Ray: Critical Race Theory’s Merchants of Doubt

Important context:

Protests over George Floyd’s 2020 murder were the largest civil rights demonstrations in American history. The brutal footage of officer Derek Chauvin’s suffocating knee on George Floyd’s neck led many white Americans to, at least briefly, acknowledge the reality of structural racism in policing. In response, corporations questioned their diversity policies, “defund the police” became an activist rallying cry, and books on anti-racism became unexpected bestsellers. A narrative arose that America experienced a “racial reckoning” that challenged white racism’s worst excesses.

Conservative media and think tanks, fearing a lost battle in the war of ideas over racism in American life, counter-mobilized. Morality plays need villains, and conservative activists conjured a caricature of critical race theory—a forty-year-old academic framework–as an ominous and pervasive evil. Conservative groups claimed their villain was everywhere—from the federal bureaucracy to elementary schools—and fomented a moral panic over anti-racist education. Pundits credited Virginia Governor Greg Youngkin’s win to his scaring white parents into thinking their children might learn about the nation’s history of white supremacy. Conservative lawmakers have exploited the panic, attempting to remake the educational landscape with banning so-called “divisive concepts” that might make white kids uncomfortable. Propaganda victories are victories, nonetheless. And killing the messenger can destroy the message (if you can’t beat them, ban them). “Facts don’t care about your feelings” has become a conservative rallying cry. But critical race theory’s merchants of doubt, by legislating against accurate teaching of America’s racial history, put their feelings over empirical facts.
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But victories aside, propaganda exposes its proponents’ intellectual bankruptcy. Conservative caricatures of critical race theory are unrecognizable to scholars familiar with the idea. According to the Washington Post, Christopher Rufo, the principal architect of the anti-critical race theory of moral panic admitted his crusade distorted the meaning of critical race theory when he tweeted:

“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. 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.”

Incoherence and confusion are virtues for opponents of anti-racist teaching. And Rufo and his fellow travelers are simply updating the misinformation campaigns targeting accepted scholarship that elements of the right have trafficked in for decades. Heedless of both the actual content of critical race theory and the human cost of their panic, conservatives turned to propaganda because the weight of empirical evidence undermines their ideological preferences.

In their classic book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, the historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway outline a series of propaganda campaigns designed to undermine the scientific consensus on many of our most pressing collective problems. Conservative scientists, politicians, and think tanks sowed confusion over the link between cancer and smoking, acid rain’s environmental impact, and civilizational threats over global warming. Conspirators exploited the structure of scientific inquiry—which contains inherent uncertainties—to cast doubt on settled facts. Conspirators also played the media, manipulating the false objectivityof both-sides framing to claim equal time for scientific consensus and quackery. The strategy of sowing confusion works not because anti-empirical claims are correct but because manufactured uncertainty is often enough to bring political action to a halt.

Anti-scientific campaigns, whether focused on acid rain or climate change, often relied upon a close-knit cabal of think tanks, funders, and individual scientists (who sometimes lacked subject area expertise). Corporate profits and individual livelihoods were at risk if facts about the harms of smoking or environmental crisis were acknowledged and regulated. For short-term financial or political gain, anti-science propagandists made progress on long-term collective problems difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. In the meantime, these propagandists profited as the harms from industries they were protecting were passed onto an unsuspecting and credulous public.

Critical race theory’s merchants of doubt use strategies similar to those of previous anti-intellectual propaganda campaigns. And like these prior movements, the moral panic over critical race theory rests on a weak intellectual foundation.

No serious analyst doubts that American society is rife with racial inequality. Yes, there is debate among social scientists about the cause of racial inequality. But the consensus among honest scholars is that racial inequality is a long-standing, complex, intractable, and pressing social problem. The empirical evidence on structural racism and the inequality it produces is massive, overwhelming, and hard to contest. From unemployment to life expectancy, it is difficult to find a domain of American life where Black people aren’t worse off. Critical race theorists developed a flexible set of tenets that showed how often seemingly neutral social processes reproduce racial inequality. And these tenets were so useful they’ve been adopted by scholars of education, public policy, and sociology. Critical race theory’s main principles—that race is a social construction and racial progress is fragile and easily overturned—have substantial empirical support.

Intellectual weakness on race matters doesn’t make the anti-critical race theory campaign any less dangerous. Desperation and ruthlessness born of knowing facts aren’t on their side may make the campaigns more treacherous. Accuracy isn’t necessary to terrify teachers into changing lesson plans and avoiding basic truths about the American past (and present) or mangling lectures to make understanding difficult. Teachers are worried that clear explanations of slavery and Native American genocide may run afoul of the law and have received physical threats for vowing to teach the truth about American history.

I’m hardly the first analyst to connect attacks on critical race theory and prior ignorance promoting campaigns. Several historians have shown the similarities between the Scopes Money Trial—perhaps the paradigmatic case of anti-intellectual campaigns in U.S. history—and the moral panic surrounding critical race theory. Adam R. Shapiro notes that “Darwinism had been around for about half a century,” when it became the object of conservative ire. Shapiro claims that it wasn’t Darwin’s theory, per se, that led to opposition. The scientific consensus around Darwinism was representative of larger cultural trends that worried conservatives. Evolution stood in for a broad swath of economic, cultural, and political changes. The backlash to critical race theory is driven by a similar set of fears of lost white prerogative amidst cultural and demographic change.

