Texas Passes Another Critically Stupid Law Banning Kids From Learning That Racism Exists
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed another terrible bill into law Friday, this time with less fanfare than the state GOP's draconian abortion ban and voter suppression law. This one combats the imaginary scourge of "critical race theory," which has become a rightwing umbrella term for any discussion of racism in American schools.
Educators and advocacy groups opposed this new law but Abbott doesn't listen to medical experts about COVID-19 so why should he listen to a history teacher about history?
The crap law prohibits teaching "certain concepts about race," presumably that racism existed and still exists as an institutionalized part of American society and its criminal justice system. Yeah, that's just crazy talk. The law develops a "civics training course" for educators, so they'll have the skills necessary to, we guess, teach students how to bark the Pledge of Allegiance on command like gifted and talented seals. Schools are mostly barred from giving credit to students for any advocacy work. Here's the kicker: The law "urges educators to teach only that slavery and racism are 'deviations' from the founding principles of the United States."
At this rate, Texas schoolchildren will wonder why Martin Luther King was dreaming at all. He should have just formed a singing group with John Lewis.
Ever since the New York Times published Nikole Hannah-Jones's 1619 Project, conservatives have been even more desperate to whitewash American history. The result has been obvious propaganda like the Trump administration's 1776 Commission Report and First Amendment-shredding bills like this one in Texas that force educators to teach a fabricated version of history better suited for 1950s cinema than a 21st Century classroom.
I'll probably have to keep saying this until whiteness officially kills me, but how are slavery and racism “deviations" from the founding principles of the United States when slavery existed during the founding, the majority of the men signing the Declaration of Independence owned people, and slavery was recognized in the Constitution? The Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott decision were major “deviations" that arguably weren't deviations at all but reflective of a white supremacist society. Countries rarely fight bloody civil wars over “deviations" from their founding principles.
Slavery wasn't a mere deviation from Texas's founding but the literal catalyst. The Texas economy was dependent on cotton, which was only profitable when enslaved people picked it for free. When Vicente Guerrero, then president of the Republic of Mexico, declared that all enslaved people were emancipated, the Anglo settlers decided to fight for their freedom to keep other humans in bondage.
Landowner and politician John Durst declared: "We are ruined forever should this measure be adopted," and the supposed “father of (white) Texas" Stephen F. Austin whined, "I am the owner of one slave only, an old decrepit woman, not worth much, but in this matter I should feel that my constitutional rights as a Mexican were just as much infringed, as they would be if I had a thousand."
Sixty years after Texas gained its “independence" from Mexico and more than three decades after slavery ended, the Supreme Court upheld racial segregation with the 1896 decision Plessy vs. Ferguson. This wasn't a five to four liberal vs. conservative throw down with a swing justice surprise. Seven out of the then eight justices gave the legal high-five to Jim Crow.
Justice Henry Brown wrote: "If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane."
The twisted irony was that Black people weren't considered equal civilly or politically because this decision reinforced the belief that they were socially inferior. You can't teach American history without acknowledging racism, but Texas sure as hell is going to try.
The Central York School District in Pennsylvania recently banned the children's book “I Am Rosa Parks," which even Fox News host Brian Kilmeade considered overreach, but that's because conservatives include Parks on a list of “approved Black figures from history." However, there's actually no way to do justice to Parks's story without discussing institutional racism.
The 2018 Doctor Who episode “Rosa" did a good job showing how 1950s Alabama was actually more dangerous and overtly hostile to the Doctor's Black companion, Ryan, than the alien planet they'd visited in the previous episode. Rosa Parks didn't bravely resist a “deviation" from American principles of equality. She was arrested because she broke a racist law, which the vast majority of white Americans either fully endorsed or at least tolerated.
That's not just American history. It's also America's present, and Republicans would prefer today's children are unaware of both realities.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."