Tag Archives: race

White replacement is MAGA’s unified field theory

https://theconversation.com/we-cannot-deny-the-violence-of-white-supremacy-any-more-86139

Republicans used to unite around the interests of the rich. Now they unite around a conspiracy theory that has repeatedly inspired mass shootings.


This weekend, we learned all over again that ideas have consequences. When people believe terrible ideas, they do terrible things.

The idea this time is White Replacement Theory: A conspiracy of Jews and liberals is trying to “replace” Whites as the dominant race in America and Europe by bringing in as many non-white immigrants as possible, by encouraging Black people to breed quickly, by diluting the white race through interbreeding, and by depressing white birth rates. The ultimate goal is the extinction of the white race, an outcome also known as white genocide. [1]

If someone really believed such a theory, what might they do? We found out Saturday:

18-year-old Payton Gendron parked his car in front of the entrance to a Tops Supermarket in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. Exiting the car wearing metal armor and holding an assault rifle, he shot and killed a female employee in front of the store, and a man packing groceries into the trunk of his car. After entering the store, he murdered the store’s guard, and by the end of his killing spree, he had shot 13 people, killing 10 of them.

Eleven of the people he shot were Black, and two were white. As the manifesto he left behind makes clear, this was fully intentional. The first listed goal in his manifesto was to “kill as many blacks as possible”.

Gendron lives in rural New York state, but (according to the manifesto he posted online) drove three hours to find a zip code with a large black population. So he wasn’t seeking revenge against particular Black people that he blamed for his real or imagined problems. He was striking a blow for the white race.

Surely now people will see … Sunday, Pete Buttigieg tweeted:

It should not be hard, especially today, for every elected official and media personality in America—left, right, and center—to unequivocally condemn white nationalism, “replacement theory,” and all that comes with it.

That might seem like a small thing to ask. After all, the Buffalo shooting feels like the kind of horrifying crime that should scare everybody straight. Sure, a news-channel entertainer like Tucker Carlson might pimp WRT to juice his ratings, a politician like Donald Trump might motivate his base by hyperbolically describing immigration as an “invasion“, and countless ignorant folks on social media might pass on these ideas to justify the racism they’ve carried all their lives. But Payton Gendron has shown us that this isn’t a game. When crazy ideas are thrown around loosely, crazy people latch onto them and do terrible things. Surely everyone will realize that now, and everything will change.

That feeling should last for at least another day or two. Enjoy it.

Because we’ve been here before, and nothing changed. We were here when Dylann Roof, 21, killed nine Black Christians during a Bible study class at the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston (a city he also picked because of the large number of Black people living there). And when Patrick Crusius, also 21, drove from his Dallas suburb to a WalMart in El Paso, where he tried to shoot as many Mexicans as possible; he ended up murdering 23 people of various races and nationalities and injuring 23 more. John Earnest,19, hoped to kill as many Jews as possible in Poway, California, but he wasn’t very good at it; he only murdered one and wounded three others before his gun jammed. Robert Bowers, in his 40s, also went after Jews, killing 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Those were all White Replacement Theory massacres. We know because the killers were only too happy to explain their actions. Posting a manifesto has become a standard part of a WRT massacre.

There have been WRT massacres in other countries as well. In New Zealand Brenton Tarrant attacked two mosques, killing 51 people. In Norway Anders Breivik’s murder spree was at the youth camp of Norway’s Labor Party; he killed 77 people in all, most of them White teens who were growing up liberal.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/15/us/replacement-theory-shooting-tucker-carlson.html

If conservative promoters of WRT were going to be scared straight, it would have happened by now. It might have happened after Charlottesville, when only Heather Heyer died, but the nation saw the spectacle of violent white supremacists marching down the streets chanting “Jews will not replace us.

Remember? Then-president Trump responded by telling us that there were very fine people on both sides.

Nudges and dog whistles. Elected Republicans and Fox News hosts never explicitly tell anyone to go kill Blacks or Hispanics or Jews. But they do regularly say things that, if taken seriously, would logically result in race massacres. Why, for example, did Patrick Crusius take military weaponry to the biggest city on the US/Mexican border? Because he believed his country was being “invaded” by Mexicans, just as President Trump was saying.

When an army of foreigners invades your country, what can a heroic young man do other than go to the border and kill them? That’s what Ukrainians are doing now, and we all praise them for it.

The nudges these young men get from high-profile Republicans rarely mention race explicitly, but the meaning is not hard to decode.

In just the past year, Republican luminaries like Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Georgia congressman, and Elise Stefanik, the center-right New York congresswoman turned Trump acolyte (and third-ranking House Republican), have echoed replacement theory. Appearing on Fox, Mr. Gingrich declared that leftists were attempting to “drown” out “classic Americans.”

Would it surprise you to discover that some interpret “classic Americans” as “White people”?

Similarly, Tucker Carlson seldom talks about white and black in antagonistic terms. Instead, he looks into the camera and says “you” and “them”, leaving those terms open for his almost-entirely-white audience to interpret as they see fit. [2] But occasionally he almost comes right out with it.

He was more explicit in a video posted on Fox News’s YouTube account in September. Carlson said President Biden was encouraging immigration “to change the racial mix of the country, … to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the Third World.”

His Fox News colleague Laura Ingraham

told viewers in 2018 that Democrats “want to replace you, the American voters, with newly amnestied citizens and an ever-increasing number of chain migrants.” During a monologue on her program last year, she called immigration an “insurrection [that] seeks to overthrow everything we love about America by defaming it, silencing it, and even prosecuting it.

In her ads, Rep. Stefanik repeats the “insurrection” theme.

Radical Democrats are planning their most aggressive move yet: a PERMANENT ELECTION INSURRECTION. Their plan to grant amnesty to 11 MILLION illegal immigrants will overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.

She is no doubt aware that false conspiracy theories on the internet claim millions of illegal immigrants are already voting. By describing a path to citizenship (which doesn’t yet exist and would take years to walk) as an “INSURRECTION”, she justifies violence, like the violent attempt to keep President Trump in power after the voters rejected him in 2020.

Again, what would a heroic young White man logically do if he bought what Stefanik is selling? Someone is plotting an “insurrection” to “overthrow” his people. Is registering to vote or sending in $20 really an adequate response to that challenge?

The underground root system. Coincidentally, I was already planning to write something about WRT before Saturday, because this week it had shown up in an odd place: the Senate debate over codifying abortion rights through legislation. Republican Senator Steve Daines from Montana made a somewhat curious argument against that bill:

Why do we have laws in place that protect the eggs of a sea turtle or the eggs of eagles? Because when you destroy an egg, you’re killing a pre-born baby sea turtle or a pre-born baby eagle. Yet when it comes to a pre-born human baby rather than a sea turtle, that baby will be stripped of all protections in all 50 states under the Democrats’ bill we will be voting on tomorrow.

Most of the commenters on my social media feeds were mystified: What do sea turtles and eagles have to do with anything? Daines seemed to be talking in wild non sequiturs — unless you could fill in his unstated connection.

White replacement is the Rosetta Stone here: If laws protect sea turtle eggs and eagle eggs (I haven’t checked whether Daines was making that up), it’s because those species are endangered. You know what else is endangered? The white race, because White women are failing to reproduce at replacement rate. That is, in fact, why American women’s rights need to be taken away: because they’re not doing their primary job. They’re aborting their fetuses rather than producing the healthy White babies the race needs to avoid extinction.

Abortion isn’t the only issue with a hidden connection to WRT, as Gendron spelled out in his manifesto.

Gendron also argues that Jews are behind the movement for transgender inclusivity, supposedly sponsoring transgender summer camps for “Scandinavian style whites”.

Likewise, accepting same-sex relationships lowers the birth rate of Gingrich’s “classic Americans”. And then there’s the demoralizing effect of critical race theory.

The section ends by blaming Jews for creating “infighting” between people and races. The example Gendron’s manifesto provides is that “Jews are spreading ideas such as Critical Race Theory and white shame/guilt to brainwash Whites into hating themselves and their people”.

From the outside, the issues that motivate the MAGA wing of the GOP seem like an incoherent mess. But white replacement is an underground root system that connects them all.

What’s more, WRT explains the intensity of the MAGA movement, which otherwise is also a mystery. How can a bland figure like Joe Biden incite the kind of hatred and panic we’ve seen? Why would the prospect of a Biden administration be so scary that people styling themselves as “patriots” would invade the Capitol and threaten to hang the vice president rather than permit an orderly transfer of power?

And no matter how many revelations come out about the crimes of the Trump administration and the threat to democracy it posed, why are only a handful of Republicans ready to make a clean break with him?

Because the perceived alternative is racial extinction. Otherwise it makes no sense.

Historically, American political parties have gone into the wilderness for a period of time after a disastrous administration. That’s where the GOP should be post-Trump, but it is being held together by white anxiety about the demographic trends. WRT channels that anxiety into positions on issues and energy for campaigns. And that’s why Republicans can’t walk away from it, even though it regularly and predictably leads to race massacres.



[1] I refuse to go down the rabbit hole of arguing that this is false. I’ll leave that to Farhad Manjoo and Chris Hayes. I will point out one thing: No matter how lily-white you may appear to be today, chances are your people met exactly the same kind of suspicion and hostility when they came to America. My people, the Germans, started arriving in large numbers in the 1700s, and Ben Franklin worried that we were so different we would never assimilate into the Pennsylvania colony. Hence the origin of the Pennsylvania Dutch (i.e., “Deutsch”).

[2] More than a year ago, Charles Blow pointed out something Carlson skips over:

[R]evealingly, he is admitting that Republicans do not and will not appeal to new citizens who are immigrants.

There’s no racial essence that predestines groups of people to vote a certain way. Black voters, for example, were loyal Republicans until FDR started to win them over in the 1930s. In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower still got nearly 40% of the Black vote, compared to the 8% Trump got in 2016.

If Republicans would abandon race-baiting and try to win over immigrants of all races and ethnicities, they might succeed. Demography is not destiny.

Racism in the NFL

https://theweek.com/political-satire/1009806/dont-look-behind-the-shield

The lack of coaching opportunities for Blacks in the NFL is more than just the usual it’s-hard-to-break-into-management problem, and a new lawsuit explores why.


As far back as 1908, when Jack Johnson won the heavyweight boxing championship, sports have been a prime setting for America to work out its racial issues. Blacks might have been barred from most opportunities to excel, and what they managed to accomplish in spite of racial barriers could usually be minimized. But sporting events have objective outcomes. In the 1930s, for example, Whites who wanted to downplay Black achievements could claim that jazz wasn’t really music. But they couldn’t claim that Jesse Owens wasn’t really fast.

In sports, the 20th century was a long story of racial barriers falling and Black athletes succeeding. In 1947, Jackie Robinson was the only Black player in the major leagues. But he became the rookie of the year that season, and by 1949 he was the National League’s most valuable player. Willie Mays entered the league in 1951, and Hank Aaron in 1954. By 1981, the major leagues were 18.7% Black, but then percentages began to fall, possibly because Black athletes drifted into other sports. In 2016, major league baseball players were 63.7% White, 27.4% Hispanic, 6.7% Black, and 2.1% Asian.

Basketball is the sport most dominated by Black players: In 2020, about 3/4 of NBA players were Black, a number that has been relatively stable for some while. The change from majority White to majority Black happened fairly quickly: The first three Black players entered the league in 1950. By 1957, Bill Russell was the most important player in a Celtic dynasty that would win 11 championships in the next 13 years. Whether White owners and executives continued to have racist beliefs or not, there was no arguing with that kind of success.

The story of race in the National Football League has always been more complicated. The NFL had a handful of Black players when it was getting started in the 1920s, but instituted an informal color barrier from 1933 to 1946. That barrier was broken not through the efforts a crusading White general manager like baseball’s Branch Rickey, but out of legal necessity: When the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles in 1946, they played in the publicly-owned Los Angeles Coliseum. Public accommodations couldn’t be segregated even in that era, so the Rams needed at least one Black player. The Washington Redskins became the last team to integrate in 1962, when the Kennedy administration similarly threatened not to let them play in a stadium on federally-controlled land.

