These grim updates have become part of the routine here at the HP–yet another state is pushing a bill through its legislature to stop the monstrous threat to democracy that is… democracy.
If you’re wondering why we will once again give you links to all the previous posts on this topic in this post, it’s to show the growing number of dominos falling over a very short time.
So here we go: this thread began with our short series examining the Biden Administration’s January 20, 2021 Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government, which you can find here on the official White House site.
On March 18 we wrote about the Iowa state legislature working to incorporate the anti-justice language and intent of the Trump Executive Order 13950 of September 22, 2020 (Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping), which we spilled so much ink on late last year. The University of Iowa is being pressured by the state legislature to end diversity education for students and staff.
Then on March 23 we posted about the Idaho state legislature attempting to do the same. Then, just over a month later came the terrible update: they did. On April 29 the Idaho House approved legislation aimed at preventing public and charter schools and universities from teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.
And now? New Hampshire, whose House Bill HB544–“An Act relative to the propagation of divisive concepts”–is yet another move to make teaching Americans about racism illegal. As the Chronicle of Higher Education describes it, HB544
…would ban teaching or training students to “adopt or believe” a list of “divisive concepts,” including that the state or the nation is fundamentally racist or sexist. One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Keith Ammon, a Republican, told fellow lawmakers in February that it is meant to take on “critical race theory.” He likened diversity and inclusion trainers to “snake-oil salesmen.” They propose a cure to disease, he said, but the cure is “making it worse.”
Ammon’s reasoning is emblematic. Republican lawmakers across the country have declared war on an academic concept, and — according to scholars of the theory — reduced a dynamic school of thought to a poorly drawn caricature. They’ve introduced similar bills in at least a dozen states meant to curb what they see as the pernicious influence of critical race theory in public institutions.
Republican lawmakers have long been frustrated with higher ed’s liberal tilt and its supposed quashing of conservative viewpoints.
Now, they’re taking a new tack: Instead of resolutions and bills to protect the speech of visitors on the campus quad, the recent wave of legislation often steps into the classroom to restrict what can be taught. It’s part of a larger battle playing out in state houses, schools, and the media between dueling versions of American history. Over the past few months, lawmakers like Ammon have wielded references to the decades-old theory as they argue with their colleagues about whether racism persists and if it exists at all outside of the hearts and minds of individuals.
We’ve said so much about this in the posts linked above. Teaching people that racism exists, now, today, not just safely in the past where it’s no one’s fault today (sort of–white people still benefit from that past racism), is not, in itself, racism. It’s not a lie. Only a party that has removed its own members from seats of power for refusing to support the lie that the 2020 election was fraudulent–that Biden’s win was a lie–would dare to say that teaching Americans about racism should be made illegal because it’s just not (or is no longer) true.
This isn’t about belief. This is now about law. Teachers in the states that pass these laws will be criminally liable if they teach about racism in an accurate way. They could potentially face jail time. It would be illegal to teach our history.
This is just another version of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which we describe here:
We learn about the FSA when we learn about the Compromise of 1850, of which it was a part. To pacify proslavery forces who were angry that California was allowed to enter the Union as a free state, the Compromise allowed slaveholding and trading to continue in Washington, DC, and upheld the “rights” of slaveholders to their “property”—enslaved people—throughout the Union.
This meant that if you lived in, say, Wisconsin, and had voted to pass personal liberty laws in your state outlawing slavery, those laws were overturned. Slavery would be upheld in “free” states, because slaveholders were allowed to enter free states and reclaim escaped people, and even pick up black citizens who had never been enslaved—the word of the slaveholder was accepted over the word of the black citizen and even the white citizens of the state. Whites were forced by the law to help slave-catchers, they were fined and jailed for failing to do so, or for helping an escapee, and whites were forced to live with the rescinding of the personal liberty laws they had voted for on a state level. Thus, slavery was basically enforced in every state of the Union, and outrage over this was expressed by many Northerners who had previously been publicly neutral about slavery.
If the Fugitive Slave Act was all about enslaved blacks, asked Northerners, why was it fining, jailing, and threatening free whites? Why did it seem to focus just as much on attacking the liberties of northern white citizens as it did on preventing black Americans from gaining their liberty? It was just another example of the slave power perverting democracy and threatening free government.
Americans who want to teach our actual history are now coerced and threatened with jail time into teaching a fake history that is about validating white Americans, locating all racism in those whites who enslaved black Americans and created institutional racism after slavery was ended (i.e., white Americans in the past) and thus relegating racism to the past. In this way, they are forced to support racism.
The problem with this that we haven’t yet addressed in our many posts is that American history is already usually taught so badly, leaving out so much of the reality of slavery and racism in our nation, that laws like this are almost unnecessary. Here’s an article that lays this out quite well, from the New Hampshire Business Review. But these laws ensure that our history teaching and textbooks will get worse and worse, thus allowing racism today and in the future to flourish in a medium of complete denial of the fact that racism has been a primary cause of a great deal of legislation, settlement and housing patterns, industrial growth, wealth creation, and other “race-neutral” economic and socio-political actions that are taught in American history courses.
Teaching all of these without mentioning racism will create a history of America that is so cartoonish it will effectively kill American history. Which is, we believe, the goal.
We do believe as well that not all Americans will accept this, and that the possibility of fighting it is real. But to have a bloody war created for us over race, once again, once again… it’s infuriating and the harm it causes from the level of the individual soul to the fate of the planet is breathtaking.
If you live in a state considering such legislation, take action. If your state has not yet introduced such legislation, investigate to make sure no one is planning to. If you’re a teacher, support your colleagues who stand against this legislation. As the NHBR article says, to be better than this we have to be brave.