During congressional hearings for Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) questioned the judge’s views on critical race theory. He used several books used by Georgetown Day School, a prep school where Jackson serves as an administrator, as examples of what he claimed were exaggerated instances of indoctrination of children with radical ideology. One of these books is called anti-racist baby, written by Ibram X. Kendi (this very name must make Ted Cruz shiver). Much has been said about it because, thanks to Senator Cruz’s protests against its use, the book has risen to the top of best-seller lists. I’m not here to talk about the topic of book banning, but I wanted to know more about what Ted Cruz might have against an anti-racism book. So I researched what the message of the book was. It turns out that this book is built on nine principles to help end racism by getting kids thinking about its impact. I want to examine these nine points and see what they might reveal about the fear they instill in right-wing leaders like Ted Cruz. Let’s look at them briefly, one by one.
- Open your eyes to all skin colors.
How many times have you heard well-meaning people say they “can’t see skin color?” We know the message they are trying to convey by pronouncing it. They attempt to misuse Martin Luther King’s quote about not judging someone by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. But pretending you can’t see skin color is just a dishonest statement, if not an outright lie. And most black people I’ve talked to don’t like to hear that statement. Not only do they see clearly, but they also feel completely ignored. By suggesting that we don’t see skin color, we are changing the fact that millions and millions of non-white Americans don’t have many obstacles in their way because of their skin color. It is to despise hundreds of years of pain and struggle.
- Use your words to talk about race.
Then again, many well-meaning white people, including myself far more often than I care to admit, prefer to ignore the conversation about race because it’s not comfortable for us. Either we’re afraid to say something that might be considered racist, or we might be lumped in with people we don’t like to be associated with, or for any number of other reasons. Instead, we too often turn around in blissful ignorance, convincing ourselves that racism isn’t such a big deal anymore because we don’t necessarily see it happening in front of us all the time. After all, we have non-white friends, we have non-white neighbors, we smile, nod, even say hello to non-white strangers we pass on the sidewalk. What we don’t do is walk around with non-white skin. What we don’t see is what regularly happens to these non-white friends, co-workers and sidewalk strangers simply because of who they were born into. When we don’t see it happening regularly, it’s easy for us to assume it’s a rare thing. But, if we used our words to tell our non-white friends and colleagues about their experiences with race, we would be eye-openers pretty quickly. I can assure you this is true because it happened to me – I wrote about such a case here – and it radically changed my view of the world. Not using our words to talk about race only exacerbates racism in America. Getting kids to talk about it shouldn’t be scary, it should fill us with hope that they can grow up to have more empathy and understanding.
- Point to policies as the problem, not people.
It addresses something that I think is really important in breaking down the fear and apprehensions of having an honest and candid national dialogue about race. White people are quick to get defensive when the subject of race comes up. There is certainly a good reason for this. Let’s face it, we are all born who we are, and we have no control over that. So when discussions turn to racism, discrimination and privilege, there is a level of apprehension that automatically rises among many white people. We start to feel like we’re labeled as villains as we feel more like innocent bystanders. The truth is somewhere in the middle. The average white person isn’t exactly racist deep down, but when it comes to the politics that have existed in our nation since day one, we’re not exactly innocent bystanders either. When we allow unfair policies to continue – moreover, when we vote for candidates who strive to keep these unfair policies in place – we lose some of our innocence. If we focus on politics and not point fingers at people, maybe some of the personal stigma that some feel attached to racial topics would go away.
- Shout, “There’s nothing wrong with people!”
This is where the rubber hits the road. This is where many fundamentalists, nationalists and evangelicals start to get really nervous. Far-right Christians will probably never feel comfortable shouting that there is nothing wrong with people. Their whole approach to their faith presupposes that there is something fundamentally wrong with people – although the small number of people who accept the Gospel message are washed clean while the rest of society continues to wallow in sin. Therefore, they want everyone to know that there is something wrong with anyone who is not a born-again believer, baptized in what they believe. It scares people like Ted Cruz to think that young children are reading messages that promote the inclusion of all as worthy of equal rights and fairness in America. Such posts are seen as a direct attack on their core belief system. This is a really difficult hurdle to overcome.
- Let’s celebrate our differences
Once again, far-right nationalist Christians want a nation where everyone is the same. That’s why so many people will pretend they can’t see skin color. They want an education system that funnels each content area through a filter of their choice. The idea of children feeling good about themselves if they are not Christians is absolutely appalling to them. Remember when Fox News attacked Mr. Rogers’ legacy, calling him an “evil man” for suggesting to children that they were special just because of who they were? The far right does not want to celebrate our differences. They don’t want kids to think they have any real worth unless they assimilate to their version of the American dream – a dream, by the way, that has been made so much harder to achieve by a multitude of roadblocks created by hundreds of years. unfair policies that discriminated against non-white, non-Christian, non-male, and non-heterosexual people. It is the history of our nation that the far right does not want to teach and it is the policies that the far right continues to try to implement.
- Knock down the stack of cultural blocks.
Without having read the book, I can only assign my own meaning to this point, as I’m not 100% sure what it says. The way I understand this reversal of cultural blocks is that we have created a hierarchy of cultures in our country. What has been cultivated, protected, and promoted as America’s “dominant culture” by the far right is that of white patriarchal, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant culture. All other crops have found a place lower in the stack of blocks. Far-right nationalist Christians are pushing very hard now to keep this stack in place. They see as a huge threat anyone or anything that suggests bringing down that pile and leveling the playing field. They see an increasingly diverse America as a monster that must be slain.
- Admit when you are racist.
It’s a pretty simple concept, but it’s a very difficult thing to do. In all honesty, our current undo culture wars have made this even harder to do. After all, many people had to pay a heavy price for racially insensitive moments many years in their past. But, I don’t think reasonable people expect anyone to be perfect or have a perfect past. We are all a product of our environment. Growing up in a small town in rural Indiana, I experienced this in my own life. I wrote my personal journey here. The fact is, most of us have had times in our past that we are not proud of when it comes to our relationship to the subject of race. Just acknowledging this would go a long way to breaking down barriers and eliminating the stigma surrounding the national conversation about race.
- Become an anti-racist.
It’s a natural step after confessing to times when we’ve been racist. This is not unlike what recovering alcoholics go through. First you need to recognize a problem. Then, and only then, are you ready to start pulling through. I don’t think there is a more inspiring story than that of someone growing as a person. Making progress should be the goal. Yet being progressive is a dirty word for far too many nationalist Christian conservatives, like Ted Cruz. They work hard to maintain the status quo. But that’s only because the status quo has served them so well. This is why books like anti-racist baby being used in a school scares them so much. That’s why they scream “indoctrination” when what really terrifies them is having their children without indoctrination and have an open mind to think critically about their world.
- Believe that we will overcome racism.
Hope is really all we have. Every Christian should understand this. But for a far-right nationalist Christian to believe that we can defeat racism would be tantamount to admitting that we have a problem with racism – that we have built a national system that has sewn racism into our sacred institutions – and they don’t. will never accept that. They sell the message that if you do it our way, your problems will be solved. It is so dismissive of the reality that millions of non-white, non-Christian, non-male American citizens live every day. It’s insulting.
We must believe that we can defeat racism. To do this, we must approach it with our children. You don’t deal with such an old and institutionalized problem from the top down, you do it from the bottom up. People like Ted Cruz are fighting to the death trying to do just that.