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“Critical Race Theory” Is The New Satanic Panic in Right-Wing Politics

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Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

This week brought “critical race theory” (CRT) into an even broader spotlight as politicians in two states, Virginia and Texas, have turned to using this term and the desire to keep so-called CRT out of the hands of impressionable children for political gain.

In many ways, both campaigns follow the same trails that the Satanic Panic of the 80s and 90s did. The morality of teaching white kids about race rides alongside the idea that a global satanic cult worked to abduct and ritually abuse children. But today, the leaders of the satanic-like cults are educators and library personnel who are indoctrinating children with books about Black lives, about racism, and about queer people.

Glenn Youngkin, a Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate, released a new ad this week. In it, a nice, white, blonde woman named Laura Murphy angrily enunciates into the camera, telling viewers that her son was haunted by a book he read in high school.

“It was some of the most explicit material you can imagine,” she says, “I met with lawmakers and they couldn’t believe what I was showing them.”

She goes on to explain that a bipartisan bill which would allow parents to see and have a say in what was being taught in schools had tremendous support until it was vetoed by current governor Terry McAuliffe.

“He shut us out,” she says, “He doesn’t think parents should have a say.”

She pauses for a beat.

“He said that!”

The ad never once mentions the book her son read which gave him nightmares. The book is the Pulitzer Prize winning Beloved by Toni Morrison. This classic tome haunted her son, a white boy, though conveniently, Murphy also fails to mention in the ad that her son, Blake Murphy, is now himself a Republican party lawyer. He read the book in an Advanced Placement class his senior year of high school and claimed to have had “night terrors” about it until the age of 19.

“It was disgusting and gross,” Blake Murphy told The Washington Post in 2013, when his mother began a failed campaign to get the book removed from the school district reading list. “It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it.”

Murphy’s ad, which claims that the bulk of parents in Virginia are supportive of a bill that would remove CRT from schools, fails in being truthful as well. A Fox News Poll, which claimed that a plurality of parents were concerned about CRT in schools, showed in its raw numbers this was not true: only 27% of those polled by the news organization were against CRT in Virginia schools.

The claims are patently false, both by Murphy in her ad, as well as by Fox News in their polls. But those who are on board with censorship are the same people who claimed censorship when Dr. Seuss’s estate elected not to continue publishing a small number of the author’s most controversial works. The “pro-information” political party indeed cherry picks the items worthy of their agenda and leaves out vital context in favor of leaning into the moral panic of CRT and historically accurate education. Where it’s “too hard” for white children to learn the truth of the past, though, the same moral panic doesn’t apply to children of color who’ve been systemically shut out, mocked, and harmed throughout historical and contemporary times.

Blake Murphy’s nightmares eventually led him to a powerful position within the Republican party, with his mother allowed to be the face of parental concern and outrage in Virginia gubernatorial politics. These “heroes” become a face to the cause, even if the cause itself is nothing but a boogeyman.

Meanwhile in Texas, State Representative Matt Krause, who serves as House Committee on General Investigating, submitted a letter to the Texas Education Association this week calling for an investigation into the books available in schools across the state. The letter, which included 16 pages of books, demands answers from districts about how many of the books are on shelf, how many copies are available, and how much money was spent on those books.

The Texas Tribune broke the story, noting that the books on the list aren’t only books aligned with the anti-CRT agendas as seen throughout both Texas and the country as a whole, but they also include a wide range of books featuring queer identities, award-winning books, and more. It’s a list with little rhyme or reason, and the letter itself was submitted both to the Education Association and an assortment of school districts, which appear to have been selected at random.

Baked into the letter and demands, which Krause says need to be responded to by November 12, are that leaders within the schools explore any other titles, too, which may be in violation of Texas’s House Bill 3979, the law which limits teaching of CRT.

There’s no guidance within the letter about what schools are to do with these books, and more, there’s little acknowledgement (purposefully, of course) the tremendous amount of money to be spent on staff time to follow through with the demands. While certainly the demand itself is outrageous and impossible even beyond its ludicrous two-week deadline, what should be made much clearer is this is all a game of politics.

Krause is currently running for State Attorney.

The vice chair of the committee, Democrat Victoria Neave, which launched the letter had no idea this was in the works, and notes that she believes it’s entirely a campaign tactic for Krause. She only discovered the existence of the letter after she was contacted by one of the school districts.

“His letter is reflective of the Republican Party’s attempt to dilute the voice of people of color,” she explained.

There’s nothing in the Texas law that says schools need to get rid of the books they have on shelves, but the wording of Krause’s letter, alongside the massive book list, is a tactic meant to intimidate and scare school districts into action while simultaneously giving Krause the opportunity to gain approval from the vocal white people opposed to critical race theory. Texas in particular has been a battle ground for censorship, with stories out of Carroll ISD, Katy ISD, Leander ISD, Lake Travis ISD, Irving Public Library, and more making both local and national news.

But by creating faux threats, paired with false information, Krause’s attempts to scare educators allows for parents to get wind of what’s going on and continue to show up and cause scenes at school board meetings throughout the state. He’s able to fuel his own political agenda while further igniting the fires already happening.

We’ll continue to see more stories like this emerge as we move into a new political season. It’s clear that the party against “cancel culture,” is using cancel culture to their advantage, decrying censorship when it’s convenient to them and calling for censorship when the white side of a story isn’t the only one offered. Perhaps it’s good little Blake Murphys have nightmares after reading books like Beloved. It’s certainly good that citizens, politicians, and journalists are calling out nonsense when they see it, too: certainly, Murphy’s “nightmares” had no impact on his rise in the Republican party, and certainly, it’s far easier to see that Krause’s letter is little more than a political stunt for his campaign.

This is the second coming of the satanic panic, rife with parents eager to use their children — and millions of children who are not theirs — as tools in a fight for white supremacy, as opposed to being given the opportunity to learn as widely as possible in order to develop their own moral codes.

Fired up? You can take action with our handy toolkit to fighting back against censorship. The easiest step you can take right now is to open the 16-page list of books from Krause’s letter and request your library stock the ones they may not already own.