A sad (but probably true) summary of “patriotic education”

Image, Alla Serebrina, (free download)

I’ve been known to get on some strange mailing lists, but the latest one is special, even by the usual standards.

I got something today from a group that says it’s “leading the fight against the leftist attempt to indoctrinate our kids with Critical Race Theory.”

It’s from the Patriotic History Education Trumping Ingratitude Committee, also known as PatHETIC.


Anyway, no need to clutter up their message with my own editorializing. That would be like cluttering up history class with facts. So I’ll just re-post the entirety of their letter. Enjoy!

Dear Patriotic Americans,

For months the left has…

Getting to racial justice is a long journey. Some folks are misreading the map

Image by Andreas Klein from Pixabay

You can sense it in some quarters of the burgeoning racial justice community — a feeling of dread that the movement has stalled a little over a year since the murder of George Floyd.

For most who express this concern, the evidence they point to is the fall-off of public protest since last summer.

“Why aren’t we in the streets every week?” many demand to know.

Naturally, they have their own answer. Most people they insist “weren’t serious” about change and were only performative activists — unlike them.

They, of course, are ready for the revolution.

Because sure they are.

Truth is dangerous, which is why some prefer covering it up

Image: Grey World, Flickr, Creative Commons License

Nearly sixty years ago, James Baldwin explained the dilemma of educating young minds in a culture that thrives on their ignorance, when he noted:

“The purpose of education…is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions…But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society.”

Although it’s doubtful even one of them is familiar with Baldwin’s words here, lawmakers across the country appear determined, as of late, to confirm them…

How Ice-T became the first right-wing meme and the GOP went all-in as a white grievance cult

Image: Ice-T with his speed metal band, Bodycount. Wikimedia Commons.

Even in 1992, The Republican Party could see its future — not one of supply-side economics and free trade, but one of white racial fear and resentment. This is a story from the delivery room where today’s GOP was born.

The image wasn’t of the same quality as the one above. But even in the low-def world of 1992, the meaning behind the frozen frame on the Jumbotron was crystal clear — as was the reason it had been chosen to greet delegates to that year’s Republican National Convention at the Houston Astrodome.

This was the convention at which the…

Sometimes it’s what we don’t see that does the most harm

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

The national debate over systemic racism — whether it exists, and if so, how much blame it deserves for ongoing racial inequity — is one made more contentious by the way we’ve been taught to understand racism as a subject.

In addition to typically thinking of racism solely as a matter of personal prejudice, as opposed to an institutional force, most of our discussions of racism have been confined to particular historical time capsules. So, for instance, there was enslavement, but then it ended; and then there was segregation, which also ended.

By teaching history linearly (as opposed to thematically)…

Accusing anti-racists of virtue-signaling and self-interest is a lazy, predictable alternative to dealing with injustice

Image: Michael Coghlan, Flickr, Creative Commons license

Imagine you were to write something about the problem of child sexual abuse or world hunger. Or imagine you made your living working on these issues — perhaps as a therapist in the first instance, or, in the second, in a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the subject. Imagine you put your heart into your work and were committed to advocating for a world in which these problems would be substantially mitigated.

Now, imagine that in response to your efforts, someone suggested you didn’t really care about those things but were merely virtue-signaling to make yourself seem like a better…

Anti-racists aren’t trying to make anyone feel bad. It’s called a systemic analysis for a reason

Photo by the author (on location), Rage Against the Machine/The Umma Chroma video shoot, Watertown, TN. 10/17/20

Amid the backlash to anti-racist teaching and activism — symbolized by the assault on Critical Race Theory — one claim stands out as the principal lamentation of aggrieved conservatives. Namely, the idea that anti-racist educators and activists believe white people are inherently racist and oppressive.

You’ll hear it time and again. Those challenging anti-racist curricula insist their children are suffering psychological harm because the materials teach white kids to hate themselves.

…and we can’t be afraid to say that

Image from Anthony Crider, Wikimedia commons public license

I know some folks don’t want to hear this, but it needs to be said. People in the QAnon conspiracy movement are, by and large, mentally ill. I say this not to mock or ridicule them. I say it because it’s almost incontestably true. And our unwillingness to say so is a danger to this society and its future.

And yet, some insist we should never call anyone mentally or emotionally unwell, especially if we are not — as I am not — a mental health professional. To do so, they argue, stigmatizes mental illness and contributes to fear and…

Sometimes it matters, other times it doesn’t, and you should know the difference

Photo by Kevin Grieve on Unsplash

“I didn’t mean anything by it.”

It’s the predictable defense for most after being accused of saying or doing something racist or, in some other way, prejudicial. As in, “It was just a joke!” Or, if not a joke, just an innocuous comment or action lacking deliberately biased motivation.

In response, many who write or speak about racism or do activist work tend to reply with an equally predictable refrain: Intent doesn’t matter, we insist. Impact is what matters. I’ve even written something to this effect myself, here:

And while I stand by the arguments in that piece, I’d like…

Understanding the difference between history and memory

Image source

As we celebrate this July 4th — 245 years of independence from our former colonial overlords — it would do us well to remember a few things.

These things we should remember not to dampen the enthusiasm with which we celebrate our nation or the people in it. Far be it from me to throw a wet towel over the annual incendiary marriage of American self-love and Chinese manufacturing that occurs once the skies darken on this day each year.

It’s just that independence is an important concept, too complex to be reduced to a mere breaking away from the…

Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)

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