Outrageous and Unsurprising: The Republican Attack on American History


Photo courtesy Wiki Commons

Pretending that the most despicable parts of our history did not occur does not erase their stain and continued effects on America.

It’s Black History Month. It should be a time to celebrate icons while reflecting on the progress America has made in its continued struggle toward racial equality. In a tragic but familiar cycle of American history, progress made toward this ideal essentially guarantees backlash. Reconstruction was followed by Jim Crow. The Civil Rights movement was followed by a racially motivated War on Drugs and mass incarceration. The election of the first Black president led to the election of someone with a long history of racial bias and racist remarks. The racial justice protests of 2020 have been met by sweeping efforts to ensure history that is not taught honestly in schools, crippling the next generation of minds with a warped view of the American experiment.

Anti-History Efforts

According to Chalkbeat, an outlet that tracks developments in education, there have been efforts in 36 states across the country that restrict the teaching of history. These efforts often center on preventing children from being uncomfortable when they learn history. That mindset ignores that learning should not always be comfortable. 

The very nature of learning something new means challenging preconceived notions. Teaching kids honesty about history and racism is not telling white children that they are oppressors. It is, however, educating them about atrocities that have been committed, why they happened, and how everyone can contribute to a better world.

One of the familiar arguments against teaching about race, especially in, say, elementary school, is that kids are too young to learn about race. However, this argument neglects to mention that people of color already learn about how they are different, and will be treated differently, at a young age. As long as some students are learning, sometimes first-hand, that their skin color can lead to different treatment, schools should discuss that issue with students. 

Additionally, some of these proposals across 36 states veer even further in the direction of restriction of an honest telling of history. For example, according to edweek, A proposed bill in New Hampshire would ban teachers from advocating “any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America.”

These efforts are incredibly dangerous. America, and especially its founding, is filled with contradictions. A land where all men are created equal allowed people to be deemed property for centuries. A telling of history in which America does no wrong is deceptive, and a disservice to children. 

One example of the effects of such dangerous policy is on display in Oklahoma. According to Edweek, schools don’t know if and how they can teach about the Tulsa Race Massacre under the state’s new law concerning divisive topics. Exactly 100 years ago, a white mob attacked a prosperous Black business district and neighborhood, killing hundreds of Black residents and burning down homes and businesses. It was one of the worst racial terror attacks in U.S. history.

Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory is a graduate school level ideology. It essentially states that racism is embedded in the legal and governmental system, and explores the impact of this systemic discrimination. Despite claims to the contrary, this theory by its proper definition is not being taught to anyone in K-12. 

According to Pew Research,  the Republican party is 83% white, compared to the 60% of Americans who are white. Republicans have an incentive to cater their rhetoric and policy to their whiter party. Racial anxiety is a powerful feeling. Some white people who grew up in a country where whites hold a disproportionate amount of control and power view a diversifying nation as a threat to that power. So they are a great audience for the claim that “the schools are trying to indoctrinate your children to view everything through a racial lens”

Republicans seized on racial anxiety and have created a new political boogeyman, Critical Race Theory. They have described it as teaching that white people are inherently racist and oppressive, and that it teaches children to view everything through the lens of race. They also claim that this is being taught to children of all ages, including elementary schools. 

These lies have turned school board meetings into chaos, and Critical Race theory has already swung the Virginia gubernatorial election. In a state that hadn’t elected a Republican since 2009, Glenn Youngkin made “parents’ rights” his issue, beating his Democratic opponent Terry Mcauliffe who said. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach.” 

This one quote cost him the election and Youngkin proceeded to ban Critical Race Theory from being taught in schools. On its face, that seems concerning, but not terrible, as he is banning something that isn’t being taught. In a much worse step, he banned any “related divise concepts” (The Hill). Taking this attack on education even further, Youngkin launched a tip line for parents to report “divisive” subjects being taught. Instead of parents and teachers having a dialogue, he wants them to report teachers for teaching history. 

 “This is one of the most ludicrous things that I personally have experienced in my lifetime, is that you actually have lawmakers who are trying to outlaw the teaching of structural racism,” said Prudence Carter, dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, according to Edweek.

He continued, “The idea that you can’t even teach that means that you can’t teach the history of this country. You can’t teach the then, the now, nor the tomorrow.”


There are different purposes of this attack on history. There is the service level political aspect, as Critical Race Theory can be a scare tactic used to fire up the Republican base, following a long legacy of scare tactics. Claims that Democrats would “defund the police” were rampant during the 2020 election, along with the constant claims of “socialism.” 

This certainly could have an effect on the 2022 midterm elections and beyond, but there is another reason for this crusade against an honest telling of American history. It would allow white people, the primary beneficiaries from the structure established throughout America’s history, to continue benefiting from that structure, all while pretending racism is not an issue. 

The Beneficiary 

This attack is a signature modern Republican party tactic. By elevating a non-issue to an issue, you can distract people. And if you can distract them, hand them an enemy to hate, and say you’re fighting against this enemy, they will vote for you. 

And they will vote for you without questioning if you are really making their life better. Republicans know they won’t win elections, even with a rigged system, if they say we support making life easier for rich people and harder for everyone else. They acknowledged as much when asked about what their agenda would be if they recapture Congress. Senate Minority Leader Mitch Mconell said, “I’ll let you know when we take it back,” according to My Stateline

America knows their agenda. It was on display when they had control of the presidency, House of Representatives, and Senate during 2017 and 2018. They tried to repeal healthcare from 22 million Americans (failed), pass a tax cut in which 82% of the benefits were for the top 1% (succeeded), and reshape the judiciary with right wing judges (succeeded). They aren’t forthcoming about this agenda because it isn’t popular. Because their agenda is unpopular, they need to whip up fear and resentment. There’s a legal saying: “When you don’t have the law, pound the facts. When you don’t have the facts, pound the law. And when you don’t have both, pound the table.” 

What happens when feeding a base racially stoked rhetoric about people “taking overyour” country in a bid to win elections leads to that base becoming uncontrollable? What happens is January 6, perhaps the darkest day for American democracy since the secession of the South. This non-issue has become an issue, but we shouldn’t be fooled about the motivations of the public education-cutting, anti-childcare party that finally claims to care about children.