The quarterback mystique. But even as Black athletes in many sports succeeded in blowing up the myth of White superiority, racism established a fallback position: Some Blacks might possess a raw animal physicality, but only Whites had the intellectual and moral virtues that made athletes truly admirable.

And so an article about base-stealing baseball players might emphasize a Black player’s blazing speed, but a White player’s painstaking analysis of pitchers and their moves. Black basketball players might be imposing Goliaths like Wilt Chamberlain, but (as the sports magazines of my youth told the story) White players compensated through smarts, hard work, and an indomitable will to succeed. That racial distinction was rarely spelled in so many words, but whenever I heard an athlete described as “crafty” or “scrappy”, I could be pretty sure he was White.

Baseball and basketball are inherently egalitarian sports — everybody bats, anybody can shoot — so this pro-White image-making had limited effects. But football is more corporate and specialized. In particular, a racial mystique developed around the quarterback position: Of course arm strength and other physical gifts mattered, but intangible (White) qualities like leadership and courage were more important, and quarterbacks needed the (White) mental capacity to analyze defenses and make sound decisions under pressure.

As a result, it took decades for football’s conventional wisdom to recognize that Black athletes could be good quarterbacks. The prophecy was self-fulfilling: High school and college coaches didn’t want to “waste their time” training unsuitable Black players to be quarterbacks, so by the time the quarterback pipeline reached the NFL, it contained mostly White players. As that pipeline combined with NFL coaches’ own racial preconceptions, Black NFL quarterbacks remained exceptional and usually had short careers until Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham became stars in the 1980s.

Naturally, if Black athletes lacked the cerebral and moral virtues needed to be good quarterbacks, it followed that they couldn’t be good coaches either. All sports have had racial barriers to management positions, as the larger society still does in many fields. (Bill Russell once explained the dominance of Black players in the NBA by semi-seriously observing that young Black men weren’t distracted by their opportunities in banking.) But no other sport has such a wide gap between its majority of Black players and its tiny number of Black coaches: 69% of players are Black, but only one of the 32 head coaches (Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers). With only a slightly higher percentage of Black players, the NBA has seven Black head coaches.

Until a few weeks ago, Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins had been a second Black head coach. But he was fired at the end of the season, a move that seemed mysterious: In 2019, Flores had joined a team mired in mediocrity. The Dolphins had managed only one winning season out of the previous ten. His first season had been even worse: 5-11. But then he turned the team around, going 10-6 in 2020 and 9-8 in 2021. 2021 had seemed like two different seasons: The team had started 1-7 (and if Flores had been fired then, it would made some sense), but then finished 8-1. Teams that finish with that kind of spurt usually have high hopes for the next season. They don’t usually fire the head coach. So Miami’s Channel 4 seemed a bit puzzled:

During a Monday morning news conference, the primary issues [team owner Stephen] Ross cited for the decision to fire Flores seemed to have little to do with the on-field product and more with communication within the team’s braintrust — though there were no specific examples offered of how the team determined Flores wasn’t the right fit in those regards.

Anyway, life in the NFL. Flores moved on to apply for other coaching vacancies. And then, for a minute, it seemed like he had found something. The Patriots’ Bill Belichick — Flores had been his defensive coordinator during the Super Bowl winning 2018 season — sent Flores a text congratulating him on landing the New York Giants head coaching job.

The weird thing was, Flores hadn’t heard anything and hadn’t even interviewed for the job yet. That was supposed to happen in a few days. After a quick back-and-forth it turned out that Belichick had gotten the wrong Brian: The Giants had decided to hire Brian Daboll, a White coach who had also been a Belichick assistant at one point.

But even though they were telling people like Belichick that the decision was made, the Giants didn’t inform Flores. They went ahead with his interview, then announced that Daboll was their new coach.

Why they would do that has a simple answer: the Rooney Rule.

Rooney Rule. Named after former Pittsburgh Steeler owner Dan Rooney, the Rooney Rule says that NFL teams have to interview non-White candidates for coaching and management jobs. It puts no quota on hiring, but Black candidates at least have to get in the door.

It was established in 2003 after a similar controversy: Tampa Bay had just fired coach Tony Dungy (who would later win a Super Bowl in Indianapolis), and Minnesota had sacked Dennis Green (after his first losing season in ten years). A study showed that Black NFL coaches had, on average, better records than White coaches, but were less likely to be hired and more likely to be fired.

Clearly, the rule didn’t solve the problem. Nearly 20 years later, the NFL is down to one Black coach again. Instead, the rule has become a box-checking exercise, in which Black coaching candidates are put through charade interviews without being seriously considered.

They have long suspected this, but the Belichick text was the first time it could be established in a particular case.

The Flores lawsuit. Tuesday, Flores filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York (where the NFL is headquartered). It’s a class-action suit on behalf of

All Black Head Coach, Offensive and Defensive Coordinators and Quarterbacks Coaches, as well as General Managers, and Black candidates for those positions during the applicable statute of limitations period

The suit asks the court to declare the league in violation of several non-discrimination laws, to award monetary damages (both compensatory and punitive), and for

injunctive relief necessary to cure Defendants’ discriminatory policies and practices

And that’s where it gets interesting. What would a court have to do to “cure” the NFL of racism?

The problem is that each team hires only one head coach at a time, and those decision depend on subjective judgements: How well does this coach’s management style fit the team’s vision and the talent on the field?

So far this year, five of the nine coaching vacancies have been filled (all by White coaches), but it’s hard to pick out any one of them as a racist decision. The Jaguars, for example, just hired Doug Pederson, who in his last job won the Super Bowl with a back-up quarterback.

The fact that a coin comes up heads once doesn’t prove it’s rigged. But if it keeps coming up heads again and again, it probably is.

What Flores claims. Several of the specific charges in Flores’ lawsuit have gotten attention from the media, but not enough attention has been paid to the suit’s larger narrative.

For example, the accusation that Dolphins’ owner Ross offered Flores a bonus for losing games so that the team could get a better draft pick (an officially denied practice known as “tanking”), has been widely reported. But the larger implication is that hiring Flores in the first place was a sham: He wasn’t hired to succeed; he was hired to be the fall guy for losing seasons that would build a team that some other coach (presumably White) could lead to victory in the future.

Another former Black coach (Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns) has told a confusing story that supports Flores up to a point: At first he seemed to imply that he also was offered money to tank, but later backed off to claim only that the management above him was trying to lose.

I told [the Browns’ owner] that what he was doing was very destructive, to not do this because it’s going to hurt my career and every other coach that worked with me and every player on the team. And I told him that it would hurt every Black coach that would follow me. And I have the documents to prove this.

The Miami tanking scheme (which Flores obviously did not implement), also throws a different light on the official explanation of poor “communication within the team’s braintrust” as a reason to get rid of him.

In other words, the NFL’s problem is even bigger than the numbers suggest: Of the few Black coaches hired, how many were hired to take the blame for an intentional failure?

Prospects. The Federalist Society, which wouldn’t be able to find racism in a Confederate plantation, outlines the difficulties Flores’ suit will run into in the hardball world of anti-discrimination law.

What the lawsuit doesn’t contain, however, is actual proof that the NFL is a systemically racist organization and needs to be punished for discriminatory behavior.

Most of Flores’ allegations don’t come close to proving legally actionable systemic discrimination, which must involve finding racist intent or internal statistical “patterns” of inequity. He points out that the NFL currently employs only one black head coach (and three minority head coaches, counting Ron Rivera and Robert Saleh) in Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But judging an organization by one year of results is not actionable.

I agree with their analysis this far: Flores can’t win purely on the evidence that he cites in his complaint. But the class-action lawsuit is an open invitation for other Black coaches and coaching candidate to join his class. Hue Jackson is telling his story. How many others will chime in?

Informally, there’s a lot of sympathy with Flores. I’ve heard ESPN analysts quote unnamed Black coaches saying “I’ve been on that interview” where Rooney-rule boxes are checked without any real chance at a job. But does that mean they’ll come forward?

https://claytoonz.com/2022/02/02/nfl-racism/

At some point, it’s not just about the law. The NFL needs public support. The racist blackballing of Colin Kaepernick is already a stain on the league, and so is the race-norming in the original concussion settlement. (Until a new settlement in June, Black players had a harder time claiming cognitive impairment, because the assumed baseline for cognitive function was lower for Blacks. In laymen’s terms: The league assumed Black players had less brainpower to lose.) Independent of what a judge might say, the NFL just can’t have a parade of Black players and coaches testifying about its racism.

And finally, there’s the discovery process. If Flores can get a look at NFL teams’ internal communications, who knows what he’ll find? The NFL is run by billionaires, and billionaires often assume the rules don’t apply to them.

What Conservatives Tell Themselves About “Critical Race Theory”

https://www.usatoday.com/picture-gallery/opinion/cartoons/2020/06/21/race-america-cblm-black-lives-matter/3232878001/

The research I do for this blog occasionally garners me some unexpected spam email. Last week, the Heritage Foundation decided I might be the target audience for its free e-pamphlet (they call it an e-book, but at 20 pages, that’s an exaggeration) “Critical Race Theory: Knowing it when you see it and fighting it when you can”. (You can request your own free copy here.)

In some sense, they weren’t wrong: I did request the pamphlet and read it, heedless of whatever future spam that might lead to. I was curious, not because I’m afraid of CRT corrupting children at my local schools, but because I have been totally puzzled by the conservative usage of the term. Whenever I hear that somebody is supposedly “teaching CRT in the public schools”, those words turn out not to mean what they would ordinarily mean.

For example, if I told you someone is teaching the Pythagorean Theorem in public schools, I would mean that there is a class (Geometry) whose textbook has a “Pythagorean Theorem” chapter, which the teacher will at some point cover. But nobody’s high school textbook has a “Critical Race Theory” chapter. If you have attended a class that was accused of teaching critical race theory, almost certainly you did not hear the phrase “critical race theory”.

Ditto for teacher training classes. Teachers might be trained on managing racial diversity in their classrooms, or creating an environment more conducive to the success of students of color. But at no point would the instructor say, “Now we’re going to learn critical race theory.” You might hear the phrase “critical race theory” if you study law, because it was coined in the 1970s to describe the idea that “formally colorblind laws can still have racially discriminatory outcomes.” But that’s not going to happen in anything related to K-12 teaching.

In short, CRT in the public schools (or the workplace or the military) is almost invariably a label that some disapproving person applies from the outside. A teacher or teacher-trainer says something, and then somebody else says “That’s critical race theory.”

Labels. So let’s talk about applying negative labels from the outside, which people of all political persuasions do, and which isn’t necessarily bad. For example, if someone is calling for a dictatorship of the proletariat to seize the means of production, I might be doing a public service if I correctly identify that person as a “communist”, whether he uses that word himself or not.

Similarly, John Gruden doesn’t call himself a “racist”, and in fact denies that he is one. But when it came out that he had written in an email that a black representative of the NFL players had “lips the size of Michelin tires”, other people characterized his statement as racist.

I don’t see anything wrong with outside-labeling in general, because people can’t be trusted choose their own labels without external criticism. If I call myself “pro-choice” and somebody else calls himself “pro-life”, it’s just part of normal political debate if we label each other “pro-abortion” and “anti-women’s-rights”.

