Think about critical race theory. He wasn’t always a conservative bogeyman.
Especially in recent months, Republicans have twisted the CRT – an academic framework that academics such as Kimberle Crenshaw have used for decades in graduate courses to question how the legal system entrenched racism – into a catchphrase. everything to describe the things they don’t wear. do not like.
In this bastard tale, the CRT is what Republicans want it to be; it comes in many forms. “Black Lives Matter” is a name for CRT. Another is “social justice”. “Identity”, yet another. “Repairs.” “Allied ship.” “The diversity.”
But to dwell on what the CRT is or is not is to miss the most pressing concern: why have Republicans clung to a decades-old academic tenure?
“‘Together, the phrase’ critical race theory ‘connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, toxic, elitist, anti-American,'” explained Christopher F. Rufo, one of the conservative activists who – with the help of Fox News, a network that has become its own language, caused panic around the CRT.
Because so many Americans don’t know what the CRT is, it’s the perfect tool to frighten white conservative voters with fabricated issues – to mobilize them against last year’s racial awakening. Here’s how we got there:
The CRT’s backlash echoes the 1960s
The panic over the CRT is not the first time the United States has seen such an ethno-nationalist fear campaign.
In one recent Twitter thread
Pomona College policy professor Omar Wasow argued that one way of understanding the anxiety over the CRT is “reactionary countermobilization.”
Wasow, who was previously at Princeton University and whose research focuses primarily on protest movements, said he was struck by how the current CRT backlash echoes the dynamics of the 1960s.
“What we saw in some cases in the ’60s is that while the civil rights movement was able to capture moral height in a national conversation about race, it toppled pro-segregation forces.” , he told CNN. “There was a period of trying to come together and find an issue to rally around when nationally being pro-segregation became heavily stigmatized.”
Republicans have sought to reframe the world. For example, they heeded the cruel logic of “law and order,” a dog whistle used against the civil rights protests of the time. This maneuver was part of what University of Arkansas political science professors Angie Maxwell and Todd Shields call the “Long Southern Strategy,” a series of decisions about race, religion and feminism that the Republicans took it from the 1960s to woo white conservative voters in the South.
In the year since George Floyd’s murder and renewed demands for racial justice, Republicans have again detected a need to reposition themselves, to turn a cultural shift into a sense of crisis that they can use to their advantage. . (Republicans are doing something similar in their war on transgender students, as The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer pointed out.)
“We saw Donald Trump try to fight for law and order and lose. It didn’t seem to have the same impact it had in the 1960s, when Nixon invoked law and order and won the White House So there was this process of finding a new problem, “Wasow said.” There was a period when the main Republicans were complaining about the ‘culture cancellation’, the way the Dr Seuss was supposed to be canceled. But it never seemed to stick. So I think we are seeing this kind of elite process to try to find an issue around which to mobilize for the elections of 2022, and maybe even 2024. And the CRT is one that has really touched a sensitive chord.
The conservative media are also playing a role in the anti-CRT mobilization, broadcasting a made-up problem to their millions of viewers.
“Instead of debating the merits of the CRT, right-wing speakers simply sought to demonize it,” CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote for the Reliable Sources newsletter. This conscious obsession with the CRT helped him move “from the television screen to state legislatures and local communities.”
The indignation against the CRT also concerns the politics of white identity
It makes sense to locate the controversy surrounding the CRT not only in the history of race and racism in the United States, but also in the larger arc of demographic change.
A crucial dimension of this change: the country’s growing racial diversity and its effect on the politics of white identity, which Duke University political science professor Ashley Jardina describes as an increasingly active identification of White Americans to their racial group.
“Various studies show that when whites are exposed to information about social change – demographic change, in particular – they are expressing more politically conservative views,” Wasow told CNN. “So there is a larger conversation right now as to whether the United States is going to be a multiracial democracy – in which there is no dominant group – or cling to what has historically been a kind. ethno-racial majority, white Christian-dominant majority. “
It is no exaggeration to say that the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 – when insurgents waving Confederate flags and pledging allegiance to Trump attempted to overthrow the 2020 presidential election – was a deadly manifestation of a white nationalist vision.
Wasow added that such visions of a duel are at the heart of the struggle between Trump and his ilk on the one hand and figures such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden on the other.
In publicly defending the birth conspiracy theory a decade ago, Trump wasn’t content to slander one of his political opponents. He was trying to delegitimize the multiracial coalition that installed Obama in the White House.
This battle for a country in transition continues today.
“I think the panic over the CRT can be seen as part of this underlying anxiety about the status of white Americans in a changing country. This fear is most acute in times like the aftermath of a movement. protest calling for things like police reform and race thinking in schools and hiring, ”Wasow said.
These demands disrupt the status quo. Anti-CRT mobilization is therefore really a way to reaffirm the perceived legitimacy of the status quo.
But let’s give Crenshaw the last word on the controversy. After all, she is one of the pioneers of CRT.
“Critical race theory is not unpatriotic,” she told CNN’s Jason Carroll. “In fact, it’s more patriotic than those who oppose it – because we believe in the 13th and 14th and 15th Amendments. We believe in the promises of equality. And we know we can’t get there if we don’t. can’t face and talk honestly about inequality.”