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Don Rogers: Critical races to win

I was content to let the latest wedge issue du jour slip past and take with it the leaden “Big Lie.” The two are kin, after all, faces of the same coin.

But a friendly reader buttered me up, saying she liked how I at least tried to see more than one side. Why not offer some thoughts about critical race theory?

There’s a tricky question. A half-dozen reasons why not spring immediately to mind.



First is the futility of the topic, as we’ve witnessed in all the hollering so far and yet to come.

Second is that this isn’t really about history or race.




I take my history straight, undiluted, like a good singlemalt. Spare me the bitters, the sugars, the fizz. Don’t water it down, stir in milk, strain to fit a theory, add a sour twist.

Hah! Good luck, I know. Here we go again at the doorstep to 2022, trying on causes, rising to bait, flipping that coin in search of a winner, calling this a strategy. The Big Lie dies in the suburbs, a sure loser, it’s clear. But this CRT thing looks like it’s got some legs. Worked in Virginia and almost in New Jersey.

It doesn’t matter whether the silly thing actually is taught to kids anywhere. If you can scare the parents in the suburbs, well, your chances rise big time if looking to retake a House, win the presidency.

The suburbs make up 52% of the nation’s population and have been the main battlegrounds in national and state elections. The cities, where the Democrats rule, account for 27%. The Republicans dominate rural America, good for 21%.

Connection and greatness for countries and individuals alike may begin with freedom from delusion, especially concerning history. But more urgent matters trump all that in the present. Like elections to win.

LESSON IN FRAMING

So the topic in the context of education doesn’t interest me very much. History class in K-12 typically is neither so “woke” as the sudden hand wringing at school board meetings would have it, nor so white washed and blind to the hard truths. Like much else, instruction could be improved upon. But the curriculum as a brand new and alarming concern is not about teaching, but political framing.

Ah, framing. A classic text is cognitive linguist George Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant” (2004 and 2014). The Berkeley professor emeritus is unabashedly liberal and his tome is, ahem, framed for liberals. The work itself is agnostic and recognizes Republicans as the longtime masters of the art of getting political messaging under the skin through metaphor.

Examples? My favorite is interesting mainly because I didn’t realize a Republican strategist, Frank Luntz, coined the phrase “climate change.”

Remember there was a hot minute when conservatives like Newt Gingrich, for whom Luntz came up with “Contract for America,” acknowledged global warming as a crisis to fight before spitting out his coffee at the very notion.

Lakoff goes through Luntz’s logic that “global warming” sounded scary and “climate change” more benign, natural. Even progressives have embraced this reframing. Just listen.

On that note: “It’s not what you say,” Luntz suggests. “It’s what they hear.”

Another of my favorites is the reframing of “estate tax” into “death tax.” Whatever suits the campaign needs of the moment. Like statistics, our metaphors can be massaged.

More modern variants abound, but I’m reminded by the lingual resonance of “pro-life” over “pro-choice” that messages to the heart reach deeper than those aimed at the mind. Especially hearing Republican anti-vaxxers usurp the “my body, my choice” language, which sounds lame and bears the whiff of selfishness by the standards of political lexicon.

USEFUL IDIOCY

Do I believe in critical race theory in the sense of racial discrimination guiding government and societal systems? Not really. I realize I may not be correct in this, of course, being male and white and therefore privileged, speaking of framing.

But it’s plain that dominant groups oppress minorities around the world today as well as throughout history. Most of these travesties have little to nothing to do with skin color. We humans find our “other” in so many ways: tribes indistinguishable from one another by DNA, ethnic shades, religion, denominations of the same faith, caste, class, wealth, technological prowess, level of education, gender.

It doesn’t take seeing for yourself the Confederate flags in upstate New York to understand that racism indeed remains a stain on America. Ugly incidents pop up right around here way too often.

But this isn’t why mostly white conservatives are screaming at school board meetings or why mostly white liberals are screaming back — hence “hot button” — even if they have been distracted into thinking so themselves.

The strategists and politicians couldn’t care less how history is actually taught in the classroom. Don’t you see? They’re not gunning for school board.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at drogers@sierrasun.com or 530-477-4299


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