Thursday, January 12, 2023

Black Men Teach

My mother-in-law’s Christmas present from my daughter and son-in-law was a donation to Black Men Teach, a Minnesota organization. The name and purpose of Black Men Teach cut to the heart of the diversity and equality arguments that divide American liberals and conservatives.

The mission of Black Men Teach is “to recruit, prepare, place and retain Black male teachers in elementary schools.” Conservatives believe that such an organization should not exist. They claim that right-thinking people are color-blind and gender-blind. The attempt to specifically recruit Black men as teachers is thus typical of the discriminatory inclinations of liberals, who pervert education with political messages that themselves are racist and sexist. That viewpoint animates Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ views on affirmative action.

 Conservatives are right – they are blind to the facts of color and gender, although those facts stare us in the face every day. They are not unable, but unwilling to see the meaning of hiring Black male teachers in today’s America.

In a long career as a small-college historian, I participated in several hirings of Black men and women to all-white departments. Color had enormous significance. Experiences in life and school, approaches to and emotions about American history, and classroom encounters with mostly white students were very different in ways difficult for whites to fully understand.

“Color blindness” is claimed as a virtue by conservative white people. Black Americans don’t believe it. More than any other ethnicity, Blacks vote for Democrats, an estimated 87% in the presidential election of 2020.

Exit polls in November showed that 86% of Blacks voted for Democrats. Even a Black Republican candidate can’t attract Black votes: a survey showed that Raphael Warnock won 90% of Black votes in Georgia in November against Herschel Walker.

Black Lives Matter is a banal truism. But when white American society was daily confronted with public protest against the fact that in America black lives mattered less, conservatives attacked the BLM truism as itself objectionable. New slogans were devised to counteract the idea that political change might make Black lives matter more. The ubiquitous evidence that Black lives are more at risk is dismissed, because conservative social policy is not evidence-based, but ideologically comfortable. Seeing color is frightening to Republican voters, so is anathema to Republican politicians.

Color blindness comes in many forms. It is mostly inherited, and is much more common among males. The Ishihara color test can diagnose the type and severity, and accommodations can be made. There is no cure.

Conservative color blindness has no biological source – it is an ideological affliction. It does not conform well or adapt to the actual colors of our social context. Its defense mechanism is cleverly chosen. Conservatives argue that any attempt to think about the differences color makes is “racist”. They claim to stand fully behind the modern emphasis on equality across ethnicity and gender, despite their history, and so are better than “phony liberals”. Color blindness is the real non-discrimination.

All forms of color blindness represent inability to discriminate when the differences are obvious. What would happen if the conservative form of color blindness were tested? How much do conservatives actually notice color? What feelings arise from seeing color?

Here’s what I hypothesize those tests would show: most cases of so-called conservative color blindness are false positives. They don’t want to admit what they see, feel, and do, so they claim that what we see doesn’t exist. Those who are offended by Black Men Teach, and every other social action which recognizes and reduces color differences, willfully stagger through our daily realm, bumping into people and things of value, which they say they can’t see.

Conservative color blindness is an occupational affliction, debilitating especially to public personalities. Claims to be suffering from this disability come mainly from people who need to justify their behavior to some public. Their symptoms usually include the loud assertion “I Am Not A Racist.” A classic example of how attention to color can coexist with claims of color blindness came from Trump himself in his final debate against Biden in 2020. Conservatives had found the most outrageous thing anyone connected with BLM had ever said, and repeated it incessantly. This allowed Trump to say both that BLM is “a horrible thing” and “I am the least racist person in this room.”

I wish Black Men Teach success in helping to staff Twin Cities schools “with racially and culturally diverse teachers and leaders”. Elementary school students will see the Black teachers and learn more about the real meaning of color. At that age, they won’t have developed ideological diseases like conservative color blindness.

Steve Hochstadt

Springbrook, WI

December 31, 2022


Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Limitations of Originalism


Around this 4th of July, there was much talk about originalism. After the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence, which was accomplished exactly 246 years ago, the men whom we now call founders spent 13 more years thinking and arguing about how to set up a newly independent nation. That historically unique process of political creation not only established our country, but inspired millions of people across the human world to dream about their own nations, some with long historical traditions, others as yet only imagined. The survival of the United States of America based on that original vision has been an unprecedented historical achievement.

