Following a wave of Republican bills across the country against the teaching of critical race theory in schools and universities, Alabama Republican state Rep. Chris Pringle recently pre-filed a bill of his own to ban its teaching in his own state.
But Pringle, much like many of the other Republican lawmakers across the country who are fixated on the concept, doesn’t appear to have a grasp on what critical race theory is.
In a phone interview with AL.com writer Kyle Whitmire, Pringle repeated the false notion that critical race theory teaches “that certain children are inherently bad people because of the color of their skin.” However, when asked to cite any critical race scholars who are advancing that bogus version of the concept, Pringle was naturally at a loss.
“Yeah, uh, well — I can assure you — I’ll have to read a lot more,” Pringle told Whitmire.
As it happens, Pringle’s version of critical race theory is completely detached from the reality of what the academic concept actually is. Rather, his version, in fact, is closer to what Republicans have distorted the concept to mean seemingly in order to fearmonger and keep students from being educated about the racist roots of the U.S.
In reality, critical race theory is an academic concept born in the 1970s that studies and educates on racism’s pervasive and widespread systemic impact on the United States. It has been a force for liberation, as its scholars hold.
Over the past months, however, Republicans, inspired by Donald Trump, have launched attack after attack on the concept — attacks that they now seek to codify into law. The GOP has transformed critical race theory into a catch-all for any form of anti-racism or teaching about racism and has been using it to demonize people and institutions to their base.
Pringle, for instance, falsely told AL.com that critical race theory scholars were putting white men into reeducation camps. When asked to provide evidence of that claim, Pringle mentioned an article he had read but was unable to name the source or provide a link when pressed by Whitmire.
There is, of course, no evidence of any white men in the U.S. being sent en masse to reeducation camps other than a viral clip from Fox claiming that the debunked conspiracy theory concerning the camps was true.
After rambling back and forth about what he believes the theory is, Whitmer reports, Pringle said he’s simply interested in starting a conversation about it. However, banning the teaching of the topic in schools and colleges, as the Republican state representative is proposing, would stymie future conversations.
As many political commentators have pointed out, that appears to be the true goal for Republicans as they lash out against the movement for Black lives that was reignited in 2020. Regardless of how tenuous of a grasp they have on the real definition of critical race theory, Republican state legislators are continuing to file — and pass — bill after bill banning its teaching.
“In the conservative telling, critical race theory is a loosely defined but awesomely omnipresent phantasmagoric threat that’s infecting schools and institutions across the country,” wrote Alex Shephard for The New Republic. “Anyone who speaks up against it is heralded as a hero, fighting on behalf of children who would otherwise be brainwashed into learning about racism and privilege.”
That heroism is translating into dollars for many Republicans, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state recently banned the theory from classrooms and who has been fundraising off that effort.
“It’s just politicians trying to manipulate people to garner campaign contributions and votes, whipping them up with something that has no basis in merit or fact,” Alabama Democratic chair and state Rep. Chris England told Whitmire. “All anybody really wants to be taught in their schools is the accurate and true representation of American and world history, and that includes America’s sordid history with race.”
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