Historical connections between the Scopes Monkey Trial and the current moral panic aren’t simply analogies. Christopher Rufo, who has been credited with taking the moral panic mainstream, is a former employee of the anti-evolution Discovery Institute. Perhaps better described as an anti-think tank, the Discovery Institute promotes misinformation around evolutionary theory, arguing that in place of the scientific consensus, schools should “teach the controversy.” Of course, there is little controversy among biologists aside from what the Discovery Institute itself foments. Claiming there is a scientific controversy where none exists muddies the waters, allowing unscrupulous actors to push their political agenda. Conspiracy theories travel in packs, and the Discovery Institute also promotes climate change denial and raises questions about the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

Ideas from critical race theory can help explain moral panic. Moral panics are immoral exercises, designed to create group cohesion, target ideological or political enemies, and shape norms. Critical race theorists draw attention to structural racism to find solutions to racial inequality. Critical Race Theorists maintain that structural racism is a profitable political system for the system’s beneficiaries. Finding solutions to climate change and tobacco addition threaten those who benefit from emissions and smoking. And finding solutions to racial inequality threatens those who benefit from structural racism. 2020’s protests put these beneficiaries on notice, so it’s no surprise they responded to defend their interests. Banning teaching about racism is a justification of existing racial inequality and a prelude to producing more. Barring teaching about diversity distorts basic facts about American life and creates the idea that difference is strange or dangerous.

Legislators claim they want to stop divisive teaching and are worried about lessons that demonize white people. But what is more divisive than outlawing basic descriptive facts about American history? Critical race theory doesn’t demonize white people. But by blocking teaching about America’s segregationists, eugenicists, and white citizen councilors, legislators may end up demonizing themselves. Dr. King warned about the dangers of this racial ignorance when he said, “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”

Academic knowledge production depends upon good faith and verifiable fact. And when facts about structural racism make their way into the schools, they ban books and threaten teachers. It makes collective problems harder to solve.

Source: Critical Race Theory’s Merchants of Doubt

Quebec’s Conservative party surges in the polls as some of its candidates spread conspiracy theories

To watch. May make Quebec’s provincial election more interesting but more worrisome:

When Éric Duhaime took over as leader of the Quebec Conservatives last year, the party had never held a seat in the legislature, never been invited to a major debate and never raised more than $60,000 in donations in any given year.

It was, basically, a fringe party, unaffiliated with the federal Conservatives and considered too libertarian for most Quebec voters since it was formed in 2009.

In the last 15 months, though, Duhaime’s party has wrangled a seat in the legislature, started polling near 20 per cent. It has racked up nearly $500,000 in donations this year alone.

Source: Quebec’s Conservative party surges in the polls as some of its candidates spread conspiracy theories

UK Conservative Leadership: Sunak’s hardline immigration plan includes a cap on refugees and floating detention centres for asylum seekers

Of note as the two contenders compete for the anti-immigration vote:

Rishi Sunak has sparked outrage as he set out a hardline plan to deal with immigration if he becomes prime minister. The package features a cap on annual refugee numbers and the withholding of aid from some of the world’s poorest countries if they refuse to take back failed asylum seekers.

The former chancellor, who is trailing Liz Truss in polls of Conservative Party members in the current leadership election, said he would ramp up the controversial plan to operate deportation flights to Rwanda and that he would seek to establish similar schemes with other countries

And he said he would bar anyone arriving by small boat across the Channel from remaining in the UK – despite the fact that the majority of unauthorised arrivals are currently awarded asylum status.

Meanwhile, Ms Truss has also doubled down on support for the controversial plan, calling it the “right” policy and indicating she could extend the scheme further.

“I’m determined to see it through to full implementation, as well as exploring other countries that we can work on similar partnerships with. It’s the right thing to do,” she told the Mail on Sunday.

Source: Sunak’s hardline immigration plan includes a cap on refugees and floating detention centres for asylum seekers

Britain’s Surprisingly Diverse Tories

Significant, with interesting contrast with the base:

Fed up with Boris Johnson, Britain needs a new prime minister. It’s so fed up, in fact, that the next prime minister may look nothing like Johnson—that is, white, male, privately educated. The last time the Conservatives held a leadership contest, in 2019, the field of 10 contenders contained just one person of an ethnic-minority background and only two women. This time is remarkably different. Of those originally in contention, half were of ethnic-minority backgrounds and half were women. Until today’s initial selection, Britain could have had in Rishi Sunak or Suella Braverman its first Asian prime minister, in Kemi Badenoch its first Black prime minister, or in Nadhim Zahawi its first Kurdish and Muslim prime minister. (Zahawi has been eliminated, but Sunak, Braverman, and Badenoch remain in a field of six hoping to advance to the final stage of voting, slated for September 5.)

That such milestones could be achieved by a distinctly right-of-center party may seem odd—ironic, even—given the international left’s perceived patent on diversity and multiculturalism. But in Britain, the Conservatives have the best track record of political firsts, including the first Jewish prime minister in Benjamin Disraeli and the first female prime minister in Margaret Thatcher. Sajid Javid, whose recent resignation as health secretary led to the flood of Tory ministerial departures that toppled Johnson, was not only the first British Asian to put himself forward for the position of prime minister in 2019 but also the first ethnic-minority chancellor and home secretary. The Conservatives have produced the first female home secretary of an ethnic-minority background, the first Black chairman of one of Britain’s major political parties, and the first Muslim to attend the cabinet.

Conservatives haven’t always championed diversity in this way. Although the party elected its first lawmaker of Asian descent, Mancherjee Bhownaggree, in 1895, it would take nearly a century to do so again, this time with the election of Nirj Deva in 1992. Britain didn’t get its first British Asian woman in the House of Commons until in 2010 (when two were elected at once). Only five years ago did a British Asian ascend to one of the great offices of state for the first time (with Javid’s appointment as home secretary in 2018).

I reached out to Sunder Katwala, the director of British Future, a think tank that specializes in ethnicity and identity, to understand why the Conservative Party in particular has led Britain to this historic moment and what it reveals about the country’s sense of self.

“The pace of change of this development is absolutely extraordinary,” he said. In his view, this Conservative field represents “probably the most ethnically diverse contest for party leadership that has been seen in any major party in any democracy. For a party of the right of center, it’s off the scale.”

