We kid! Gone With the Wind will remain an option, too.
Georgia's state Board of Education this week became the latest government entity to take a firm stance against teaching about racism in schools, or at least against teaching anything that makes white Republicans uncomfortable. The Georgia Board of Ed adopted a resolution insisting that the USA and Georgia are definitely not racist places, while calling for limits on how public schools should be allowed to discuss and teach about racism.
The resolution itself — authored by National Review writer and professional culture warrior Stanley Kurtz, author of many serious works of scholarship like Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism — calls for supposedly colorblind educational practices that will not "indoctrinate students in social, or political, ideology or theory" or "promote one race or sex above another," and how could anyone possibly object to that? Like, unless you apply those concepts very selectively and in bad faith, or are actively letting Stanley Kurtz decide what is "isms," but only a cynic would suggest rightwing officials could be capable of such a thing.
Among other things (we have the full list below), the resolution says no element of public education should do terrible things like tell innocent schoolchildren that
any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex;
with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality
That could definitely create some puzzles for school districts! How would you teach about the writing of the Constitution, including the Three-Fifths Compromise, while insisting with a straight face that slavery is a "deviation from" the authentic founding principles of the USA? "Yes, the Founders wrote slavery into the Constitution, but that was a betrayal of the founding principles they were at that very moment formulating." Or maybe you'd just say it was secretly designed to end slavery?
As George Chidi notes at The Intercept, this has nothing to do with the actual academic field that goes by "critical race theory." Rather, it's a denial of the very "idea that students should be taught that racism is a real, current problem created by longstanding structural inequality." There are no structures or systems in America, after all, just a glorious tradition of freedom, unless you want the freedom to talk about institutional racism as a real thing that harms actual people. Then you'd better watch your mouth.
All this fits very strangely with — and is the radical rightwing outgrowth of — last year's panic over calls to bring down monuments to the Confederacy. We were told removing those post-Reconstruction celebrations of the Lost Cause would amount to "erasing history," although historians were quick to point out that the statues of dead Confederates had far more to do with reinforcing white supremacy and Jim Crow than with any real educational purpose.
And now look who wants to wipe out the teaching of history. It's the very worst "revisionism" to take down statues celebrating enslavers, but we also can't have all these terrible teachers pointing out that those very statues were dedicated with speeches praising the noble cause of white supremacy, either. After all, that might give white students the impression that they should "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress" over that legacy of white supremacy.
Or perhaps a teacher might be allowed to mention those openly racist dedication speeches, as long as the teacher emphasized that the Jim Crow era was a temporary, century-long deviation from the nation's founding principles, just as the 250 years of legal slavery prior to the Civil War had also been a great big deviation from the nation's basic goodness, too.
Are we supposed to talk about history, or not?
At the core of the Georgia resolution is this list of Thou Shalt Nots, which appears not only in the NAS document (twice, weirdly) but has also made its way into several states' laws aimed at making critical race theory go away. Oklahoma, we're looking at you, and at Texas, too.
Get ready, sucker's LONG. The Georgia Board of Ed
Believes that no teacher, administrator, or other employee in any state education agency, school district, or school administration shall approve for use, make use of, or carry out, standards, curricula, lesson plans, textbooks, instructional materials, or instructional practices that serve to inculcate in students the following concepts:
(a) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
(b) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
(c) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual's race;
(d) members of one race cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race;
(e) an individual's moral standing or worth is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex;
(f) an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
(g) any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex;
(h) meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a members of a particular race to oppress members of another race;
(i) that the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States; or
(j) that, with respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality
That next-to last one is clearly aimed at prohibiting the use of the 1619 Project in classes, of course.
Also, how's this for a kick in the pants? As we note, this list of supposed educational goals crops up, with variations, in state laws aimed at "protecting" education all over Red State America. But weirdly, the first eight items in the list are virtually identical to the list of "divisive concepts" banned in Donald Trump's September 2020 executive order aimed at prohibiting "racial bias" training for government employees and contractors.
