Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Whole World Is Spinning!


This tweet was an attempt at irony, I guess.  I saw it because a liberal historian I follow retweeted it, and that's even more disturbing.  The irony goes a lot deeper than Seth Cotlar can grasp.

The Declaration of Independence is not an anti-colonialist document.  It was written by settler-colonialists to announce that they would carry on their colonialist project without interference from the British government. Which they did, from sea to shining sea, and when they had stolen as much as they could, the United States extended its tentacles around the world.  They certainly weren't opposed to colonialism; it was their brand.  (This distortion of history has been used before, by the way.)

As for "liberation," millions of Native Americans and African slaves might beg to differ.  It's one of the ironies of the drive toward American independence that the slave-owning rebels complained that they were being enslaved by the British Crown.  Even if their analogy were valid, they had no ground for objecting to being enslaved.  If it was acceptable for them to enslave others, then it would be acceptable to enslave them.

One commenter, a teacher, quoted Pink Floyd's "The Wall": We don't need no education / We don't need no thought control... Hey teacher, leave those kids alone!  This was presumably intended to mock the right-wing opponents of anti-racist education. Again a certain cluelessness was in evidence: the Floyd's diatribe against state indoctrination of the young was aimed at teachers like the commenter.  You were supposed to agree that kids don't need "education" as schools practiced it, and sing along with the chorus. If the Right appropriates that rhetoric, so much the worse for the rhetoric.

Of course I agree that schooling-as-indoctrination is a bad thing, and that students should be taught how to think critically about any orthodoxy.  I don't really get the impression that liberals and even progressives are comfortable with that idea, however.  I've seen a lot of pushback from liberals against teaching the conflicts and critical thinking, which they strategically misunderstand just as the Right stategically misunderstands Critical Race Theory.  This indicates that they want to replace the old orthodoxy with a new one, and even if I'm sympathetic to the content of their orthodoxy, it's not education.

Being anti-slavery doesn't mean "Hey, don't enslave me, enslave those people over there"; it means that no one should be a slave.  Anti-colonialism doesn't mean "I'll take over the job of stealing a continent from the people who already live here, just stop telling me how to do it"; it means you don't take over other people's land. Apparently a good many liberals can't understand that, and that's worrisome. They're perfectly happy if teaching American history makes other people uncomfortable, but their comfort is not to be disturbed.

As the educator Deborah Meier wrote* years ago (via):

There are plenty of liberal-minded citizens who are uncomfortable with Central Park East's stress on open intellectual inquiry and would have us leave young minds free of uncertainties and openness until "later on" when they are "more prepared to face complexity."  First, some argue, "fill the vessel" with neutral information and easily remembered and uplifting stories.  But such compromises will neither satisfy the Right nor prepare our children's minds for "later."

There isn't any "neutral information" where history is concerned.  Liberals (and others) confronting the Right need to be ready for some messy debate.  I don't believe that liberals in general know what Critical Race Theory consists of, or that they'd be happy if they did know.  I just reread Derrick Bell's 1989 book And We Are Not Saved (Basic Books), an exploration of what came to be known as CRT written for a general audience, and it made me uncomfortable. The book consists of dialogues between Bell and the fictional legal scholar Geneva Crenshaw, debating legal and movement strategy against racism.  I'd forgotten how effectively white supremacist resistance had blocked the gains achieved by the Civil Rights Movement, using those same gains for the benefit of whites.  Given what we've seen in the thirty years since it was published, Bell's recommendations seem far too optimistic.

Seth Cotlar's stance in the tweet I copied here is classic Ingsoc: Colonialism Is Anti-colonialism.  Slavery Is Liberation.  He's not as far from the Right as he likes to think.


*The Power of Their Ideas (Beacon Press, 1995, 2002), p. 81.