Diversity, after all, is generally regarded as a progressive shibboleth, not a Tory one. But as Katwala told me, this shift in representation among Conservatives did not happen organically but was the result of a years-long effort spurred by the former Conservative leader and prime minister David Cameron. When Cameron took over in 2005, the party claimed just two ethnic-minority members of Parliament, and he set out to ensure that his party more closely resembled the modern Britain it hoped to lead.

The next year, Cameron introduced a priority list of female and ethnic-minority candidates to be selected, many for safe Conservative seats. By the next election, the number of Conservative female MPs had risen from 17 to 49, and ethnic-minority MPs had increased from two to 11. Today, those figures stand at 87 and 22, respectively. By diversifying his party “at the top and from the top,” Katwala said, Cameron succeeded in transforming its image as a seemingly more inclusive and representative party, even if, in reality, it continued to lag behind the Labour Party in the diversity of its parliamentary caucus. In the House of Commons, more than half of Labour’s nearly 200 MPs are women and 41 are of ethnic-minority backgrounds—although Labour has so far failed to elect a woman or minority leader.

But Cameron’s diversity from above has not trickled down, and the Tory grass roots remain overwhelmingly male and white. Nor has the change of image necessarily resulted in more minority votes. During the last general election, the Conservatives stayed stuck at roughly 20 percent of the ethnic-minority vote compared with Labour’s 64 percent.

According to the party’s critics on the left, the Tories’ embrace of diversity among their senior ranks has hardly made Conservative politics more progressive either. Many of the party’s ethnic-minority leadership hopefuls are, in fact, among its most hard-line politicians on policy issues such as immigration, Brexit, and the rights of transgender people. The multicultural composition of the current leadership field seems only to have consolidated support for the Johnson government’s harsh plan of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda in a bid to deter illegal migration—a policy all of the candidates back.

Faiza Shaheen, an economist specializing in inequality and social mobility and a former Labour Party parliamentary candidate, told me that the prevailing belief in progressive circles is that increased diversity naturally leads to policies that benefit the most disadvantaged communities. She regards this belief as misguided because the benefits have not materialized—rather, the reverse. “You have this weird conundrum when you have more Black and brown people in senior, powerful positions, but policies that disproportionately hurt people of color,” she told me. Shaheen also pointed out that although the Conservative Party has made progress in achieving more ethnic diversity, social class and economic status remain significant dividing lines between those with access to power and those without.

Another part of the paradox of the Tory leadership contest is that although the contenders themselves are representative of a more diverse Britain, the voters will be that far less diverse electorate of roughly 200,000 Conservative Party members. Still, notes Katwala, many of the leadership contenders’ personal stories offer an optimistic, patriotic view of Britain that goes down well with the party faithful.

“There is no doubt at all that the Conservative Party membership can vote for an Asian or Black candidate,” he said. “The only people who doubt that are liberal progressives who are projecting assumptions and stereotypes onto the Tory Party membership, and maybe onto the voters that switch to the Conservatives at the general election, to say, ‘They won’t do that.’”

The latest leadership polling of party members, which puts Badenoch and Sunak among the top contenders to the front-runner Penny Mordaunt, shows that they’d have very little hesitation about doing so.

Source: Britain’s Surprisingly Diverse Tories

Tories break ranks on immigration to demand safe routes to UK for asylum seekers

Potentially significant:

Senior Tories have demanded a radical overhaul of the asylum system to allow migrants to claim refuge at UK embassies anywhere in the world – rather than having to travel to the UK – in a bid to cut the numbers attempting dangerous Channel crossings.

Ex-cabinet members David Davis and Andrew Mitchell are among those calling for the change, which marks a stark challenge to the punitive approach taken by Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, who are demanding tighter controls on French beaches and are threatening to “push back” small boats at sea.

Mr Davis, the former shadow home secretary and Brexit secretary, and Mr Mitchell, the former international development secretary, also poured scorn on the home secretary’s plan to take on powers through her Nationality and Borders Bill to send migrants arriving in the UK to camps in third countries overseas for processing – something that has already been ruled out by Albania after it was named as a potential destination.

Writing for The Independent, Pauline Latham, a Conservative member of the Commons International Development Committee, said that allowing migrants to claim asylum at embassies abroad was “the only viable alternative to the tragedy of deaths in the Channel and the chaos of our current approach”.

Twenty-seven migrants, including three children and a pregnant woman, drowned off the coast of France in November when their boat sank, marking the single biggest loss of life of the crisis so far.

The Home Office is opposing an opposition amendment to the borders bill, due for debate in the House of Commons this week, which would allow migrants to seek “humanitarian visas” in France, allowing them to be transported safely across the Channel to claim asylum.

Source: Tories break ranks on immigration to demand safe routes to UK for asylum seekers

Stephens: What Should Conservatives Conserve?

Of interest and relevance even if the conclusion is likely over-optimistic:

In 1990, V.S. Naipaul delivered a celebrated lecture on the subject of “Our Universal Civilization.” The Berlin Wall had fallen, liberal democracy was ascendant, and Naipaul wanted to reflect on what the universal civilization — by which he meant the West — meant for someone like him, a Hindu son of colonial Trinidad who had made his way “from the periphery to the center” to become one of the great novelists of his time.

Naipaul intended his lecture as a celebration of the West. But he sensed an undercurrent of disquiet, which he found expressed in Nahid Rachlin’s 1978 novel, “Foreigner.” The book is about an Iranian woman who works in Boston as a biologist and seems well assimilated to American life. But on a return visit to Tehran she loses her mental balance and falls ill. The cure, it turns out, is religion.

“We can see that the young woman was not prepared for the movement between civilizations,” Naipaul observed, “the movement out of the shut-in Iranian world, where the faith was the complete way, filled everything, left no spare corner of the mind or will or soul, to the other world, where it was necessary to be an individual and responsible.”

