The Onion is Right Again: Black History Month & CRT-Bans Edition

I'm shocked, shocked, to find that this is happening here.

[I'm shocked, shocked I tell you!]

As has been covered numerous times at OTB, Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a new touchpoint in “the culture wars.” In particular, an increasing number of state legislatures have been turning their attention to regulating its presence in schools. Opponents of these measures point out that often the wording of said legislation is vague enough to enable parents and community members to target classroom content that goes well beyond traditional definitions and applications of CRT.

This week The Onion took these concerns to their logical conclusion when they ran the following photo headline:

School Calendar Jumps To March 1 After Critical Race Theory Ban Prohibits Month Of February

Sadly, we live in a world where someone out there goes out of their way to prove Poe’s Law correct*. Today AL.com reported on the following story: Alabama officials receive complaints about Black History Month as state debates CRT legislation.

As Alabama lawmakers look to take up multiple bills in the coming weeks that would ban divisive concepts associated with critical race theory, Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey on Wednesday told members of the House Education Policy Committee people are confused about what CRT is.

Mackey said he is hearing from people who call to report CRT being taught, but when state officials investigate, they find no evidence.

“There are people out there who don’t understand what CRT is. And so in their misunderstanding of it, they make a report but it’s not actually CRT.”

“I had two calls in the last week that they’re having a Black History Month program and they consider having a Black history program CRT,” Mackey said. “Having a Black history program is not CRT.”

The state board of education in August approved a resolution banning the teaching of divisive concepts in the wake of a national reckoning against critical race theory.

I am sure that all of our readers, like Claude Rains in Casablanca, are shocked, SHOCKED that this might happen.

The good news is that the State Board of Education correctly identified that Black History Month and Black history programs are not CRT. What is not so great is that the State Superintendent’s office has to field these calls in the first place on the topic. And one can easily see how adding further confusion of the topic, based on poorly written legislation could exacerbate this problem.

This report also begs the question, why is there a need for Statewide legislation if the state board of education has already enacted a ban.


BTW, if you want to understand what stands to be lost through such bans, Mississippi Today ran a wonderful piece of reporting that follows two law students’ experiences taking the only class on Critical Race Theory being offered in the state. One of the two students profiled is a self-identified conservative, who has an admirable and novel approach to the debate: she felt it necessary to be informed in order to have an informed opinion:

Still, Murphree wanted to know what the “hotly debated topic” was really about. “Law 743: Critical Race Theory” is the only law class in Mississippi solely dedicated to teaching the high-level legal framework. To Murphree, the class seemed like an opportunity — one she might not get again. 

“I’m either gonna completely agree with this, or I’m gonna be able to say, ‘No, this class is terrible,'” she told her friends. “The best way to have an opinion about this class is literally to take it.” 

If only everyone was willing to put in this sort of work.


* – Before anyone posts, I know that I didn’t get Poe’s Law correct here. But for the life of me, I cannot think of the appropriate made-up internet law. If you know one, please let me know below.

FILED UNDER: Education, Humor, Race and Politics, US Politics
Matt Bernius
About Matt Bernius
Matt Bernius is a design researcher working to create more equitable government systems and experiences. He's currently a Principal User Researcher on Code for America's "GetCalFresh" program, helping people apply for SNAP food benefits in California. Prior to joining CfA, he worked at Measures for Justice and at Effective, a UX agency. Matt has an MA from the University of Chicago.

Comments

  1. EddieInCA says:

    I don’t want to hijack this thread, but this is the very reason the Joe Rogan/Spotify imbroglio is so important. If people with big megaphones can’t be trusted to tell the truth, then they have to be held accountable for the misinformation. Rogan himself has spouted bullshit about CRT multiple times.

    Conservative media has turned the “CRT” into “Anything involving black people/history in education.” with very little pushback.

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  2. Matt Bernius says:

    @EddieInCA:
    First, I think all of the front pagers post expecting thread hijacks.

    Second generally speaking I agree. And in the case of CRT, what you describe was the specific goal that is main attacker Chris Rufio planned.

    “We have successfully frozen their brand—’critical race theory’—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category,” Rufo wrote. “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’ We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/06/19/critical-race-theory-rufo-republicans/

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  3. EddieInCA says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    While I see this as a short term win for bigots, long term it doesn’t seem to be a sound strategy.

    Or am I missing something? (Quite possible).

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  4. Matt Bernius says:

    @EddieInCA:
    Again, generally speaking, I agree. My concern is how long is the “short term” and how much damage and backtracking can happen in that time.

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  5. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I’m not sure that you’re giving our friends in the GOP enough credit for what they can accomplish if they put their minds to it. Right now, most Republicans probably think that CRT is a relatively new idea because it’s only come to their attention recently. Eventually some overfed weasel in a badly cut suit (and yes, I do happen to be looking at Ted Cruz; how did you know?) is going to look into to it and see that he can make the argument that CRT predates emphasis on Black History and Black History Month, so he can demagogue THEM too.

    (And I happen to agree that the Alabama Leg/Board of Education story IS an example of Poe’s Law; we’re just looking at this one from another angle in that the people who are making the claim/expressing the fear are the ones who can’t be parodied, not the BoE. The Onion’s parody is hilarious, but it’s not far off of claims that Black History Month is a ploy to bring CRT into the schools.)

