On the eve of the Martin Luther King Holiday, Virginia’s new governor, Glenn Youngkin, signed an executive order banning schools from teaching Critical Race Theory. He told Fox News, “But to actually teach our children that one group is advantaged and the other disadvantaged because of the color of skin, cuts everything we know to be true.” Unless, of course, you grew up disadvantaged because of the color of your skin. 

The outrage over Critical Race Theory has little to with the actual legal and academic framework of CRT. It’s really an appeal to White Americans who believe they are losing their country. They aren’t interested in the ways subtle racism still exists or the manner in which certain laws and customs adversely affect African Americans. Or the way inherited wealth was denied Black families for generations through redlining and other insidious practices that were routine for decades. They want to believe that racism is dead and that nobody sees race anymore. 

In Texas, banning CRT has led to banning books. If only Republicans held the First Amendment in the esteem with which they hold the Second. But they don’t and, to them, ideas are far more scary than assault weapons. Guns might kill people, but education might enlighten them, introducing them to new concepts and perspectives and threatening their place in the world.   

The debate over Critical Race Theory is really just a sign that we still have a lot further to go in understanding race in our country. We’ve certainly made progress since the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. And that progress caused the reaction that reached a peak with the election of Donald Trump and the rehabilitation of White nationalists.

But the reaction against Critical Race Theory is part of a larger movement within the current Republican Party but that has its roots going back 150 years. They don’t want accountability, especially for wrongs committed by right-wing extremists. The sentiment is racial, not political. When White reactionaries controlled the Democratic Party, they pushed back against efforts during Reconstruction to hold leaders of the Confederacy responsible for their actions. In the wake of Jim Crow, White leaders resisted any sort of restitution for a century of wrongs. And, today, they want to forget the attack on the Capitol that occurred on January 6. 

They still want to deny that four centuries of mistreatment have long-term adverse effects on African American communities. And the party that once demanded personal responsibility is certainly are not willing to hold anybody accountable for the damage done. They always just want to move on. 

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