So what the hell is up there? Did Stanley Kurtz write the Trump executive order, or crib from the EO for his NAS document? Did the two lists share some common genesis that we haven't seen? We are confused, we'll confess — though not to the point of psychological distress. Maybe we should go find a statue to look at, so we'll understand what history is about.
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You just stop that, Kyrsten Sinema! You stop it right now!
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), who missed last week's vote on establishing an independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection, showed up in Tucson yesterday and explained she'd missed the vote because she "had a personal family matter," although she didn't care to elaborate on that in the least. We're pretty sure that's US Senate for "Fuck off, I will never explain myself and you can't make me," which is true but unsatisfying. Her office hasn't explained her absence either, but did say that had she been there, she'd have voted for the bill, which nonetheless failed because it couldn't get 10 Republican votes.
But Sinema did have a bit more to say about the many calls for her and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) to please recognize that democracy is in some pretty desperate straits these days, and that their opposition to any sort of reform to the legislative filibuster gives Senate Republicans a veto over investigating the insurrection, and over important Democratic priorities like the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, both of which Sinema says she supports, but which will never get 10 votes from Republicans. Even Joe Biden subtweeted her the other day, albeit while actually talking.
We bet you are really looking forward to the logical case she built for letting the Republicans block everything that Joe Biden wants to achieve, much of which Sinema supports as well!
Here is what Sinema said about the filibuster, courtesy of the Arizona Republic. It's a doozy!
Sinema reiterated her position that the filibuster is a tool that "protects the democracy of our nation" and is meant to create comity and encourage senators from both parties to work together.
"To those who say that we must make a choice between the filibuster and 'X,' I say, this is a false choice," she said.
Except for how, no, that is not actually what the filibuster does. We have been over this before! The filibuster is a mechanism that historically has been used primarily to block civil rights legislation. It has no roots in the Constitution, or even in the debates of the Founders, who spoke of the Senate being a place where a simple majority would prevail. And since it's become routine, the filibuster has more commonly thwarted democracy and discouraged bipartisanship. Here, go listen to a podcast about all that!
OK, but that stuff there was only Sinema's preamble. We bet you are still really looking forward to the logical case she built for preserving the filibuster. Here it is!
The reality is that when you have a system that is not working effectively — and I would think that most would agree that the Senate is not a particularly well-oiled machine, right? The way to fix that is to fix your behavior, not to eliminate the rules or change the rules, but to change the behavior.
Let's break Sinema's statement down a bit, as we rhetorical cartoon doktors like to do.
Stated: The Senate is a system.
Stated: The Senate is not working effectively.
Unstated, and perhaps disputed: The filibuster is a reason the system is not working.
Also, yeah, sure, we do all pretty much agree the system is fucked up so badly that Bob the Builder (From "Bob the Builder") and Bill (From "Only a Bill") would look at it and say, 'Nope, we're fucked." This however, is tangential to the premises.
Someone please explain to this Doktor of Rhetoric how the hell Sinema gets from those premises to the conclusion "The way to fix that is to fix your behavior, not to eliminate the rules or change the rules, but to change the behavior"? As sequiturs go, that fucker is NON.
Clearly, Sinema is pulling a bait and switch here, blaming the problems in the system on some personal flaw in the members of the Senate. It's an unstated assertion of additional, entirely unproven premises:
Unstated: The flaw is not in the rules.
Unstated: The flaw is in senators' behavior.
Mind you, assuming the truth of an unexamined premise or premises like that leads to Rebecca's favorite logical fallacy, which she enjoys spotting in the wild, and it is ...?
Rebecca: BEGGING THE QUESTION!
Indeed! Now, you could certainly argue that, in the hands of Republicans since 2009, there has indeed been some pretty bad, dishonest, bad-faith behavior. The best solution actually would be for Republicans to fix their behavior, but they have a political interest in behaving as badly as possible, because gumming up the works is what passes for their actual political ideology, which largely rejects governance from the get-go.
