They fear nothing quite so much as the loss of whiteness and its privileges

Standing among politicians, child-care workers, working parents, and children, President Joe Biden tours the Children’s Learning Center at McHenry County College on Wednesday, July 7, 2021 in Crystal Lake, Illinois. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Here you go:

I have forgotten more about race than most people have ever known.

Apologies if that sounds like braggadocio, but there’s a point that needs making. I’ve spent the better part of 40 years researching and writing about the history and dynamics of race in America — and 63 years living them. I know this terrain well.

Yet until maybe six months ago, I had never heard of “critical race theory.”

It has since become inescapable, of course — panicked Republicans marching in the streets under signs demanding, “Stop Critical Race Theory Now!” while states like Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and Tennessee rush to pass laws protecting children from its depredations. Nikki Haley believes critical race theory “is going to hold back generations of young people.” Author Mark Levin says it’s about “destroying the existing society.” Tucker Carlson calls it a “poison” that will end civilization as we know it.

One almost expects critical race theory to come lumbering over the horizon like Godzilla, swatting away fighter jets like gnats as grim-faced generals ponder the advisability of using nukes.

And yet — it bears repeating — as recently as January, this avowed expert in racial dynamics had never heard of it. Nor am I the only one. Last week, I surveyed a handful of people like me: African-American journalists with long experience in the field of race. Only one claimed detailed prior knowledge of critical race theory. As to the rest?

“Heard the phrase for the first time this year,” said one.

“I had heard the term vaguely,” said another.

“NEVER,” said yet another.

Small wonder. A search of the Nexis database finds that the term “critical race theory” appeared in U.S. newspapers 1,361 times in the 21 years between January 2000 and New Year’s Day, 2021. It has appeared 6,000 times in the six months since.

For the record: critical race theory originated over 30 years ago among legal scholars; it holds that race is a social — not a scientific — construct and offers a framework for understanding the role of systemic racism in the law and in legal institutions. It is taught, if at all, in law school — not high school.

So how did it become this sudden four-alarm fire in the house of democracy? The answer is depressingly simple. It is this year’s War on Christmas. It’s sharia law, gay wedding cake and New Black Panthers. Which is to say, it is this year’s spur by which the white right, more easily stampeded than a herd of cattle by a lightning strike, is prodded to feel resentful, frightened and besieged — and vote accordingly.

There are no words — nice ones, anyway — for the cynicism of those who employ these crude manipulations. Or, for the gullibility and stupidity of those who let them get away with it, who fall for the same tired okey-doke, season after season, year after year, generation after generation.

Harsh words? Yes. But what other words are appropriate to people who, as the planet burns, as the pandemic decimates, as the rich get richer and as the random bullets fly, think their children’s greatest threat arises from an obscure academic doctrine?

Today, it’s critical race theory. Tomorrow — mark my words — it will be something else, some other pithy term to serve as a repository of all that the white right fears. There are many things for which they should be afraid — life, health, future. But sadly, they fear nothing quite so much as the loss of whiteness and its privileges. As I said, I know this terrain well.

Yet I keep hoping it will surprise me someday.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Miami, Fla., 33172. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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(6) comments

KRobbins

I love that Republicans want to claim Lincoln because he liberated the slaves. But, OTOH, they want to cover up any history of why they needed to be liberated.

She's back

Maybe the Hard right Should go back to how the "left" is trying to "cancel" Dr. Seuss, as all the poeple railing against CRT right now don't have a clue what it is and, more importantly what it is NOT.

Dr. Seuss is the level that The Trump part of the GOP understands.

KRobbins

With all the hubbub over Critical Race Theory I’ve lost track. Did we win the fight against Sharia Law or did that become the law of the land?

rdsouth

https://www.slowboring.com/p/tema-okun

rdsouth

We don't reject CRT because we want to defend privilege, unless common sense as found in all world cultures outside the wacko echo chamber is redefined as "privilege" then used under the old meaning ( a cheat). We reject it because it keeps using the same old fallacies. Tucker Carlson doesn't like CRT, so if you don't like CRT you're Tucker Carlson. Here's my criticism: being critical is white, so criticism of use of criticism is white. We reject it because it's corrosive nonsense being peddled as erudition.

Pitbull

Quit publishing this racist! If I said, "They are afraid to lose their Blackness", I would be labelled, yet this clown rides a free pass!

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