Woke Critical Race Theory Panic!
As a rural white guy who grew up in a Christian conservative home, I find the new right’s obsession with woke intrinsically hilarious.
Ain’t it funny how the very people who are constantly yammering about being tough, masculine, real Americans are so terrified so easily?
Communism, socialism, critical race theory, woke anything — like, seriously, folks on the right, when did you all become such brazen cowards?
These weak-minded whiners are all like, oh noes, Black people get to have history too?! Wiping out most of the indigenous Americans wasn’t a good thing? God doesn’t really care about America or Americans? How can you say such horrible things?!
Oh no, call up Tucker Carlson and have him call a waaaambulance!
You honestly have to go back to old Joseph Goebbels (Tucker is America’s discount version, as Trump is America’s dumber Hitler), perhaps the most famous anti-semitic scumbag with a PhD, to find someone successfully pushing such brazenly weak-sauce fears.
What’s so incredibly sad about it all is that if you actually give a damn about rural, poor, traditionally-minded white folks, you just don’t fear critical race theory.
Instead, you embrace it. Johnny Cash would have, and he’s a freaking country music legend from back when country was anti-systemic and rural, not the suburbanite pop culture bastardization it is today.
For decades, lower-income white people have been abused by so-called leaders who deliberately prey on them. The real story of America is one of pioneers heading west to escape the power of a wealthy elite that had already stolen all the good lands back east.
Manifest Destiny and the entire push to the Pacific was part of a pressure relief valve used by wealthy Europeans to push the poor from that continent here in the first place. Europe, until it destroyed itself in the World Wars, was absolutely riven by peasant revolts. Wars and famines caused by elite mismanagement of lands drove millions of people to America.
Not wanting to share land and space with more than they had to, the mucky-mucks who had claimed space the previous generation hated on new immigrants. These Irish and German folks were pushed to take over former indigenous lands, then banks came to pull their homesteads into the national system, which exposed them to dispossession during rough years.
The story of most white people in American history is one of constant exploitation — we’ve been taught to lionize our pioneer roots so we don’t ask too many questions about why our ancestors were never assimilated. Worse, our wealthy masters back east.
Under the hood of America’s collapse is the artificial separation of Americans into allegedly distinct races. Wealthy white elites stoke racial hatreds to distract from the simple fact that their inherited or otherwise ill-gotten gains allow them to control the rest of us.
Billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates all got where they are through exploitation — they hit the jackpot in a lottery most of us are never allowed to play. They then hire marketers and paid sycophants to convince as many of us as they can that we can be rich too if we act and think like they do.
These dudes are just the latest generation to play this game. Slavery in the South was sustained by plantation owners who had the political connections required to organize the Confederacy. Millions of poor white people were told they were being conscripted to fight for state’s rights, including many of my own ancestors.
They were lied to. In the south, 40% of males died. In the north, 10% did. Few really died to preserve or abolish slavery — soldiers know that ideology means nothing on the battlefield.
Americans on either side of the Red-Blue divide are taught myths about the Civil War. In the North, the wealthy could pay someone to take their place on the battlefield. Immigrants from Europe were press-ganged the moment they left ships in New York City and sent to Grant’s army, where he and the other inept alcoholic generals on both sides wasted their lives in ridiculous frontal charges.
Lee, Grant — I say tear down all the damn statues memorializing a fake history of a wretched conflict. The only people who walk out of the Civil War with any true integrity are the former slaves first and the actual soldiers second, most fighting not for ideology but because they cared for the dude next to them. That’s the secret to armies — they hold together because the people in them are bonded to each other. In a real fight, ideology is the last thing on anyone’s mind — if it isn’t, they quickly get killed.
American history has been an unending string of atrocities committed by one group of poor people against another with rich cowards pulling the strings. Conspiracy theorists are absolutely correct to feel that powerful invisible forces control their lives, what they get wrong is thinking the system needs active conspiracies to maintain it.