That said, there are responsible and irresponsible ways to negatively label someone from the outside. The responsible way has several features:

  • The label is defined rather than hurled like an insult. So Michael Flynn is called a “confessed felon” because he pleaded guilty to a felony. But AOC is called a “bitch” because … well, just because.
  • The definition actually fits the labeled person. Too often, a negative label gets attached to somebody based on what other people say about them rather than anything they’ve said or done themselves. Sometimes an authentic quote that was harmless in its original context gets run through a game of telephone until it’s unrecognizably outrageous.
  • The definition also applies to the people typically associated with the label, and captures the essence of what is blameworthy about such people. That was the problem with Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism: To the extent Goldberg defined “fascist” at all, it was a synonym for a particular sense of “totalitarian” that he confessed could also be described as “holistic”: Liberals are “fascist” because they “see no realm of human life that is beyond political significance, from what you eat to what you smoke to what you say”. So if you want to ban sugary sodas, regulate vaping, and boycott speakers who traffic in racial slurs, Goldberg lumps you in with other “holistic” figures like Hitler and Mussolini.
  • The definition justifies the emotional baggage the label is being used to carry. In some conversations, it might be reasonable to use “communist” to mean nothing more than someone who wants to redistribute wealth. But if that’s the definition you verify, you’re not entitled to also invoke the emotional resonance of being America’s enemy in the Cold War.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether a label is being applied responsibly or irresponsibly. For example, if someone calls Donald Trump a “fascist”, they could be hurling an insult at him the way they might hurl eggs at a detested speaker. Or they could have a reasonable definition of fascism that fits Trump like a glove, as well as capturing key traits that made Hitler and Mussolini what they were.

The CRT label. OK, now let’s talk specifically about critical race theory. Until recently, I’ve been assuming the CRT label was being applied irresponsibly for the first reason: The people throwing the term around were sure it was bad, but hardly any of them could say what it meant or why it was bad. Now though, at long last, the Heritage Foundation, a think tank full of the highest-level conservative intellectuals, was going to fix all that by spelling out how to recognize CRT.

Sadly, the pamphlet does not actually define CRT, but I give it credit for providing the next best thing: a list of characteristics. And here they are:

  • Systemic racism. “Critical race theory’s key assertion is that racism is not the result of individual, conscious racist actions or thoughts. Racism is ‘systemic’ and ‘structural.’ It is embedded in America’s legal system, institutions, and free-enterprise system, and imposes ‘whiteness’ as the societal norm.”
  • Race drives beliefs and behaviors. I didn’t make much sense out of that phrase until I read the longer explanation: “American culture is a conspiracy to perpetuate white supremacy by imposing white concepts on people of other races.”
  • White privilege. Critical race theorists “say that white people are born with unearned privilege that other Americans are denied. … Any curricula or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program that compels students or employees to accept their white privilege and/or work to abandon it are part of CRT.”
  • Meritocracy is a myth, because the system won’t let non-whites succeed. “Any curriculum or training program that says color blindness is a myth and advocates for eliminating standard measurements of success, including standardized testing for university admissions for reasons of racial equity, are part of CRT.”
  • Equity replaces equality. “‘Equality’ means equal treatment of all Americans under the law. CRT’s ‘equity’ demands race-based discrimination. Because systemic racism has produced disparities between the races and because the system will only deepen these disparities by rewarding the ‘wrong’ criteria, government must treat individual Americans unequally according to skin color to forcibly produce equal outcomes.”

That’s it — the whole list. Notice what’s missing: the long litany of teachings that are banned in the numerous anti-CRT state laws that have passed red-state legislatures in the last few months. Here’s Tennessee’s:

a. One (1) race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
b. An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;
c. An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race or sex;
d. An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex;
e. An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
f. An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex;
g. A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex;
h. This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist;
i. Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government;
j. Promoting division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people;
k. Ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex;
l. The rule of law does not exist, but instead is series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups;
m. All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; or
n. Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

You can find exaggerated versions of Heritage’s characteristics in this list (b, for example, resembles Heritage’s “white privilege”) but the really outrageous parts don’t show up in Heritage’s pamphlet. Heritage doesn’t claim CRT teaches “One race is inherently superior to another race” or “An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex” or “All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, much less that it promotes “violent overthrow of the United States government”.

By limiting its list of characteristics, Heritage is all but admitting that if you look for CRT in your community, you’re not going to find the teachings listed in anti-CRT laws (which mainly exist for propaganda purposes). You’re not even going to find people claiming that the “the United States is irredeemably racist”, because promoting anti-racism would be pointless if that were true.

What you might find, though, are people teaching about systemic racism, cultural imperialism, white privilege, and racially biased measures of merit, while calling for an America where the gaps between races go away in reality rather than just on paper.

Is there something wrong with that?

Before reading the Heritage pamphlet, I thought anti-CRT rhetoric failed my first test (no definition). Now that I’ve read it, I think it fails my last test (a definition that won’t carry the label’s emotional baggage).

Let’s take a look at the ideas that Heritage says CRT is really about.

Photography as paradigm. I grew up using beige-pink crayons that were labeled “Flesh”, which is pretty much the definition of “imposing whiteness as the societal norm”. My skin wasn’t exactly that color, but it was close enough to mark me as “normal” — unlike people of other races, whose flesh had some color totally different from “Flesh”.

Later I found out that my crayon was just the tip of an iceberg: Kodak’s color film (the industry standard) had been engineered to reproduce “flesh tones”, i.e. Caucasian flesh tones, with particular accuracy. Black people, on the other hand, often showed up on a color photo as white eyes and teeth in the middle of a dark blob. Black parents saw the problem immediately, but it wasn’t fixed until decades later, when furniture and chocolate makers complained that they couldn’t accurately represent their brown products in advertisements.

Aside from the dispiriting effect that dark-blob class photos must have had on black children, racially biased photography necessarily had a negative impact on entire generations of black professionals: models, photographers, TV journalists, athletes hoping to endorse products, and any other dark-skinned people who needed their images to reproduce in an attractive way. Even a movie director completely without racial bias might be reluctant to work with black actors, simply because of the technical problems involved. If you wanted a face whose subtle emotions would show up on the big screen, a white face was the better choice.

So even if bias wasn’t in individuals, it was in the system.

BTW, this is not ancient history: Facial recognition software still works better for light-skinned people than dark-skinned people.

The team that [MIT researcher Joy] Buolamwini assembled to work on the project was ethnically diverse, but the researchers found that, when it came time to present the [facial analysis] device in public, they had to rely on one of the lighter-skinned team members to demonstrate it. The system just didn’t seem to work reliably with darker-skinned users.

Curious, Buolamwini, who is black, began submitting photos of herself to commercial facial-recognition programs. In several cases, the programs failed to recognize the photos as featuring a human face at all. When they did, they consistently misclassified Buolamwini’s gender.

To me, this is the paradigm of systemic racism. Nobody at Kodak or Google was out to get black people; they just had other priorities. If photographic systems didn’t work well for dark skin, that was a shame. But, well, so what?

Now multiply that through the whole of society. System after system was designed for (and usually tested by) white people (and men and English speakers and cisgender people and neurotypical people and … and … and …). If it also happened to work for non-whites, great. But if not, who really cared?

So, in spite of the Heritage pamphlet’s claim that CRT is “a philosophy founded by law professors who used Marxist analysis”, systemic racism isn’t some invention of a Marxist propagandist; it’s a simple reality. The Heritage Foundation wants us to hide that reality from school children.

Privilege. If you’re white, like I am, it’s easy to overlook examples of your own privilege, because privilege is most obviously present when something doesn’t happen: I drive somewhere, and cops don’t pull me over for no reason. (Republican Senator Tim Scott, by comparison, says he has been pulled over 18 times for “driving while black”. I have to wonder how many of the encounters that result in police killing black men or women would not occur at all but for race.) I walk down a city street, and nobody stops and frisks me, or asks for my ID. Security people don’t shadow me in department stores. In one situation after another, I just go about my business undisturbed, never noticing that I’m enjoying a racial privilege.

Similarly, if I apply for a job, I don’t have to notice that I’m more likely to get an interview because I’m white. Or if I seek a mortgage, I just see the interest rate I’m offered, not the higher one a comparable black borrower might be asked to pay.

Some longer-term aspects of privilege are related to systemic racism: My parents were part of the expansion of the middle class that happened during the GI generation, largely because of government action. My grandfather’s farm was saved by a New Deal farm loan program (and multiplied in value many times before I sold it). After World War II, the government subsidized home ownership and higher education. It smoothed the path of unionization, which raised the wages of factory jobs like my father’s.

Some of those wealth-creating New Deal and post-war programs also worked for non-white families, but many did not. As a result, our whiteness was a factor in creating the family prosperity that allowed me to get an advanced degree without running up student debt.

In short, white privilege isn’t some sinister notion promoted to increase white guilt. (And I actually don’t feel personal guilt about this, but instead recognize a responsibility to seek a more just system.) It’s a description of how life works in America.

This aspect of American life is also something Heritage wants us to hide from children.

“Equality” without equity implies inferiority. The Heritage pamphlet makes superficial equality under the law the be-all-and-end-all of racial justice. In its response to CRT’s claim of systemic racism, the pamphlet says:

Racial discrimination is illegal in America. In the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the government rejected racial discrimination and made it illegal in all public aspects of our lives. Likewise, the civil rights movement affirmed that prejudice has no place in American life. There are racists in America, as in all other countries, but the vast majority of Americans we work and worship with, live and learn alongside, embrace the equal rights and dignity of all.

So that settles that, I guess. The laws on paper say we don’t discriminate, so never mind that we continue to see large racial gaps in income, wealth, incarceration, infant mortality, life expectancy, and just about every other aspect of life. Asking for these gaps to close is demanding “equity” — equal outcomes — which (in Heritage’s world) marks you as a critical race theorist.

https://medium.com/@CRA1G/the-evolution-of-an-accidental-meme-ddc4e139e0e4#.tm1cbg2vn

But think about what the persistence of these gaps implies, if (as Heritage claims) no widespread discrimination or systemic racism actually exists. If black people can’t keep up in America, and yet there is nothing wrong with America, then there must be something wrong with black people.

There’s no getting around that logic. The Heritage Foundation may not want to put it in print or say it in polite company, but I see no way to embrace their pamphlet as truth without also believing that black people are inherently inferior to white people.

What’s more, I think school children (of all races) are smart enough to draw that conclusion for themselves: If the game is fair, and yet the same people always win, then the winners must just be better than the losers.

In short, if we label all alternative explanations of racial gaps as “critical race theory” and ban schools from teaching them, then by process of elimination we’re really teaching the only remaining explanation: white superiority. The Heritage pamphlet may claim it wants to “ensure school curriculums uphold the intrinsic equality of all humans”. But in fact they’re guaranteeing that children will learn the exact opposite.

Heritage’s white-comforting fantasy world. If I restate the Heritage pamphlet’s underlying message in my own words, it amounts to this: “We had a nice fantasy going until these damned teachers started telling kids how the world really works.”

In the Heritage fantasy world, America outlawed racism back in the 1960s, so any advantages or disadvantages people have accumulated since then are purely due to their individual talent and hard work, or lack of talent and laziness.

If two people are given the same opportunity, but only one takes advantage of it, they will naturally have different outcomes. The only way government can try to produce equal outcomes for them is by taking away the result from the first person, or unfairly giving the unearned benefit to the second. Attempts by government officials to take the fruits of your achievements and give them to those who did not earn it will hurt those whose rewards are diminished as well the intended beneficiaries. This betrays the idea that the American dream belongs to all of us, and everyone should have the same opportunity to pursue success.

And let’s not talk at all about inherited wealth that originated in the Jim Crow era, which Heritage wants to safeguard against “death taxes”.

America isn’t dominated by “white culture”, but by “universal values” (which white people happened to discover first because of their innate superiority, but don’t say that part out loud).

American culture is based on a timeless understanding of rights rooted in the inherent value and nature of the human race. People of all colors and national backgrounds come here and flourish because our culture embraces common humanity and dignity.

And while it may be true that white people are doing better in America (in just about every measurable way) than black people, that can only mean that white people are enjoying “the fruits of your achievement”, which should not be taken away and given to “those who did not earn it”.

