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The “critical race theory” moral panic and the real cancel culture


A very well-regarded Black school principal in Maryland who had never heard of critical race theory accepted a job in Cherokee County, GA as a diversity, equity and inclusion administrator. Thanks to Christopher Rufo, Tucker Carlson, and the rest of the American neofascist movement she was hounded out of not one but two jobs over a manufactured fear that she would somehow brainwash children into the ideology whose existence she was unaware of:

Kahaian emphasized how to grab attention during upcoming school board meetings. Identify the best speakers in the group, she told them, adding: “It’s OK to be emotional.” Be sure to capture video of them addressing the board — or even consider hiring a professional videographer.

“It’s good in case Tucker Carlson wants to put you on air,” Kahaian said. “It really helps.”


The May 2021 clubhouse meeting, a recording of which was provided to ProPublica by a parent who attended, provides a window into the ways in which conservative groups quickly and efficiently train communities to take on school districts in the name of concepts that aren’t even being taught in classrooms.

National groups, often through their local chapters, have provided video lessons and toolkits to parents across the country on how to effectively spread their messaging about so-called school indoctrination. Parents Defending Education has created “indoctrination maps” tracking everything from a district celebrating “Black Lives Matter week” to one that allows students to watch CNN Student News, while the Atlanta-based Education Veritas and Kahaian’s Protect Student Health Georgia provide portals for anonymously reporting educators supposedly sympathetic to CRT, DEI and other so-called controversial learning concepts.


The following morning, before it was publicly known that Lewis had quit the job she’d never started, a former Cherokee County student who’d attended the school board meeting appeared on “Fox & Friends” and warned that the board was still pursuing CRT under the guise of other concepts. “I think that they’re relying on wordplay to try to confuse Cherokee County representatives or constituents that aren’t necessarily completely involved because they’re busy with their day-to-day life,” the guest, Bailey Katzenstein, said. She claimed that CRT initiatives would be carried out by “someone from Maryland” in the form of programs “synonymous” with CRT: DEI and SEL (or social emotional learning). SEL is a decades-old child development concept that emphasizes building self-awareness, teaching kids how to better communicate, fostering relationships and making responsible decisions, according to scholars and researchers.


By mid-July, another metropolitan Atlanta school district was courting Lewis. But by then she was living in Cobb County and decided to follow-up with the district there. It had been weeks since she’d gone through multiple rounds of rigorous interviews, during which Cobb officials complimented her on her credentials, saying she’d be an asset in multiple leadership roles, according to Lewis.

Lewis recalled that a district official finally called her back toward the end of July to apologize for the delayed response and explained that the superintendent had been involved in vetting her hiring, something that typically doesn’t happen for a person who applies for a supervisor role.

The district offered Lewis the job on that call, and she accepted. She was asked to report to work the next day, July 20.

By the end of the week — right around the time when the Cherokee County parent circulated the tip in the private Facebook group that Lewis might now be heading to Cobb — Lewis got a call from a school district leader. It was someone above her boss, Lewis said. According to Lewis, the person requested an immediate, off-site meeting.


The following week, Lewis was supposed to introduce herself to all the social studies teachers at a districtwide training meeting. She said she’d been asked, before the Panera meeting, to prepare a presentation and share the social studies program vision.

She said she was then asked to shorten the presentation to a simple series of slides. Then, to one slide.

Finally, she learned she wouldn’t even be acknowledged at the meeting as the new supervisor of social studies.

“When the day came, I was told that I had to sit in the back and flip the slides for the presenter,” Lewis recalled. “I was not introduced at all.”

Lewis said she did receive warm welcomes when she individually introduced herself to teachers, some of whom said they’d heard she’d arrived and wondered when they’d meet her.

Not long after the meeting, she recalled, other aspects of her job began to change. Her emails to social studies teachers would need to be vetted before she could hit send (not a single one was approved). And she’d now be on a special project, reviewing thousands of resources that had already been approved and adopted by the district.


Lewis’ departure from not one but two school districts didn’t put an end to the efforts of anti-CRT groups. In fact, the groups used Lewis’ retreat as a rallying call.

In August 2021, Educate Cherokee — a group with a now-defunct website that identifies itself on Facebook as a local chapter of the national conservative nonprofit No Left Turn in Education — announced that it would be holding an event. According to an online notice about the event, it would be led by Heda, who had spoken at the clubhouse and the school board meetings, and Raney, who at the school board meeting had called out Lewis’ salary. In the notice, the group claimed the elimination of “a new DEI administrative position” as one of its accomplishments. “Bring your ideas, energy, and enthusiasm,” the meeting notice said. “We need to convert all of it into an effective election effort to eliminate CRT by replacing all of the current school board members up for re-election with new conservatives committed to our cause.”

The centrists who convinced themselves that anti-CRT reactionaries are concerned about “free speech” and “cancel culture” are the biggest suckers in the world. “Hiring Black administrators is ipso facto bad” is always where Rufoism was headed, and “critical race theory” never had anything to do with it.

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