It doesn’t. It runs on autopilot, constructed by people living decades ago. Every generation tweaks the system they inherit to adapt to changing times, but in America desperately needed reform has been delayed by a generation that refuses to retire. America’s senior leaders are generally over 70, while by then most Americans have had to stop working because of health issues wealthy people get better treatment for.
They aren’t conspiring, just living as they sincerely believe they have a right to. Under the hood of American society are a set of core beliefs dating back to the Puritan days that rich people do actively try to spread by spending money in the for-profit news media to attack ideas that threaten their ethos.
But this isn’t the operation of a conspiracy, just a rigged game that divides politicians and the media into distinct camps united by what ideas they hate. Facts and truth are spun, as facts and truths always are, by partisans who want to convince you to join their team. In a two-player game everything eventually becomes zero-sum — one side winning any round forces the other to suffer, so in effect all rounds are fought out at the same time, both sides digging in and finding new things to fight about.
The newest iteration of the stale old game is the right-wing media’s war on woke and critical race theory. Sadly, too many on the left are happy to mirror the right’s own rhetoric and use these terms as cudgels to beat their political opponents with, swiftly alienating non-partisans who try to avoid the two-party nightmare at all costs.
But on the right the vitriol is become more extreme all the time, mainstream Democratic party activists encouraging the Tucker Carlson’s of the world by letting them define concepts like woke and critical race theory instead of fighting back. People like David Shor, a renowned Democratic Party strategist, promote anti-strategic concepts like appealing to every voter all of the time instead of defending activists they prefer to shame into silence.
My writing on Medium has gotten me accused of being a woke secessionist by right-wing types —such accusations are part and parcel of the great scam. You must be either on the Left or Right, accepting the doctrines of the faithful published by approved team experts without question, hating on anyone who appears to have doubts about their integrity.
Partisans will quite deliberately misread and misquote you to gin up the rage that is so profitable on Twitter and Facebook. The left has it’s own flavor of this — go read Salon, Alternet, or Counterpunch for a taste — but the new right’s propaganda tends to flow farther because it uses simpler language and stories.
It also happens to be the propaganda that is inspiring acts of mass violence like the Capitol Riot and threats of a second civil war. The new right isn’t content with starting up a New Confederacy, their aim is to win control of the whole shebang, forever. The New Confederates are bound and determined not just to make Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, and Alabama permanently conservative, they want to force taxpayers in California, New York, Vermont, and Oregon to subsidize their corrupt states forever.
A college education unfortunately blinds too many of us to the real world pressures that drive outbreaks of bigotry like the one gripping half of America. Professors, mostly middle or upper-class white suburbanites, have a nasty habit of presenting America’s history as moving along arc always bending towards justice. They are too Christianized into a utopian worldview to realize their own vital role in making critical race theory the right’s new bugaboo — all they care about is asserting a moral high ground that can’t even exist in a pluralistic world.
This is why they fail to do the one thing absolutely required to actually make good on their promises of progress. They fail to fight back against the right-wing perversion of critical race theory and woke on the ground that maters: in the minds of the non-college educated, who are and for many years to come will remain the majority of Americans.
College-educated Americans are taught to believe that progress comes when lots of people protest and force politicians to pass better laws. This convenient myth elevates the always-temporary participation of wealthy white Americans in helping advance equality, obscuring how they then turn a blind eye to the inevitable whitelash that renders their achievements moot.
The South is today no less brutal to Black people than it was fifty years ago. White-majority states like Oregon, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maryland have packed their Black residents in under-served urban neighborhoods and turned the police loose on them. This leads to repression that intensifies whenever crime rates go up, pushing suburbanites to demand even more of the police, making them into counterinsurgency fighters by proxy.
Why? Because the political-media complex is cancerous. Police unions invest in media outreach to present their constituents in the best light — and why wouldn’t they? Few give up power or accept responsibility for wrongdoing that would expose them to consequences if they don’t have to. People protect their fellows, this is true of cops and gangs alike, each form of organization serving a vital function in someone’s life.
Behind the assault on critical race theory and woke politics is a set of misaligned media interests connected to a broken political system. Right wing types are latching onto whatever will scare and mobilize their audiences, left wing personalities look at that and tell their audience war is coming, and so it does.