Here's what's missing in Sinema's logic: If the system is broken because of your behavior, you can fix the system by changing your behavior.
But if the system is broken because of someone else's behavior, and they are determined not to change their behavior, you can change your own behavior all you want, but it won't fix the goddamn system. So you'll need to change what, kids? THE SYSTEM.
Now get out of here and don't be tracking syllogism all over the carpet, we just cleaned.
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And he took a minute to jump up Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema's asses.
Difficult though it is to believe, Joe Biden yesterday became the first US president to go to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to mark an anniversary of the 1921 race massacre that leveled the city's Greenwood district, leaving as many as 300 Black residents dead, and thousands homeless and having lost everything. It took the centennial for a president to come. No one was ever arrested in the massacre, which was covered up by white officialdom for decades.
In his speech, Biden recounted the horror of the two-day rampage by white mobs, fueled by a false newspaper account suggesting that a 19-year-old Black man had attempted to rape a 17-year-old white elevator operator.
One hundred years ago, at this hour, on this first day of June smoke darkened the Tulsa sky, rising from 35 blocks of Greenwood that were left in ash and ember, razed in rubble. In less than 24 hours, 1,100 Black homes and businesses were lost. Insurance companies — they had insurance, many of them — rejected claims of damage. Ten thousand people were left destitute and homeless, placed in interment camps.
Biden drew applause from the crowd when he said "this was not a riot. This was a massacre." He noted that it was "among the worst in our history, but not the only one. And for too long, forgotten by our history. As soon as it happened there was a clear effort to erase it from our memory — our collective memories."
Here's the full speech:
A few highlights:
History Has To Be Honest
In a clear rebuke to Republican-led states that are banning discussions of race and history that might make white people uncomfortable, Biden said, "We can't just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, everything. That's what great nations do. [...] I come here to fill the silence. Because in silence, wounds deepen."
Referring to the past year's reckoning with systemic racism in policing — and the backlash to the very idea that there's a problem — Biden said,
There's greater recognition that for too long we've allowed a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester — the view that America is a zero-sum game, where there's only one winner. "If you succeed, I fail." "If you get ahead, I fall behind." "If you get a job, I lose mine.'" [That one, remember, got Jesse Helms reelected in 1990 — Dok] And maybe worst of all: "If I hold you down, I lift myself up." Instead of: "if you do well, we all do well."
It's The Generational Wealth, Stupid
Biden pointed out that the tragedy of Greenwood — and of the multitude of similar white raids on Black communities throughout the Jim Crow era — wasn't just the immediate loss of homes, belongings, and businesses, but a much greater loss, of the opportunity to pass on homes and businesses through the generations. And through policies like discriminatory lending, redlining, and building freeways that divided communities of color, the federal government actively participated in denying Black Americans the opportunities to build wealth. Repeating a point he'd made in his proclamation on the anniversary of the massacre, Biden noted that the people of Greenwood — and so many other places in the last century — never had a chance to rebuild.
This is fairly remarkable stuff for an American president to acknowledge, although as we noted yesterday, it's a core part of arguments for reparations: The harm done by slavery and segregation didn't just affect those who lived it, but all their descendants. The steps Biden announced yesterday — efforts to steer more federal contracts to small disadvantaged businesses, and to strengthen federal fair housing policy — represent just a start at closing the racial wealth gap.
Another Impossible Job For Kamala Harris
Biden then turned to Republican attacks on voting rights, promising to "fight like heck" (yes, he is Joe Biden) to preserve the right to vote. "This sacred right is under assault with incredible intensity like I've never seen," he said, "with an intensity and an aggressiveness we've not seen in a long, long time." Biden called the attempts to make voting harder "simply un-American," but noted that it's not unprecedented. You could certainly argue that, considering the events he was in Tulsa to mark, white supremacy is entirely too American.
Calling for June to be a "month of action on Capitol Hill," Biden announced that Vice President Kamala Harris will lead the effort in the Senate to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. The former would set national standards to ensure people can vote in federal elections, and the latter would restore the requirement that state changes in voting laws be cleared by the Justice Department, to make sure they don't restrict access to the ballot.
Yeah, Joe Manchin And Kyrsten Sinema, Biden Means You
While he was at it, Biden also took what seemed to be an off-text and slightly frustrated jab at Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema for their reluctance to move his legislative agenda forward.
I hear all the folks on TV saying, "Why doesn't Biden get this done?" Well, because Biden only has a majority of effectively four votes in the House, and a tie in the Senate — with two members of the Senate who vote more with my Republican friends.
Brace yourself for mutterings and flutterings from the civility police, and the inevitable fact checks pointing out that Manchin and Sinema don't actually vote more frequently with the Republicans. The Washington Post points out that Sinema at least supports the voting bills; Manchin has suggested he'd rather focus on the John Lewis Act and restoring the "preclearance" provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Manchin would apply preclearance to all states, mooting the Supreme Court's 2013 Shelby County decision, which nuked preclearance because it only applied to states with a history of voter suppression prior to 1965.
But Manchin and Sinema have both opposed doing away with the legislative filibuster, which in effect has given Senate Republicans a veto over virtually every part of Biden's agenda, so on that one, we'll go with fact check true.
Biden closed his Tulsa speech by coming back to the original American sin that led to the 1921 massacre, white supremacy, noting that the intelligence community has identified white supremacist extremism as "the most lethal threat to the homeland." He warned, as he has in other speeches, that
hate is never defeated. It only hides. It hides. It is given a little bit of oxygen, just a little bit of oxygen by its leaders, it comes out from under the rock like it was happening again, as if it never went away.
He ended on a hopeful note, pointing out that on the whole, young people today embrace diversity and reject hate, and offering the sort of goofy Joe Bidenish observation that one degree of social change is reflected in TV ads that feature lots of racially diverse couples. It wasn't really a scientific data point, he acknowledged, but he said advertisers aren't stupid, and know what images of America will catch on with consumers. "They're sellin' soap!" We figure the rightwing rage machine will be all over that one by dinnertime tonight.
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Let's all watch Joe Biden talk us through our better angels.
One hundred years ago, on May 31 and June 1, 1921, upon rumor of a young Black man assaulting an elevator operator, white supremacists burned and murdered their way through the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, largely destroying what had been an island of wealth and security for Black residents. Some 40 blocks were leveled, and 20 years before Pearl Harbor, it may have been the first aerial attack on US soil.
Like most white people, I only learned of the massacre long after I was out of school, when I attended a session at an academic conference in 2001. While the history was largely not commemorated outside the Black community for much of the 20th century — and was pretty well actively covered up — it's finally gotten a belated acknowledgement in officialdom and pop culture. Many Americans learned about the massacre when it was dramatized in the 2019 HBO adaptation of Watchmen, and also when Donald Trump held a Superspreader Rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth last year, at which former presidential candidate Herman Cain most likely got the COVID-19 infection that killed him less than two months later.
The 1921 massacre had probably been brewing for years as white resentment built over wealthy Black people. But its immediate spark came when 19-year-old Dick Rowland took a break from his shoe-shine business to use the only nearby restroom for Black people, in the Drexel Building. He tripped while getting on an elevator, and either grabbed the arm of the white elevator operator, Sarah Page, or possibly stepped on her foot. She screamed, and a white store clerk accused him of attempted rape.
Page later wrote a letter saying Rowland had done nothing wrong, but by then Greenwood was long gone, along with as many as 300 of its residents killed, and thousands left homeless.
Also, it looks like we've finally turned the corner on how the event is named. When I first heard about it, it was generally called the "Tulsa Race Riot," which is deliberately vague about who was running riot. "Tulsa Race Massacre" is the far more common usage now.
Today, Joe Biden will be in Tulsa, to memorialize those who died — nobody knows how many, although estimates range from a low of 75 to as many as 300 — to meet with the three remaining survivors, to call for racial justice, and to announce some measures his administration will take to begin closing the racial wealth gap. Vice President Kamala Harris met with the survivors earlier today.
The Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa—Black Wall Street—was a thriving business district. 100 years ago, a white supr… https://t.co/ODr1KyYakp— Vice President Kamala Harris (@Vice President Kamala Harris)1622564873.0
President Biden is scheduled to speak at 4:15 Eastern from Tulsa; here's the White House video feed.
The numbers from the obliteration of an entire community are horrifying. According to a 2001 state commission, at least 1,256 homes were destroyed, along with businesses, churches, movie theaters, schools, and hospitals. A Brookings Institution summary notes that even now there has still "been little academic work to quantify the economic harm Tulsa's Black residents experienced," and called on scholars to "fill in the gaps."
One reason there are so many gaps to fill is that for decades, the white establishment in Oklahoma covered up the truth. Entire archives of documents and newspaper records vanished. University of Michigan professor Scott Ellsworth told NBC News that, as late as the 1970s, when he began researching the massacre, "Researchers who would try to do work on this ... had their lives threatened and had their career threatened." A recently discovered mass grave in Tulsa's Oakwood Cemetery will be excavated this summer, which is likely to help provide a better estimate of the death toll.
Residents of Greenwood would eventually file some $1.8 million in damage claims with insurance companies, worth around $27 million in 2021 dollars; all but one of the claims were denied, and certainly not everyone who suffered losses had insurance to start with. At least a white business owner did get compensation for guns taken from his store. Also,
A 2018 article in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology estimates the direct financial impact of the 1921 massacre. "If 1,200 median priced houses in Tulsa were destroyed today, the loss would be around $150 million," the researchers wrote. "The additional loss of other assets, including cash, personal belongings, and commercial property, might bring the total to over $200 million."
The long-term impact, of course, was generational; imagine if all that wealth had been passed on in the following hundred years. It's just one part of America's long history of systemic racism, in this case the prevention of Black families having the means to build wealth that whites take for granted. (See also redlining, see also Ta-Nehisi Coates's "The Case for Reparations," as vital a read now as when it was published in 2014.)
In a statement today, the White House noted that the "destruction wrought on the Greenwood neighborhood and its families was followed by laws and policies that made recovery nearly impossible" and that the experiences of Greenwood survivors "have echoes in countless Black communities across the country."
Because disparities in wealth compound like an interest rate, the disinvestment in Black families in Tulsa and across the country throughout our history is still felt sharply today. The median Black American family has thirteen cents for every one dollar in wealth held by White families.
Biden will announce some first steps at narrowing the racial wealth divide, including an interagency initiative, led by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, to address inequity in housing appraisals.
"Homes in majority Black neighborhoods are often valued at tens of thousands of dollars less than comparable homes in similar, majority white communities," the White House said. "This effort will seek to utilize, very quickly, the many levers at the federal government's disposal ... to root out discrimination in the appraisal and home buying process."
HUD will also reverse two rule changes put in place by Donald Trump that weakened fair housing protection, although a schedule for Sen. Cory Booker to come live with white suburban families has yet to be determined. Don't crowd, everyone will get a chance.
The administration will also work to increase by 50 percent (over five years) the number of federal contracts awarded to small disadvantaged businesses.
Currently, around 10% of federal contracts go to SDBs annually, totaling around $50 billion. An increase of 50% by 2026 would mean an additional $100 billion in federal contracts awarded to SDBs in this five year period, officials said.
It's a start, at least.
With the 100th anniversary of the massacre, more people will be educated about what happened in Tulsa — and cities across the country — even as Republicans try to handwave away America's history of systemic racism by banning it from being discussed in schools, including a recently passed Oklahoma law barring the teaching of concepts that the state decides are intended to cause any student to "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress" because of their race or gender. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt insists the law wouldn't prohibit teaching about 1921, which might be true as long as teachers keep saying "but that's a long time ago and things are all fine now."
Now let's all watch Joe Biden talk us through our better angels, in this open thread.