Tag: critical race theory
The 'Woke' Satire Of Jonathan Swift Stings Ron DeSantis Where It Hurts

The 'Woke' Satire Of Jonathan Swift Stings Ron DeSantis Where It Hurts

Being something of a smart aleck, I’ve sometimes joked that while I may look white, actually I’m Irish. All eight of my great-grand parents were born there. Indeed, there was a time during the Great Potato Famine of 1845-52 when my ancestors were treated rather worse than Black slaves in America. Millions of Irish peasants starved even as the country exported plentiful foodstuffs guarded by British soldiers.

As valuable property, Black slaves never died of hunger.

So, the Irish fled to America in “coffin ships,” so-called because many thousands failed to survive the journey. The best way I know to understand this historical tragedy is to read Joseph O’Connor’s terrific novel Star of the Sea.

(Joseph is the older brother of Sinead O’Connor, the singer whose recent death was mourned all over Ireland. A talented family, the O’Connors of Glenageary.)

Nor were the Irish, being Catholic, particularly welcome in America. But so what? None of that has affected my own life in any practical way. Nor have I noticed that Irish-Americans behave better than anybody else when it comes to race.

(In the old country, of course, they’ve only recently quit murdering each other over what’s basically a 17th century religious quarrel.I once asked a correspondent in Belfast how they could tell each other apart, as on TV they all looked like my uncles and cousins. The shoes, she responded. The shoes!)

My first great literary hero was the immortal Irish satirist, Jonathan Swift. The first time my wife saw tears in my eyes was visiting his tomb in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He’d died in 1745, author of perhaps the most penetrating anti-racist essay in the English language. An Anglican clergyman marooned for life in his native Ireland, Swift thought of himself as an Englishman.

But the appalling poverty of the native Irish troubled him, so he wrote A Modest Proposal, a pseudonymous essay proposing a useful reform: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasee, or a ragoust.

The author expressed confidence that his proposal would be well received by absentee English “landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

The 1729 pamphlet was published anonymously, because had its authorship been proven—although pretty much everybody in Ireland could guess who’d written it—Swift could have been imprisoned, or worse.

Anyway, here’s where I’m going with all this: Because I am, in fact, white, and because Irish history threatens no vested American interests, nobody has ever suggested that my studying it is in any way improper. Nor, certainly, tried to ban it. Had Swift been a Black man, I’m sure, his works would be illegal in Florida. Arkansas too.

Consider the scene in Gulliver’s Travels where the gigantic hero extinguishes a fire in the Lilliputian Queen’s chambers by pissing on it. (The author’s response to Queen Anne’s ingratitude for services done the crown.) Not to mention the scene where enormous teenaged Brobdingnagian girls perch tiny Gulliver on their nipples. Whoa, Nelly!

Moms for Liberty, which is what they’re calling the United Daughters of the Confederacy these days, would banish the novel from every library in the land.

I think my favorite moment during the absurd controversy over Florida and Arkansas’ efforts to ban Advanced Placement African-American History classes from being taught in public schools, was when Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Department of Education published a letter claiming that “The content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law" [my emphasis].

Meaning they can’t explain it. Not what they intended to say, I suspect. This is what happens when you enlist semi-literate ideologues to defend us white folks from…

Well, from what?

As near as I can tell, from history itself, and from the idea that Black citizens of a state where chattel slavery was legal until 1865 and Jim Crow segregation laws replaced it right up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and where race riots and lynchings were not uncommon just might have a perspective on its history different from the white majority’s.

DeSantis’ slogan is literally “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

In Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Sanders too derides the very idea of an African-American perspective as “critical race theory,” and “indoctrination.” Black people have no legitimate point of view and it’s literally illegal to say otherwise in a public-school classroom. Here in the United States of America.

So where does that leave somebody like me, an aging white man whose education in these matters has been sadly neglected?

Thinking maybe I need to take that African-American history course.

Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of The Hunting of the President..


DeSantis Bill Mandates Political Control Of Public Colleges

After a series of teasers, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis released his detailed legislation to turn Florida’s public colleges and universities into right-wing indoctrination factories, and it’s as bad as he promised it would be. DeSantis is, on the one hand, moving to ban virtually any viewpoint he doesn’t like and, on the other hand, setting up a core curriculum that reflects his specific political agenda.