To break this feedback loop it is vital to start talking about critical race theory and woke thinking in terms people who barely made it through high school can understand. That’s the only way to split the sane people who rely on right-wing media because it’s the only kind willing to speak their language from those who are truly in it for love of power — the real Trumpists.
So, about conservatives — you might not know that there are a lot of different flavors of conservative thought.
The idea of the modern welfare state came from conservatives who realized it’s much better to pay poor people to stay at home than have them riot in the streets, which happened an awful lot in the past. What we call the French Revolution was triggered less by desire for liberty, freedom, and equality and more by skyrocketing food prices that made people desperate.
After people do stuff, they attach a name to it to make sense of what happened. Food riots in Paris we co-opted and morphed into an anti-government rebellion that wound up resulting in France trying to conquer Europe under Napoleon and being turned back into a monarchy for a while.
In the late 1800s, arch-conservative Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck — basically the guy who united Germany and led it to become a major European power (gee thanks, buddy) — pushed for his new country to adopt a welfare state model that was later imitated all over the place. The right across the world, at the time, favored a strong nation to support a strong economy and military.
Turns out, it’s easier to do that if everyone is reasonably happy with their lot in life. China, as its leaders will openly acknowledge, functions because people who work 9 hours a day and can buy nice things don’t start revolutions.
It’s when you fail to secure too many people’s lives that you wind up with trouble. This is why no matter how anti-government American conservatives may say they are, they never actually get rid of social programs their voters depend on, like Social Security and Medicare. Expansions of these programs get opposed because their beneficiaries fear losing out if everyone is eligible.
That’s America, no matter which party is in charge — your fear gives one of the two options power. Whatever you care about, there is some politician willing to tell you it will be taken away unless you donate time and votes.
This, I suspect, is a big part of why 85% of Americans say they want significant political reforms, according to a recent study from the ever-excellent Pew Research Reports. People aren’t as dumb as politicians and pundits take them to be, most of us have an instinct for when someone is trying to play us.
Anyone who actually gives a damn about anti-racism needs to help split up the racist team by offering conservatives who nobody but the hard right is talking to an alternative view on woke issues and critical race theory. This has to be rooted in our common cause as people who aren’t rich trying to escape the rigged game the wealthy make us play, the old story that sets poor whites — historically, the vast majority of us — against our fellow victims of American elitism.
White conservatives generally do not get defensive about race issues because they support bigotry or are more naturally prone to it than the rest of humanity. The push back against CRT and woke is a function of a deep anxiety about losing the attention of politicians when trapped in a game where they accomplish little, making what they do get done a matter of extreme importance.
The two-party system effectively rations democracy to those able to exert influence on the power players. After the Supreme Courts’ decision in Citizens United made monetary donations protected political speech, wealthy people intensified their old practice of bidding for politicians’ attention.
Happy enough with the way America works, they have monopolized the government’s concerns and now prevent any meaningful change — hell, even meaningful debate about where our tax revenues go. Half of federal income taxes in America flow to the military, where a notorious revolving door between the Pentagon and the boards of a few big arms conglomerates guarantee wasteful spending and insufficient support for personnel.
I mean, that’s how most big companies work these days — an upper caste spends lavishly on executive privileges while most real work gets done by gig workers. Shareholders are cool with it so long as they keep making money, and if one company dies they can simply move their money to another before the vultures come to strip its assets away.
The rest of us are forced to fight for a place within the ruling coalition of one of the two major parties, which then demand we conform to patterns of thought and speech tied to the never-ending political tug-of-war. And that is why the woke critical race theory panic is dominating the headlines in right-leaning media.
So long as anyone who identifies as conservative rejects anything their pundits tag as too woke, that string can be plucked for profit many times in the grand symphony of America’s exploitative political economy. As America’s media and politics fracture along cultural lines, rural Americans are left with a cruel choice of aligning with a side that actively and consistently mocks their language and many of their values or a side that says nice things about them but also ties them to a doomed ethno-nationalist project with no future.