    ETA: Having read Eddie’s and your comments, I’m not sure that it is a bad strategy unless the goal is to “expand the tent” for the GOP. I’m not sure that they can, but on the other hand, I’m also a little charry about how much the nation at large needs to be propagandized to accept “white power lite.”

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  6. Ken_L says:

    “I’m either gonna completely agree with this, or I’m gonna be able to say, ‘No, this class is terrible.’”

    I applaud her willingness to take the course, but deplore the false dichotomy which she believes describes the inevitable outcome. Indeed she doesn’t understand what a “theory” is, a characteristic she shares with many people who talk about CRT. It’s not something one “agrees with”. It’s something to be tested against empirical evidence, with a view to establishing whether it is valid, or invalid, or partially valid but inadequate, or useful as a working set of assumptions while acknowledging better evidence may prove it inadequate in the future.

    And I’m sure lots of Trump Republicans feel not only uncomfortable about the very existence of a Black History Month, but positively resentful and indignant. Why isn’t there a White History Month? Eh? EH?

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  7. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA: I don’t know. Control history and the national myths and you can control the country. Everyone prefers a comfortable lie to a complicated and often discomforting truth.

    I think the Serbian history that taught that they sacrificed everything to stop the expansion of Ottoman Moslems into Europe proper at the Field of Blackbirds in 1389 is a direct cause for the Bosnian genocide 600 years later. Did you know the Serbs would have been great other than that? Well, that’s ok, the Serbs know.

    Not sure there is a goal of genocide in this country, but teaching a feel good history that Blacks were freed in 1865 by the First Republican President, and then glossing over everything else means no one has to feel any responsibility for continuing structural racism now. Why are the Blacks still so far behind? I guess that’s a mystery, or just a lack of their own skills. Look, Clarance Thomas got on the Supreme Court and we had a Black President, pity that he was a socialist though.

    That seems like a pretty winning story right there. An ugly lie, but a really comfortable ugly lie. I’m not convinced most Americans wouldn’t embrace it.

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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ken_L: Why isn’t there a White History Month? Eh? EH?

    Because there are 11 white history months.

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  9. Joe says:

    “I’m either gonna completely agree with this, or I’m gonna be able to say, ‘No, this class is terrible,’”

    I actual took a Critical Legal Theory class (the root of Critical Race Theory) in law school in the early ‘80s. I mostly agreed with it, but didn’t really like it. It was a litany of explaining how every element of law and its interpretation – no matter the topic or other potential motives – could be shown to be a simple exercise of power by the status quo. While I think that’s mostly true and important to keep in mind, I found a lot of the reasoning to be tiresomely shallow and fuzzy.

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  10. Matt Bernius says:

    @Ken_L:

    I applaud her willingness to take the course, but deplore the false dichotomy which she believes describes the inevitable outcome.

    While I understand your perspective, my general approach is to cut her a break.

    It’s not something one “agrees with”. It’s something to be tested against empirical evidence, with a view to establishing whether it is valid, or invalid, or partially valid but inadequate, or useful as a working set of assumptions while acknowledging better evidence may prove it inadequate in the future.

    Yes, this is the textbook definition of theory. However, as with any number of terms, most people tend to use their colloquial meanings (much to the chagrin of people who care about given knowledge domains–particularly those who write blog posts).

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  11. Michael Cain says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Yes, this is the textbook definition of theory. However, as with any number of terms, most people tend to use their colloquial meanings (much to the chagrin of people who care about given knowledge domains–particularly those who write blog posts).

    No, it’s the textbook definition of “hypothesis”. The person in the street uses the two words interchangeably. Science doesn’t, which causes all sorts of problems. I occasionally make myself obnoxious by telling people who say, “I have a theory…” that they don’t, they have an untested hypothesis.

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  12. Matt Bernius says:

    @Michael Cain:

    No, it’s the textbook definition of “hypothesis”. The person in the street uses the two words interchangeably.

    Could you disambiguate the two for me? Because now that I’m rereading what Ken wrote I feel like he’s combining my understanding of the two things.

    Scientific theories are explanations of why something happens (i.e. theories explain why facts happen). And they’ve definitely been and can be tested.

    And I know a hypothesis is different (and comes before). But, to my point about inadequate science education, things get a bit fuzzy in that liminal space between one and the other for me.

  13. just nutha says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I was going to suggest that there’s no White History Month for the same reason that Children’s Day isn’t a holiday (at least here, some cultures DO celebrate Children’s Day), but your explanation serves our needs excellently.

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  14. Blue Galangal says:

    @Ken_L:

    And I’m sure lots of Trump Republicans feel not only uncomfortable about the very existence of a Black History Month, but positively resentful and indignant. Why isn’t there a White History Month? Eh? EH?

    Ask ANY public librarian how many times s/he has heard, “What about WHITE HISTORY MONTH?!?” when they’re putting up a Black History Month display. The number is some number greater than 0 x 10.

  15. Joe says:

    The number is some number greater than 0 x 10.

    Typo, Blue Galangal?