Banning Critical Race Theory to Appease Tyrants – LA Progressive

Take responsibility for the face of the world.

The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.

Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

I heard the desperation in their voices, and I saw the book, clutched with both hands. Did you read thisYou must read this book! Each time, it was always a book written by a Black or Indigenous writer. Or someone from the LGBTQ community. You have to read this book! I would think, my great-grandmother could have written the book. I could have written it.

A white librarian at a local branch, excited that she had seen the film Selma, urged me to do the same. Go see it! You have to! Now that she had approved of the film, it was appropriate for my viewing, I should go see it. How quickly I became invisible. If I were ever visible. How could I, a Black woman, know what’s best, let alone, know what happened on that bridge in Alabama?

When former President Obama was on the campaign trial, some of those same liberals wanted me to know they approved of Obama and would vote for him. I should do the same. During this same period, it was curious to see some of the classic works written by Richard Wright or Nathan Hare or Zora Neale Hurston on the sidewalks outside of local bookstores in Madison for dirt cheap. Old copies, true. But why these books? Why now?

I’m living in Philadelphia, among another set of activists when Obama wins the presidency. The desperation I once heard in the voices of friends from Madison has faded. They are no longer recommending I read anything or see any film. They suggest I take a break from the writing. Better still, quit writing. Or write a children’s book. I was living in Don’t follow the news!

The atmosphere went from chilly to freezing, and I remembered, years ago, in the 1980s, being confronted by white students in Chicago who wanted me to understand that slavery wasn’t so bad, and now, it’s over. I should move on. And what of my commitment? The study of Trans-Atlantic slavery? Jim Crow? The Modernist period? Would these fields of study dissolve once I exit the classroom?

Democracy has never been appealing to all Americans, and tyrants never weary of teaching ordinary whites how to recognize the tarnishing of America’s innocence. Amid tarnished America are those who wreak havoc, leaving behind victims of the devastation. Everyone knows white America has been victimized by the liberal elites who, in turn, deny whites the right to metaphorically if not literally hoist Black Americans onto tree limbs. The liberals deny white America the right to subject Black Americans to a literacy test to vote. The liberals deny white America the right to salute the Homeland as Germans once did during the Third Reich.

The liberals, so the tyrants want Americans to believe, would give away the store to undeserving Black people.

I’ve known liberals in academia. My experience in academia featured liberals situating Black Americans in the middle of a narrative of pathology. Wow, to Black Americans and their adoration of violence! College and university administrators and students point to the “anger” of Black professors, an “anger” that insists on making white students feel “uncomfortable” in the classroom. Black professors deemed “angry,” receive labels of “confrontational,” “racist” and “anti-American.”

The liberals can’t speak of the Black professors committed to teaching to transgress, as the late Cultural Theorist bell hooks argued. But I wonder about the progressives in academia these days.

I’ve known progressives in academia too, careful to conceal the accumulation of wealth and status behind tie-dye shirts, streaked hair, and talk of anti-war marches from years ago. Most of the Boomer generation have retired now. Most came aboard the soul train back in the 1960s and then left when Nixon reminded them that parents weren’t the bogeyman and neither was the government. There was a bogeyman, however.

Academia progressives, like the liberals, inserted books written by Blacks in their classes, only the “good” Blacks. The less angry Blacks. The Blacks and their books that make white progressives feel they have done something—for the Black people. After all, academic progressives bore children for the next generation too.

They talk of these grown children managing the wealth of corporations while I watch the latest video of a police shooting of an unarmed Black youth… And I find it harder and harder to tell the difference between the liberals and the progressives in academia. I don’t see a cavalry of progressives in and outside of academia collectively fighting for democracy anytime soon.

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I have been following Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ doings because a former student of mine has been teaching at the college level there for the last eleven years. The cushy salary is nonexistent and is the road to tenure. Even before the governor signed the Individual Freedom Act or the “Stop Woke Act” into law I knew discussions of race and gender, for example, had to be choreographed so as not to offend the white students or be subject to being labeled anti-American by an-eager-to-appease administrator.

