You might be hearing members of the far right, including Christian nationalists, talking lately about “critical race theory” (CRT). This term refers to an academic approach to understanding America’s legacy of racism that is often used at the university level or in graduate schools.
CRT has been around for decades, but of late is has become the newest bogeyman for Christian nationalists, a catch-all term to attack any instruction about race in schools that they don’t like – and that’s most instruction about race. They want to frighten people into thinking that public schools are embarking on a radical social experiment.
Increasingly, Christian nationalists are attacking books and lesson plans that discuss our nation’s troubled racial history, labeling all of it CRT. Some states have passed laws banning CRT (even though it’s not taught in secondary schools) and a few have proposed measures that go even further, such as banning anything in the classroom that could cause students “discomfort.”
It’s a brazen campaign that Christian nationalists and their allies believe will open a new front in the culture war, but a recent poll indicates that the scheme could backfire.
The American people overwhelmingly reject banning books for discussing race, depicting slavery or criticizing U.S. history, the poll by CBS News shows.
The results weren’t close. Only 17% agreed with banning books that criticize U.S. history, and a mere 13% favored banning books that depict slavery or discuss race. Furthermore, Americans aren’t buying Christian nationalist attempts to whitewash history. Only 7% of those polled said they believe racism has not been a problem in our nation’s past.
Americans also understand why this material must be taught. Majorities across all political affiliations said they agree with the statement that teaching about race helps us “understand what others have been through.”
Of course, none of this means that Christian nationalists and their allies won’t make traction with duplicitous arguments. When Americans were asked specifically about CRT, most said they had not heard much about it. But among those who did, a vast majority of Republicans (86%) had an unfavorable view of it, while a large number of Democrats (81%) held favorable views. Among independents, 53% said their views of CRT were unfavorable, while 47% viewed it favorably.
These results may explain why Christian nationalists talk so much about CRT: It motivates their base, and it has the potential to sway voters in the middle. CRT thus becomes a blank canvas that religious extremists can fill however they like. In reality, CRT simply reflects the type of race education most Americans favor. But in the hands of Fox News and other agents of disinformation, it becomes a horrifying creature that stalks school hallways and targets innocent kids, making them hate America.
The CBS poll results show that most Americans would reject this gambit if they knew what was really going on. Our task is to make sure that they do.