Yes, half to two thirds of conservatives are bound and determined to bind us all in a Christian fascist nation under Trump or whatever creature tries to succeed him. But that leaves a huge and decisive population who aren’t centrists or moderates but rural people who don’t like government because they perceive it as broken.
And they’re correct— it is, as most Americans perceive.
All across the world, a dangerous new right is rising. It is the simplest of things — a call to ignore the basic humanity of others and embrace instead made-up elite concepts like nationalism.
The easy way to look at it is to simply assume anyone who isn’t properly educated isn’t worth saving. That the smart people need to get together and define truth and reality for the rest.
But if you want to win a war, or secure a peace — really these two are the same in the long run — you’ve got to take a more nuanced view than us/them, friend/enemy. In the real world, binaries almost always mean someone has screwed up and misery will ensue.
Divide and conquer is always the way. In fact, this is true even in math, particularly integral calculus. Chop and add, math professors will advise you, when faced with an ugly equation with lots of scary notation.
Break up a problem into component parts, it often becomes much easier to solve. More expensive in terms of time and possible resources, too, but the result is lasting — something that doesn’t happen when you rely on motivating people through fear.
Honest conservatives — that is, the ones willing to discuss and question their own beliefs and aren’t just rooting for their team — can be split off from the new right if you talk about critical race theory and woke using language they understand. They perceive these and the myth of cancel culture (the free market at work, I thought that was) as part of a concerted effort by liberals and the broader left to remove their ability to express themselves in public.
If you want to talk to rural conservatives about race, here’s what you have to do.
- Tie life experiences to wealth. Lacking wealth, a person can’t defend themselves in American society — it costs a lot just to live here. Black people don’t have wealth because they, like plenty of white people, experience cultural discrimination based on how they speak and dress.
- Remind them that race is an artificial construct — white people are diverse in origin, as are Black and brown. Black people have taken the originally derogative label black and reclaimed it as have many rural white Rednecks. Both are victims, though now equally, of elitism.
- Point out that people of all kinds, however you group them, generally want the same thing: autonomy. They want to be free to live well, work, have families — and you can’t do those things if you are constantly in fear of poverty or losing your job because of a bigot… of being canceled because of who you were born.
This is how you talk about structural racism without using a term most people don’t easily understand. No one wants to think they are racist, so you leverage that: everyone is a little racist, so it is their actions that matter. The worst racists are the ones who have rigged the rules of government, the economy, and society, to take freedom from whoever they can.
The history of rural America from the original white immigration into indigenous lands to today has been steeped in exploitation of people who wanted only to live in peace. It is now forgotten that in many places a mutually beneficial coexistence between indigenous and settler was maintained for some time — until rich landowners exploited differences to provoke fights that got the federal government to engage in ethnic cleansing.
But even once settled on lands, white Americans were ruthlessly exploited. The banks took the lands of the poor ones, the rich bought them up. National parks were erected to preserve patches of wild places for the benefit of suburban tourists who could come pretend they were rugged pioneers for a weekend.
The secret to breaking the new right apart lies in reminding rural white people that they are but one of many peoples ruthlessly exploited by an elite society whose consumption has pushed the planet to the brink of catastrophe. We are natural allies in an ancient fight, the cause of freedom and autonomy for all of us alike.
Most people, including most Americans, are effectively poor. We are equal in the eyes of the wealthy exploiters who have stolen and hoarded the wealth of a planet — equal victims. Whiteness is a scam intended to make Americans of European descent identify with the wrong people: the very people responsible for our lives being so difficult we feel we have to fight other poor people for a place.
Conservative, liberal, capitalist, socialist, communist, believer, pagan — the old categories are irrelevant in times like these, tools used by those higher up on the great pyramid scheme of modern life to distract us from the brutal truth: concentrations of power destroy societies.
Tolkien was right. The Ring of Power, the lust for control, is the one great evil in this world. A manifestation of an ancient darkness, one that has corrupted humanity from the beginning.
Wealth is power. Wealth is control.
Concentrated wealth, billionaire wealth, is a cancer.
It is the enemy that must be destroyed.