“Education strengthens a democracy,” historian Carol Anderson argues in White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, and she points to Nixon’s effort to convince white America that Blacks are “unworthy” of any consideration from the US government. The campaign would ultimately “weaken the enforcement of civil rights laws.” The cruel wording of Nixon’s policies created equally cruel images of lazy Blacks and matriarchal Black households with absent fathers. Criminals, all, of course. Images of dogs set loose by racists to attack Black children asking for their right to a good education faded from the collective memory. Nixon, writes Anderson, “tapped into this general resentment” toward Black Americans…

When I received ProPublica’s newsletter in my email inbox, I read the article “Muzzled by DeSantis’ Critical Race Theory, Professors Cancel Courses or Modify Their Teaching” by the author, Daniel Golden, but I hadn’t intended to write yet another piece about this take over of academia by fascist lawmakers and with the assistance of their appeasers. But here we are in 2023 and the exodus of committed faculty from academia is a steady flow now. Here we are, discussing how the law and ones similar to it across this country labels a “virtue” as “racist.”

And what’s new? The tyrants are making themselves known and, not bothering to conceal anti-Black sentiments, are inflicting terror and cruelty in whatever institution they lease now. Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama, barring the entrance of Black students, but today, the tyrants are within the walls of colleges and universities, serving as members of the law and order cabal, reporting back to their peers in the US House of Representatives and the Senate. This cabal call for a clearance sale: anything that smacks of race, gay, trans, Latinx, Indigenous must go!

It’s no surprise that in Florida, the drafters of the Individual Freedom Act use the phrase, state-sanctioned racism,” to describe hard-fought civil rights gains. Golden points to the bogeyman that is Critical Race Theory, (CRT). Think of Plessy vs. Ferguson: CRT is taught at law schools. CRT, Golden explains, “that racism is ingrained in America’s laws and power structure.”

Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist at the Manhattan Institution, knows better, but he’s in search of a bogeyman behind which the struggles of Black Americans can be tossed as being unfair to the whole of the nation. Besides, “structural racism” doesn’t exist in America, anyway. Wink! But perhaps by now he believes the lies so much so that he, no doubt, recognizes American innocence as tarnished. He sees himself as tarnished just enough to conceive of “targeting CRT to ferment a backlash against measures enacted following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020.” The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement galvanizing “woke” progressives, in and outside of academia, galvanizing ordinary citizen, young and old, globally was, for Rufo, an open confrontation with white supremacy, and therefore, infuriating. The inclusion of Blacks, Latinx, Indigenous, People of Color, and LGBTQ happens in a democracy!

Tucker Carlson, the talking head at FoxNews, agrees. CRT is a “radical ideology.” Not fit for the coming fascist state!

In such a state you would expect to hear that the Individual Freedom Act, according to Jeremy Redfern, DeSantis’ spokesperson, “‘protects the open exchange of ideas’ by prohibiting teachers from ‘forcing discriminating concepts on students.’” In such a state, a college classroom, where the subject is slavery or Jim Crow, students would have to be protected from “discriminating concepts” that might make them feel victimized. In the end, the subject matter would be dropped or tweaked to discuss, maybe the pros and cons of slavery or Jim Crow?

Doctoral candidate Taylor Darks is “tweaking” her pedagogy and inviting students to suggest questions for discussion, writes Golden. Darks made sure to “weed” out queries that mention “white privilege.” Golden writes another professor who plans to have students work on “a project” examining the pipeline in northern Canada. This is a pipeline that “affects Indigenous people.” The professor’s course, however, will be careful not to critique “the development.” That is, the oil industry. In fact, the course, Golden explains, will make sure to include “the company’s perspective.”

The tyrants enjoy bringing misery to progressive faculty committed to teaching the democratic principles of freedom and equality. Their power rests in watching liberals give the unpatriotic the boot.

Golden is right to note, that DeSantis’ law allows the state to interfere with the freedom of professors to teach their expertise. But then, that’s the point, isn’t it? The future of educational institutions might well be job training sites. The tyrants would love that transformation of higher education. With humanities out, along with any course that doesn’t contribute to the advancement of the war corporations, these fascist institutions will focus on training a few good men to work on assembly lines, alongside robots. To break up the work day, the trainers will lead the students in 2-minute hate rallies…

I would be remiss if I didn’t address Golden’s claim that instructors, adjuncts, and lectures “don’t do research.” In fact, it’s been my experience that teaching faculty listed as instructor, adjuncts, and lectures do research, write, and publish, scholarly and informal essays and articles despite the effort of tyrants to muzzle them. It’s about a commitment.

On the other hand, I’ve worked alongside tenured colleagues and for tenured chairs who bragged about not having to research or write or publish. Reaching tenure means they don’t have to sweat anymore! In the meantime, as Golden writes, professors without tenure fear speaking out. “‘If I had tenure,’” one professor told Golden, “‘I would be more active.’”

And so here we are, facing another year, appeasing tyrants.

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