Critical Race Theory: The Right’s New Manic Proxy War and the Anchorage Group Fighting Back – Anchorage Press

Posted: September 8, 2021 at 10:18 am

There have been plenty of supply chain issues over the past year and a half. Concocting strange topics to fight about has not been a struggle. It is, however, becoming more difficult by the day to retain the attention of audiences needed for clicks, ratings, and winning elections. There have been overarching themes: anger over lock-downs and mask mandates; vaccine conspiracy theories; whether or not the person who lost the last presidential election indeed lost. But, underneath those meta-panics lies a constant stream of shorter flash-panics that often cause utter confusion.

The latest of these faux-crises brought a small gathering of Anchorage residents to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial on the Park Strip late last month. The emcee of the rally, entitled Truth in Education, was Roz'lyn Wyche, an Anchorage educator and the vice-president and co-founder of the Anchorage Coalition of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Educators (ACBE), a group committed to [championing] equity in education for communities of color in order to achieve equality.

Wyche knew what she was at the rally to object to, but wasn't sure what circumstances had led her to have to object to it in the first place.

Just like everybody else, I didn't even know there was a thing called 'Critical Race Theory,' Wyche told the small crowd. She had helped organize a rally to promote truth and equity in education, including more perspectives from people of color. Conservative media was trying to make it something distinctly different.

If the reader is unfamiliar with the term Critical Race Theory (CRT), that's because its novelty is what made it so appealing to right wing paranoia manufacturers during the aforementioned pandemic, replete with free time and internet access (for those who can afford it).

That's the position in which Seattle-based filmmaker turned conservative activist, Christopher Rufo, found himself earlier this year. Rufo told The New Yorker's Benjamin Wallace-Wells that he was radicalized after coming across Critical Race Theory texts, in which he found radical roots... [and] often explicitly Marxist themes.

COVID lock-downs afforded Rufo and his followers ample time to find more CRT content objectionable and inevitably decide that it was not a legal philosophical discussion, but anti-American curricula invading public K-12 schools and indoctrinating students. Soon, the internet brush fire was sweeping through the conservative ecosphere, percolating to cable news, before landing in local school board and city council meetings including in Alaska, where conservative blogs took Rufo's mental gymnastics and did what they generally do with those sorts of things.

Educators are being asked to pledge to teach what they deem is necessary regardless of any laws to the contrary, one such local blog opined, sans evidence, in advance of the August 28 rally. The blog called out Wyche by name (the comments section did much worse), in a post titled Activist Anchorage Educators to Rally in Support of Teaching Critical Race Theory.

NEA-Alaska president Tom Klaameyer

Back on the Park Strip, NEA-Alaska president Tom Klaameyer repudiated the claim: No school district in Alaska is teaching Critical Race Theory. NEA-Alaska is opposed to teaching Critical Race Theory in K-12 public schools. Klaameyer said he was frustrated having to even talk on the subject. CRT wasn't even on my radar.... I don't know anyone that even believes it ought to be taught in K-12 schools.

CRT is a world removed from the bogeyman it's being sold as, but it's definitely a real, legal scholarship. In the words of leading scholar Kimberl Crenshaw, CRT was formed to [challenge] the ways in which race and racial power are constructed and represented in American legal culture and, more generally, in American society as a whole. And while Crenshaw self-describes CRT as a race-conscious intervention on the left, developed mostly by liberal academics hailing from Ivy League schools, it is more a critique of liberal legal philosophy ranging from Brown v. Board through to today (the initial writings on the topic first appeared in the 1970s and '80s).

That CRT was so obscure (until it was appropriated and redefined) made it the perfect fodder for fear-peddlers in search of rage-bait. They needed something new, because the other trends (Dr. Seuss, Potato Head, the Muppets) were succumbing to flagging ratings. Rufo explained in his interview with The New Yorker that terms like wokeness, cancel culture, and political correctness had come to be viewed as too broad, too terminal, too easily brushed aside. Critical race theory is the perfect villain[.] CRT was employed because its obscurity could be framed as something, as Rufo put it, hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American. A catch-all with a fresh canvas.

Rufo didn't strike gold, but he found a lot of buyers content with his pyrite. In the short time since CRT's re-branding, fourteen states have passed racial and gender equity prohibitions into law, with at least ten more states entertaining proposals including a bill prefiled by Rep. Tom McKay (R-Anchorage) in the Alaska State House.

Lost in the manic proxy war are the students striving access to an honest account of American history. The cacophony decrying CRT as an anti-American reformation of education where white people are cast as an evil monolith belies the fact that students have been deprived of an honest depiction of the uglier parts of American history; slavery, the genocide of First Nation peoples, the Fugitive Slave Act, Jim Crow, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement and its backlash(es), to name a few. Honestly, how many readers knew about the Tulsa Massacre before HBO's The Watchmen hit?

As more and more people realize that the truth isn't being told in education, they want to make way for a change, Krissia Tuzroyluk, an Iupiaq high school senior from Point Hope, said. It should be a right for students to learn the truth. Yet, this is threatened by policy and lawmakers. And some are trying to keep teachers from teaching diverse topics and anti-racist topics. And it's what we see here in Alaska, too. The classroom should be a safe space where students learn the truth.

We have the ability to hold [this] nation accountable as we hold ourselves accountable with that eternal call for improvement, George Martinez, former Anchorage mayoral candidate and Director of Leadership and Youth Programs at the Alaska Humanities Forum, added. Asking those difficult questions, confronting the ugly historical facts, but moving forward embraced in perpetual hope that, on the other side of the pain, can come reconciliation, healing, and transformation.

There is no reconciliation without understanding history including the difficult parts and confronting it. That is what the Truth in Education rally, and the movement for a more fair, just, and diverse depiction of history as taught in schools is fundamentally about.

Our schools should be safe havens of exploration, free-thinking, creativity, and growth. And we don't avoid controversial topics just because they're controversial, Klaameyer said. We have an obligation to teach our students the unvarnished truth about the world around them so that they can understand it and successfully find their place within it.

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Critical Race Theory: The Right's New Manic Proxy War and the Anchorage Group Fighting Back - Anchorage Press

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