Fox News Targeted My Town’s Summer Reading List. Here's What They Missed
Two facts: Police, with a difficult job to be sure, nevertheless kill a higher percentage of Black people than whites, typically during traffic stops and mental health and wellness checks. Arrests of Black drug users dwarf white arrests, though both use at similar rates.
Second, whites cluster in segregated neighborhoods with higher home values than in Black ones, doubling down on past, explicitly racist policies — zoning, outright land theft — that leave today’s descendants of victimized African Americans less wealthy.
This is “systemic” racism: collective rather than individual, contemporary rather than ancient history, sometimes unintended rather than deliberate. Smart conservatives get this. Evangelical and former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes that in the St. Louis suburb of his childhood, “Systems had been carefully created to ensure I went to an all-White church, in an all-White neighborhood, while attending an all-White Christian school and shopping in all-White stores.”
All whites don’t share blame, Gerson continues, but “they do have a responsibility as citizens ... to seek a society where equal opportunity is a reality for all.” Pursuing that responsibility, Belmont, Mass., whose public schools have educated my son for 11 years, suggested (not mandated) a summer reading list for grade-schoolers about racial injustice’s history and “the advocacy and anti-racist activism that we want to inspire in all our students.”
Conservatism’s spokesman in my childhood, William F. Buckley, gazed towards Belmont to mock its resident kook, the John Birch Society’s founder. Today’s icon of the right, Fox News, pushes a different agenda. Its online site recently posted a hit piece about Belmont’s reading list under the headline, “Massachusetts school district pushes grade-schoolers to read books about ‘White privilege,’ ‘Whiteness.’ ”
(The words “critical race theory” appear nowhere in the article by Peter Hasson, formerly of the Daily Caller, a site that dabbled in white supremacy. The absence is unsurprising — despite links and an accompanying Laura Ingraham segment on the topic — given the article’s elementary school focus. “Much scholarship on CRT is written in academic language or published in journals not easily accessible to K-12 teachers,” EducationWeek reports.)
[Systemic racism is] collective rather than individual, contemporary rather than ancient history, sometimes unintended rather than deliberate. Smart conservatives get this.
Hasson contents himself largely with implying rather than documenting toxic indoctrination of Belmont’s children. Criticizing the inclusion of Ibram X. Kendi's "Stamped (For Kids)," he ignores the book’s message to go after the messenger, branding the author a "far-left academic" who has called for "an antiracist amendment to the U.S. Constitution." (Both Kendi and I work for Boston University.)
"Race Cars: A Children’s Book About White Privilege" merits a reference only to Amazon’s precis: “the story of 2 best friends, a white car and a black car, that have different experiences and face different rules while entering the same race.” Parents who’d lose sleep over children reading such a story probably have nightmares about Jewish space lasers as well.
Hasson specifies objectionable passages only in his final target, "Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness," in which "the devil approaches the main character with a ‘Contract Binding you to Whiteness.’ The imaginary terms offer ‘stolen land,' ‘stolen riches’ and ‘special favors.’ It adds that ‘WHITENESS gets’ ‘your soul’ and ‘to mess endlessly with the lives of your friends, neighbors, loved ones and all fellow humans of COLOR.’ The end contains a section for signature and notes ‘[l]and, riches and favors may be revoked at any time, for any reason.’ ”
Fox’s own, lengthy excursion in fake-news indoctrination may have rusted its ability to recognize truth. "Not My Idea" is not wrong about stolen land and riches (see this column’s second paragraph) or special favors (see first paragraph). Describing racism as satanic, considering its homicidal history, trespasses no boundaries of taste or accuracy.
True, it’s hyperbole that whites “mess” with the lives of “all” humans of color, and this is the nub of critics’ complaints. The Wall Street Journal put it more clearly than Fox: “No one is opposed to teaching about America’s difficult racial history, including the evils of slavery and Jim Crow. What parents are awakening to is that their children are being told the lie that America has made little or no racial progress and therefore its legal, economic and political systems must be turned upside down.”
Fox’s own, lengthy excursion in fake-news indoctrination may have rusted its ability to recognize truth.
The Journal is naive. As adult Trumpeters marinate in racism, a distressing number of Americans clearly don’t care to acknowledge the topic at any age. Nor does antiracism deny progress. Rather, it insists that racism’s effects still fester, empirically, however noble our intentions or real our strides.
Having seen firsthand Belmont’s highly regarded schools educating our son, I trust them to convey this history with nuance. They can fill in nuance that "Stamped," for example, leaves out: that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free slaves outside the Confederacy not just because of widespread Northern racism, but also because Abraham Lincoln needed to keep slaveholding border states allied with the Union to win the Civil War — the path to abolishing all slavery.
The thoughtful right shares my confidence in Bay State teachers. A conservative think tank recently graded blue-state Massachusetts’s civics and history instruction A-.
But Fox News plays to an unthinking demographic. Hasson’s article prompted a racist email to Belmont’s school committee, proposing a “Thank You White People Day.” The education implanting that mindset is the indoctrination that should worry us.