Indivisible--Rufo's Third Grade Argument
The Origin of the "Critical Race Theory" Propaganda
Throughout the United States Republican legislators are using the magic words “critical race theory” to justify efforts to outlaw the teaching of legitimate subject matter in the public schools. (See Critical Race Theory??) The entire flap can be traced to one self-promoting journalist, Christopher Rufo, appearing on Tucker Carlson’s show last September. It appears that the Rufo/Carlson presentation of “critical race theory” as a dangerous idea spurred Donald Trump to ban the federal government and its contractors from offering “diversity training on racial and gender biases,” calling it “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
Rufo’s inspirational fear-mongering argument around “critical race theory” recently appeared on the Hillsdale College website. It is a transcript of a lecture Rufo gave at Hillsdale College on March 30, 2021, entitled “Critical Race Theory: What It Is and How to Fight It”
In his lecture Rufo leads off with several paragraphs detailing the evils of Marxist thought introduced by “In explaining critical race theory, it helps to begin with a brief history of Marxism.” Then, under the subtitle “What it is” he simply asserts that critical race theory “is an academic discipline, formulated in the 1990s, built on the intellectual framework of identity-based Marxism.” Having, to his satisfaction, established the evils of the discipline by association to communist thought, Rufo jumps to his master stroke: he lumps all modern efforts to improve race relations under his non-definition of “critical race theory” (the Bold is mine):
There are a series of euphemisms deployed by its supporters to describe critical race theory, including “equity,” “social justice,” “diversity and inclusion,” and “culturally responsive teaching.” Critical race theorists, masters of language construction, realize that “neo-Marxism” would be a hard sell. Equity, on the other hand, sounds non-threatening and is easily confused with the American principle of equality. But the distinction is vast and important. Indeed, equality—the principle proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, defended in the Civil War, and codified into law with the 14th and 15th Amendments, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965—is explicitly rejected by critical race theorists. To them, equality represents “mere nondiscrimination” and provides “camouflage” for white supremacy, patriarchy, and oppression.
Wow. That is a stunning leap of intellectual dishonesty that would merit an “F” on a high school term paper. Equity is the idea that helping people begin at the something like the same starting line promotes the equality declared by our country’s founding documents. To Rufo any effort to promote equity is a dangerous Marxist idea. With a breath-taking and incomprehensible further twist he then claims to be defending our founding documents and laws around civil rights from the looming threat of the “critical race theory” that he never defines.
He doesn’t stop there:
An equity-based form of government would mean the end not only of private property, but also of individual rights, equality under the law, federalism, and freedom of speech. These would be replaced by race-based redistribution of wealth, group-based rights, active discrimination, and omnipotent bureaucratic authority. Historically, the accusation of “anti-Americanism” has been overused. But in this case, it’s not a matter of interpretation—critical race theory prescribes a revolutionary program that would overturn the principles of the Declaration and destroy the remaining structure of the Constitution.
According to Mr. Rufo, promotion of equity is a threat to the very foundation of America! The rest of the lecture consists of un-referenced quotes snatched from their context with the sole purpose of demonizing all efforts to promote racial harmony and awareness of systemic injustice.
Mr. Rufo, never one to pass an opportunity for self promotion, goes on to take credit for his cleverness:
Last year, one of my reports led President Trump to issue an executive order banning critical race theory-based training programs in the federal government. President Biden rescinded this order on his first day in office, but it provides a model for governors and municipal leaders to follow.
Rufo’s leaps from Marxism to “critical race theory” to diversity training to the imminent collapse of capitalism and the American experiment is what passes for scholarship at Hillsdale College. (Hillsdale itself is a story for another day.)
The next time you read of the horrors of “critical race theory” or of the need to legislate against diversity training and the teaching of equity and social justice, remember Rufo and his specious argument.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. For me the flap over “critical race theory” bears a distinct resemblance to Christian Fundamentalist efforts to ban the teaching of biological evolution, like those immortalized in the classic movie “Inherit the Wind.” It should come as no surprise that Mr. Rufo was once the director of a wing of the conservative think tank in Seattle, the Discovery Institute. Unable to outlaw the teaching of the science of evolution in the public schools, the Discovery Institute is dedicated to the promotion of the teaching of “Intelligent Design,” a creationist construct. “Intelligent design” creationism is put forward as legitimate science under a campaign to “Teach the Controversy", when, in the biological sciences, no such controversy exists.
P.S.S. Christopher Rufo is propagandist and self-promoter well-versed in the techniques of the digital age. Google his name and you will instantly find multiple websites extolling his accomplishments and associations with supposedly august institutions. Take his bio at the Discovery Institute for instance. There he is lauded as the “former director of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty.” What does that mean? “The Center on Wealth & Poverty” appears to consist of a paragraph on a webpage that mentions homelessness. Is there even a physical office? At the Heritage Foundation Mr. Rufo is “a documentary filmmaker.” On yet another webpage Mr. Rufo is the director of “The Documentary Foundation,” a 501(c)(3) established in 2019. The Documentary Foundation consists of a webpage Mr. Rufo constructed to advertise four documentaries spanning from 2012 to 2019 for which Mr. Rufo was the director. I watched Mr. Rufo’s latest and most prominent documentary, “America Lost.” It chronicles the sad travails of a few struggling residents remaining in Youngstown, Ohio; Stockton, California; and Memphis, Tennessee as these towns undergo economic contraction. Rufo’s point seems to be to chronicle misery, not offer analysis or solutions. He mentions, for instance, that the steel mills in Youngstown have closed, but never hints at why they closed, abandoning their workforce to watch the town decay and property values plummet. I was reminded of “Seattle is Dying,” the Republican fear-mongering propaganda film that Nadine Woodward used in her campaign for mayor of Spokane. Elsewhere one finds that Mr. Rufo ran for Seattle City Council in 2018 as a “centrist” candidate that was “socially liberal and fiscally conservative.” His speech at Hillsdale belies that self-characterization.