The Right Wants to Cancel the Truth

When conservatives attack Critical Race Theory — or any meaningful discussion of systemic racism in American history — they insist they do so only because such material ignores the progress made since the nation’s founding and leads students to think badly about America.

But actually, the right wants to paper over historical injustices — to cancel the truth — so as to keep students from asking difficult questions about inequality in the present.

But actually, the right wants to paper over historical injustices — l to cancel the truth — so as to keep students from asking difficult questions about inequality in the present.

They fear that if students realize how central racism has been to the country’s development, they may connect the dots between that historical injustice and ongoing disparities in the present.

And if they do that, they may seek to challenge the existing political and social order — as many millions did last summer after the murder of George Floyd.

Ultimately, the right wants students to be uncritical thinkers who accept the racial inequities they can see in contemporary America as naturally occurring or even the fault of Black people themselves.

It might sound like a hyperbolic claim. But it’s not hard to prove.

Conservatives fear the truth because it might inspire more activism

Although conservatives insist they merely want to stress the progress made since the nation’s founding — and they fear CRT and other anti-racist approaches don’t do enough of that — the right doesn’t actually want to discuss racism historically, even if only to point out how far we’ve come since the days of enslavement or segregation.

How do we know they have no interest in honestly presenting that history — even in its “look at all the progress we’ve made” version?

Simple.

First, we can watch what they’re doing and the material they’re attacking in their current crusade.

Across the country, groups like Moms for Liberty have been seeking to ban the teaching of children’s books about MLK, Rosa Parks, or Ruby Bridges, who was the first Black student at a previously all-white elementary school in New Orleans.

These books don’t teach that whites are “inherently oppressive” or evil — the claim made by some in their attack on Critical Race Theory. Instead, they simply tell the truth of the fight for civil rights and against segregation.

There is nothing in the books that is historically inaccurate, and indeed even the critics have pointed to nothing factually wrong in them.

But they wish to ban them anyway because the material might make white children “feel bad,” or make kids dislike police (because cops were often the ones brutalizing civil rights protesters), and because the stories “don’t offer white people redemption.”

There is nothing in the books that is historically inaccurate, and indeed even the critics have pointed to nothing factually wrong in them.

But they wish to ban them anyway because the material might make white children “feel bad,” or make kids dislike police (because cops were often the ones brutalizing civil rights protesters), and because the stories “don’t offer white people redemption.”

In other words, these are attacks on the truth, on actual history, by people who would prefer we lie to children, to pretty-up the past, to ignore the fact that most white people either supported segregation and institutional white supremacy or stood by and acquiesced to it, for generations.

For final confirmation that this is what the right seeks — the utter whitewashing of history — one need only listen to what one Republican activist and “concerned parent” in Virginia recently said, quite openly, to an interviewer for a segment on Showtime.

So there you have it — the whole gamut of right-wing racism denial and rationalization:

  1. Racism is only a problem because we talk about it.
  2. Teaching about what Andrew Jackson actually did to Indigenous people amounts to “putting down” whites “for the color of their skin.”
  3. Rather than discussing that genocide, Indigenous folks need to “forgive” and move on.
  4. Teaching accurate history about oppression leads to “giving people of color an advantage” over white people because it keeps us “feeling sorry for them.”
  5. When Black males are pulled over by police and treated differently, it’s not because of racism but because of their behavior and how they interact with cops.
  6. It should be up to parents whether or not to teach their children about racism, either in history or today.

It is nearly impossible to add much to this, other than to say what it obviously suggests: if it were up to the right, American history would be stripped of the history part.

All we would be left with would be the fictional narratives of George Washington and the cherry tree (which was a fake story, by the way) and other meaningless tales of uncomplicated greatness.

In their version, the founders were extraordinary men whose ownership of human beings is irrelevant to understanding who they were.

In their version, “mistakes were made” along the way, but by and large, America has been a place of freedom and liberty except for — as one Moms for Liberty activist puts it — “these small slivers” of injustice.

And to the extent this anti-historical narrative is blended with white fear about “preferential treatment” for Black people and rationalizations for current inequities — in the case of policing, as noted in the above segment — we can see the real fear here.