I’ve been thinking of Naipaul and Rachlin while reading Sohrab Ahmari’s new book, “The Unbroken Thread.” Ahmari, now the op-ed editor of The New York Post, is a friend and former colleague with whom I’ve had a political falling out. About three years ago, he made an abrupt switch from being a NeverTrump conservative, railing against the new illiberalism, to being something of a new illiberal himself, railing against “nice” conservatives who, he believes, fail to appreciate that rights-based liberalism is a sucker’s game that only the left can win.

Ahmari’s elegantly written book matters because it seeks to give moral voice to what so far has mainly been a populist scream against the values of elite liberalism, above all its disdain for limits, from moral taboos to national borders to religious rituals. His device is a series of capsule biographies of important thinkers — Confucius, Seneca, Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Andrea Dworkin, among others — who led richer lives by observing and celebrating the limits.

There’s much to admire here, particularly in the fact that many of Ahmari’s exemplars chose the lives they did, swimming against the current of their times.

The same might be said of Ahmari himself, an immigrant from Iran who arrived in America in impoverished circumstances, rose swiftly up the ranks of conservative intelligentsia, bounced between Seattle, Boston, London and New York, converted to Catholicism and switched from neoconservatism to paleoconservatism — all by his mid-30s.

It’s a trajectory that resembles Naipaul’s. But Ahmari has a political purpose at odds with the personal one. He’s grown disenchanted with the society that has provided him with such a bounty of choice.

He frets that his son will grow up to become a member of a ruthlessly meritocratic but spiritually vacuous Western elite. He mourns North Dakota’s decision to abandon its blue law against doing business on Sundays. He laments that the “American order enshrines very few substantive ideals I would want to transmit to my son.”

In short, Ahmari, rather like the protagonist in Rachlin’s novel, thinks it would be better to put some limits on choice, not just for himself but for others as well.

There’s a charge of hypocrisy to be made here, to which Ahmari partially owns up. What he doesn’t mention is that his admiration for the unflinching high-mindedness of a Heschel or an Aquinas somehow didn’t stop him from becoming a late but enthusiastic convert to the cult of Donald Trump — that is, of the hedonistic bully.

But the larger charge against Ahmari’s book is its failure of moral and political imagination. Choice is no enemy of morality. It’s a precondition for it. It’s why, theologically speaking, temptation must exist. It’s why America, for all of its flaws, tends toward a certain kind of easygoing decency. It’s also why virtue-obsessed countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia tend to be so publicly brutal and so privately corrupt.

Ahmari’s larger falsehood is that the American order transmits few substantive ideals. “This idea of the pursuit of happiness is at the heart of the attractiveness of the civilization to so many outside it or on its periphery,” Naipaul said in that speech.

“So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism.”

Today, what remains of conservative intelligentsia is split. On one side are those who think that what conservatism should revert to is a kind of anti-liberalism, in the reactionary 19th-century European tradition. On the other, there are those who believe that the purpose of American conservatism is to conserve the substantive principles of 1776 — that is, of the open mind and the ever more open society.

Naipaul could have set Ahmari straight: The universal civilization “is known to exist, and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/03/opinion/what-should-conservatives-conserve.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Huq: The Conservative Case Against Banning Critical Race Theory

Good questioning conservative “snowflake” discomfort:

By the end of June, 29 Republican-led state legislatures had considered and nine had enacted laws to penalize schools or teachers teaching critical race theory(CRT). Whether or not such laws would stifle anything taught in public schools today is uncertain because existing legislative control over curricula is already extensive. But the war against CRT is spilling into new arenas: Florida’s anti-CRT law forces colleges to survey how “competing ideas and perspectives” are presented, threatening funding cuts if a university is “indoctrinating.”

A paradox lies at this largely conservative campaign against CRT. If you slice through the rhetoric, it rests on a view of free speech that the political right, until now, stridently and correctly rejected: That speech can and should be curtailed because it makes some people feel uncomfortable or threatened. As a result, perhaps the most powerful argument against CRT’s critics is located on the political right, particularly in a recent opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, one of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court.
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Consider first how varied and inconsistent the portrayals of CRT on offer are. The Republic Study Committee defines CRT as a belief in “racial essentialism.” In contrast, Ellie Krasne of the Heritage Foundation postulates that CRT is “rooted in Marxism,” and so defines race as “a social construct, enforced by those in power (white men).” Similarly, the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo talks of CRT as “identity-based Marxism.” He detects it whenever terms such as “social justice” and “diversity and inclusion” are used, and so sees it “permeat[ing] the collective intelligence and decision-making process of American government” in advance of a socialist uprising.

Turn to the newly-minted laws, and one finds yet other, quite different depictions. Florida’s, for example, defines it as any “theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice.” Idaho’s characterizes CRT as teaching that treats people as “inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same … race.”

These definitions of CRT can’t be reconciled. None offer clear guiderails to what precisely it means to ban CRT—No more talk of race as an identity? No discussion of laws or institutions that create racial stratification? Taken literally, some of the definitions also extend absurdly far. Florida’s could prohibit Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economist Gary Becker’s work on discrimination, because Becker identifies market concentration and education (not “merely” prejudice) as causal predicates of discrimination.

Perhaps it’s a mistake to look for a stable definition of CRT threading together the case against it. For at the core of the case against CRT is instead the simple idea that people shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable about their advantages or others’ disadvantages. This is a version of the “belief in a just world” that psychologists long ago identified. But here it has a partisan edge: it is about appealing to people—especially those in “swing districts” targeted by Republicans in 2022—who feel unease in their present relative advantage, but find it costly to dissect such discomfort.

