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Attacks on critical race theory are attacks on MLK’s most fundamental ideas

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Great piece by Kimberlé Crenshaw on the Orwellian cynicism of invoking Martin Luther King to justify bans on critical race theory:

For more than 30 years, scholars have employed critical race theory as an analytical tool. The right has rebranded it as the new racism, as wokeness run amok, as a threat to innocent schoolchildren and as a stalking-horse for the demise of “Western civilization” itself. The theory has become the target of coordinated efforts to stigmatize and erase generations of antiracist knowledge, advocacy and history. The objective is both to disappear antiracism’s history and to deny its contemporary salience.

King himself is a prime casualty in this effort. Apostles of the McCarthyite crackdown on critical race theory have exploited him as a mouthpiece for their cause, reducing him to a solitary, decontextualized line from the “I Have a Dream” speech about a future in which his four children were to be judged not “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Some use King’s words to erase his deeds and those of millions more who rose up to “make good the promises” since Reconstruction. In Tennessee, for example, the Moms for Liberty sought to ban Frances E. Ruffin’s children’s book “Martin Luther King Jr. and the March on Washington”by framing its descriptions of segregation and the violence meted out against King and others as traumatizing and racist. The Moms argue that Ruffin’s portrayal of white racism against people of color “will sow the seeds of racial strife, neo-racism, neo-segregation, and is an affront” to King’s ideals. This reveals precisely what comes of a persistent and willful ignorance of King’s legacy.

The sheer power on display to turn King against himself — a process that has been underway since the first day this holiday was celebrated — is a grim reflection of the way opponents have long subjected antiracist thinking and activism to distortion, misappropriation and redefinition. The brazen casting of critical race theory as the contemporary villain following 2020’s racial reckoning is no surprise.

Making it illegal for students to learn about the actual MLK in the name of the Teddy Bear version sums up the Republican Party in 2021 nicely.

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