Oh, That Can't Happen Here — Can It?

Bruce Hartford, June 2021

Nikole Hannah-Jones of the 1619 Project was on the MSNBC "All In With Chris Hayes " last evening (June 16) discussing Republican hysteria-hype over her project and the wave of state laws being enacted to forbid the teaching of Critical Race Theory or any implication that systemic, institutional racism is still (or ever was) an issue in America.

I agreed with them that an important goal of their hate campaign is to stoke and sustain a sense of white-grievance among the Republican base. But I disagreed with their confident assumption that such laws can't be enforced against grade school systems and teachers or colleges and professors.

In reality, it's not that hard at all to limit and control what teachers teach and professors profess. I saw it work first-hand during the McCarthyite Red-Scare era of the 1950s, not just in the Los Angeles public schools but also at L.A. City College and UCLA.

It's really quite simple — right-wing parents were told to be on the lookout for "subversive" teachers spreading "un-American" thoughts. "What did you learn in school today, darling?" A complaint-call to a principal who wants to keep his job or a school-board member who wants to be re-elected, followed by public shaming and pillorying of disobedient teachers, calling them on the carpet, and possibly firing them, is all it took to encourage the others to keep their heads down and teach as they were told.

One of my grade-school teachers was terminated for signing a petition against nuclear bomb testing. The only really memorable professor I ever had at UCLA was fired for daring to include Ellison's "Invisible Man" in his American literature class.

And, of course, state laws mandating what must — and what must never — be taught have a powerful impact on the textbook publishing industry. When laws prohibit textbooks that contain forbidden ideas from being sold to school systems in large-population states like Texas and Florida they'll quickly remove those offending thoughts in the books sold to every state.

So, yes, it not only CAN happen here — it already has.

Of course, the social rebellion of "The Sixties" also took place, including the Free Speech Movement and the long, bitter, but ultimately successful student strike for Third World Studies at San Francisco State which I was part of, so I know from personal experience that we can defeat them if we stand together and fight back.

Copyright © Bruce Hartford


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