The real way to deal with racial disparities is just not to measure them, because that’s (as the Tennessee law puts it) “promoting division between, or resentment of, a race”. The ideal society is a colorblind society, where nobody notices that the people on top are mostly white and the people on the bottom are mostly black. As soon as you start noticing stuff like that, you’re “dividing America“, which was perfectly united in its color blindness until social justice warriors started quoting statistics.

Or at least it would be nice to think so, if you’re white.

2022. Republican candidates are hoping to use their anti-CRT campaign to regain ground that Trump lost in the white suburbs by being too explicitly racist. (The test case is next month’s Virginia governor’s race.) CRT is supposed to threaten precisely those white parents who were disturbed by Charlottesville. It’s supposed to remind them that Democrats are too pro-black, without pushing an explicitly anti-black message that might ring alarm bells.

That tactic might work, because critical race theory really does constitute a threat to prosperous white people. It threatens to torpedo the very comfortable fantasy that the game they’re winning is perfectly fair.

Reading While Texan

https://www.duluthnewstribune.com/opinion/columns/7111880-ProCon-Critical-race-theory-is-a-manufactured-fear-being-exploited

Your worst fears about Texas schools aren’t true. But your next-to-worst fears probably are.


Here’s how deep the rabbit hole goes: NBC News received an audio recording of an administrator in the Dallas suburb of Southlake [1], telling teachers that a new law (HB 3979) requires them to offer an “opposing” perspective if they have books about the Holocaust in their classroom libraries. When a teacher asked “How do you oppose the Holocaust?” the administrator didn’t offer a suggestion, but replied “It’s come up. Believe me.” [2]

What’s most disturbing in this recording, to me at least, is that the administrator doesn’t sound like Holocaust denier who has been itching for years to get her extreme opinions into the curriculum. In general, she sounds like she’s on the teachers’ side. “If you think a book is OK, then let’s go with it. And whatever happens, we’ll fight it together.” She doesn’t seem ideological, she just wants to keep the school district out of trouble — like administrators in every other Texas school district.

On the calm-down side of this story, the NBC article also quotes experts who say that she overreacted to the law. And the school district posted this statement on its Facebook page:

During the conversations with teachers during last week’s meeting, the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history. Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust. As we continue to work through implementation of HB 3979, we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts.

So — big relief! — Southlake’s school libraries can still display The Diary of Anne Frank without “balancing” it against Mein Kampf.

What is controversial? Even if you accept that the Southlake administrator’s interpretation of the law was over the top, it’s worth taking a moment to read the portion of HB 3979 she was “overreacting” to:

(1) a teacher may not be compelled to discuss a particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs;

(2) a teacher who chooses to discuss a topic described by Subdivision (1) shall, to the best of the teacher’s ability, strive to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective;

Apparently, cooler heads have determined that the Holocaust is not “widely debated and currently controversial” in Southlake (and thank God for that). But what is? The law is only eight pages long, and doesn’t give school districts any guidance on exactly how widely debated an issue must be before “diverse and contending perspectives” have to be “explored without deference”.

Worse, “debated” and “controversial” are fundamentally subjective notions. An issue becomes “debated” not because it is objectively dubious, but because somebody chooses to debate it. It becomes “controversial” whenever someone starts a controversy, no matter how baseless that controversy might be. [3] As much as I want to accept the school district’s assurance that “this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts”, I can’t find such a clear statement in the text of the law.

And even if you grant an exemption for “historical facts”, the very distinction between facts and opinions is itself controversial these days. The essence of Trumpism is to deny that objective facts can be found by examining evidence. (American intelligence agencies say one thing, but Vladimir Putin says something else. Who can determine where the truth lies?) If Trump repeats something often enough, it is true — or at the very least it becomes an “alternative fact“. Any evidence that refutes his opinion is “fake news”.

So it appears to me that if, say, a large number of people in some Texas community believe the Earth is flat — or if the Oracle of Mar-a-Lago starts making that claim — a classroom’s globe might become debated and controversial; it might need to be balanced against some other representation of the Earth. HB 3979 would then require teachers not to “defer” to the view that the Earth is spherical.

Or suppose one of your students has a parent like this guy, who wore a “Six million wasn’t enough” shirt to a Proud Boys rally in December. (They’re available online.) Would that make the Holocaust “controversial” enough to invoke the provisions of 3979? Or maybe you regard the fact of the Holocaust as beyond controversy, but describing it as “a terrible event” is a value judgment that this guy disputes. Doesn’t that make it “debated”? How many people have to agree with him before it’s “widely” debated?

Maybe that’s what “It’s come up. Believe me.” means.

https://www.adl.org/blog/proud-boys-bigotry-is-on-full-display

The big chill. But OK, let’s say you live in a sane town, where the Holocaust and the globe aren’t widely debated. Let’s say your local biology teacher can describe how evolution works without giving a “contending perspective” from Genesis, or that teachers at all levels can refer to Joe Biden as the President without any kind of disclaimer.

Or, at least, that’s how the law would be interpreted by a judge if a case went to court.

If you find that comforting, you’re ignoring the fact that most school administrators don’t want to go to court. Teachers, by and large, don’t want to be at the center of a public controversy. They want to spend their prep time on next week’s lesson plan, not on explaining to a review committee what they said or what books they made available. They don’t want to lose hours in meetings with the school district’s or their union’s lawyer, getting advice on how to present their case to a judge.

In practice, that means that bills like HB 3979 have chilling effects that go far beyond their legally enforceable boundaries.

So hurray! You can teach about the Holocaust, and maybe even say that it was wrong. What about slavery? Jim Crow? Government programs that helped White families accumulate wealth, but weren’t available to Black families? How far do you want to stick your neck out? [4]

New Kid. In a related Texas case, the Houston suburb Katy cancelled a virtual appearance by author Jerry Craft, and pulled his graphic novel New Kid from the shelves after a parent circulated a petition.

“New Kid,” a Newbery Medal-winning graphic novel, is about a seventh grader at a prestigious private school where he is one of the few students of color. …

“It is inappropriate instructional material,” [the petition-starting parent] said. “The books don’t come out and say we want white children to feel like oppressors, but that is absolutely what they will do.” [She] claimed the book promoted critical race theory as well as Marxism. The petition gained a few hundred signatures in a district of more than 80,000 students.

This article, also by NBC News, seems to imply that a “few hundred signatures” is not many. To me, it seems like an incredibly large number of people in one town to take a position on a children’s book. I have to wonder how many of the signers had ever heard of New Kid, and how many just believed that this petition would stop somebody from teaching “critical race theory”, whatever they imagine it to be.

Although HB 3979 is often referred to as a bill against teaching “critical race theory”, the law does not mention that term, and the particular things it does outlaw are a bizarre caricature of anything actually being taught, like

an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex

The petition has been taken down, so I don’t know the text of it. But I doubt it directly invokes the new law. It seems more like a standard attempt to get elected officials to take action.

My reading. I didn’t want to assume baselessly that the woman charging “critical race theory” and “Marxism” is crazy, so I read the book Saturday. (It’s 250 or so pages, but it’s a graphic novel; reading it takes maybe an hour, depending on how closely you examine the images.) Having now done my own research, here’s my newly informed opinion: She’s crazy.

New Kid is a pretty thoroughly uplifting book. What I got out of it is: If you ever reach a point where you can see past your own struggles, you’ll find that just about everybody is struggling in their own way.

The central character is a Black kid named Jordan Banks, so he struggles in a way that a Black kid might, including from the clueless assumptions of White kids and teachers. As the book develops, though, he gets enough slack to raise his glance and see the struggles of the other kids — including one White kid who is pathologically ashamed of the burn mark on her arm, and another who is afraid Jordan won’t like him because his family is too rich.

I can’t fathom what CRT or Marxism has to do with any of this, other than being buzzwords that MAGA-hatters throw at whatever they don’t like.

https://www.politico.com/cartoons/2021/10/01/october-2021-000259

Craft himself describes what he’s trying to do this way:

As an African American boy who grew up in Washington Heights in New York City, I almost never saw kids like me in any of the books assigned to me in school. Books aimed at kids like me seemed to deal only with history or misery. [5] That’s why it has always been important to me to show kids of color as just regular kids, and to create iconic African American characters like Jordan Banks from New Kid. I hope that readers of all ages will see the kindness and understanding that my characters exhibit and emulate those feelings in their day-to-day lives.

If you look at this book and see nothing but an attempt to make “white children feel like oppressors”, I don’t know what to tell you.

Happy endings? Like Southlake and the Holocaust, the story of Jerry Craft and Katy has an ending that is sort-of-happy, if you don’t look at it too closely: A review committee ruled that the book is appropriate and rescheduled Craft’s appearance. [6]

But again, consider the chilling effect. Suppose you’re a teacher putting together a reading list, or assembling a mini-library for your classroom. Now you know: Even a Newberry Medal book is suspect. Even if nothing on your list would offend any sane person, your name still might wind up in a petition, and you might need to justify your choices to a review committee.

How many worthwhile books (that we’ll never hear about) have teachers struck off their suggested-reading lists, not because they contain anything remotely objectionable, but because the teachers don’t want the hassle of dealing with crazy people? How many children, who might have discovered that reading could actually be interesting, will instead receive bland assignments that have nothing to do with their experiences?


[1] If you think you’ve heard of Southlake before, probably it’s from a previous racial controversy, which became the subject of a six-part NBC podcast.

[2] Let me offer an answer to the Southlake teacher’s question: You can balance a Holocaust book like The Diary of Anne Frank with The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell, a first-person novel told from the point of view of an SS officer.

This is not a serious pedagogical suggestion, because Littell’s book is way too long and difficult for most students, not to mention upsetting. (I would worry about a student who managed to finish it.) But if you need to cover your ass, it does present an opposing (or at least contrasting) perspective.

An in-between perspective might be Philip Kerr’s Berlin Noir trilogy of detective novels. Kerr’s detective Bernie Gunther isn’t a Nazi himself, but given the times, he frequently finds himself unable to say “no” to cases of interest to people like Heydrich or Goebbels. Kerr should be readable by advanced students at the high-school level, and might give them sympathy for the unsavory choices ordinary people face when they live under a totalitarian regime.

Similarly, Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 detective trilogy humanizes one of Stalin’s secret policemen.

[3] Part of what makes a position “debatable” in practice is the wealth and power of the people who debate it. Climate change, for example, is still “debatable” because fossil fuel corporations have the resources to keep their point of view in the public eye, in spite of the scientific consensus on the other side.

[4] The text of the law might be on your side, if you make it into a courtroom.

[T]he State Board of Education shall adopt essential knowledge and skills that develop each student’s civic knowledge, including an understanding of: … the history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong

[5] One of the running gags in New Kid is the lack of diversity in the themes of “diversity literature”, which Jordan parodies as “a gritty, urban reminder of the grit of today’s urban grittiness”. One panel is labeled “African American escapist literature”, and features books titled “Escape From Gang Life”, “Escape From Slavery”, “Escape From Poverty”, and “Escape From Prison”.

[6] I give Craft credit for not saying “Fuck you” to the whole town.

Power Move

Charles Blow wants Black people to reverse the Great Migration and form majorities in the Southern states.


One day in 2013, New York Times columnist Charles Blow was at a conference on civil rights, when he heard 86-year-old Harry Belafonte ask “Where are the radical thinkers?”

On the walk back to the Times’ Midtown offices, … it occurred to me that maybe I had been thinking too small, all my life, about my approach to being in the world and conceiving my role in it. I had to remember that a big idea could change the course of history.

The result was The Devil You Know: a Black power manifesto, which came out in January but had somehow escaped my notice until recently. Blow’s big idea is indeed big: Black Americans in the North, particularly young adults looking for a place to establish themselves, should move to the South, for the purpose of forming a Black majority in several Southern states.

This would be bigger than just electing a Black mayor or governor somewhere. The entire political power structure would know it was answerable to a Black majority. For the first time in American history, Blacks could focus on ending White supremacy through their own power rather than on compromising their goals to get White cooperation.