Both the Idaho and the Florida laws target suggestions that someone should be responsible for disadvantages now faced by Blacks and other minorities, beyond a narrowly defined coterie of ‘bad’ discriminators. Similarly, Krasne centrally objects to being made to feel that she is “an enemy of all that is good.” Rufo complains in a similar vein about people having to write “letters of apology”—since whites have nothing to feel culpable about. As one (white) letter writer to the Laconia Daily Sunplaintively said, the problem with CRT is that it surfaces the possibility of “systems and rules that work in my favor, benefiting me every day, month and year, that are not available to anyone else in America.” Indeed.

The case against CRT, in short, is not about a fixed set of ideas. It is about wanting to avoid certain feelings of discomfort or even shame. But the right has encountered this idea before—and seemed not to like it. Until recently, commentators on the political right have claimed that universities are captured by “leftist” students who “don’t think much” about free speech, or who “don’t want to be bothered anymore by ideas that offend them.” A “jargon of safety” in universities, complained commentator Megan McCardle, is then used to “silence” those who don’t agree.

Conservatives disparage arguments made by “snowflake” college students. But the case against CRT is made of the same stuff. As such, it is subject to the same response. Hence, in a recent opinion concerning off-campus student speech, Justice Alito explained why a student’s crude rant about being excluded from a cheerleading squad could not be punished in simple terms: “Speech cannot be suppressed just because it expresses thoughts or sentiments that others find upsetting.” This is indeed the law: The Supreme Court has not allowed the state to prohibit or punish speech because it riles up an audience since 1951.

The idea that audience discomfort provides a justification for censorship, that is, is at profound odds with our free speech tradition. The case against CRT shows why: Because it turns on how an audience feels, this argument for speech bans has an indefinite, elastic quality, one that accommodates an endlessly voracious appetite for censoriousness. One of the lessons of the CRT debate, indeed, is that offense can and is taken at indubitably true facts. In many educational contexts, this would mean that either side of a hot-button issue would have the right to shut the other down.

Ironically then, if there is a lesson to be learned from the war on CRT, it has nothing to do with how to talk about race—and everything with how the Trumpian revolution continues to devour the principles of American conservatism.

Source: The Conservative Case Against Banning Critical Race Theory

Regg Cohn: When it comes to recognizing Islamophobia, some Conservatives recognize that words matter

Of note:

A massacre changes everything. And, sometimes, nothing.

Four years ago, in the face of a Quebec mosque attack that killed six Muslims at prayer, the federal Conservatives closed their eyes and their hearts to the reality — literally — of Islamophobia.

Then-leader Andrew Scheer led the charge against uttering the word Islamophobia. He relied on a pretext of free speech so specious as to be unspeakable today.

What a difference leadership makes — a change of leaders, a change of mind, a change of heart. And another massacre.

Much is being said, now, about how Scheer’s successor, Erin O’Toole, used the word Islamophobia freely and unselfconsciously after this week’s attack against a Muslim family that killed four in London, Ont. O’Toole showed the sensitivity and humanity that were conspicuously absent — in him and his party — back then.

What remains unsaid, however, is that not all Tories were so far behind the times that they were so overdue for change. At the very moment federal Conservatives were playing intemperate word games in Ottawa in 2017, their provincial cousins in the Ontario legislature were displaying tolerance and togetherness in their choice of words.

Then-leader Patrick Brown rallied his Progressive Conservative caucusbehind him to recognize and respect the term Islamophobia, unequivocally and unreservedly, in a legislative vote. How to explain the stark difference between federal and provincial Tories — and the subsequent about-face by O’Toole?

There is no single reason, but there is one common thread: Walied Soliman.

Brown and O’Toole are both close to Soliman, an influential lawyer and persuasive political operator who also happens to be a person of faith. For Soliman, as a Muslim, the massacres were also intensely personal.

“Islamophobia is real,” he wrote on Twitter this week. “Call it out. Call out anyone who doesn’t use the word. Call them out. Shame them. Cut the crap. Enough. If you’ve got a problem using the term you are part of the problem.”

Soliman has known Brown since they were both Young Tories in their twenties, and he later played a key role as Ontario PC chair, helping the party pivot toward broader community outreach. As co-chair of O’Toole’s leadership run, he raised the candidate’s game — and raised money for the campaign.

Soliman tells me he never raised the Islamophobia issue directly with either leader. Perhaps he didn’t have to, knowing that the mere fact that they know him — were thinking about him — might have influenced them.

“They came to their conclusions on their own,” Soliman insists.

But even if he didn’t have to say a word about using the word Islamophobia, they also had to look him in the eye. And they knew what his reaction would be when they said it.

“When they both started talking about it, there was this distinct feeling of happiness that I felt,” Soliman recalls. Even if it took O’Toole a lot longer to find the words, “The first time Erin publicly talked about Islamophobia, it made me very happy.”

It must be said that Soliman himself has been a target for vicious Islamophobia against the backdrop of leadership races and internal policy debates. As chair of the Norton Rose Fulbright law firm — where he has worked with Brian Mulroney, another early champion of tolerance — his high profile attracted slurs about a supposedly hidden agenda for Islamic sharia law.

“I’ve often wondered if my friendships were a burden, that maybe it’d be easier for them if I wasn’t involved, wasn’t a friend,” Soliman muses. But when a person is a friend or a neighbour, he inevitably has influence because “you see them every day, you see their humanity — that’s me.”

The old Conservative word games — the claim in 2017 that Islamophobia was a made-up word because it literally suggests “fear of Islam” — never made sense. Everyone knows what homophobia means to gays who faced discrimination and demonization for centuries, which is why Soliman encouraged Brown to march in a Pride parade.

Not every word must be taken literally. Misogyny means hatred of women, but it is often used interchangeably with sexism, referring to prejudice, discrimination and contempt. The term anti-Semitism is only about 150 years old, but “Jew hatred” goes back centuries and makes the point more powerfully.