On the banned list: Not only whatever the people DeSantis puts in charge decide are “Critical Race Theory,” but literally all diversity, equity, and inclusion programming. Majors or minors in gender studies. Any general education course that “defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”

Yes, DeSantis is attempting to write into law that any history that suggests the United States did not always fully live up to the “universal principles” of the Declaration of Independence (a document written by a slave-owner!) is not fit for inclusion as a general education course—the ones that students will be required to take. Those general education courses will be five courses designated within each of five areas (communication, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, natural sciences) from which students must choose. The direct requirement of the bill would be history courses that didn’t admit to the existence in U.S. history of slavery or the internment of Japanese people during World War II.

“General education core courses may not suppress or distort significant historical events,” according to the bill, and yet they are also required to comply with the ban on anything that “defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” The whole thing is about suppressing and distorting significant historical events.

All of the general education core courses are intended to provide “the education for citizenship of the constitutional republic”—constitutional republic being a big Republican buzzword to assert that the United States is not a democracy. Meanwhile, the core courses in communications “must afford students the ability to communicate effectively, including the ability to write clearly and engage in public speaking, through engagement with the Western literary tradition.” Heaven forbid students learn to communicate effectively, write clearly, and engage in public speaking through engagement with a non-Western literary tradition. We can’t have that!

This will be strictly enforced from above, by people DeSantis appoints for that purpose. Faculty—experts in their fields—will be radically disempowered, forced to teach within the limits DeSantis lays out, or else. The bill talks about “the cultivation of the intellectual autonomy of its undergraduate students,” but its meaning is clear: Faculty are defined as the enemies of intellectual autonomy, which properly belongs only to conservative students who don’t want to learn all that unpleasant stuff about race and gender.

The legislation would weaken faculty tenure, but what’s much worse is what it would do to faculty hiring:

Each state university board of trustees is responsible for hiring faculty for the university. The president of the university may provide hiring recommendations to the board. The president and the board are not required to consider recommendations or opinions of faculty of the university or other individuals or groups.

These trustees will effectively be DeSantis political appointees—for instance, when he put six new people on the board of trustees at the New College of Florida, they included Christopher Rufo, the right-wing think-tanker whose attacks on public education have included being the architect of the campaign against “critical race theory” in schools; the superintendent of a religious charter school; a dean from Hillsdale College, a private Christian school; and the viciously transphobic president of a conservative think tank. That’s the type of people DeSantis is putting in charge of all faculty hiring in Florida’s public colleges and universities.

And no, this isn’t just a formality where the board won’t really exert control:

The board of trustees may delegate its hiring authority to the president; however, the president may not delegate such hiring authority and the board must approve or deny any selection by the president.

Even if the board doesn’t want to go through all the applications (a number that may shrink as academic jobseekers steer clear of Florida), it will have the final word on each and every person hired to teach Florida’s college students.

On Thursday, college students across Florida protested DeSantis’ plans for their schools.

“We want to take these classes and for the state to come in and say, 'Well, we might not want to allow you to have that' … At what point are college students going to be considered adults by the state of Florida?" Jonathon Chavez, president of College Democrats at the University of South Florida, told ABC News, adding, “We want to make our own decisions and our education, how we want to better ourselves. We think it's quite silly that the state would try to restrict that.”

“We’re not here to be spoonfed a sanitized version of history,” USF senior Andy Pham told the crowd at the protest. “If Black people, Indigenous people, all people of color have to confront racism every moment of our waking lives, white folks can certainly handle reading about it.”

Walkouts were also held at the University of Florida, Florida International University, Florida State University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Poly, New College, the University of North Florida, the University of Central Florida, Rollins College (a private liberal arts college in the state), and Largo High School.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

The Party Of Fear Is Becoming The Party Of Losers

The Party Of Fear Is Becoming The Party Of Losers

Here’s a fun fact: Years ago, in the early 70’s as I recall, the Village Voice hired some kind of polling firm to determine what were the best-read parts of the paper. I’m sure it wasn’t done because the editors were thinking of covering more of the stuff that the most people read. If that was why they ran the survey, they would have probably quickly dropped the classical music criticism of the wonderful Leighton Kerner, the Voice’s critic in that area, who wrote of classical music as if he were conducting an orchestra of words in his head. No, I think the survey of readers was probably done at the behest of the display advertising department, who could then take the figures from the survey and adjust advertising prices based on how many people read the rock and roll or theater sections, for example.

