Critical Race Theater

What I really want to do is yell at my TV, pretty much all the time lately, either "you don't even know what Critical Race Theory is" or, in the case of an expert who does, "Nobody cares what actual Critical Race Theory is" (at which point I usually add "honey" or "Mary" because I'm gay).

That's just where we are, it seems. (No, not about me. Keep up, Mary.)

I'm not going to waste time trying to explain Critical Race Theory because for the purposes of this discussion it's irrelevant; nothing about this supposed "debate" has anything to do with the actual use of critical theory (and sure, I could then, as a critic, go deep into why I actually find a lot of Marxist or Marx derived critical theory to be exasperating... but again, not the point). And that, too, is kind of the point.

My best friend - in his brilliant, often poetic sense of creative wordplay - was the one who observed to me Race educationthat this wasn't so much real as theater: "Critical Race Theater," a way to take a strange, unfamiliar, vaguely threatening phrase like Critical Race Theory and simply obscure its actual meaning until it actually means nothing at all, and becomes a kind of performance art aimed at reviving America's discomfort and tensions around any and everything having to do with race... not least of which, questions of race, education, and acknowledging the painful aspects of our history.

"We don't want Critical Race Theory taught in schools" means basically nothing at all; no American public school - and I'm guessing, no private one either - is teaching this at any grade level, not even high school, certainly not below that. Instead, at the precise moment where America was just starting to face up to  realities of our past - be it Juneteenth or the Tulsa race riot - the question of what we teach our kids has a much more basic, underlying objection: "don't tell my white kid that white people did bad things to black people and that racism and prejudice still have a role in our culture and society... because they might realize it's true."

In the course of my lifetime I have lived through both amazing progress on race in this country and enormous setbacks; and even so, this retrenchment to racist excuse making is mind boggling, never mind scary and depressing.  The architects of this Critical Race Theater - apparently ginned up by right wing think tankers in DC - really do deserve whatever hell eventually comes for them; it's disgusting to think that someone actively worked this hard (and this openly) to set back race relations 50 years for a mix of political amusement and supposed advantage.

That last part - the question of "who gains politically" off of this is both gross and ridiculous to discuss. No one is winning here, least of all the people who think - hatefully - that electoral success derives from prodding white racial hatreds. This isn't even "Southern Strategy" or "dog whistles" for modern times - we're way past that puppy. This is just flat out "let's scare white people into seeing every black intellectual as the enemy." Nothing good will come from it. Nothing.

Conservatives and Republican opportunists figure they will "win" this by "putting liberals on the defensive;" part of the problem is, outside of a few knowledgable university level academicians, there is no one to put up a defense. Few care; fewer can or will expound the energy to "save Critical Race Theory" for places it didn't belong to begin with. What this will do is confuse the development of productive K-12 curricula, especially Tweet in American History, a backlash against the 1619 Project and other reexaminations of history - again THAT'S NOT CRITICAL RACE THEORY - which was already under way, but much easier to sell in this "Critical Race Theater" performance piece.

And sure, trying to wrest political advantage on K-12 education is a desperate play for the right, one that casting Teachers Union as their mortal enemies wasn't quite getting done, nor the largely theoretical, though still hateful, stances against trans kids in sports. It's not clear that Critical Race Theater changes all that much either, bottom line: the "Karen" notion of suburban college educated white women that Republicans are apparently chasing to realign back to their worldview were pretty well turned off by Trump's uglier racist tendencies. And lurking behind Critical Race Theater is a "same old, same old" of white tropes just waiting to implode on the right, yet again. The net-net is that Critical Race Theater, while showy and damaging at a macro level for race relations, may not ultimately move the needles Republicans need to win in the midterms, without solid candidates and actual policy proposals. It surely destroys any vestige of GOP hopes in virtually any black, or racially mixed urban area.

Still, that this happening at all is disheartening and the group that I think may turn out to be most demoralized by it - beyond the reality of the many black people who maybe, kind of were just starting to hope that there was some progress - are those older white civil rights fighters of the left. And I'm just saying... they may not be the student agitators they were in their youth... but when they get pissed, they do know that you only have one choice: organize, and go out and do something. And if the right thinks that fight goes better for them on the field of Critical Race Theater... well, it's a theory.

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