The Muslim family killed in London this week had immigrated to Canada from the Islamic State of Pakistan in search of sanctuary. They thought they had found it here, only to be blindsided by bigotry and intolerance, police say, on the streets — on the sidewalk — of an Ontario city.

We live in a time of slogans and slurs. We cannot coexist in a world where words are weaponized or accountability is avoided altogether.

Hate crimes are rising, not falling, but there is a way for us to insulate and inoculate ourselves. It falls to our political leaders to show the way on civility and tolerance, lest we fall victim to the internecine intolerance that we witness in America today.

Democracy alone cannot protect minorities from the perils of majority rule. Only pluralism can preserve our common humanity.

Our leaders must say what needs to be said — on Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and discrimination that badmouth the “other.” And that lead to massacres.

Words matter. Leadership matters.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2021/06/09/when-it-comes-to-recognizing-islamophobia-some-conservatives-recognize-that-words-matter.html

In Fight Over 1619 Project and Nikole Hannah-Jones, White Ignorance Has Been Bliss—and Power

Of note, particularly the historical reminders and context:

Hell hath no fury like a white conservative confronted with the unvarnished history of slavery and racism in America.

For nearly two solid years, right-wing reactionaries have been apoplectic over the 1619 Project, a journalistic exploration of the indelible impact of Black enslavement on these United States put together by New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. The same angry mob has also attacked a heretofore obscure, four-decades-old analytical methodology for understanding the institutionalism of white supremacy and anti-Black racism called Critical Race Theory.

The white conservative rage has been prolific, producing two House bills seeking to ban CRT and other “anti-American and racist theories” along with legislation in about a dozen states. The Trump administration put out its own 1776 Report, meant to “correct” the 1619 Project—which the American Historical Association called “simplistic” and full of “falsehoods, inaccuracies, omissions, and misleading statements.” Now the mob is vilifying Pulitzer Prize-winner Hannah-Jones, getting the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to cravenly retract a tenured position offer, replacing it with a five-year professor of practice contract.

All of these efforts obviously aim to re-center the white supremacist historical fable that roughly 350 years of slavery and Jim Crow were unfortunate—but inconsequential—events in an America of full equality of opportunity, where any difference between the races could only be a result of Black laziness and white superiority. That fairy tale speaks volumes about how desperately reliant white supremacy is on maintaining white ignorance. You just can’t have one without the other. It’s that embrace of ignorance that lets these racists ignore the long tradition of mandated white ignorance they’re now trying to extend into the future.

“White ignorance,” according to NYU philosopher Charles W. Mills, is an “inverted epistemology,” a deep dedication to and investment in non-knowingthat explains white supremacy’s highly curatorial (and often oppositional) approach to memory, history and the truth. While white ignorance is related to the anti-intellectualism that defines the white Republican brand, it should be regarded as yet more specific. According to Mills, white ignorance demands a purposeful misunderstanding of reality—both present and historical—and then treats that fictitious world-view as the singular, de-politicized, unbiased, “objective” truth. “One has to learn to see the world wrongly,” under the terms of white ignorance, Mills writes, “but with the assurance that this set of mistaken perceptions will be validated by white epistemic authority.”

To challenge that epistemic authority with uncomfortable but verifiable facts about race and racism guarantees the wrath of those who are otherwise quick to claim “facts don’t care about your feelings.” The 1619 Project has required tweaks and corrections. But the wholesale discounting of the initiative by white conservatives, who ignored the sloppy, error-filled 1776 Report, is more than a classic display of hypocrisy. It’s a testament to how deeply critical white ignorance is to white supremacy.

In reality—not the manicured “reality” of white supremacist historical delusion, but bonafide existence—historical fact has always hurt the feelings of white supremacists. In response, they have consistently used self-serving lies of omission to make themselves feel better. Were they less averse to historical truth, today’s white conservatives might already know this.

They’d perhaps be aware that the United Daughters of the Confederacy—the white Southern ladies group that put up most Confederate monuments, including one explicitly lauding the Ku Klux Klan—released a 1919 manifesto in all but name demanding “all authorities charged with the selection of textbooks for colleges, schools and all scholastic institutions” across the South only accept books depicting the Confederacy glowingly. Conversely, those books that correctly identified Confederate soldiers as traitors or rebels, rightly located slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, depicted the figure of the “slaveholder as cruel or unjust to his slaves,” or “glories Lincoln and vilifies Jefferson Davis,” were to be rejected. The UDC ordered school librarians to deface books that were insufficiently praiseful of the Confederacy by scrawling “Unjust to the South” on the title page. Well into the 1970s, these rules dictated the history lessons taught to Southern children, both Black and white. The group’s rewriting of history to make slavery benign, Black resistance invisible, and white terror no biggie—also known as the ahistorical Lost Cause myth—is being re-engineered for this moment.

Modern complaints about so-called “cancel culture” and political correctness are also linked to white ignorance, allowing the know-nothings who wield it to deny the harms of whiteness while turning themselves into victims of overly aggressive Black declarations of personhood. Across the 1940s and ’50s, the NAACP campaigned to purge racist language from history books, targeting passages that extolled the KKK and references to enslaved Black folks as happy “Sambos.” In response, the Washington Post dismissed their concerns as “humorless touchiness,” an old-timey way of calling them snowflakes. One WaPo editorial stated that to “insist that Negroes be given equal rights with other citizens is one thing. To insist that their particular sensibilities entitle them to exercise a kind of censorship is quite another.”

