Fascists, authoritarians, seditionists and Republicans all adore rabbit holes, the deeper, the darker, the flat-out crazier the better…
What makes the whole “Critical Race Theory” conversation so perfect for them is that their rage isn’t based on anything. Well, not anything real. It’s a balsa wood chimera and that’s super ironic because there really is a monster at work here: the very white people pitching “Critical Race Theory” as a boogey man. “Education” may have been how the button was labeled — the button they kept pushing in Virginia — but the dot it connected to was pure, unadulterated racism. Every time Glenn Youngkin blathered about wanting Virginia’s parents to be involved in their children’s education, what the suburban moms heard was “Stick together, white people!” Not a one of those parents — even the ones who’d previously voted for Obama — thought they were being racist, but that’s how systemic racism works. The system does all the racist heavy lifting for you. All the white person has to do is show up and look “shocked!” that such things still happen in America.
“Critical Race Theory” is an academic theory that, being an academic theory, can stand up for itself all by itself — in the context in which it was created: academia. The academic idea undergirding CRT is sound. It asks in cold, hard terms what racism cost Black people in America — racism being antithetical to America’s stated purpose. How did white America profit and benefit at Black America’s expense? And how might that very real wrong be righted? How shall America make not only its Black citizens whole but — in so doing — make itself whole as well. How shall America seize this moment to finally fix what the country’s founders got wrong? While they wrote “All men are created equal”, cynically, they didn’t mean “all men” though — cynically — they did mean only men.
America remains a great idea as yet unrealized. Even the founders knew they hadn’t gotten it right yet — and began amending their Constitution almost immediately. Their own intense debate over slavery informed their final work product. Though the founders made a Devil’s bargain with slavery, they built in the means and mechanism for slavery’s eventual elimination. The Confederacy beat the founders to it though. Not a single Confederate state argued “states’ rights” in their secession documents; they all argue for slavery. Slavery may have lost the (Civil) War, but it won the peace that followed. Thanks to Andrew Johnson, Reconstruction (which would have gone a long way toward leveling the playing field that slavery made vertical) failed even before it got started.
Slavery’s bottommost line is stolen labor. A slave works for free. So long as a slave’s work product is worth more than the cost of housing, clothing and feeding that slave? Slavery makes economic sense. And if people still buy your products and do business with you even though they KNOW you use slave labor (hello, China!), then why change what you’re doing since what you’re doing is more profitable than the alternative? Money automatically compromises every conversation it gets into. Slavery is immoral — full stop! Anyone who enslaves others should be a pariah. Anyone who profits from slavery — same thing. Anyone who today continues to benefit from slavery while others continue to suffer from its ripple effects needs to stop benefiting. They’re not entitled to those bennies.
The real point of making CRT a thing is to connect America’s suburbs back to its latent racism. Back to the systemic racism that 1) aims to keep Black and brown people “in their place”, 2) aims to deny that any systemic racism exists, 3) makes ending racism nearly impossible and 4) makes reparations for slavery (racism’s crowning achievement in America) completely impossible. Racism starts on the back end of that process. Reparations are impossible because racism can never end because racism is so pervasive because Black and brown people must be kept “in their place”. Racists don’t have to reason themselves to that conclusion, that’s their starting point. And like all conservative values, the goal is full-on regression back to a “golden age” in the past where white, Christian, land-owning men ruled over all they surveyed.
The first rule about rabbit holes is avoid them. Whether it’s CRT or birtherism or The Big Lie, once you follow a Trumpanista or a Republican down any of these rabbit holes, the game is already over and they won. Does anyone really want to try and reason a QAnon follower back to reality? They wouldn’t recognize it even if we chained them to it. The only good answer when a Trumpanista offers to show us around their rabbit hole is “Thanks, but no thanks”. Don’t even stand in the doorway — it can suck you in like a black hole’s event horizon. One minute there you are, YOU, the next you’re being spaghettified by the intense gravitational pull of the most powerful force in the universe: bullshit. The moment you even allow that “bullshit ‘could’ be true”? Bullshit won. Don’t expect it to be gracious about it.
Every time Glenn Youngkin said “education” or “CRT”, the correct response from the press shouldn’t have been what it was (“Oh, please — tell us more!”), it should have been a derisive groan as they pulled back their microphone and an angry “What the hell are you even talking about?” And every time they leapt into the rabbit hole, expecting us to follow, they should have seen us standing at the rabbit hole’s rim, arms akimbo, a look of withering disrespect in our eyes. “No,” our expression should say, “I’m NOT following you down there, that’s bullshit! You want to have a conversation, Skippy, you and your lying ass step outside the rabbit hole, otherwise…”.
It’s not unlike arguing with a child. After not getting so much as listened to for a while (never mind not getting their way), even the most intransigent five year old eventually will come around because they’ll need something which, being a five year old, they can’t provide for themselves. Similarly, Republicans spewing bullshit would eventually come around if the news media stopped ingesting that bullshit and began demanding receipts instead.
That would be my recommended response: “Back it up or it’s bullshit”. Think of the look in a Trumpanista’s zombie eyes as, instead of following them into the nether regions of their lunacy, you told them to put up or shut up first.
That doesn’t seem like much of an ask of our news media — to demand receipts from BOTH SIDES instead of the one that always has them — the Democrats. The reason Democrats have receipts is because they use facts as the basis for their world view whereas Republicans never have receipts because they base their worldview on their feelings. And, since the prime feeling inside every Republican is white terror at losing political hegemony, there can’t ever be any facts other than the one: white supremacy relies on white people maintaining political power even if it’s at the expense of our democracy.
That’s what Glenn Youngkin really pitched to Virginia — a neater, “cleaner” version of Trumpism and, especially Trumpism’s core racism. Calling it “Critical Race Theory” has the added benefit of putting racism’s victims — Black people — right back on the defensive: how DARE Black people demand that white people admit to some simple, basic historical truths: without slavery’s stolen (and therefore free) labor, the Confederacy would never have risen the way it did. Every single slave is entitled to every bit of back pay plus interest. But, that’s only if we really want to be fair.
Being fair is hard. It can be really expensive too. But, consider the alternative. The instant we abandon “fairness” because it’s hard, we make being unfair the go-to position since it’s so much easier. And then we wonder why our whole country — despite the majority wanting democracy — teeters on the edge of authoritarianism. Nothing good comes from following anyone down a rabbit hole.
That gets exponentially worse when the rabbit hole is constructed entirely of racism.