Commentary

The rightwing backlash is inevitable. It’s how we handle it that matters.

Washington D.C. 6 January 2021: Right wing insurrectionists storm the Capitol building at Donald Trump's urging.
Washington D.C., January 6, 2021: Right wing insurrectionists storm the Capitol building at Donald Trump's urging.Photo: Shutterstock

A group of “Concerned voters of North Brookfield” Massachusetts has launched a missive that is dismissive of the social justice-focused topics currently taught in that town’s high school. Though never providing specifics regarding book titles and authors, the letter claims that “the school committee has created a ‘wish list’ of 169 books for the upcoming school year which contains some very disturbing materials and authors.”

“Subjects of these books, along with some of the authors, are inflammatory, age-inappropriate, and likely to confuse children rather than educate them. Much of the reading is racist against white individuals, encourages gender confusion and/or encourages hate.”

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The “concerned voters” accuse the school committee of discounting its voices, adding, “The school committee has also taken upon itself to remove the longstanding [Native American name and] mascot [of the high school] despite over 700 signatures against the action. The 700+ voices were not even considered.”

An italicized and bold print warning appears on the very bottom:

“We think racism is wrong no matter who it is against. Teaching children not to be white is racism is bad and detrimental to their mental health and educational growth.”

“Ideas are scary. They come into this world ugly and messy. Ideas are frightening because they threaten what is known. They are the natural-born enemy of the way things are. Yes, ideas are scary and messy and fragile, but under the proper care, they become something beautiful.”

Yes, new ideas and the movements they spark have usually, at least initially, appeared messy and scary because they do, indeed, “threaten what is known,” because they truly “are the natural-born enemy to the way things are.”

In terms of ideas that challenge entrenched systems of power, forces for the maintenance of the status quo wage battle to turn back the gains progressive movements have fought so tirelessly to advance.

We see history replete with an intense and often violent backlash against movements working to end slavery, the unequal treatment of women, apartheid, and discrimination against LGBTQ people.

As school districts throughout the United States have taken up the charge by lifting the rug to sweep away the diseased dust mites of the various forms of oppression, unfortunately, the right-wing backlash was inevitable. Conservative and right-wing conspiracy theorists have fought LGBTQ equality by spreading misinformation and lies about our lives and our so-called “agendas.”

The murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin has brought the United States and countries around the world to a historic moment of tragedy and opportunity. It has highlighted the continuing tragedy of largely unarmed black and brown people being killed because of their skin color – and an opportunity for the reinvigoration of the anti-racism civil rights movement that has moved more slowly in recent years.

Advancing anti-racism discussions and curricular materials in schools does not attack white people or white identity. Discussion about the Black Lives Matter movement does not imply that white lives do not matter. Anti-racism addresses and promotes the elimination of systemic racism while valuing all people.

Advancing curricular materials in schools that don’t demonize LGBTQ people does not attack heterosexual and cisgender people. And it certainly does not “confuse children,” but rather, demonstrates that people different from themselves live valued and productive lives. Such education has the potential to save young people who are struggling with issues of identity.

The creators of the missive are undervaluing and downplaying the emotional and intellectual sophistication and independence of thought by referring to North Brookfield High School students as “children.”

We must understand this “concerned voters” missive for what it is: a backlash against the promotion of a more perfect union.

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