Conservative Safe Spaces: Conservative campaigns against Critical Race Theory (CRT) have the defensive dimension of creating safe space for white conservatives as American institutions become more multicultural and socially liberal. “Critical Race Theory” is a mostly a law literature that is studied in law school and focuses on the problem of white supremacy continuing in the law and society beyond the passage of Civil Rights legislation during the 60’s. Before being known as “Critical Race Theory,” much of this literature was known as “Critical Legal Theory” and I scheduled the Critical Legal Theory collection and several of the essays for my political theory classes at Morehead State University in Kentucky. Some of the essays like Cheryl Harris’ “Whiteness as Property” were daring and innovative, but the underlying premise that white supremacy had continued beyond the Civil Rights Era was hardly a revelation and I stopped using the text for lack of contemporary interest.
However, much of the sentiment behind the anti-CRT legislation is to make public education safe and comfortable for white conservatives.
A reference to one of the authors of the Texas bill banning CRT, Rep. Steve Toth, in a KERA television story on the legislation, explained the issue:
Toth’s legislation takes on CRT without ever naming it. He says the new law is aimed at teaching complex subjects like slavery and racism without making white children feel guilty.“ You can’t teach that one race is better than the other,” Toth said, describing what’s outlined in HB 3979. “You can’t teach that one gender is better than the other. You can’t discriminate either… and say that one race or one gender is responsible for the ills of the past.”
The key to the Texas anti-CRT bill is on page 5 where it mandates against requiring or making part of a course anything that leads to a result that “(vii) An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual ’s race or sex.” The bill also mandates that slavery not be taught as anything other than “deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.” This formulation also mandates against the concept of “systemic racism” accepted by the Democratic Party, liberals, and racial minorities and lashes out against the 1619 Project in particular. But the strictures on “discomfort, guilt, anguish, and distress” speak to an important motivation for conservatives–their discomfort at living in a society where white conservative views have been widely condemned and marginalized despite the fact that white conservatives are still more than 40% of the population. That sense of marginalization isn’t resolved by the anti-CRT education bill either. Outside the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Federalist Papers, there’s very little on which white conservatives can hang their hat in the history offerings cited in the bill. Whether it’s Frederick Douglass on slavery, Martin Luther King on segregation, the Declaration of Sentiments, or Chicano sources like Cesar Chavez or Dolores Huerta, a very large chunk of the recommended curriculum is arrayed against the heritage of conservatism and white domination. The Texas anti-CRT bill huffs and puffs, but they still can’t get away from the fact that white conservatives in the United States have no honorable history.