Those same majorities could elect two senators per state, and those senators would all know that they could not stay in office without maintaining their Black support.

I am not advocating for a Black nationalism, but a Black regionalism — not to be apart from America, but stronger within it.

Blow is very frank about the reason to take this radical approach: If the issue is achieving true equality, everything else has been tried and hasn’t worked. Abolition didn’t do it. Moving north during the Great Migration may have opened some economic opportunities and allowed an end-run around Jim Crow, but the North had its own forms of racism. The civil rights movement achieved an on-paper legal equality, but all the major gaps remain in wealth, income, education, home ownership, incarceration, and even life expectancy.

He describes at length the generations of effort to form majority coalitions with sympathetic Whites: from Booker T. Washington’s attempts to promote Black virtue and education in order to convince Whites that his people deserved their favor, to W.E.B. Du Bois’ vision of a “talented tenth” that would blaze a trail into the professions and into positions of power, all the way up to Barack Obama’s audacity of hope. Blow wants to be done with waiting and hoping; he wants Black people to have the power to shape their own destiny.

Black colonization of the South isn’t a philosophy or an intellectual posture. It’s an actual plan.

Blow grew up in a majority-Black town in Louisiana and went to college at Grambling, an HBCU. Throughout his formative years, being Black felt normal to him. He was not an outsider or an interloper or someone who had to prove he deserved to be wherever he was. He then went north to achieve success in White-dominated institutions like The New York Times before returning south to live in Atlanta. He sees the South as a cultural homeland, not just for himself, but for American Blacks in general. The South, horrific as its racism has been at times, is the devil they know.

His logic often resembles that of Nikole Hannah-Jones, who chose historically Black Howard University over University of North Carolina after a tenure battle, and brought Ta-Nehisi Coates with her.

I really wanted to take my talents and the resources I could bring and bring them to an institution that was actually built for Black uplift and Black excellence, that wasn’t built in opposition to the work that I want to do and me as a human being.

Like Hannah-Jones, Blow seems to be done with proving himself to Whites, and wants a plan for Black equality that doesn’t rely on convincing Whites to overcome their racism.

For me, that was one of the most fascinating aspects of reading this book. Blow is writing to convince other Black people, so I am not his target audience. I suspect that’s why the book is as short and readable as it is: He can appeal to Black common sense — about the police, about the centrality of racism in America history and culture, about the role of the South in African-American consciousness, etc. — without marshaling arguments to help Whites catch up. So I can be a fly on the wall as Blacks talk to each other.

This in itself is a lesson in White privilege: It’s strange and even shocking that an NYT columnist would write a book not targeted at us. But those outside of privileged classes must have that experience every day.

The Cleveland Indians/Guardians: a teachable moment?

One of the eight Guardians of Traffic on Cleveland’s Hope Bridge

Systemic racism might be easier to grasp in a setting that doesn’t threaten anybody’s safety or livelihood.


Next year, the Cleveland major league baseball team will begin calling itself the Guardians rather than the Indians. This is the culmination of a long process of protest and negotiation, and unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy about it. But whether you love or hate the change, it pulls many of the issues surrounding systemic racism together into one easy-to-grasp package.

Unlike more fraught battlegrounds like policing or affirmative action, changing the name of a baseball team does not affect anyone’s safety or livelihood. No one will die because Cleveland calls its team the Guardians, or would have died if they had continued as the Indians. Feelings on both sides may be heartfelt, but they are clearly feelings rather than material interests. To steal a phrase from Thomas Jefferson, the logo on Shane Bieber’s jersey “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”.

That said, the next thing to acknowledge is that the feelings on both sides are easy to understand and even sympathize with.

This is especially true of the Native Americans who dislike being turned into mascots. Native Americans were minding their own business in 1915 when a newspaper contest picked Indians as the new name for the Cleveland Naps, who had just traded their defining player, Nap Lajoie, to Philadelphia.

Imagine being a Native American parent who is trying to instill a sense of cultural pride in your children. Now picture White people running around in headdresses and warpaint while they root for a team that (in most seasons) has no actual Native American players. Let’s just say it doesn’t help. After your kids see random people at the mall wearing the stereotyped Chief Wahoo logo, it’s going to be hard to convince them that their heritage is serious and worthy of respect.

Admittedly, this constant low-level ridicule isn’t the worst thing that ever happened to Native Americans. It’s not on the same scale as, say, genocide or having the continent taken from them by force. But like those injuries, it’s an imposition from the outside; they did nothing to invite it or deserve it.

https://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/10/cleveland-indians-fans-dressing-up-as-chief-wahoo-world-series-racist

Once you’ve pictured that point of view, you may be tempted to declare Native Americans the good guys and those who love the Indians the bad guys. But that oversimplifies the situation.

Instead, try stretching your empathy to encompass Indians fans without pulling away from Native Americans. Being a fan may not be as central or immutable as a racial identity, but after more than a century, it also is a heritage. To the team’s fans, the Indians are Tris Speaker and Bob Feller and going to extra innings with the Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. The Indians may be one of the few enduring connections you made with your Dad, something you can still talk about when you visit him in the nursing home. Maybe what you remember when you think of the Indians is being 10 years old, and sneaking a radio under your covers to listen to a west coast night game after you were supposed to be asleep.

And racism? The Indians became the first American League team to integrate when Larry Doby joined the team only months after Jackie Robinson became a Dodger. Doby and Satchell Paige were key players in the Indians’ last championship in 1948.

But now, it seems, people are trying to make you remember all that with shame rather than nostalgia.

https://theathletic.com/875177/2019/04/04/top-25-moments-in-progressive-fields-25-year-history/

Back in 1915, making a mascot out of Native American heritage was a sin of obliviousness, not malice. It wasn’t about insulting any actual tribes, it was letting yourself forget that the tribes still existed or might care.

What’s more, probably no one who participated in that newspaper poll is still alive. Everyone who feels attached to the Indians today came to love a team already in progress. Many developed that attachment when they were too young to understand stereotypes or racism. The Indians were the family team; Chief Wahoo was their symbol. That’s all.

Nobody consulted you about it. You never made a decision to root for the team with the racist trappings. You rooted for the team that your parents or big brother or friends at school rooted for. Years later, people started telling you that it was a disrespectful misappropriation of somebody else’s cultural heritage. But that’s never what it meant to you. So why do people want you to feel guilty about it?

Welcome to systemic racism.

The main thing to understand about systemic racism is that trying to assign individual fault and guilt misses the point. Saying that a problem is systemic means that it doesn’t reduce to good guys and bad guys. Something in the structure of institutions pits well-meaning people against each other, and there’s no way to resolve the issue without hurting somebody.

Good guys vs. bad guys is dramatic. Systemic racism is tragic.

So: A long time ago, things got set up so that the civic pride of Cleveland would conflict with the ancestral pride of Native Americans. That conflict is entirely artificial: There’s no inherent reason why saying “Yay, Cleveland!” has to carry a sense of “Boo, Native Americans!” Things just wound up that way. And while we could go round and round about the intentions of the people who started it all, that’s just a distraction, because they’re dead. We’re not a jury discussing their punishment; we’re heirs trying to sort out their legacy.

That legacy, though, is not dead and buried like the people who created it: It causes an ongoing injury. The most obvious ongoing injury is to Native Americans, but there is also an injury to Cleveland and its baseball fans. Those five-year-olds who love their Chief Wahoo caps and jerseys will one day be 15-year-olds who look back and say, “Wow, that’s really racist.” What should be purely warm memories of childhood and family will instead be tainted.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

And that’s a key lesson to learn about anti-racist activism: The point isn’t to assess blame or demand that people feel guilty or apologize. The point is to make the injustice stop. Change the structure of things so that well-meaning people are no longer drafted into an artificial conflict. [1]

So: Keep your fond memories of Sam McDowell’s unhittable fastball, or the incredible 1995 lineup of Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, and Manny Ramirez, or even (if you go back that far) the amazing pitching rotation of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Mike Garcia. Nobody needs you to feel bad about any of that.

The activists who campaigned to change the Indians name don’t benefit from your shame. They just want to make the ongoing injury stop. And renaming the Indians achieves that goal, both for Native Americans and for Cleveland. Native Americans get back a chunk of their heritage. And the five-year-olds who receive Guardians jerseys next year won’t ever have to reassess what they mean.


[1] I am not trying to say here that all racial conflicts are artificial. Clearly, some people actively seek the benefits that come from white supremacy, and a smaller number glory in pushing other races down, even when they get no benefit from it. But we will have come a long way if we can eliminate the purely systemic racial conflicts, which individuals are often surprised to discover they participate in.

What makes the Cleveland situation a good example is that it is so purely artificial. Attachment to the Indians has very little to do with hostility to Native Americans.

In many other examples, teasing legacy systemic racism away from active malicious racism can be tricky. Take the response to President Obama, for example. Americans had never seen a Black president before, so no matter what he did, it looked “unpresidential” to a lot of people, even if his White predecessors had done exactly the same thing. The lack of any prior images of Black presidents is a systemic problem, but at the same time, malicious political operatives were doing their best to stoke the unconscious reaction that there was something vaguely wrong about Obama being president, like maybe he wasn’t really born in America or something.

Ordinarily, systemic racism is hard to separate from the active individual racism that builds up around it. But with the Indians, it’s not so difficult.

Critical Race Theory is the New Boogeyman

https://twitter.com/gathara/status/1400475732300677120

Conservatives can’t tell you what it is, but they know it’s destroying America.


As I’ve explained at length before, conservatives regularly create boogeyman phrases — strings of words that never get defined, but are somehow the source of the current evil: political correctness, socialism, cultural Marxism, cancel culture, and now critical race theory. [1]

The purpose of imbuing these scapegoat phrases with demonic power isn’t to debate a point, it’s to create a label and give it a sinister aura. Such a phrase is supposed to invoke emotions — to cast shame on liberals, and raise outrage for conservatives — not point to an idea. Rather than contribute to discussions, these phrases end them. And so, there is no need to consider the wisdom or folly of Medicare for All; it is “socialism”, so it is evil. End of story.

If the labels were defined, the corresponding concepts could become two-edged swords. Conservatives might, for example, have to explain why it’s not “cancel culture” to drive Colin Kaepernick out of the NFL. But being undefined, the boogeyman phrases simply have usages: Kaepernick isn’t a victim of right-wing cancel culture, because that’s not how the phrase is used. The conservative faithful can simply laugh when “cancel culture” is turned back on them, the way native speakers of English might laugh when a foreigner misuses some common word.

Like the other boogeyman phrases, “critical race theory” started out as an actual thing, which Education Week described like this:

The core idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. … A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas.

Many of those red-lined areas continue to be segregated ghettos today, as is well described in The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein.

The Washington Post has a similar account of the actual critical race theory.

Critical race theory is a decades-old academic framework that holds that racism is systemic, embedded in government policies and laws that are evident in any serious examination of American history.

But in its boogeyman usage, CRT applies to any notion that White people might participate in racism without consciously hating Black people. Refusing to allow the word “racism” to have any systemic content, the conservative account of CRT has it casting individual moral blame on all Whites.

So, in Education Week’s example of red-lining, the boogeyman usage of CRT would interpret it as accusing all the White loan officers who applied the red-lining rules of consciously hating Black people — which would obviously be unfair, if anyone were actually making that accusation.

That’s how Republicans arrive at the anti-CRT laws they are passing in the red-state legislatures they control. Fortunately, laws have to at least pretend to define the things they are banning. So Oklahoma’s anti-CRT law, which was signed by Governor Kevin Stitt in May, bans any “teacher, administrator or other employee of a school district, charter school or virtual charter school” from teaching that

an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, … an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex, … 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, … any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex

All these ideas are either gross distortions of anti-racist teachings, or appeal to subjective responses White students or parents might have, especially after Fox News tells them they should feel that way. (What if teaching Oklahoma high school students about the Tulsa race massacre causes some White descendant of the rioters to feel “guilt, anguish, or … psychological distress”?)