Well, can you guess what turned out to be the best-read page in the paper? The letters to the editor column. The letters ran on page four, with Jules Feiffer’s cartoons across the bottom. There wasn’t any advertising on page four, but there was on page five, so they must have boosted the rates for the ads on the facing page. The letters page, of course, was the comments section of the era, when readers got their opportunity to vent, telling Voice authors what they thought of them, complaining that their favorite political issue, or their favorite entertainment venue, or their favorite playwright or artist or dance company wasn’t getting the attention it deserved.

I realize I’ve written about this before, but I got my start as a writer in the letters to the editor column of the Voice, writing cranky, rather conservative critiques of the stories I read. My first one drew counter-criticism the following week from an array of New York intellectuals that included Dwight MacDonald, Paul Goodman, and Aryeh Neier, who at the time headed up the New York office of the ACLU and went on to become a founder of Human Rights Watch. Each of them gave the upstart cadet from West Point a good political spanking, which I replied to the following week in the letters column, of course.

People turned to the letters column in the Voice first, it seemed to me, because that was where the action was – writers complaining about other writers, pissed-off old lefties lecturing new lefties who they found ignorant about the origins of this, that, or the other thing…you get the picture. The letter writers were uniformly smart, informed, and some were quite funny as they took on the established writers in the Voice.

You may recognize in the ferment of the Voice letters column a familiar ferment in our own comments section of my Substack newsletter. Although I don’t often reach into the comments and post replies, I read them with great interest. When I was on the staff of the Voice, I made it my policy not to reply to letters to the editor that criticized my pieces. I figured that I had the privilege of being in the Voice as a staff writer, and my pieces spoke for themselves. The letters column was for readers, not Village Voice writers. By and large, I treat the comments section the same way.

But for the first time the other day I posted a column opening a thread for readers, inviting them to comment generally about what was on their minds, and I also invited them to suggest areas they thought would deserve my attention. To put it mildly, I was stunned by the response. I jumped in and left replies here and there as I filled a couple of pages of a reporter’s notebook sitting next to me with a long list of suggestions for stories. Some just aren’t in my wheelhouse, as they say, and would be fine for another columnist to write about. Others, such as the one in the title of this piece, fit me like a well-made suit.

Ralph T. suggested that I consider writing about “the layers and layers of fears driving a majority of Republican voters.” Helpfully, he provided a list, which I will quote from selectively here:

Afraid of vaccines.

Afraid of voters.

Afraid of drop boxes.

So afraid of Democrats that they’re willing to believe they’re killing abducted babies in the basements of pizza joints.

Afraid to go out in public without an arsenal strapped to their flak jackets.

Afraid of LGBTQ folks.

Afraid of Black folks.

Afraid of Latin folks, especially the ones across our southern border who we desperately need in our workforce.

Terrified of Jewish folks.

Afraid of immigrants, although that’s what 98% of us are, having pretty much killed off the local natives when we got here.

Afraid of women, especially smart women.

Afraid of respectfully facing our past.

Afraid of the future.

Afraid of change.

Afraid of books, which I suppose comes from being afraid of reading, or simply not being able to read.

Ralph T. went on to list more fears many Republicans share, but that one stopped me in my tracks, and not because I’ve written books, write a column, and for more than 50 years have depended on readers in order to make a living.

Have you been in a house that has no books? No magazines, no reading material of any kind, with the possible exception of a cookbook or two? I have.

I’ve been in houses of people who were poor, perhaps too poor to afford books and magazines, but I’ve also been in houses of middle-class people who just did not read. Out in L.A., I was even in a beach house in Malibu owned by a very wealthy person in the movie business that contained no books at all. There were some very nice, and very expensive, pieces of art on the wall, but no books, not a one, not even a cookbook, and the owner was not a Republican. People in the movie business like the person from Malibu had what they called “readers,” assistants whose job it was to read books and screenplays that were being considered to be bought to make movies. I didn’t understand why these executives wouldn’t, or couldn’t, read the material they spent so much money on until I realized it was the prospect of failure that made them afraid. They needed to be told what they were supposed to have read was “hot,” that other executives in the business were after the same property so they could contend with their fear that they would spend all that money and the project would end up as a failure.