It took the longest student strike in U.S. history, held in 1968 at San Francisco State College, to finally get collegiate ethnic studies, which have been under attack ever since. To wit, in 2010, Arizona legally banned Mexican American Studies until a judge forced the state to overturn the unconstitutional policy, while the perennial fight over textbook history in Texas led to textbooks that in 2015 featured a section titled “Patterns of Immigration,” stating “the Atlantic slave trade from the 1500s to the 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” In addition to a bill to prohibit the teaching of the 1619 Project currently making its way through the Texas legislature, conservatives in the state are trying to ensure minimal mention of slavery or anti-Mexican discrimination in textbooks and pushing legislation to create an 1836 Project to “promote patriotic education.”

“Do you want our Texas kids to be taught that the system of government in the United States and Texas is nothing but a cover-up for white supremacy?” State legislator Steve Toth reportedly asked his Congressional colleagues.

And here, Toth is doing what white conservatives actually do with surprising frequency, which is screaming the supposedly quiet part. It’s an admission that by merely telling the whole story and including all the facts, the long and carefully maintained narrative of white innocence—a kind of perpetual white alibi—is disrupted. White ignorance is basically just a “refusal to recognize the long history of structural discrimination that has left whites with the differential resources they have today” creating a fake “equal status and a common history in which all have shared, with white privilege being conceptually erased.” The intentional know-nothingness of white ignorance “serves to neutralize demands for antidiscrimination initiatives or for a redistribution of resources.” Instead, it holds that “the real racists are the Blacks who continue to insist on the importance of race.”

So we have Florida Gov. Ron Desantis declaring the 1619 Project is “basically teaching kids to hate our country and to hate each other based on race,” and Tom Cotton, who performatively introduced a bill last year to ban the 1619 Project in schools, complaining the initiative paints the U.S. as “a systemically racist country” instead of “a great and noble country founded on the proposition that all mankind is created equal.” Earlier this month, during a press conference for the Stop Critical Race Theory Act, co-sponsor Dan Bishop called the academic theory “a smokescreen for racism” and a “divisive ideology that threatens to poison the American psyche.” Marjorie Taylor-Greene, who of course was also there added, “These are the things that we overcame in the civil rights era and I’m so proud that we did.”

White conservatives only get real into anti-racism lip service when the reality of white racism threatens to blow up their spot. That’s surely why in April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona labeling the 1619 Project “activist indoctrination that fixates solely on past flaws and splits our nation into divided camps.”

“My view—and I think most Americans think—dates like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Civil War are sort of the basic tenets of American history,” McConnell said in remarks earlier this month. “There are a lot of exotic notions about what are the most important points in American history. I simply disagree with the notion that the New York Times laid out there that the year was one of those years. I think that issue that we all are concerned about—racial discrimination—it was our original sin. We’ve been working for 200-and-some-odd years to get past it. We’re still working on it, and I just simply don’t think that’s part of the core underpinning of what American civic education ought to be about.”

That sure is a long-winded way of advising folks to stick to the white supremacist storyline. McConnell is unwittingly offering an example of how, as Charles Eagles writes, “the powerful can make decisions that actually “strive for a goal of stupidity,” rather than for genuine education. Under the guise of protecting children, imposing an engineered ignorance protects the privileged by preserving the status quo and by releasing leaders from responsibility… Too much knowledge could lead to troubling questions and a loss of control of the classroom, and the elite feared the unknown results.”

The price for not adhering to those rules is that white conservatives (give it up for The Real Kings of Cancel Culture, everybody!) will do all they can to have you blackballed, legally banned, discredited and defamed. Jay Schalin, of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, a right-wing think tank that led the charge against Hannah-Jones, maligned the 1619 Project as mere “political agitation”—inadvertently suggesting he already knows the horrors of American slavery and racism are reasons to be furious. Schalin and his co-conspirators, to protect white ignorance, went after Hannah-Jones. It all brings to mind yet more ignored history, cited by Mills, about how the terms of enslavement included that “Blacks were generally denied the right to testify against whites, because they were not seen as credible witnesses, so when the only (willing) witnesses to white crimes were Black, these crimes would not be brought to light… Moreover, in many cases, even if witnesses would have been given some kind of grudging hearing, they were terrorized into silence by the fear of white retaliation.”

Silence was the end goal then, and it’s the goal now, as a means of preserving white ignorance—which is to say plausible deniability. But the work of Hannah-Jones and folks like Kimberlé Crenshaw, an architect of CRT (and so much more) are undoing myths that are difficult to perfectly assemble without the cracks showing.

“If Black testimony could be aprioristically rejected because it was likely to be false,” Mills notes, “it could also be aprioristically rejected because it was likely to be true.”

Source: In Fight Over 1619 Project and Nikole Hannah-Jones, White Ignorance Has Been Bliss—and Power

Conservatives Back Bloc Québécois Push To Make French The Mandatory Language For Quebec Immigrants

Pandering. Quebec already selects its economic class immigrants where it sets language criteria. Citizenship is exclusive federal jurisdiction which the Conservatives know and should respect. And the “decline” of French is more a myth than reality as it pertains to the language most often spoken at home, where immigrant languages have increased rather than English (see André Pratte’s https://montrealgazette.com/opinion/opinion-questioning-whether-french-is-in-decline-should-not-be-heresy):

Conservatives MPs voted nearly unanimously with Bloc Québécois members Wednesday in favour of making French the mandatory language for all immigrants to Quebec.

Bloc MP Sylvie Bérubé’s private member’s bill, however, was defeated — 147 in favour to 172 against — with the Liberals, NDP and Green Party members opposed.

In a statement, the Bloc accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly of failing to act to counter the decline of the French language in Quebec. “[They] have a big credibility deficit,” MP Mario Beaulieu, the Bloc’s critic for official languages declared.

Last week, Joly proposed several new measures to achieve what the government calls “substantive equality” of both official languages. Among the proposals, the federal Liberals proposed giving workers employed by companies under federal jurisdictions in Quebec the right to work in French, as well as those in other regions of the country with a strong francophone presence.

