I have been thinking about the culture war being manufactured around “Critical Race Theory“ (CRT). I know why it is being manufactured as in it secures the base for Republicans, attracts extremists and non-extremist White Christians who might otherwise vote for the other guy, and enables Republicans to paint Democrats as too “woke, again looking for anti-wokers (I guess) to attract more voters who might be on the edge.
What I cannot understand is the Democratic Party’s complete failure to create a contrary message that points out the reality of CRT along the lines of its core concept – an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.” (Sources: Education Week, Britannica) In short, Republicans want to insist that “America is not a racist country” and that CRT says it is and therefore is “un-American.” They are wrong, and they are wrong on purpose.
This is does not have to be a complex subject, but it is. Before we layout the pieces parts of CRT, please be aware that CRT is not a thing. Rather, it is a legal argument about how we should look at racism in the United Sates. Now we begin.
Race is a social construct, not a biological one. This is actually settled science. We now know that the DNA of various ethnicities are not fundamentally different. We are separated by infinitesimal variations. Quoting a McGill Office of Science and Society paper, “There is more variation within a race than between races at the level of our DNA (in fact, the difference in DNA between two random humans is 0.01 % — we are 99.9 percent the same)….Studying our DNA reveals that races are not real in a biological sense, but how we treat other races does have an impact on their health because of poverty, stress, and lack of access to healthcare.”
Racism is more than the product of individual prejudice, rather, it is institutional. That means it is built into our system. Some examples.
- This country’s wealth was built literally on the back of some 179 million years of slave labor. The sugar, cotton, and other crops tended by slaves in the south drove an economy that produced molasses, rum, and textiles in the north (among other things). The descendants of the White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestants that founded this continent and country definitely did not do all the work themselves
- Since Emancipation, the US created laws and legal structures that embed racism as both the intent and the result of excluding African Americans and other immigrants, e.g.,
- Voting rights and Jim Crow laws. Post-Reconstruction, Southern states enacted laws that suppressed minorities’ right to vote. Moreover, all sorts of laws were passed limiting the rights of African Americans, including the right to be in town after dark, where to live, where to shop, where their children could go to school, in short, how they would be allowed to live with White folks. Many, if not most, of these laws lasted until 1968.
- GI Bill. Passed in 1944, the GI Bill provided WWII veterans (and all other veterans after that) with benefits such as low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business or farm, one year of unemployment compensation, and dedicated payments of tuition and living expenses to attend high school, college, or vocational school. Only one problem. The Bill was written so as to allow state and local governments and private industry to apply discriminatory Jim Crow laws to deny African Americans those benefits. Thus, African Americans largely missed out on the huge family wealth-creating benefits of home ownership, education, professional skills, and entrepreneurial support
- Loss of wealth, exclusion from the New Deal. Black farmers owned close to 20 million acres of farmland in the 1920s. By 2000, they had lost 90% of those acres to what The New Republic called “deliberate, state-sanctioned dispossession”. The New Republic estimates the loss in wealth and income to Black families to be $326 Billion. The discrimination that started with exclusion from New Deal benefits translated into discrimination by the USDA that continued well into the late 20th century.
- Redlining. Private industry also played the discrimination game. African Americans were prevented, discouraged, and intimidated not to buy houses in certain areas and were charged higher interest and insurance rates for the houses they did manage to buy. All of this contributed to the ghettoization of the African American community.
- Community Isolation. The Eisenhower-led 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act built some 41,000 miles of interstate highways spurring suburbanization, making trucking economical, and helping cities manage traffic. Since many of the locational decisions were influenced by the local government, most of the interstate building in cities was done in a purposeful way to wall-off and isolate African American communities. This resulted in the very opposite of integration. NPR investigative reports said, ““Planners of the interstate highway system… routed some highways directly, and sometimes purposefully, through Black and brown communities.”
The above are just the tip of the iceberg. For years, African Americans served our country in rigorously segregated military units, were banned from professional sports, were relegated to second-class schools, lived in neighborhoods that we now describe as ‘food-deserts,’ were grossly underrepresented in professions such as doctors, lawyers, nursing, accounting, engineering, pharmacists, among others. CRT asserts that did not happen by accident.
The unfortunate truth is that this discrimination did happen and continues to happen. The truth is that White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants did not create this country out of whole cloth, they imported Africans as slaves to do the really hard work, enslaved Native Americans while practicing genocide on them to grab their lands, exploited Irish, and Jewish, and Italian immigrant labor, and treated Chinese immigrants as de facto indentured servants. We had to amend our constitution to treat African Americans as full citizens with full rights, to abolish slavery, to enable women to vote, to enable all people who love one another to marry and have sex. None of that existed in our Constitution until we changed it.
Teaching this reality to our children means acknowledging its truth. One would hope that knowing that truth about our exploitive and racist past would encourage us to a better, more just future.
And that, my friends, is what scares the shit out of Republicans, and it is what they are using to create an enormous wedge issue to scare White people into the Republicans’ waiting arms. OK, White people, this is what they really want you to believe:
- White people alone created this country, its economic power and wealth, and therefore bear no responsibility for the vast difference between White and Black incomes, family wealth, and educational achievement.
- We do not, as a society, “owe” anything to the victims of 450 years of slavery and the discrimination against their descendants from the Emancipation Proclamation to present day. We don’t “owe” African Americans, (or Native Americans, or Japanese Americans, or Chinese Americans) anything for the years of oppression and exploitation. Not even an apology.
- Black people and liberals are promoting Critical Race Theory as a means to take resources away from White people to redistribute to Black people who do not deserve it because we are a land of equal opportunity. Any differences in outcomes are due to inherent differences in the capabilities and determination of those being compared.
I call bullshit on this. The naked appeal to racism (as in, we White people are richer, more powerful, more accomplished because we are better than Black people, we are not responsible for what happened in the past and you all just want us to give what we have earned to them) is despicable and odious. Unfortunately, it appears effective with a substantial portion of White people.
The Democrats appear mostly helpless to counteract the Republicans obvious play to create racial divisiveness to benefit their party. I suggest they craft a simple message.
- We, as White people in power, have built discrimination into our legal structures as demonstrated by the need to outlaw such things as redlining, housing discrimination, employment discrimination, blah, blah, blah. It been going on since slavery ended and continues both in public and private activities to this day.
- CRT does not, in any way, shape, or form, call for or demand any recompense, reparations, or payments of any kind. That is up to the Congress of the United States.
- As Democrats, we believe in both equal opportunity and an equal playing field. Discrimination of any sort based on sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, or political beliefs is wrong and un-American.
- Do not allow the Republican Party to scare you into voting for them. There is nothing to be scared of. The only thing to fear is fear itself.
Finally, do you know what Black families want? Yes, the same as everyone else’s family – to afford to live in a safe, secure place, work in a stimulating environment at fair pay, raise children who will do better than their parents, be treated fairly, not to have to worry about paying the bills or losing their home if they are sick. They want to be able to shop in a store without being followed, getting in trouble or getting hurt driving while Black, living in fear when your child takes a walk or rides a bicycle in a new place. They want exactly what you or I or anyone else wants: A good life. It is truly un-American to continue to let institutional bias (and personal bias) diminish the possibility and capability of African Americans and other minority groups in pursuing their opportunities.
There are only two ways to create an actual level playing field – the myth that dominates American culture as the land of opportunity. First by amending the Constitution, second by passing Federal legislation that also passes muster with the Supreme Court.
Time to get to work.