What all of the people who lived in those houses shared, including the person from Malibu, was fear. They were afraid of different things. In the deep South, I found people afraid of the future, of change, of outsiders, of people of other races and creeds, people who were simply unlike themselves. The phrase “ignorance is bliss” comes to mind, but not as a truism. Ignorance on that level is anything but blissful, bringing with it a closed off-ness that causes such a vacuum of knowledge and surrounding darkness that it’s impossible to deal with on any level whatsoever. To be without accurate and learned information is to be alone with yourself – alone with your fears, as it were.

When I lived in the deep South, I once asked a man who was overtly, openly racist why he was that way. I probed, and not very gently. Did something happen to him as he was growing up? Had he been mugged or beaten up by a Black person or Black people? Did he even know anyone who was Black in a way beyond thanking a server in a restaurant for a refill of his coffee? The answer to every one of my questions was no. It was revealed that there was no reason behind his racism. It just was. He had been raised in what you would call a culture of racism, and so it infected him in the way a virus gets into you. It was in the air he breathed. It was all around him in the lives of his friends and family members and the people he worked with and hunted with and spent holidays with. They were racist, so he was racist. There was a kind of comfort in their community of racism and the fears they shared. The rest of them were afraid to breach the barrier they had built around themselves, and so was he.

Their fears encompassed other things on Ralph T.’s excellent list. Another person in the deep South I spoke to came right out and told me he thought Black people should not have the right to vote. He was afraid of their votes, because they weren’t his votes or the votes of his white friends and neighbors. It didn’t take but a moment or two to see that he was afraid not just of Black people themselves, and Black people voting, but of living in a world in which he felt surrounded by things he did not understand, people he didn’t trust, ideas he was afraid of because to start with, he was unfamiliar with them. He didn’t want to acknowledge the legacy of slavery that was all around him where he lived in the South – the Black side of town had unpaved streets, no sidewalks, no streetlights, shack-like houses – hell, the town didn’t even run its sewage system into the Black section.

The only public thing the Black people in his town had, really, was the right to attend the public schools, and that right, in his opinion, was forced on the town and its people, its white people, by a Supreme Court and a Congress that he felt did not represent people like him, people whom the laws and the culture and the rest of the nation, in fact, had left behind. He was afraid of people who were unlike him; their ideas were unlike his, and crucially, there was nothing he could do about it, at least in part because Black people could vote.

Republicans have come up with a new catchphrase to appeal to voters like this man, and to the people in whose houses I had been who did not have books. Critical race theory. They didn’t even have to define it, to tell anyone what it meant. It didn’t need a meaning, because everyone it was intended to appeal to knew exactly what it meant. The phrase, critical race theory, has a meaning as an academic discipline, but that’s not the way Republicans are using it. In a political sense, from the politicians who conceived of the phrase as a scare tactic, they’re saying we are on your side. We acknowledge your fears. In fact, your fears are our fears, so vote for us, and we will do whatever we can to assuage them. We will put Black people, and liberals, and everyone else you’re scared of in their place.

It's beyond us against them. It’s beyond playing on their fears. It’s taking fear and turning it into a weapon.

Armies use fear as a weapon on the battlefield in wars. That’s what artillery and rockets are all about – suddenly, without warning, out of the sky comes something that will blow you up and kill you. But it didn’t work when the Germans rained down bombs and V-1 rockets on London during World War II, and it’s not working as the Russians do everything in their power to break the will of the Ukrainian people with rockets and drones and artillery shells.

Fear in politics is beginning to exhibit its shortcomings as well. “Owning the libs” was fun for Republicans while it was being driven by Donald Trump and his machinery of hate and fear, but he lost. The Republican Party, which was supposed to sweep the midterms in a red wave, even while they will control the House of Representatives with a very slim majority, is wounded.

