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Opinion | The divisive concept of truth

The push to ban divisive concepts in classrooms is designed to do one thing: kill real history and conversations that might bring us together.

Interracial people hands with stop racism phrase, fight against discrimination

It took less than a minute on Tuesday for the Alabama House State Government Committee to pass an amended bill which would ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” in Alabama public school classrooms. 

Yes, you read that correctly. One minute. 

It actually took longer to call the committee’s roll than to take the voice vote to approve the bill. And the whole scene – six white men hurriedly voting for a bill that even the sponsor can’t explain and dismissing the requests for comments from the committee’s two Black members – was like something out of a film about the Civil Rights Movement. 

But this is how government operates in Alabama these days. The ruling party – Republicans – does what it likes and cares very little about complaint or decency. Or right and wrong. 

To be clear, there likely would have been relatively little debate over the bill. The committee had held a public hearing on it several weeks ago and held extensive debate among committee members last week. That debate led to a rather substantive change – removing slavery as one of the divisive concepts – in the form of an amendment. 

But the new version of the bill hadn’t been discussed. It should have been. Everyone knew the bill was going to pass out of committee. Taking five minutes to hear the thoughts of your Black colleagues wouldn’t have changed that, but it would have shown them common decency and respect. 

But again, that’s not how we operate now.  

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Instead, we have a bunch of overgrown children trying desperately to one-up each other in an absurd contest to see who can be the biggest “conservative” – a term that has come to mean behaving like an unrepentant jackass to anyone who doesn’t believe, think and act in ways that make the jackasses feel 100 percent comfortable at all times. 

And now we have a bill that seeks to do that in public school classrooms. Well, I assume that’s what it does. And I’m left to assume because at this point, despite all the earlier debate and attention, no one can seem to explain in any semi-coherent manner just what in the hell this bill does. 

That includes the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Oliver, who would have had an easier time explaining the theory of relativity than he did explaining the bill he allegedly wrote. 

Of course, that’s because he didn’t write it. A conservative think tank wrote it and distributed it around to GOP politicians to use for pandering purposes. 

That’s all this whole thing – this uproar over critical race theory – is – pandering. It’s a completely fabricated crisis conjured up by one guy, Christopher Rufo, who decided anti-bias trainings could be fertile ground for outrage if portrayed in the worst possible light. When that got the attention he craved, he backtracked the supporting literature for the trainings to the critical race theory concepts discussed in graduate level college courses and decided the term would be perfectly divisive and could replace the fading “politically correct.” 

Rufo accurately told the New Yorker: “The entire movement came from nothing.” 

It has worked like a charm, because there is no safer bet than the one placed on white, conservative, middle-class Americans being easily offended by all things race. Even if they don’t fully understand why they’re offended, as with critical race theory. 

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The truly comical thing about it all is that when you actually do define the term “critical race theory” for people, in almost every case they agree with the concept. We do, in fact, have an issue with systemic racism. 

But that doesn’t matter, because that’s not what this about anymore. No, now, the fight is against the imaginary public school teachers who are indoctrinating children by telling little white kids that they’re racist because they were born white and telling little Black children that they should hate little white kids because their ancestors were slave owners. 

It’s as fictional as Oz. 

But no matter, those are some of the scenarios apparently banned by Oliver’s bill. This bill that an adult human has laid before his colleagues and asked that it be codified into law actually forbids Alabama teachers, and other employees, from teaching that an individual is inherently racist because of the color of his or her skin. Same for gender. 

If you believe this to be a problem with Alabama teachers, you don’t know any. 

But just to be sure, unlike Oliver, I asked the Alabama State Department of Education if any employee there had received a complaint in the last several years about a teacher advising or teaching students that one race is inherently superior, inferior or oppressive. Michael Sibley, the department’s director of communications, wrote back to say that no, no teacher has been accused of such as long as he’s been there. 

Sibley also couldn’t find records of any complaints alleging a teacher had stated, much less taught, that students of certain genders were inferior, superior or oppressive. He said there were no courses in which such concepts would be taught. And he said no complaints had been received about teachers telling students that they were responsible for the actions of their ancestors. 

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I’m betting there have been plenty of parental complaints about some schools not having enough teachers or textbooks or desks. Oddly enough, not a single bill about those issues though. 

Because this isn’t about an actual issue. It’s about racism. It’s about our country’s long, sad history of racism and how we’re making meaningful strides to address that history in a number of areas. Because people, especially young people, want to be better, kinder and compassionate. 

What these attacks are designed to do is stymie the very good, very necessary lessons and conversations we’ve been having about racism, racial injustices and the actual history of this country. That growth has to be stopped if a certain political party is going to survive in its current form. 

And just like Tuesday’s committee meeting, the only way to make sure that happens is to kill the conversation.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.



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