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. One parent in Tennessee even has a Go Fund Me to pay for counseling she says her 7-year-old needs after being exposed to in-depth discussions of the Civil War and the misdeeds of white Americans.
That the parent is lying about what the child was taught is almost certain. Seven-year-olds are not exposed to such material in 1st grade anywhere, and especially not in Republican-dominated Williamson County. Plus, the particular curriculum she criticized includes no such graphic recounting of racist mistreatment or war. But that doesn’t stop such arguments from being amplified by right-wing media and finding purchase with millions of people who think Antifa is coming for their kids.
What’s most ironic about this claim — that anti-racist instruction teaches whites are inherently oppressive — is that anti-racist philosophy rejects the idea of racial groups as even existing in any organic sense. Biologically and genetically the concept of race is essentially meaningless. As such, there can be no inherent tendencies among white people (or any people for that matter), since there is no clearly identifiable thing as a racial group, per se.
What appears to have some people confused is the way anti-racists differentiate between white people, on the one hand, and whiteness as a social, political, and cultural idea, on the other.
Whiteness is inherently oppressive and racist because the history of the concept has been intrinsically bound up with creating and maintaining a racial hierarchy. It has no history separate and apart from oppression. But the people called white are not the…