Sure, fear works as political weapon for Republicans and they’re not going to let go of it any time soon. But the thing about fear is that it’s not fun to be afraid all the time. That’s why horror movies work: you watch them and you can be afraid for a time, but you know that the movie is going to end, and you won’t have to be afraid anymore.

The kinds of fears Ralph T. was good enough to list for us are not fun. They’re stultifying, they’re dark, and there is no way out of them except embracing at least a few of the things you’re afraid of, like reading and seeking knowledge and allowing yourself to look at what is around you with open eyes and a least a tiny crack in your closed heart.

So fear not. A corner is beginning to be turned. Donald Trump, if he is the nominee of the Republican Party in 2024, will lose again. Republicans, unless they find a way to appeal to folks who are not congenitally fearful, will see their power as a political party wane.

There is, in fact, an end result of the fears we have discussed here at the behest of our friend, Ralph T. It’s called losing.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Please consider subscribing to Lucian Truscott Newsletter, from which this column is reprinted with permission.

Most Parents Happy With Their Kids’ Schools

Poll: Most Parents Are Happy With Their Kids’ Schools, Despite GOP Culture War

Republicans are flogging a culture war focused on public schools, but it doesn’t seem to be landing with the parents of actual schoolchildren. A new NPR/Ipsos poll of parents of school-aged children finds people generally happy with their kids’ schools and teachers, and not foaming at the mouth over race and LGBTQ issues.

Education rated as the third-highest concern of parents in the poll, but 88 percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “my child's teacher(s) have done the best they could, given the circumstances around the pandemic,” and 82 percent agreed that “my child's school has handled the pandemic well.” Republicans have largely moved on from trying to whip up rage about how schools have handled the pandemic, though, focusing more on demonizing marginalized groups and arguing that parents should be allowed to micromanage the curriculum. (Right-wing white parents, anyway.) But that’s not getting a lot of traction, either.

Three out of four of the parents polled agreed that “my child's school does a good job keeping me informed about the curriculum, including potentially controversial topics.” Small minorities said the ways their children’s schools taught about the issues being pushed by Republicans actually conflicted with their own family’s values: 18 percent for gender and sexuality, 19 percent for race and racism, and 14 percent for U.S. history.

And those numbers, small as they are, don’t mean that 19 percent of people think their kid’s school is too liberal on race and racism or 14 percent on U.S. history—the people who said the schools’ teachings clashed with their family’s values were as likely to be Democrats as Republicans. A Native American parent in Texas, for instance, told NPR, “It's more of a water-down effect ... [the teachers] kind of whitewash the way that history is taught to their kids.” That parent wants his kid taught more about the French and Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, and about slavery during the Revolutionary War, NPR reports. By contrast, a white parent in Wisconsin who thinks the schools are too liberal on these issues cited her son being asked to identify his pronouns and a teacher making “snarky comments about white privilege.” Equally valid and serious concerns about the quality of education, amiright?

If you listen to Christopher Rufo, one of the right wing’s major gurus on waging culture wars in the schools, critical race theory is a “two to one issue,” a surefire winner for Republicans. Go figure, though: The main poll he cites was conducted by the right-wing Manhattan Institute. But what about Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s victory in November after he campaigned against critical race theory? Well, recent data has suggested that Youngkin’s advantage came from senior citizens, not from the parents of school-aged children, and it’s not the first data undermining the narrative that enraged parents turned the election to Youngkin.

Demonizing LGBT people and foaming at the mouth that teaching about racism or the contributions of Black and brown people oppresses white kids by making them feel “humiliated” might energize the Republican base, but it’s not a majority message. Banning books because they have LGBT characters or depict slavery as the brutal system of kidnapping, torture, and rape that it was is not a majority message.

Republicans are attacking teachers. They’re attacking vulnerable kids. They’re trying to micromanage what all kids can learn according to their very specific values, to the active exclusion of all others. These things matter—they are actively harming people—and they’re also not the political winners Republicans are confidently portraying them to be. The media needs to internalize these things in shaping its coverage, rather than allowing the Republican operatives regularly billed as “concerned parents” in their Fox News appearances to define what the parents of schoolchildren look like or think. And equally, Democrats need to fight back, vigorously and boldly, because Republicans really are overstepping on this.

Printed with permission from DailyKos.