense,” right? “And so we’re not trying to stop your kids from, we would never say that, like, you can’t talk about racism in class, but we’re just saying, ‘You can’t teach these weird, you know, academic theories’, you know, ‘you can’t brainwash our kids.'” That’s what we’re saying you can’t do

Irene The wealth of this country is based on the labor of enslaved people. And the labor of immigrants being super exploited when they came to this country, including Chinese labor. How about that? You know, we haven’t really talked about that. So, I mean, how are you going to? How are you going to when you get reparations to one group, how are you going to exclude the other? Right away, you continue to create what the capitalists want, which is the working class, divided working class, you know. I think it feeds into that, I think teaching that, as you said, you know, you have to be careful when you’re teaching that the working class, the white working class, in the north was not against slavery. They were not as a group against slavery. So what are you going to be saying, they didn’t even give a shit about slavery, all they wanted is they didn’t want slavery to be in their, in their backyard, so to speak. And they didn’t want free blacks to come up north and compete for the jobs. So, you know, how you gonna teach that? Yeah, so there is always when you’re addressing these questions, if you don’t have a class perspective, which also gives you a social group, to to show as being responsible for what’s happened, which is the capitalist. But if you don’t have the class perspective, you’re always going to fall into into the, the game of the capitalist class, which is to divide the working class.

Sean Gallagher I can speak from experience as someone who’s taught the, who’s taught and t.a.’d both the US survey front and back a million times. Class in American history is usually given a period of time. It’s not like a theme that’s developed throughout. It’s a theme that’s that’s given a certain number of weeks. It’s given one period in American history, right? So usually where class comes up in the history of the United States, when it gets taught is The Gilded Age. It’s taught as a Gilded Age phenomenon in some ways, that you get the rise of an industrial working class that is moving towards unionism, syndicalism, anarchism, and various strands of socialism, including Marxism. And so you get a broad like 1872 like 1940 like, “class is a thing in America at this time,” right. And, and so, class was the thing. Yeah, class was a thing in America at that time, right? Yeah.

Cheryl Zuur And the Depression right? What about the Depression, Sean? Isn’t that another period? Yeah, like the Gilded Age and the Depression. And then it just kind of disappeared, because all prosperity arrived. And there was no need for anything. Yeah, everything’s fine,

John Reimann We have intellectual, including academic repression, for all the weaknesses that you and the rest of us have talked about, about academia. It still does play an important role. And in all the bonapartist dictatorships has always been a major crackdown on academia, which what it really is, is a crackdown on any expression of an ideology that might escape their control. And so, as we see, like the Republicans, and the white nationalist, nativist, trying to renew a drive towards Bonapartism even when they’re out of power. Isn’t this part of that?

Cheryl Zuur The silencing of dissent is the key. We know that was part of Trump’s agenda, and if the Republicans get back into power, again, in the next period 2022, 2024, that they are going to go after all of that viciously. And I mean, this is sort of laying the groundwork and a lot of different areas to go after, again, silencing the voices of dissent. And this is another component of that. That’s how I see it. And, of course, we are opposed to that, and freedom of speech, freedom of dissent has to be defended by socialists. It just it has to be It’s so critical.

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