But an obvious question to raise at this point is: If that isn’t really what anti-racists teach, what’s the problem? The law just won’t apply. After all, the legislature could ban teaching that the Moon is made of green cheese without affecting any actual astronomy classes. Josh Marshall shrugs the issue off like this:

I’ve now reviewed a wide body of articles, news reports and legislative debates and I can conclude that the public/political debate [about] critical race theory is quite stupid and laws banning it may be hard to enforce since no one has a clear idea of what it is.

He was immediately answered by Jeet Heer:

Surely the goal is not to have enforceable laws but to intimidate teachers from talking about racism. A chilling effect.

A historical model here would be Tennessee’s anti-Darwin law of the 1920s, which led to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial. The law was indeed hard to enforce. (Scopes was found guilty, but the Tennessee Supreme Court set aside his fine on a technicality, and the state decided to drop the case.) But the sheer amount of hoopla that trial evoked — the fictionalized version Inherit the Wind is still streaming, and was remade for TV in 1999 — underlines Heer’s point: What teacher or school district is going to want to start something like that? Wouldn’t it be simpler just to leave out any racially charged interpretations of US history, and skip over historical events that might make White students uncomfortable? (Just about every state that is banning CRT has such an incident to sweep under the rug. Florida, for example, was the site of the Rosewood massacre in 1923. And lynchings, though concentrated in the South, happened almost everywhere.)

The Washington Post quotes sixth-grade teacher Monique Cottman from Iowa, where an anti-CRT law goes into effect on July 1.

I will say it’s already playing out. The White teachers who started doing a little bit more teaching about race and racism are now going back to their old way of teaching. I’ve had conversations with teachers who said things like, “I’m getting so much pushback for teaching Alice Walker, I’m going to go back to teaching what I used to teach.” So all the teachers who would have done a little bit of what I was doing — anti-racism work and culturally responsive teaching — they’re not going to do anything next year. They’re already declaring, “I’m not doing nothing,” or “It’s not safe,” or “I don’t want to lose my job.”

Nonetheless, some teachers are resisting. The Zinn Education Project organized a National Day of Action on Saturday, when

thousands of educators and others gathered virtually and in person at historic locations in more than 20 cities to make clear that they would resist efforts in at least 15 Republican-led states to restrict what teachers can say in class about racism, sexism and oppression in America. … Several thousand teachers have signed a pledge that says: “We, the undersigned educators, refuse to lie to young people about U.S. history and current events — regardless of the law.”


The military is a second front in the Critical Race Theory war. Here CRT stands in for any form of diversity training. [2] The conservative Heritage Foundation is a source of rhetoric for both fronts, having published 17 articles on the topic since Biden took office.

The theme of military anti-CRT arguments is that the US military has been a paradise of racial harmony until now, when CRT-influenced diversity training has begun to stir up racial conflict.

Senior Research Fellow Dakota Wood, for example, is a White male who served in the Marines for 20 years. He didn’t notice any racism or sexism during that time, so obviously there wasn’t any.

The beauty of military service is that the uniform and common objective supplants grouping by individual identities of color, class, gender, or religion. …

What united everyone with whom I served was the singular identity of being a U.S. Marine committed to defending our country, a country comprising every sort of person from countless different backgrounds.

It didn’t matter where you came from. All that really mattered among Marines was whether you were competent in your job, committed to the mission, and were someone your fellow Marines could depend on.

Military service truly is the best example of America as the proverbial great melting pot.

And he repeats the standard conservative slander of what diversity training tries to accomplish.

Programs that emphasize differences among service members, that impose a demand for people to feel guilty about their identity and background, that elevate one group over another, or that seek to subordinate a group relative to another generate resentment, or a sense of aggrieved victimization, or entitlement to special handling.

Such initiatives destroy the fabric of military service that otherwise unites an extraordinarily diverse population in common purpose and identity. Identity politics is a cancer that corrodes good order and discipline and the necessary authorities inherent in a chain of command.

Senator Tom Cotton echoed these sentiments to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday:

Mr. Secretary: We’re hearing reports of plummeting morale, growing mistrust between the races and sexes where none existed just six months ago

Racism and sexism in the military! Who ever heard of such a thing before the Biden administration? Jeff Schogol, writing for the military-focused site Task and Purpose, answered that question.

Dog whistles aside, there is plenty of evidence that racism and sexism within the ranks actually predates the Biden administration. Task & Purpose has documented 40 cases since 2016 of service members and veterans participating in extremist organizations, such as white supremacist groups.

The Pentagon tried to bury a 2017 survey that found nearly one-third of Black service members who responded said they had experienced racism. Moreover, 30% of Black respondents and 22% of Asian respondents felt their chances for promotion would be harmed if they reported the racial harassment and discrimination that they endured. …

As for sexism within the military, there are many examples from before Biden took office in January of commands failing to protect female service members from sexual harassment. A review following the April 2020 murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén also showed that female soldiers at Fort Hood faced an environment so toxic that they constantly lived in “survival mode” 

But clearly, if the armed services just refuse to talk about these problems, they will go away. Diversity training is the problem, not racism or sexism.

So Cotton has proposed a bill to block such training. The press release announcing the bill cites two horrifying recent developments:

Last month, the Navy released a recommended reading list to facilitate the “growth and development” of sailors. One of the books on this list is Ibram X. Kendi’s bestseller [How to be an Antiracist] advocating Critical Race Theory and discrimination on the basis of race.

Separately, the Navy’s Second Fleet created a book club for sailors to read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, a book that claims white people are inherently racist, whether consciously or subconsciously, and that race is the insidious subtext for virtually all human interactions.

Cotton would end such outrages.

This bill would prevent the military from including such theories in trainings or other professional settings, if their inclusion would reasonably appear as an endorsement. It also would prohibit the military from hiring consultants to teach such theories

His ban would extend to any notion that “The United States is a fundamentally racist country” or that “The Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution are fundamentally racist documents.”

As with high school history courses, you have to wonder about the chilling effect of such a law. What instructor would dare to point out, say, the implications of the Constitution counting a slave as three-fifths of a person?


Having given so much time to falsehood, I feel that I have to end by coming back to truth: What is it that anti-racist books and diversity trainings are trying to accomplish? If they’re not trying to convince us that “America is an evil, oppressive place” (as Cotton’s press release puts it), what ideas are they trying to communicate?

Having read a number of the books CRT critics object to, I would boil anti-racism down to a few points (which apply to sexism as well):

  • A culture’s fundamental assumptions get baked into institutions, laws, economic structures, and traditions that live on, even after those assumptions are no longer explicitly taught. [3]
  • For centuries, American culture explicitly promoted race-based rules and racial stereotypes that marginalized non-Whites, and made it either difficult or impossible for them to achieve positions of authority and influence, or even of equality with White Americans.
  • The structures created during those centuries are still with us, and participating in them maintains the effects of historical racism. Present-day Americans need not consciously hold racist beliefs to uphold a racist system.
  • Because their personal experiences do not confront them with the injustices of systemic racism, White Americans have a hard time noticing these injustices, which simply seem like “normal life” to them.
  • Unless systemic racism is brought to conscious awareness and actively countered, it will endure.

Put together, these points explain why the conservative notion of color-blindness, even if put forward in good faith (which it often is not), is inadequate for overcoming America’s racist heritage. None of this implies that “America is evil” or “Whites are inherently racist” or any of the other canards the Tom Cottons are pushing. But neither can we simply ignore racism and hope that it will go away.


[1] Something similar happens with people, who are demonized to the point that anything they might say is already discounted, and conspiracy theories targeting them need no evidence. Hillary Clinton is the longest-standing example. During the Trump administration, large numbers of FBI agents and officials were similarly demonized: Jim Comey, Andy McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page. Simply mentioning their names evoked a dark conspiracy whose details never really came into focus. So far, Kamala Harris is the most prominent demon of the Biden administration. How dare she tell the country to “enjoy” the Memorial Day weekend!

[2] Trump ordered diversity training ended across the government, and even in corporations with government contracts, but a federal judge blocked his order, and Biden reversed it.

[3] In assembling these points, I have to note that racist ideas are still being taught in many places. The US has an active white supremacist movement, which many conservative politicians and media figures wink-and-nod at, even while professing color-blindness in public.

Race in US History: 4 Facts Every American Should Know

In “Why You Can’t Understand Conservative Rhetoric“, I described a process by which certain words and phrases lose all real meaning and become nothing more than pejorative labels that the Right attaches to whatever it doesn’t like. Through repetition, the movement’s followers have been trained to respond to “political correctness” and “cancel culture” like a bull to the color red; whatever those labels get attached to makes them angry, independent of whatever might be going on underneath the label.

An extreme example of this phenomenon is this week’s opposition to removing the bust of war criminal and KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest from a prominent place in the Tennessee state capitol and placing it in the Tennessee State Museum, where General Forrest’s memory might be assessed objectively rather than simply glorified. (Far from a liberal plot, this is the recommendation of the historical commission appointed by the Republican governor.) But rather than asking “Do we want Tennessee and its legislature to be identified with a key figure in the origin of the Klan?”, moving Forrest’s statue has been labeled “cancel culture”, which must be resisted at all costs.

The latest phrase to get the political-correctness treatment is “critical race theory”. For example, Wednesday when Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced a proposal to overhaul civics education, he made it clear that certain views of American history should not be taught:

Let me be clear: there’s no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory. Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.

Bills to ban critical teaching about race in American history are being proposed in Republican controlled legislatures around the country. (Sometimes the ideas being banned are connected to the New York Times 1619 Project or anti-racism.) In nearly every case, critical race theory is never defined, but rather is given a negative description like DeSantis’ phrase “teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other”. These bills are often accompanied with proposals to teach a more traditional, all-positive view of American history, as South Dakota’s Governor Noem proposes:

I have tasked my administration with creating instructional materials and classroom resources on America’s founding, our nation’s history, and the state’s history. We must also do a better job educating teachers on these three subjects. Through all of this, our common mission and key objective needs to be explaining why the United States of America is the most special nation in the history of the world.

Similarly, former President Trump called for educational programs that teach students “to love America with all of their heart and all of their soul.” Such a rah-rah view of American history and the US’s role in the world gets contrasted with the “indoctrination” and “ideology” of critical race theory. As DeSantis said:

Our schools are supposed to give people a foundation of knowledge, not supposed to be indoctrination centers, where you’re trying to push specific ideologies.

These efforts build on the rhetoric in two Trump executive orders: One banned anti-racism training at companies that contract with the government, and the other established a 1776 Commission to push a US history curriculum opposed to the 1619 Project. Neither order used the phrase “critical race theory”, but instead denounced “a series of polemics grounded in poor scholarship” that “has vilified our Founders and our founding”.

This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.

As I pointed out in “Why You Can’t Understand Conservative Rhetoric”, phrases picked out for vilification are never defined, they are just labeled and described in a pejorative way. (Often they are described falsely. For example, anti-racist training would serve no purpose if America actually were “irredeemably racist”. Redemption is the whole point.)

So what is this “pernicious and false” doctrine? Time magazine described it as “a way of seeing the world that helps people recognize the effects of historical racism in modern American life”.

The intellectual movement behind the idea was started by legal scholars as a way to examine how laws and systems uphold and perpetuate inequality for traditionally marginalized groups.

But I think it’s important not to get lost in abstraction. Most Americans are not abstract thinkers, and when confronted with theories that are too airy to grasp, they often do what Trump, DeSantis, and the others are urging them to do: Give the abstraction a label and accept or reject it once and for all.

So instead, I want to offer a small number of facts that I believe (1) are essential to understanding the significance of race in American history, and (2) are never going to be taught in the kinds of courses Trump, DeSantis, and Noem are picturing.

