Last year, many across the South cried foul as cities dismantled statues glorifying Confederate war heroes, complaining that the history of the country was being erased.
Nevermind that the statues were erected decades after the war during the Jim Crow era, and were largely an attempt by white southerners to rewrite history. As a result, we still somehow refer to the Civil War as a conflict between the North and the South, as opposed to a conflict between the United States and secessionist traitors hoping to protect slavery.
Fast forward to today, and many of those same voices who spoke up against the erasure of history are now singing a different tune when it comes to teaching our children the real history of our country.
Critical race theory, until recently an obscure academic concept, is in the news (well, Fox News to be specific, which mentioned the term 1,300 times over the past few months) thanks to Republican-led legislatures across the country introducing legislation to ban it and other “divisive concepts” from being taught across institutions and in our schools.
“Critical race theory has been turned into a political cudgel by the right,” New York Times national correspondent Trip Gabriel said on a recent episode of The Daily podcast.
For now, let’s set aside the fact that the term critical race theory is being used incorrectly to lump a bunch of boogyman red-meat under a neat Fox News umbrella. These Republican lawmakers are fighting tooth and nail to prevent real history — such as the 1921 race massacre in Tulsa or the 1898 race riot and insurrection in Wilmington, N.C. — from being taught to our children.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed into law the “1836 Project,” an attempt to promote propaganda-sounding “patriotic education” about the state’s real history of independence. Think Abbott’s patriotic curriculum will teach that Texas fought for its independence from Mexico specifically to protect slavery?
“Slavery was the undeniable linchpin of all of this,” Bryan Burrough, the author of Forget the Alamo, told NPR. “It was the thing that the two sides had been arguing about and shooting about for going on 15 years. And yet it still surprises me that slavery went unexamined for so long.”
Just last week, Abbott’s government abruptly canceled a book event examining slavery’s role in Battle of the Alamo, literal censorship on free speech in the guise of patriotism. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called the book a “fact-free rewriting” of the state’s history, but when it came to taking down Confederate statues, Patrick said “most Texans do not support erasing our history.”
See the rub. These lawmakers want to keep history when it comes to elevating the defenders of slavery, but erase it when it comes to teaching our children about the real history of slavery in our country. If this isn’t cancel culture, what is?
Here are some of my recent cartoons. For more editorial cartoons, visit the Inquirer’s cartoon section.