Republicans Are Projecting Their Own White Fragility Onto Our Schools

by | Mar 27, 2023 | Politics | 1 comment

The North Carolina Capitol building cost our state over $532,000, a sum so gargantuan in the 1830s that it rendered the state legally bankrupt. Labor costs for the project, however, came in at zero. The explanation for this paradox is that our government forced enslaved people to haul the stones and mount the copper dome on a building set to house legislators who viewed the workers as things.

If the exploitation behind our beautiful capitol does not trouble your soul, you have a broken moral compass. But you may be heartened to learn that North Carolina students needn’t experience this startling discomfort. That’s due to the instructions a new bill provides to North Carolina educators, who would not be allowed–in the bill’s specific language–to cause “discomfort” among students with what they choose to teach. What type of discomfort the bill prohibits is technically vague but in practice unmistakable. White students are to be shielded from any type of discomfort related to race in our society.

As any conscientious person would know, this injunction requires active denial of social reality. The bill foes so far as to ban discussions of white privilege (whether to put the term in quotation marks is debatable; it’s used in the text, but unworthy of punctuation that could imply the sardonic). White privilege is a demonstrable reality of American life, with white people enjoying advantages in wealth, education, housing, and opportunity, every one of which reinforces the potency of the other. For example, the chasmic wealth gap between whites and Black reflects racist redlining practices that were very much in use in North Carolina cities. Even Raleigh, North Carolina, which at the time was little more than a government hamlet, saw a widespread denial of housing to African Americans that confined them to areas of the city with less-valuable homes, leaving behind a legacy of entrenched wealth inequality in the capital city of this state.

It seems so urgent for conservatives to enforce this reactionary political correctness because of the pull of psychological projection. Republican politicians themselves bristle at accusations that white people have inflicted a four-century atrocity on African Americans. Their historical defensiveness reflects a fusion of collective memory with contemporary political resentment. Conscious that they’re on the wrong side of the civil rights movement on almost every policy issue, Republicans want to suppress discussions that impugn the purity of their inheritance. They imagine students will feel acute discomfort rather than reflective pensiveness; after all, their Republican elders have this same fragility.

Republicanism in North Carolina is based upon a set of simple Southern verities that GOPers don’t like to question. America is exceptional, evangelicalism is Truth, and Blacks and women should know their place. Most Republicans, older white men traditionalist in outlook, regard these beliefs as self-evidently correct. That they wish to enforce them on a far different generation reflects perfect ignorance.

1 Comment

  1. JB

    It’s tempting to compare the “anti-woke” reactionaries to the kid with the bat still in his hand staring at the ball amid the shards of broken glass from the window and swearing upon his immortal soul that he has no knowledge of how the window ended up broken. But it’s intellectually dishonest to make that comparison. Both the kid and the mob are transparently lying to save themselves from some unpleasantness they see coming their way, but the kid is a kid. He knows he broke the window, but he truly believes he can convince his parents that he is innocent of the charges. Republican lawmakers— as petulant and childish as they may be — know damned well they’re not fooling anybody.

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