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Vilification of Critical Race Theory Spreads Fear, Hate

This op-ed was originally published by the Telegraph-Herald.

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The campaign against critical race theory is a disingenuous and concerted effort on the right to limit discussion about America's history of race division, stoke political division and ensure GOP electoral power.

The campaign emerged last summer. Benjamin Wells illustrates in his June New Yorker piece how Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist, made fast inroads with anti-CRT rhetoric in summer 2020. In a September appearance on Tucker Carlson's show about CRT, Rufo asked then-President Donald Trump to pass an executive order against CRT because he said, CRT was taking over the federal government and was a "cult of indoctrination." Trump called Rufo the next day and Rufo flew to D.C. to help write the executive order that banned diversity and race sensitivity training and federal money spent on CRT. That order was subsequently rescinded by Trump's successor, Joe Biden.

Rufo found CRT in footnotes in popular books on critical race studies and history, like "Stamped from the Beginning" by Ibram X. Kendi, "White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo, and "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson - popular scholarship now that people have begun to grapple with racism since the murder of George Floyd.

Most people don't know what critical race theory is. It isn't popular. It is not taught in grade schools. It isn't the basis for any federal programs. CRT is taught almost exclusively in law school and sometimes graduate school. Established by legal scholars Kimberle Crenshaw, Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, and others in the 1970s and 1980s, CRT is a theoretical framework that looks at race and gender disparities that are perpetuated through structural racism embedded in law and policy.

The goal of CRT is to remove racism from law and policy and to further democracy by creating an equitable legal system.

But because no one knows what CRT is, it was easy to vilify. The word "race" was already in the title. Rufo mixed in some aspersions of Marxism, and presto! CRT became the Boogeyman, available for stoking fear and disagreement in cultural and political debate.

Rufo and members of the GOP don't really care about CRT, no one reads it. They want to make sure no one reads unsanitized American history, like Nikole Hannah-Jones' "1619 Project," or anti-racist scholarship, like Heather McGhee's "The Sum of Us." These texts change attitudes about race division and make it harder for the GOP to generate support using race dividing appeals.

The GOP's instincts are correct. Racist, dog-whistle political appeals work. When people ignore the contradictory and controversial aspects of our past and present, they don't know that both the average Black and White Americans suffer from the impacts of racism and have similar political needs and concerns. They don't realize that its not a zero-sum competition where if Black people make gains, White people lose.

Fearmongering about the browning of America also feeds the fire. Psychologists have shown that fear about demographic change leads "White Americans to endorse conservative policy positions more strongly." Folks mistakenly believe that Black political gains represent losses for Whites; this is just not true. The GOP aims to leverage this fear into electoral power.

Read the anti-racist and historical material Rufo doesn't want you to read. Maybe even read some CRT. Encourage these materials to be taught in schools. Engage in discussion about this content.

Resist the political perils threatened by false, racist politicking like Rufo's, anti-CRT campaign.

Get informed. We will all benefit.

Average Americans share commonalities about what they need from government, how government impacts them and why. It's high time we find the skills to shift to an honest system designed for everyone, that is not race-based.

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Adrienne Jones, J.D., Ph.D., is an assistant professor of political science and the director of the prelaw program at Morehouse College.