Originalism is the idea that the continued development of the United States must adhere to the political structure enshrined in the Constitution. Through two and half centuries of the most rapid political changes in human history, originalism has preserved the political inventions of the founders: power separated among three dissimilar branches of government; division of legislative authority between many states and one federal government; the protection of unprecedented rights for all citizens against governmental coercion; and the free and regular exercise of voting by citizens as the ultimate authority. No American government or person may legally violate those Constitutional rules.

But many of the founders’ firmest political beliefs, also clearly written into the Constitution, have not survived. The same intellectual and moral progress which brought forth the ideals of the American revolutionaries continued after 1789, progress which eventually challenged some of their original decisions. The two sides in the Civil War argued for contrasting sets of those original ideas, which had become by 1860 irreconcilable: the political structure of the national government versus the social structure of American society. The Southern rebels asserted the primacy of white racial superiority, which was a founding tenet of the Constitution, over the unity of the nation created by the Constitution.

Although the Confederacy was defeated and the Constitution was legally amended by the processes outlined by the founders, the original ideas of white supremacy reigned in the US for another century. The apparent promise of the 14th Amendment of 1868, like the apparent promise of the 19th Amendment of 1920, was overwhelmed by stubborn political adherence to the racist and sexist beliefs upon which the US was founded. All branches of American government, Presidents, Congresses, Supreme Courts, and state legislatures, ignored the wording and ideals that represented human moral progress in favor of the outdated original meanings of the Constitution.

The civil rights movements in our lifetimes on behalf of African Americans, women, Native Americans, and LGBTQ Americans were moral revolutions against the founders’ original intentions. The firsts that have occurred in this young 21st century, the first Black President and Vice President, the first Black female Supreme Court justice, the first Native American Cabinet secretary, show how much further American society must travel before we achieve the human equality that the founders proclaimed only for white men.
We must remain true to the original political structures that the founders invented if we hope to make further progress. That structure has been under attack for the past two years from within the government and from outside, by telephone calls and mob violence. We must rely on the political institutions whose outlines were put  in place in 1789 to repel those attacks.

We must also rely on the moral progress which has transformed human society since 1789 to guide our journey toward making those institutions more and more egalitarian, more and more democratic, more and more fair to all.

Originalism as an ideological guide is exactly as useful and as limited as the original visions of the founders themselves. They were revolutionaries, and the revolution must go on.

Steve Hochstadt
Roslindale, MA
July 21, 2022

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The Republican Problem With the Holocaust



Republicans are having difficulty deciding how they should think about Nazis and the Holocaust. They deny actions they have publicly taken, propagate and then delete messages, verbally promote and legislatively limit teaching about what the Nazis did. They seem confused, but aren’t. Some Republicans cozy up to Nazis. Some Republicans, often the same ones, call Democrats Nazis. Many Republicans across the country are attacking the foundation of Holocaust teaching. These three arms of Republican behavior around the Nazis have a single result: to trivialize the Holocaust.


Embracing Nazis always makes news. Carl Paladino, Republican nominee for NY Governor in 2010, Trump’s NY campaign chair in 2016, and current House candidate, is simply the latest fascist advocate. In a radio interview last year, which somehow did not become public news until this month, he praised Hitler: “He would get up there screaming these epithets and these people were just, they were hypnotized by him. I guess that’s the kind of leader we need today. We need somebody inspirational. We need somebody that is a doer.” Paladino combines admiration for Nazis and old-fashioned American racism: in 2016, he hoped that Barack Obama would die of mad cow disease and suggested that Michelle Obama be “let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”


The overlap between conservative Republicans and neo-Nazism has a long history. Former Nazis and neo-Nazis were founders of the Republican Heritage Groups Council in 1969, which excluded Black and Jewish Americans. Some Republican candidates in the 2018 elections were open Nazis, white supremacists and/or Holocaust deniers: Vox said 5, the Forward said 9. Illinois Rep. Mary Miller approvingly quoted Hitler the day before the January 6 riots, and recently won the Republican primary.


More Republicans stand next to Nazis without themselves praising Hitler. Arizona Republican office holders and candidates appeared at a 2021 rally organized by Matt Braynard, former director of data and strategy for Trump’s 2020 campaign, featuring Greyson Arnold as a speaker, who calls Nazis “the pure race” and supports the neo-Nazi group Stormfront. Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin appeared this year at the America First Political Action Conference, which is hosted by white nationalists who express antisemitism and deny the Holocaust. She posed for pictures with Holocaust denier Vincent James Foxx. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene stood proudly next to Nazi-sympathizer Nick Fuentes at the same conference, where he later praised Putin and Hitler.