1. From the turn of the 19th century to the Civil War, slavery was at the center of the American economy.

Yale historian David Blight:

by 1860, there were more millionaires (slaveholders all) living in the lower Mississippi Valley than anywhere else in the United States. In the same year, the nearly 4 million American slaves were worth some $3.5 billion, making them the largest single financial asset in the entire U.S. economy, worth more than all manufacturing and railroads combined.

Obviously, slavery was central to the Southern economy. In just a few decades time, the entire states of Mississippi and Alabama were taken from Native American tribes, were converted to farm land by enslaved Africans, and became the most productive cotton fields in the world.

But the importance of slavery went much further: Although Virginia did not grow much cotton, its prosperity depended on exporting slaves to the developing slave states. The factories of the North were largely textile mills that gained advantage over English mills from easy and tariff-free access to Southern cotton. So from one end of the country to the other, American prosperity was based on slavery.

Slavery is also the hidden backstory to much of American history. For example, the motivation for Texas to secede from Mexico was that Mexico was beginning to enforce its anti-slavery laws. In that sense, the battle of the Alamo really was about freedom, but not in the way I was taught in high school.

To follow up on these facts, look at The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist, The American Slave Coast by Ned and Constance Sublette, and Empire of Cotton by Sven Beckert.

2. The melting-pot miracle was based on creating a new White identity that rejected and stood above Blackness.

Something genuinely wonderful about American history is the way that Europeans from warring countries could come to America and live in peace. Certainly there was rivalry and sometimes conflict between European ethnic groups. (The HBO series Broadwalk Empire centers on the struggle between Irish and Italian gangs to dominate the Prohibition booze trade.) But it was truly marvelous how French and German and Polish people could homestead western lands and become neighbors, while their relatives back in Europe continued to hate each other.

It is pleasant to tell this story as a unified “American” identity replacing previous identities as Czechs and Serbs, but there’s more to it than that: Russians and Swedes didn’t just learn to be American, they learned to be White. The same deal was not available to Black or Chinese people. (Whether it was available to Jews varied by location and era.) By identifying as White, Europeans came into the American caste system at a level one or two steps above the bottom rung of the ladder, which was reserved for non-Whites.

You can learn more about this process in Learning to be White by Thandeka.

3. The public investments that created the great American middle class intentionally excluded Black Americans.

The most obvious example is the segregated public school system, which helped poor White children gain the skills they needed to rise in the world, but either formally or informally herded Black children into schools with much less to offer. The New Deal and G. I. Bill programs that created the American Dream as we know it contained loopholes that Blacks consistently fell through: Social Security and the minimum wage didn’t apply to occupations with substantial numbers of Black people, like agricultural and domestic workers. The government would not guarantee home loans in the “red-lined” neighborhoods where most Black people lived. Black veterans of World War II could get help paying for college, but only if they found a college willing to accept them. And so on.

Learn more about this in When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson.

4. White support for those programs faded after LBJ extended them to Black people.

By the 1950s, New Deal programs (and the high tax rates on the wealthy that paid for them) were no longer controversial. In a 1954 letter to his brother, Republican President Eisenhower wrote:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group of course that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

But then the Civil Rights movement happened. 1954 was the year the Supreme Court ordered school desegregation. The 1958-59 school year became “the Lost Year” after Governor Faubus of Arkansas closed all of Little Rock’s public high schools rather than integrate them. In 1963, President Kennedy had to federalize the Alabama National Guard to move Governor Wallace aside so that the first Black student could enroll in the University of Alabama. 1964 brought the Civil Rights Act banning racial discrimination. It was followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which ended Jim Crow disenfranchisement.

Lo and behold, the Eisenhower consensus went away. When government programs offered Blacks the same helping hand they had been offering Whites for decades, Whites didn’t like them any more. Right-wing rabble-rousers stigmatized government programs as a way to tax Whites and give money to Blacks, and a small-government anti-tax movement started. Democrats became identified as the party of government, and no Democratic presidential candidate has received a majority of the White vote since LBJ in 1964.

As a result, tuition-free state universities are gone, inflation has eaten away the value of the minimum wage, and we argue about issues like whether children should get medical care.

Read more about this in The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee.

How Should American Policing Change?

“Actually, we’re just getting started.”

This week it’s been easy to assemble video collections of misbehaving police. The current crisis began with a Minneapolis policeman killing George Floyd — not instantaneously, by shooting him in a moment of confusion or fear, but slowly, by kneeling on his neck as his life ebbed away. In the two weeks since, we’ve seen phalanxes of militarized police attack angry but non-violent crowds of protesters on multiple occasions. Friday, the NYT’s Jamelle Bouie put together a list:

Rioting police have driven vehicles into crowds, reproducing the assault that killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. They have surrounded a car, smashed the windows, tazed the occupants and dragged them out onto the ground. Clad in paramilitary gear, they have attacked elderly bystanders, pepper-sprayed cooperative protesters and shot “nonlethal” rounds directly at reporters, causing serious injuries. In Austin, Texas, a 20-year-old man is in critical condition after being shot in the head with a “less-lethal” round. Across the country, rioting police are using tear gas in quantities that threaten the health and safety of demonstrators, especially in the midst of a respiratory disease pandemic.

That list is sadly incomplete. For example, Bouie’s “elderly bystander” is not the one you’re thinking of. These bystanders are in Salt Lake City, not Buffalo. The video Bouie linked to also shows an old man being pushed to the ground, but he falls on his chest rather than striking the back of his head.

It is tempting to keeping throwing more and more videos at the dead-enders who refuse to see the widespread problem in American policing. But those who are not convinced by now will probably never be convinced, and in the meantime we have let them freeze the conversation. Something similar happens with climate change: A handful of stubborn denialists can freeze a conversation at the is-it-real stage, and prevent reality-based people from discussing what to do about it.

It’s time to ignore the dead-enders and move forward without them.

More than a few bad apples. It also time to start ignoring people who make the few-bad-apples argument, as White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien did recently. If there were no systemic problem, that handful of bad cops would be easy to identify and remove from the force. (Don’t tell me the other cops don’t know who they are.) But the problem is not just the occasional officer who violently abuses his power; it’s all the other cops who cover for him and resist any attempt to hold him accountable.

The initial police statement on George Floyd mentioned nothing about Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, but was titled “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” When Buffalo police shoved a 75-year-old protester — a white man, in this case — who hit his head on the pavement and soon had blood pooling around his ear, their initial statement said:

A 5th person was arrested during a skirmish with other protestors and also charged with disorderly conduct. During that skirmish involving protestors, one person was injured when he tripped & fell.

In both cases, that false account probably would have stood if not for bystander video, leaving us to wonder how many police assaults and murders are routinely covered up — not just by the “bad apples” who commit those crimes, but by the criminally complicit police around them.

The Buffalo situation demonstrates an even deeper rot. When bystander video showed that the police report was a lie, Buffalo’s police commissioner suspended without pay, pending investigation, the two officers who pushed the man down. (The officers who knowingly allowed a false report to be issued have not been punished.) But even this small move towards accountability was too much: All 57 fellow active members of the Buffalo Police emergency unit resigned from the squad (but not from the police).

“Fifty-seven resigned in disgust because of the treatment of two of their members, who were simply executing orders,” Buffalo Police Benevolent Association president John Evans told WGRZ on Friday.

Their orders were to clear the square of protesters, not to assault old men. (The two officers were charged with assault Saturday. Over 100 police and firefighters showed up at the courthouse to support them.) But not a single member of the emergency unit looked at that video and said, “Hey, we shouldn’t be doing things like that.” They have chosen their side. There aren’t two bad apples on that squad; there are 57 bad apples. There’s probably no bureaucratic mechanism that can bring about this outcome, but none of them should ever be police anywhere again. (According to the local ABC TV channel, though, two of the 57 claim the union manipulated this outcome by saying they could no longer defend members of the emergency unit under these conditions.)

What can be done? We need to be thinking on multiple time scales. Some significant changes need to be announced immediately, while the crowds are still in the streets. But problems this deep and old resist quick fixes. So the country needs a long-term plan, but that plan has to visibly begin right now.

In Minnesota. In the specific case of George Floyd’s murder, most of what the protesters want has already been achieved: All four officers involved have been arrested and charged. Derek Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder, and the other three face aiding-and-abetting charges. Unless we want to see the officers handed over for mob justice, that’s all that can be done right now. The legal process will play out over months, and ultimately a jury will have to decide what happens to them.

More broadly, the Minnesota Commissioner for Human Rights filed suit against the City of Minneapolis and its police department on Tuesday, claiming that

the City of Minneapolis Police Department has engaged in a pattern and practice of race-based policing in violation of the [Minnesota Human Rights Act]

Friday, the Commissioner and the City agreed to a plan that they have asked the Court to impose as an injunction. The plan has six provisions:

  • Ban chokeholds and neck restraints of any kind.
  • Police officers who witness another officer’s unauthorized use of force have an immediate duty to report the incident to their commanders.
  • Police officers who witness another officer’s unauthorized use of force have a duty to intervene “by verbal and physical means“, or face the same punishment as the offending officer.
  • Crowd control weapons (chemical agents and rubber bullets are specifically mentioned) can only be used after authorization by the Chief of Police.
  • Pending disciplinary actions must be decided within 45 days. Future actions have to be decided within 30 days.
  • The City’s Office of Police Conduct Review can audit body-camera footage “proactively and strategically”. (Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucerno explains: “Right now, body cam footage exists. However, it’s only reviewed when there’s a complaint.”)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his own proposal, which requires action from the legislature:

  • Make police disciplinary records transparent
  • Ban chokeholds
  • Make false race-based 911 reports a hate crime
  • Attorney General must act as independent prosecutor for any police murder case

Several other states and cities have announced plans to ban either chokeholds or tear gas or both.

8 Can’t Wait. Campaign Zero is an organization devoted to ending police violence. It put out the “8 Can’t Wait” agenda, of steps any city could take right away. (The “Data proves …” claim in the graphic below is theirs, not mine. I have not tried to evaluate it.)

Matt Yglesias explains the 8 in more detail, and looks at some of the supporting statistics. Some are easy to understand: banning chokeholds and the duty to intervene are already part of the Minneapolis agreement discussed above. The ban on shooting at moving vehicles and requirement to warn before shooting are self-explanatory.

A comprehensive reporting requirement means that officers need to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against a civilian. … The use of force continuum is a specific set of requirements governing what kinds of weapons can be used versus what levels of resistance. And a deescalation requirement mandates that officers try to secure their personal safety through distance and communication before resorting to force.

Medium-term proposals. A number of ideas are included in the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which Democrats in the House and Senate are introducing this morning. It’s hard to imagine Mitch McConnell allowing any of these reforms to be passed in time to bring this season of protest to a successful conclusion, but the problem isn’t going away until we have reforms more significant than anything that can happen quickly.

  • a national database of deaths in police custody. It’s hard to believe this doesn’t already exist, but apparently not.
  • a national police misconduct registry. So that bad cops fired in one city can’t just get a new job somewhere else.
  • ending or altering “qualified immunity”. Qualified immunity shelters government officials from civil lawsuits for violating someone’s rights, “unless the victims of those violations can show that the rights were ‘clearly established’.” In practice, this has made such suits almost impossible for plaintiffs to win.
  • changing the standard for police use of force. “victims of excessive force or other violations need only show that officers ‘recklessly’ deprived them of their rights. The current statute requires victims to show that officers’ actions were ‘willful’.”
  • formalize the Justice Department’s oversight of police departments with a history of bad practices. During the Obama administration, Justice took oversight of local police seriously, but when Jeff Sessions became attorney general, he abandoned those efforts.

A change more likely to be made on the state level than the federal level: setting up a special prosecutor or special process for investigating killings by local police. In Minnesota, for example, the state attorney general has taken over the prosecution of the George Floyd officers. Some states already have state guidelines for investigating officer-involved deaths that make sure police departments aren’t investigating themselves. All states should.

