Republicans are doing everything they can to control the narrative of our history. In some instances, they want to maintain the stories that we’ve been told about a righteous nation that downplays our most egregious wrongs. In others, they want to change the story to justify their assault on our institutions. Nowhere is the struggle playing out more publicly than in our education system here in North Carolina.
Last week, the state house voted to ban teaching critical race theory in schools. This week, the UNC Board of Trustees, effectively an arm of the Republican legislative leadership, denied tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, most likely because of her work on the 1619 Project at the New York Times. Nothing has triggered conservatives more than holding White people accountable for perpetuating racism in our government and society. But, clearly, accountability is no longer a priority for Republicans.
Republicans and conservatives want to keep telling the same American story that they were taught—that we are a righteous nation that prospered because of our moral convictions, our adventurous spirit, our ingenuity, and our Calvinist work ethic. They want to downplay the horrors of slavery and the injustice of Jim Crow. They want to ignore or justify the destruction of Native American lands and culture. They want a sanitized version of our history that lets White America to continue to forget transgressions like the coup in Wilmington or the massacre in Tulsa.
For African Americans, their story is one of struggle. They have sought, since they were first brought here as slaves, to be treated as equals. Their fight has been against a power structure that fought equally hard to deny them access to the freedom enjoyed by White citizens. In the South, they were denied equal access to the justice system, the economic system, and the social system by unjust laws and the politicians who passed, perpetuated and defended those injustices. In the North, where they fled seeking a more just society and more economic opportunity, they were often forced into areas with fewer services and inferior infrastructure, but at least they didn’t live in fear of vigilante justice and lynch mobs.
To the credit of our country, African Americans can now demand their story be told in our schools and universities because of the progress we have made. To their detriment, the reactionary forces in control of the Republican Party would continue to deny their reality and use power to suppress their truths.
On the other hand, Republicans in North Carolina are trying to retell the modern history of our state. To hear them tell it, before they took power, North Carolina looked more like California or New York, with high taxes and overburdensome regulations. Our state was never that much ahead of our neighbors to the south and the progressive powerhouse story that the country knew was overblown. Instead, we had Democrats raising taxes and keeping businesses from moving here. It took the 2010 wave election and the 2012 election of Republican Pat McCrory as governor to save our state by reducing taxes and regulations. That’s why we are able to attract the likes of Google and Apple.
Republicans have used a similar narrative to dismantle our K-12 education system. They claimed our schools were failing and cut per pupil funding, shifted money to private schools, and encouraged for-profit charters, leaving our schools more segregated than at anytime since integration was imposed in the 1960s. They have micromanaged our university system, stocking the Board of Governors and Boards of Trustees with dim, undereducated ideologues. They fired a university president because of his voter registration and they replaced several chancellors. Our state would be a laughingstock if their actions weren’t so scary. They accept no dissent and demand leaders pass ideological litmus tests. Now, they are trying to control the faculty. It’s disturbing stuff.
Their revisionist history of North Carolina is just as bogus as their revisionist history of the country. North Carolina Democrats made decisions to move our state forward in the early 1960s under the leadership of Terry Sanford and with the support of a progressive business community. They built a world-class university system and one of the nation’s first community college systems. They balanced environmental stewardship with economic development. They kept tax rates low, but progressive, and they laid the foundation of our modern state. Under Democratic control, the state was always among the top rated states for livability and economic development. We just didn’t have the embarrassments of HB-2 or the continued attack on our university system, the real barriers to building economic progress.
Republicans’ actions this week denying tenure to Nikole Hannah-Brown and banning critical race theory are really attempts to control the narrative of our country. They don’t want to be a more inclusive place and they don’t want to learn from the past. They want to preserve a status quo that still has injustice baked-in after 400 years of state-sponsored discrimination and resist any demands for justice or accountability.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >