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Who is behind critical theory protests?

A familiar cast of conservative donors and media figures is betting your racist fears will put them back in power.

The first African-American-owned and operated newspaper in the United States, Freedman’s Journal, released its first issue on March 16, 1827. The founders, a group of free Black men, knew the power of sharing their perspectives at a time when violent forces — ranging from the U.S. government to private citizens — were trying to suppress them. They understood how the stories of Black people would be told if they remained silent.

“Our vices and our degradation are ever arrayed against us, but our virtues are passed by unnoticed,” they wrote in the inaugural issue. The idea was that Black people should have a say in telling the story of America.

Many Black journalists of today share that view, but so do others who wish to tell Black stories accurately, including educators.

In 2021, the conservative movement to ban education about racism and the history of inequality in the U.S. has ramped up and, fueled by conservative media, focused its hysteria on local school boards.

Parents protesting Maya Angelou poems in a school parking lot want us to believe their kids are at risk of learning too much.

Back in June, an NBC News analysis found at least 165 local and national groups in the U.S. are focused on blocking school lessons that address race or gender. Many of the groups protesting race- and gender-conscious education were spurred to action last year when then-President Donald Trump and Republicans targeted the “1619 Project,” a digital series focused on the history of anti-Black racism that inspired teachers across the nation to reframe their thinking and teachings about slavery and its impact. In the lead up to last year’s election, Republicans waged a public war on nonwhite educators and lesson plans that didn't ignore the country’s racist history.

The strategy failed for Trump, but Republicans — including a number of Trump administration staff — still see these nationalist attacks on anti-racist education as their ticket to regaining power. Republican donors have reportedly poured cash into groups claiming to oppose critical race theory — a decades-old concept created by Black legal scholars that links societal structures to disparate outcomes for marginalized communities. In June, Politico quoted former Trump adviser Steve Bannon saying conservative fearmongering over critical race theory is “how [Republicans] are going to win” going forward.

Across the U.S., conservative groups scapegoating critical race theory as a threat to students have descended upon local education systems to force teachers and administrators from their posts. Conservative media has also driven this revolt against nonwhite educators and inclusive lesson plans.

People gather for a rally against critical race theory at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Va., on June 12, 2021.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images file

Media Matters for America found Fox News had mentioned critical race theory nearly 1,300 times on the network by June in its quest to depict the concept as a threat to white, American students.

To be clear: Critical race theory is a college-level field of scholarship that examines how race factors into U.S. policy. It is not being taught in American grade and high schools, and it’s hubristic — laughable, really — for someone to even think it could be.

There are many white adults who fail to grasp even the most basic facts about race and racism in America, but parents protesting Maya Angelou poems in a school parking lot want us to believe their kids are at risk of learning too much.

Rest assured: Learning too much isn’t the problem here. But a familiar cast of conservatives is willing to convince you it is, as long as it places them back in power. By any means necessary.

Head over to The ReidOut Blog for more.