Virginia House GOP Memoryholes 3/5 Compromise, Jim Crow, Other Real History
The women of Williamsburg are frankly shocked and disgusted. Photo: Harvey Barrison, Creative Commons license 2.0

The Virginia House of Delegates is taking a whack at outlawing "critical race theory" with one of those cookie-cutter laws that seek to protect the sensibilities of angry white parents by banning the teaching of "divisive concepts." Virginia's take on the issue — House Bill 787 — is a lot simpler than some states'. Instead of mucking around with banning the 1619 Project or threatening teachers with being fired, fined, or flayed for making white children uncomfortable, the bill simply copy-pastes a list of forbidden "divisive concepts" from the same model legislation that other states have used, and calls it a day.

Read More: Georgia Schoolchildren Will Just Have To Learn All History From Confederate Statues

As we're always careful to point out, the prohibited "divisive concepts" sound on their face like matters no one could object to, like banning schools from teaching that "one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex," or that "an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment." We certainly wouldn't want to teach children such awful things either!

In practice, though, the "divisive concepts" verbiage has been used to attack books and curricula that teach accurately about America's history of racism, as with the angry "Moms for Liberty" who insist that accurate books about school desegregation — even Ruby Bridges' autobiography! — inevitably send the message that white people are inherently racist. As the Washington Post reports (here's a paywall-free linky), these laws are so vague, by design, that educators in many states are already self-censoring out of fear that they'll become the next targets of the rightwing outrage machine.

To prevent that in Virginia — and to make the point that these "divisive concepts" bans are prone to abuse — Virginia Democratic members of the House of Delegates introduced a slate of amendments to HB 787 Monday, with the goal of making clear that Virginia schools couldn't be prohibited from teaching accurately about a number of topics, like the Three-Fifths Compromise, Jim Crow, the "Lost Cause of the Confederacy" myth, and so on. Here's a surprise: Republicans voted against every single one of the amendments, defeating each on a party line vote.


In a statement from Virginia Democrats, Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn said the amendments would ensure that complete, accurate teaching of US history would be "protected from political censorship":

As stories about book bans and even book burnings continue to surface, we must be vigilant in our fight to protect Virginia’s well-earned reputation for providing a world class public education.

All of the Democratic-sponsored amendments provided explicit carve-outs from the law, to protect important topics that might otherwise be banished if angry parents got their way. We're frankly impressed by the delegates' canny efforts to tie several of the amendments to censorship attempts that have already occurred in other states with similar laws.

For instance these two amendments from Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg:

Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections A and B, nothing in this act shall prevent training or instruction about Jim Crow and Jim Crow legislation laws and practices, some of which remained in Virginia code until the 21st century, that enforced racial segregation in the South in the aftermath of the Civil War through the middle of the 20th century.

Also this:

Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections A and B, nothing in this act shall prevent training or instruction about the concept of "The Lost Cause of the Confederacy," a narrative that promotes the morality and heroism of the Confederacy and the institution of slavery and included the erecting of many Confederate Statues to celebrate that movement throughout southern states such as Virginia.

We really appreciate VanValkenburg's emphasis on how those topics were specifically relevant to Virginia, and to the present day.

Another amendment, by Del. Clint Jenkins, had those Mad Moms specifically in mind; in Tennessee last year, "Moms for Liberty" objected to the autobiographical children's book Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story, which told Bridges' story of integrating New Orleans schools in 1960. The moms didn't like a line referring to the "large crowd of angry white people who didn't want Black children in a white school," because it might make kids think that's still the case now, and that's really unfair to white kids in particular because it will make them feel bad.

Read More:

ACHTUNG! TN Moms Have Found The Critical Race Theory, And It Is Ruby Bridges' Children's Book!

Texas School Book Purge Heating Up, Almost To Fahrenheit 451

Sweet Christ, Now Republicans Are Defending The Three-Fifths Compromise

Virginia's HB 787 contains the very same boilerplate language barring "divisive concepts" as the Tennessee law that the Mad Moms referred to in their attempt to ban Ruby Bridges Goes to School. Del. Jenkins therefore specified that nothing in Virginia's bill could be construed to prevent "instruction about Ruby Bridges, who as a six-year old in Louisiana, became the first Black student to integrate an all-white school in the South." It's a heck of a good move to call attention to the perverse ways these laws are already being applied to shut down valuable teaching materials.

Other amendments sought to protect the accurate teaching of the Three-Fifths Compromise, discussion of Supreme Court precedents and arguments, and — to underline the fact that many of these cookie cutter laws have inspired purges of books on LGBTQ topics — the Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legally recognized marriage equality.

Another amendment, offered by Del. Kathy Tran, would make sure schools could teach about the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, during a wave of white paranoia about the Japanese auto industry. Del. Tran explained why that was such a catalyzing moment for Asian Americans, and why it absolutely needs to be in schools in 2022:



And be sure to watch Del. Sally Hudson's argument for her amendment, which would cover how laws throughout US history have created wealth and income gaps. Similar amendments called for teaching about the disparate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of color, and the "demographics of American local, state, and federal governments, including how only one of 50 states has a legislature in which over half the seats are held by women." (That would be Nevada, in case you're playing at home.)

All the amendments were rejected on party-line votes Monday night, and on Tuesday, the bill passed the House by a single vote, 50-49. HB 787 now goes to the Senate, where Democrats still hold a narrow two-vote majority. Earlier this month, Virginia's Senate Education Committee killed a similar "divisive concepts" bill that had the support of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, so let's hope HB 787 also comes up dry.

[Virginia House Democrats / HB 787 / WRIC-TV / WaPo / Harvey Barrison, Creative Commons license 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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