It’s not that kids might feel bad about being white. After all, as I’ve explained before, we could always teach students the history of white anti-racist allyship and give them strong white anti-racist role models so as to short-circuit guilt. But conservatives never want to do that.

Because it isn’t guilt that concerns them.

What they fear is that students taught the truth might put two and two together and realize that there is a connection between the history some would rather us not teach and the reality today, which they would rather us not confront.

These parents fear that young people, once apprised of the truth, might decide that America should right the wrongs of our history.

And that would challenge the very system upon which those white and conservative parents have come to depend and have long accepted.

They know children have an innate sense of justice — that is what scares them.

We know how the right would prefer history be taught — we did it that way for generations

If you want a sense of how conservatives would prefer history to be taught, especially regarding matters of racial injustice, you need only look at how it was taught for generations.

Only in the last 25 years or so have schools in most parts of the country begun to introduce multiple perspectives and voices to the history and literature curriculum, and even then in a spotty and inconsistent way.

Too often, literature classes throw a few Black or brown authors in the mix or focus on Black historical figures for February before pivoting back to the standard material with which the teachers themselves were typically raised.

It’s not necessarily because those teachers or schools were overtly or deliberately racist that voices of color were missing, but simply that “you can’t teach what you don’t know.”

I cannot recall being taught even one piece of literature by a Black author in school. Not one.

We did read Black Like Me, but that doesn’t count because the author was a white guy who only darkened his skin as an experiment to discover what segregation felt like to Black people — which apparently was easier than just listening to Black people or reading their books.

I cannot remember a single conversation in school about race or racism, historically or in the present.

And this was in Nashville — one of the most central locations of the civil rights struggle.

We took field trips to all kinds of places in town: to the state capitol, the Parthenon (yes, we have one, don’t ask), even some stupid tea house downtown for reasons I still can’t understand.

This was where warriors for justice like John Lewis and Diane Nash and Bernard Lafayette confronted the city’s white power structure, as others did in cities across the South that year.

And yet, we never went there, even to discuss what had happened on that spot.

We learned nothing about the Nashville freedom movement.

We had no speakers come in to talk about that movement.

Nothing. At all.

We went to the Hermitage — the home of Andrew Jackson — where we uncritically imbibed the history of one of the nation’s most depraved and racist Indian killers and enslavers. But we could not spend even a day learning about real heroism.

Why not?

There is only one reason: because to discuss their struggle would have confronted us with the reality of what this nation was for most of its history — a formal, official, and legally accepted system of white supremacy.

Even more, it might have led us to ask: “Where were our parents and grandparents when all this was happening?”

And because we know the answer to that for most white students, it was thought best to leave it alone.

To the parents storming school board meetings, screaming about CRT, and demanding the removal of books from school libraries, it still is.

They would have their children remain ignorant. They would lie to them. All because to tell the truth might encourage them to do something to make the country more fair and equitable.

And conservatives quite like things the way they are.

They always have.

One thought on “The Right Wants to Cancel the Truth

  1. It seems to me that we can’t move forward to make things more fair and equitable if we don’t admit the truth, both the inner truth and the outer truth. The outer truth is the facts of the matter, which everyone needs to know. Coming to grips with our inner truth involves having the capacity to be with a lot of discomfort as well as the ability to hold two conflicting emotions inside and choose to live in love rather than drown in hatred. There is a lot here. Part of this is that we are aghast and feel remorse that people have been stomped on, oppressed, silenced and abused. Even when we are children who had no part in it, we need to acknowledge the devastating evilness of it and feel compassion (at the very least) for all of those who have suffered and are still suffering. We need to search our inner selves to see if we are part of the problem–even if it’s just a little bit. If we don’t examine the inner truth–as difficult as it may be to face our own guilt and pain–we cannot see the whole picture and we can’t fix this. That Johnny has the sense to feel uncomfortable and sad when he sees injustice shows that he is developing empathy and gives me hope for a better tomorrow–but not if his parents succeed in sweeping all that under the carpet and insist that he remain oblivious and choose entitlement over maturity.

    Like

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