Right now, the Citizenship Act states that applicants aged 18 to 54 must demonstrate an adequate knowledge of one of the official languages of Canada before obtaining citizenship. The Bloc campaigned in 2019 to change the law so that those residing in Quebec need to demonstrate only knowledge of French.

The bill also suggested that anyone 18 to 65 should have to demonstrate their language capability.

Several dozen Grit MPs sought to register their objection to the bill en français.

Over on the Conservative side, less French was spoken but all but one vote — New Brunswick MP John Williamson — lined up with the Bloc.

Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu, who registered her support in French, told HuffPost Canada there are about 8,000 francophones in her Sarnia–Lambton riding, and they’re seeking a bilingual designation from the province to obtain French-language services in the region. “This is an important issue,” she said.

“I think it is important to protect the French language in Canada, especially in Quebec.”

As someone who previously travelled frequently to Quebec for work, Gladu said, she believes receiving services in French is particularly important.

“Our party supports strengthening the French language in Canada,” she said, “and we would like to see this bill go to committee.”

British Columbia MP Dan Albas told HuffPost Canada that he had concerns about the bill’s changing the maximum age for requiring linguistic knowledge to 65 from 54 but felt that the bill “warrants study at committee.”

That line was also repeated by Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus, who told HuffPost that while the bill has the commendable objective of protecting French, it might be hard to impose language requirements on those 54 to 65, “because the change can be difficult for new arrivals.”

That said, he added that his party believes the bill should be sent to committee and amended.

Pressed about his personal opinion on the bill, Paul-Hus said he was “before anything else, a Quebecer who is proud of his francophone heritage.

“And I want Quebec to remain that way,” he said, in French.

During a debate in the House of Commons last fall, Bérubé said her bill’s objective was to ensure that anyone who becomes a citizen and resides in Quebec can “integrate into their host society.”

“In Quebec, the common language is French. The purpose of the [province’s] Charter of the French Language is to make French the official and common language of Quebec,” she said. “Right now, a permanent resident who wants to become a citizen and reside in Quebec could do so without knowing a single word of French.”

‘Most immigrants who live in Quebec speak French,’ says Liberal MP

The Liberals’ response came from Soraya Martinez Ferrada, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship. She spoke of her own experience arriving in Quebec as a political refugee, and seeing her single mother and grandparents take French classes.

“We all received our citizenship before we could speak French. Today, my children and my cousins are all young Quebec francophones who work and study in French. That was possible in 1980, and I think it is still possible today,” she said.

Martinez Ferrada said the federal government is determined to help all newcomers obtain the language skills they need to integrate into their host community and noted that Quebec already selects its economic-class immigrants.

“Most immigrants who live in Quebec speak French. Census data show that, 10 years after they arrive in Canada, 90.5 per cent of economic immigrants, 71.1 per cent  of immigrants under the family reunification program and 84.3 per cent of refugees speak French,” she said during the bill’s only debate in November.

Montreal MP Anthony Housefather told HuffPost that he believes the current requirement — to have adequate knowledge of French or English no matter where you are in the country should stay that way.

“We live in a bilingual country and when becoming a citizen you should be able to do this in French or English anywhere in Canada you happen to live,” he said. “These qualifications for citizenship should not be different based on the province or territory someone happens to live in.”

Housefather added that the Tories’ position was “very much a reversal on previous Conservative positions on Quebec and language issues, which is consistently happening these days to compete with the Bloc.”

Tories have high hopes in Quebec

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has made no secret that his goal is to obtain 30 seats in Quebec during the next election. The party currently has 10. For the Liberals and the Tories, securing a large portion of Quebec’s 78 seats is often seen as a ticket to a majority government.

Manitoba Conservative MP Raquel Dancho told the Commons last fall in declaring the Tories’ support for the bill that the Conservatives were doing so because they have “great respect for the Quebec nation and understand the cultural importance of protecting the French language.

“The Conservatives are offering Quebeckers a serious alternative to the Liberals. We are the only ones who can beat them in the next election and form the next government,” she said.

But standing in either party’s way is a popular Bloc Québécois, which currently has 32 seats and, according to the latest Angus Reid survey, 29 per cent support among respondents, compared with 31 per cent for the Liberals and 18 per cent for the Conservatives.

The Liberals tried to quash a previous version of the Bloc’s bill back in 2018. Bill C-421 — as it was then called — was deemed by a subcommittee to be unconstitutional and non-votable. The Bloc appealed and a secret vote was held in the House that the Liberals — who had a majority of the seats back then — were successful in defeating.

Three years ago, things were different.

The Conservatives did not participate in the bill’s only debate.

Bloc bill riddled with errors, says lone Quebec NDP MP

Pierre Nantel, at the time an NDP MP, spoke in favour of the bill, saying his party’s Quebec caucus would surely have sent the bill to committee for further study if it had been given a chance.

“It is shameful and disrespectful for any Quebec MP to ignore the vulnerability and value of Quebeckers’ quiet nationalism and to fail to proudly defend Quebec’s distinct identity,” Nantel said in the chamber. (Nantel was later dumped by the NDP and was defeated running as a Green candidate in the 2019 election.)

This time round, the party’s lone Quebec MP, Alexandre Boulerice, told HuffPost the Bloc’s bill is riddled with errors and he doesn’t think his party’s support in the province will suffer because of the New Democrats’ opposition.

For example, Boulerice said, the bill doesn’t take into account future interprovincial moves, doesn’t make note that Quebec already gives francophones priority through its economic immigrants, or that it places an unfair and unnecessary burden on those that arrive as refugees.

“La fausse bonne idée quoi,” he wrote, in an email, loosely translated as a bad good idea, or a good idea at first glance.

Source: Conservatives Back Bloc Québécois Push To Make French The Mandatory Language For Quebec Immigrants