Conservatives used critical race theory to influence voters and win elections. Critics warn the propaganda is working
Critical race theorywas a defining issue in electionsacross the country.
- Experts say fear mongering over critical race theory is about racial resentment, not curriculum.
Critical race theory, a legal framework that looks at how racism has shaped public policy has been misrepresented as simply teaching about slavery and other historical events with any mention of race.
Scholars say these efforts are veiled attempts to whitewash the US's shameful history with different communities of color.
Results from elections and ballot initiatives all across the country show the effort appears to be working.Related Article Module: Redistricting efforts could destroy Black and Latino political power. Advocates are sounding the alarm.
Whereas from 2006 to 2020, there had only been countrywide efforts to recall 52 school board members, in 2021, there have been efforts to remove 215 school board members, according to Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan political forum.
"What we're finding is that critical race theory is being used to mobilize white racial resentment," Sekou Franklin, an associate professor at Middle Tennessee University told Insider. "It's becoming a major wedge issue and a strategy to collect white, suburban, swing votes."
Google searches for critical race theory surged during and after last Tuesday's elections, one indicator that the academic framework emerged as a central election issue.
Experts say that as long as "weaponizing" critical race theory provides a useful blueprint to winning office, mostly-conservative politicians will continue to employ it.
Critical race theory dominated national and school board elections
Despite the fact that critical race theory is seldom, if ever, taught at the elementary, middle, or high school levels of US education, the academic concept became a flashpoint of the Virginia gubernatorial election.
Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia's high-profile gubernatorial election after making critical race theory a significant part of his campaign - going so far as vowing to ban its use in classrooms.
McAuliffe took a defiant stance, stating during a debate that he didn't believe "parents should be telling schools what they should teach" - a move experts say derailed his election, particularly since exit polls showed education as the top issue for Youngkin's supporters.
While Virginia received outsized attention, critical race theory also emerged as a prominent issue in school board elections across the country.
Conflict in school boards were not just centered on critical race theory; responses to the coronavirus pandemic, and access to sex and gender education and facilities were also hot-button issues in these elections.
However, critical race theory appeared to emerge as a defining issue in local school board elections as approximately three-fourths of candidates endorsed by the 1776 Project PAC - an organization centered on banning the teaching of critical race theory, won their races Tuesday.
The 1776 Commission was implemented by the Trump administration to counter the 1619 Project, which examines the role of slavery in America's historical narrative. The 1776 Project PAC is a separate project borne out of the ethos.
Since its 2019 publication, the 1619 Project has received ample right-wing criticism and sparked conservative backlash against critical race theory, which the 1776 Project defines as "a radical belief that pushes the idea that … white Americans are stained with the sin of racism for which they can never be cleansed," per its website.
The winning candidates endorsed by the 1776 Project PAC span from Colorado to Kansas and are based in both traditionally red and blue areas.
As Axios noted, several candidates backed by the PAC won "in solid blue counties," including Montgomery County, Pennsylvania; Passaic County, New Jersey; and Johnson County, Kansas.
"Conservatives saw that critical race theory was a way to mobilize their base and they're going to keep using that playbook in 2022 and 2024," Franklin said. "They're not going to run away from that."
Policing also took center stage during the elections
Critical race theory wasn't the only racial issue that defined elections this cycle. Policing also took center stage as candidates across the country made public safety a pivotal aspect of their campaigns.Related Article Module: Across racial lines, policing emerged as a deciding factor in the elections
Such candidates saw major wins, racking up mayoral positions in cities like New York and Kansas City, as Eric Adams and Tyrone Garner respectively did.
Public safety initiatives also appeared as several ballot measures to varying degrees of success.
Whereas Minneapolis voters rejected a ballot measure to replace its police department with a Department of Public Safety, Clevelanders overwhelmingly voted for a Community Police Commission that would have final say in police policies and discipline.
Diversity doesn't translate to Democratic wins
Though the latest elections saw candidates of color making history, Franklin told Insider that if there's any takeaway to glean from the 2021 elections, it's that the growing diversity of the US won't necessarily translate to Democratic wins or progressive stances on issues of racial justice.
"Democrats have to reclaim control of their narrative, because right now, it's running away from them with conservative narration of progressive causes," Franklin cautioned.
He added progressives "have to counteract inaccurate defund the police and critical race theory narratives, otherwise they won't be able to win on these issues."
Emory professor Gillespie added that Democrats need to avoid "shutting down the issue." She highlighted that in Virginia, Democratic incumbent Terry McAuliffe did just that when pressed about critical race theory - missing an opportunity to debunk propaganda
"Glenn Youngkin can make a promise to ban critical race theory, but in response, politicians might point out that K-12 school curriculums don't teach it anyway," Gillespie said.Related Article Module: Congressman Al Green wants fair Texas maps for people of color and he's willing to sue for them
Experts say it's paramount that Democrats address the Conservative propaganda over critical race theory, while at the same time acknowledging that issues like critical race theory are frequently straw man arguments.
As Gillespie notes, the fear mongering over critical race theory often has less to do with school curriculum and more to do with stoking racial resentment.
"We need to get people to understand that issues like CRT are symbolic issues that are standing in for other types of anxieties like racial resentment and power and status," she said.
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