And finally, cities need to change their relationships with police unions. In general, unions are good, and collective bargaining for better wages and benefits is fine. But too often police unions intent on protecting their members torpedo any move towards public accountability.

Long term: police culture. Welcome as reforms like those mentioned above would be, many doubt they would solve the problem.

Two aspects of the problem are more complicated than just changing a few rules and hiring better people:

  • The institutional culture of police departments needs to change.
  • The tasks that belong to police departments need to be rethought.

Both of these are too big for a few paragraphs at the end of a long article, but here are some thoughts to get you started.

Friday night, Chris Hayes interviewed Patrick Skinner, a former CIA counterterrorism officer who came home to be a beat cop in Savannah. One of the themes of their conversation was the dysfunction of the “warrior” mentality of police. Skinner said that police would do better to think of themselves as neighbors rather than warriors. In a recent Washington Post op-ed he wrote:

As I got better at being a rookie cop, I kept asking myself this question: “If I didn’t have a badge and a gun, how would I handle this call?” Whatever I came up with that was legal, transparent and kind, I would try.

Hayes reviewed the video of the 75-year-old man being pushed down in Buffalo, and observed that probably none of the officers present would act that way in everyday life: They would not push an old man out of their way, and if they saw an old man bleeding on the pavement, they would stop to help. Somehow, their police training overrode those human reactions.

Long term: defunding. Philip and Thenjiwe McHarris note all the reform efforts by the Minneapolis police — none of which saved George Floyd’s life. They think it’s foolish to expect similar small-scale reforms to end the killing of black people in general.

The focus on training, diversity and technology like body cameras shifts focus away from the root cause of police violence and instead gives the police more power and resources. The problem is that the entire criminal justice system gives police officers the power and opportunity to systematically harass and kill with impunity.

The solution to ending police violence and cultivating a safer country lies in reducing the power of the police and their contact with the public. We can do that by reinvesting the $100 billion spent on policing nationwide in alternative emergency response programs, as protesters in Minneapolis have called for.

In most American communities today, police get called to deal with all manner of disorder, from the homeless man sleeping on your stoop to the loud teen-age party next door to domestic violence to drug overdoses to episodes of mental illness.

But what defines the police is their ability to use force, all the way up to deadly force. Their very presence is a threat of force, and opens the possibility that someone could end up dead. I sincerely doubt that the clerk who called the police on George Floyd intended for them to come and kill him. The store owner now says: “If I was [there] I don’t think the authorities would have been called and we would have policed our own matters.”

Often situations would be better addressed by a civic official with different capabilities, different options, and different training. Or perhaps the disorder would not exist at all if some kind of preventive service had been provided during the previous weeks. But cities don’t have the resources for such alternatives precisely because they’re spending so much money on police.

Moves to cut both the responsibilities and the budgets of police, and to use that money to provide services in alternative ways, are often promoted with slogans like “Abolish the police”. This is poor messaging, in my opinion, and opens itself up to easy caricature from police advocates. (Are cities going to stop enforcing their laws? Should citizens buy more guns and take the law into their own hands?) But what abolish-the-police advocates really want is something far more reasonable: Reduce to the absolute minimum the number of occasions when Americans come into contact with people who could kill them and get away with it.

This Week, Democratic Protest Outlasted Riot and Repression

Fascism got out to an early lead, but a late comeback won the week for democracy.


A week ago, peaceful protests by day were competing with violence by night: violence by protesters, violence by opportunistic looters, violence from mysterious agitators seeking a wider conflict, and violence by police. President Trump seemed to think this unrest worked in his favor politically — perhaps his re-election campaign could ride a wave of white backlash, as Richard Nixon did in 1968 — so he ignored the peaceful protests, denounced the rioters, and focused on “dominating” American streets with overwhelming force.

That cycle peaked Monday. Washington D.C. had no governor with the authority to object, so Trump brought in National Guard units from across the country, and moved 1,600 active-duty troops to nearby bases. (According CNN, those troops were not used; “no active duty forces have entered the city yet to respond to civil unrest.”) CBS News reported a heated meeting at the White House Monday, when Trump demanded that the Pentagon deploy 10,000 active-duty troops in the streets in cities across the country. (To get around the restrictions the Posse Comitatus Act puts on military law enforcement, Trump would have had to invoke the Insurrection Act.) Defense Secretary Esper, Attorney General Bill Barr, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley all opposed the idea.

But if the Army wasn’t deployed, another ominous force was: unidentified federal police, who would say only that they came from the Department of Justice. They had no name tags or other means of identification, and hence zero accountability. One protester nailed the issue:

God forbid if there’s an escalation of violence and there’s a video circulating of an officer using his baton on a protester, and there’s no way to identify who that officer is,

Also Monday morning, after a conversation with his autocratic mentor, Vladimir Putin, Trump berated governors in a teleconference, calling them “weak” if they did not call out the National Guard and “dominate the streets”.

Trump also claimed to know the sinister conspiracy he needed to dominate: Antifa, which Wikipedia describes as “a diverse array of autonomous groups”. Trump is often best answered by laughter, so the satire site Beaverton posted: “ANTIFA surprised to discover it is an organization“.

“All this time all I thought I was doing was taking direct action to fight nazis,” stated self-professed anti-fascist Mattheus Grant of Eugene, OR. “But when I learned that I’m actually a member of an organization, I got so excited! Maybe we can get an office now?”

More seriously, The Nation obtained a situation report on the D.C. protests from the FBI’s Washington field office (WFO):

based on CHS [Confidential Human Source] canvassing, open source/social media partner engagement, and liaison, FBI WFO has no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence.

So either Trump knew more than the FBI, or he just made this up.

The photo op. Trump’s photo-op stunt with an Episcopal Church as a backdrop and a Bible as a prop happened Monday evening.

That PR gimmick began a half hour before curfew with an attack on peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House. After the crowd was cleared away, Trump walked from the White House to St. John’s Church to have his photo taken holding up a Bible. Brandishing the Bible like a weapon seemed to be the only use he could think of.

Leaders from The Episcopal Church have condemned the reported use of tear gas and projectiles to clear clergy and protesters from the area around St. John’s Episcopal Church, across the street from the White House, so President Donald Trump could use it for an unauthorized photo op on June 1.

Video of the attack is disturbing in some places and boring in others, but I recommend watching chunks of it, particularly after the 30-minute mark when the police begin moving the crowd.

What I see in that video are angry but entirely non-violent demonstrators, mostly young adults and a surprising (to me) number of whites. Police push them back with gas, exploding projectiles, shields, and horses.

Perhaps even more disturbing was the baldly false statement issued by the Park Police afterwards:

At approximately 6:33 pm, violent protestors on H Street NW began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids. … As many of the protestors became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls. No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park

The video shows none of this, and none of the journalists covering the demonstration saw it. In the video, the police look entirely undisturbed. They do not flinch to avoid projectiles, and nothing bounces off their shields. After the police begin to fire gas and advance, I noticed two or three water bottles hit the pavement in front of them. The bottles hit with a splash — they are not frozen — and do not hit the police. No one appears to be trying to grab police weapons.

As the week went on, more and more people in the administration claimed to have nothing to do with the decision to launch this attack. No one was responsible. Not Mark Esper. Not General Milley. Not even Bill Barr. Success has many fathers, the proverb says, but failure is an orphan. By that standard, Trump’s church-and-Bible photo op was a failure.

Damage to America’s standing in the world. If you think this combination of factors — calling out the military against protesting crowds, blatant lying, secret police, using low-flying military helicopters to intimidate dissidents, attacking journalists, and denouncing imaginary conspiratorial enemies — sound like the kind of autocratic response to dissent that the US usually condemns, you’re not the only ones who noticed. The New Yorker’s Masha Gessen, who learned about autocracy by studying Putin, described it as “the performance of fascism“.

A power grab is always a performance of sorts. It begins with a claim to power, and if the claim is accepted—if the performance is believed—it takes hold. Much as he played a real-estate tycoon in the most crude and reductive way, Trump is now performing his idea of power as he imagines it. In his intuition, power is autocratic; it affirms the superiority of one nation and one race; it asserts total domination; and it mercilessly suppresses all opposition.

China noticed too, and gloated. The editor of China’s Global Times tweeted:

The US repression of domestic unrest has further eroded the moral basis to claim itself “beacon of democracy”. The era that the US political elites could exploit Tiananmen incident at will is over.

And Thai Enquirer couldn’t resist an ironic jab at the oh-so-superior United States: “Unrest continues for a seventh day in former British colony“.

The United States has had a long history of suppressing and persecuting its various ethnic minorities since the country gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1776.

The treatment of its indigenous ‘Native Americans,’ its imported Asian and Black communities, and its Hispanic community has long been a source of friction.

American black minority groups were under a program similar to South Africa’s Apartheid policy until as recently as 1964. Today, the ethnic black community is still detained and killed with impunity by the state security forces and black Americans make up the majority of those incarcerated under the country’s archaic judicial system.

Religion also plays a major role in governance with religious beliefs separating key state organs including the country’s highest court where many social laws are passed based on the justices’ personally held religious convictions.

In short, US ambassadors around the world have just seen their moral authority collapse.

In addition to Trump’s proposed misuse of the Army, his unilateral dismantling of America’s soft power is probably a major factor causing previously silent military figures to speak out: Trump’s ex-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, to name two out of many.

Peaceful protest wins out. But if Trump imagined that unleashing police power on the protesters at Lafayette Park would intimidate them, he was wrong. On Tuesday they were back in larger numbers, and have not stopped protesting near the White House since. Friday, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser renamed the section of 16th Street that ends at Lafayette Park “Black Lives Matter Plaza” and painted an enormous “Black Lives Matter” on the pavement. (In the vanishing point of the photo below, you can barely make out the White House.)

Bowser’s move was an institutional version of the well-known protest chant: “Whose streets? Our streets.”

Wednesday, President Obama filled the healing role that Trump has left vacant, urging young African Americans to “feel hopeful even as you may feel angry”. Don’t choose between protest in the streets and action within the political system, he advised. Do both.

This is not an either-or. This is a both-and. To bring about real change, we both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that can be implemented. … Every step of progress in this country, every expansion of freedom, every expression of our deepest ideals, has been won through efforts that made the status quo uncomfortable. And we should all be thankful for folks who are willing in a peaceful, disciplined way to be out there making a difference.

A memorial service for Floyd was held in Minneapolis on Thursday, and another in Raeford, North Carolina (where he was born) on Saturday. Both were surrounded by emotional, but nonviolent, crowds.

That turned into the pattern across the nation. As the week went on, violence faded and peaceful protest gained momentum. The largest protests occurred this weekend unblemished by violence from either looters or law enforcement.

Strikingly, protests occurred all over the country, in small towns as well as big cities, and included many whites as well as people of color. (Mitt Romney marched Sunday in Washington.) In this photo, taken Wednesday a few blocks from where I live in Bedford, Massachusetts, two passing police stop in the Great Road to take a knee in front of the protesters on the town common. The officers were later commended by the police chief, and every protester I’ve talked to was touched by the gesture. (Our local protests continued all week; I attended on Friday.)

There are two ways to interpret the late-week peace. In one narrative, the overwhelming display of force on Sunday and Monday sent the message that protester violence would not be tolerated. As rioters went away, law enforcement withdrew. But in another narrative, it was law enforcement’s lower profile that de-escalated the cycle of violence.

One inarguable point, though, is that the absence of burning buildings and marauding police left the media little to cover other than the substance of the protests. By this weekend, there was increasing discussion of proposals to get America’s police back under control. (See the next article.)

Thoughtful people can disagree about whether the early-week violence was necessary to focus the nation’s attention. But it was clearly necessary for that violence to end so that the message could be absorbed.

In the end, on balance, it was a good week for democracy and for the nation. But we’ll need a lot more good weeks to see change take root.