Should governments ban thoughts? Usually not. But the rare exceptions are disingenuous thoughts, ideas that commit fraud or deceive. “Try a little meth, you’ll love it.” is a thought we criminalize, for good reason. So what “lie” justifies the Idaho Legislature banning “critical race theory?”
Certainly, it isn’t that race played no role in American history. To their credit proponents of the “theory” document well how racial divisions influenced everything from housing to transportation, from health care to criminal justice. To not think critically about race means an entire generation may repeat past mistakes, ignorant of how prejudice and racism have molded the modern world as it is today.
Unfortunately the phrase “critical race theory” isn’t just thinking critically about race. The concept is much less vague than Idaho Democrats claim. From a Pulitzer Prize-winning essay in the New York Times magazine (The 1619 Project), to prominent non-fiction like How to Be an Anti-Racist and White Fragility, the agreed thrust of “critical race theory” is less to explain the impact of race on past decisions, and more to assert without doubt that race will dictate the future. In doing so, the theory offers only one solution: sweeping systemic change to how America makes decisions, from how resources are allocated to who gets to speak on any given issue.
College professors who teach critical race theory argue passionately that it isn’t Marxism. But we don’t ban teaching our kids what Marxism is, so that assertion doesn’t shed much light. And the professors are right, the 1619 Project and the Communist Manifesto are not the same: they identify very different motivations and causes for inequity in society. Where they agree is on how uncritically one should ask why inequities exist. Both theories assert that, if an inequity exists, the author’s preferred cause should be assumed, in Marx’s case it is capitalist greed, in the 1619 Project it must be racial bigotry.
And therein rests thousands of piecemeal lies. America was founded on a realization that the end does not justify the means; that individuals and the motives harboring in their hearts do count. The law in Idaho now reads that “no distinction or classification of students shall be made on account of race or color,” and it tells you everything that this language is what actually “bans” the teaching of critical race theory.
Admittedly, that there should be no distinctions or classifications based on race is, and always has been, an aspirational truth. That said, the most valid criticism of the Legislature is not what they wrote into law this year, it is that it was not written in territorial law nor in the hearts of all Idahoans 150 years ago.