Republicans Are What They Hate
There are very few things the GOP does well. One of them is raging hypocrisy.
Across the United States, state legislatures and other assorted organizations are mobilizing to ban “critical race theory” from schools. This push is driven primarily by the same groups of people who call being banned from Twitter “censorship” and decry “cancel culture.” As it has gone for decades now, Republicans are what they proclaim to hate.
The goal here isn’t even to ban a specific topic — conservatives involved in this debate routinely demonstrate a poor knowledge of what critical race theory even is and misjudge how often it is taught in schools (infrequently). Instead, it becomes a stand in for any teaching about racism that offends fragile white egos.
For much of the 2010s, conservatives decried the existence of “safe spaces” and criticized liberals and leftists as “snowflakes” for being overly sensitive. But what we are witnessing is a conservative desire for a perverse safe space free from the discussion of the realities of racism that make them so very uncomfortable.
We see this pattern time and time again: Republicans take a strong stance against a justified version of something only to be loud and obnoxious about an unjustified one. Wanting a safe space away from racism is treated as being incapable of dealing with the real world — wanting a safe space away from discussions of racism is considered normal and reasonable.
If only it were so easy to show Republicans their own hypocrisy and prompt a change of heart. Unfortunately, the people with this problem are largely either apathetic to their double standard or, even worse, just double down when confronted with it. You cannot and should not debate Republicans on matters of their own hypocrisy — you can only use it to demonstrate the importance of voting out Republicans to those more grounded in reality.
The War on Critical Race Theory provides a unique point of parry with the Republican illiteracy about what the subject actually means, but, once again, so many of them do not care about a precise definition — all that is needed is a way to ban frank discussions of racism. However, it is critical (pun intended) to better educate people on what critical race theory actually is.
Born out of Black legal scholarship, the core of critical race theory is an examination of how white supremacy maintains itself and legitimizes itself through the legal system. More broadly, it looks at how oppression and systems of power sustain each other, incorporating aspects of intersectional theory — the well-established theory that multiple, intersecting oppressions (e.g. being both transgender and a person of color) create unique problems and needs for those who face them.
Given critical race theory’s focus on white privilege — a phrase also evoked by Republican fearmongers — it is reasonable to assume many reactionaries see it as little more than the genesis of the needlessly controversial idea that being born white comes with advantages. Some more skilled spin artists point its connection to critical theory, which has its origins in the anti-Stalinist Marxist Frankfurt School. But acting as if it is some sort of communist plot is Red Scare levels of paranoia.
In reality, even undergrads taking sociology electives, but especially in the grade schools where Republicans seem to think this theory is taught, the analysis of racism rarely delves into these complexities. And, when it is taught, usually to those intentionally seeking higher education on such subjects who would want to learn about it!
But many of the Republicans know this and just have to act outraged enough to get the rest on board. For them, it is not about coherence or consistency, it is about advancing a reactionary agenda. The United States, while still having far to go, is doing more than it ever has to grapple with its horrific past and present relationship with race — and the racists are losing.
In this way, there are two “critical race theories”: the theory as advanced by Black academics and the cudgel as crafted by racist reactionaries. They are largely unconnected, but the latter now serves as the magical incantation to chant to send racists into an overly aggressive — and overly defensive — fury.
The entire conservative media ecosystem is designed to condition people into being susceptible to these trigger phrases. As reactionaries make, “Are you triggered?” jokes, those who seek to manipulate them condition them into being triggered by the just and the benign. Tucker Carlson’s show often shows his baffled, seemingly constipated expression in response to guests explaining subjects with the hope that you too feel that angry confusion that I suppose feels at least a little like a turd that just won’t come out.
Unfortunately, Republican reactionaries aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But by understanding the game they play, we can at least do more to effectively counter it — even if debating them directly is a fool’s errand. Never expect them to be consistent, and ensure anyone whose vote can be swayed knows that they will dive headfirst into hypocrisy as soon as the right opportunity arises. We cannot allow this attack on critical race theory to last — both for the damage it does to the actual theory and because of how it is used as a cudgel. Republicans must be forced to reckon with their un-American censorship of ideas as they ridiculously accuse others of doing the same.