Liberals were quick to mockingly dismiss “hug-gate,” and the scandal largely fizzled in the mainstream press. But this likely won’t be the last we hear of critical race theory before November from the right. Already, conservatives’ menacing interpretation of the theory has shaped policy in some places, suggesting that critical race theory may be on its way to joining the pantheon of right-wing bugaboos.
In January, a new law went into effect in Arizona that prohibits schools from offering courses that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” While the legislation doesn’t specifically mention critical race theory, it quickly landed on the state’s blacklist when officials cracked down on Tucson’s Mexican-American studies program, which former state superintendent Tom Horne had been trying to undermine since 2006 after its students dealt him a personal insult. The Republican finally succeeded with HB 2281, the ethnic studies bill that he authored, when it passed just 20 days after the state’s now-infamous anti-immigration law.
Horne subsequently ruled that Tucson’s program violates his law, citing its teaching of critical race theory. This “racist propaganda,” as Horne described it in his decision, is “fed to young and impressionable students, who swallow [it] whole.” Horne concluded that it was his “duty … to put a stop to this.” Among the books culled from Tucson’s schools when the program got axed were Shakespeare’s ”The Tempest” and “Mexican WhiteBoy,” a young adult novel by Matt de la Peña that deals with familiar themes like growing up, not fitting in and baseball. “The novel’s story is pretty much the American dream,” the New York Times noted Sunday. Nonetheless, it was embargoed for allegedly propagating critical race theory. De la Peña spoke at Tucson High last week, and used his speaking fee to purchase copies of his contraband book for students. Earlier this month, activists organized a scheme to distribute blackballed books, calling themselves “Librotraficante” — book traffickers.
But critical race theory was virtually unknown outside of universities until Arizona and Breitbart made it famous, as Google Trends show. Breitbart’s crew took a page from Horne’s book, using similar mischaracterizations of CRT to portray it as a “a deeply disturbing theory.” Breitbart.com went all in. A search of the site for “critical race theory” returns an astonishing 871 results, over 680 from the past month alone. Other conservative blogs and pundits, including Fox News’ biggest guns, took up the baton and soon CRT was everywhere.