White supremacy has become integral to Republican messaging. A Twitter employee in 2019 argued internally that getting rid of racist content would involve deleting Republican Party messages, including Trump’s: “on a technical level, content from Republican politicians could get swept up by algorithms aggressively removing white supremacist material”. Prominent Republicans who have openly promoted the “white replacement theory” that Democrats are trying to replace real Americans with ethnic minorities in order to win elections include Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik. FOX’s Tucker Carlson has been the most vocal propagator of this theory. German Nazis could not have been so bad if our political celebrities want to take selfies with their American cousins and parrot their racist nonsense.


It only seems contradictory that for many Republicans, including those who happily consort with American fascists, “Nazi” is a favorite label for politicians and government employees they don’t like.  Donald Trump, Jr., in 2018 said the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform was “awfully similar” to Nazi Party platforms. Doug Mastriano, the Pennsylvania nominee for governor, compared Democrats’ gun control proposals to the Nazis in 2018 and again this year. In June 2021, Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry said Democrats were like Nazis who want to destroy America. Even though Trump’s most notable achievement was the development of a vaccine, Republicans as a Party have criticized every government effort to save lives through masks and vaccines. Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert called government advocates of vaccinations “needle Nazis” and “medical brownshirts” in front of a cheering CPAC crowd in July 2021. Sen. candidate Josh Mandel in Ohio in April 2021 and Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson in January 2022 compared our government’s health policy to the Nazis. Lara Logan, a host on Fox News Media’s streaming service, said in November that Anthony Fauci “represents Josef Mengele”.


Marjorie Taylor Greene denounced the media for comparing Republicans to Nazis in May 2021, then said the Democrats were the “national socialist party”. When Nancy Pelosi announced rules in May 2021 requiring unvaccinated members of the House to wear masks on the chamber floor, Greene said on a Christian Broadcasting Network program: “You know, we can look back at a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany. And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.” After the American Jewish Congress tweeted back, “Such comparisons demean the Holocaust”, she insisted: “I stand by all of my statements; I said nothing wrong, I think any rational Jewish person didn’t like what happened in Nazi Germany, and any rational Jewish person doesn’t like what’s happening with overbearing mask mandates and overbearing vaccine policies.” She was so convinced of her imagery, she used it the next week in a tweet about one company’s vaccination policy: “Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi’s [sic] forced Jewish people to wear a gold star.”


Greene is not demeaning the Holocaust. Playing with Nazis, calling her opponents Nazis, and comparing herself to Jewish Holocaust victims all serve to diminish the Holocaust. Republicans are attempting to remake the Holocaust into a normal political event. If America’s doctors are like German Stormtroopers, if requiring one’s employees or our members of Congress to follow the most obvious public health rules is like murdering thousands of Jews and others every day for years, then the Holocaust as a singular event has disappeared.


Weeks later Greene apologized. As one of the most public faces of the Republican Party, she had gone one step too fast in pursuit of the Party’s goal of normalizing the Holocaust.


The Holocaust is a dangerous subject for American conservatives, because it was the mass murder of Jews by Christians. A few prominent Nazis espoused crackpot theories of Aryan paganism, and Polish Catholics and Russian Orthodox Christians were also slaughtered in vast numbers. But the murder of 6 million Jews was the culmination of centuries of official Christian persecution. Teaching about the Holocaust should begin with the Bible and must explain the violent antisemitism of nearly all Christian denominations right into the 20th century. Anti-Jewish racism was embedded in Christian European and American societies and their legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white Christians. The recognition of Christian responsibility for Western antisemitism and the Holocaust led every Christian denomination in Western Europe and America after 1945 to repudiate centuries of their own dogma.


The wave of Republican censorship of public school and university curricula in response to the sudden American reckoning on race after George Floyd’s murder purports to be about “critical race theory”. When Florida’s Board of Education banned “critical race theory” from public school classrooms one year ago, the Board seemed to protect Holocaust education by also banning any teaching that denies the Holocaust. But their language points in the opposite direction. Critical race theory “distorts historical events” by asserting “that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.” The Holocaust was caused by precisely such embedded white supremacy. And like American anti-Black racism, that white supremacy had deep roots in official Christianity.


I have seen my students become uncomfortable when confronted with facts about Christian persecution of Jews and Nazi admiration for American Jim Crow legislation in the 1930s as a model for the Nuremberg laws. The American eugenicist Madison Grant, whose 1916 eulogy for Nordic supremacy was entitled “The Passing of the Great Race”, was equally popular with American segregationists and Adolf Hitler, who called the book his “bible”. They were disturbed by the realization that German Jews, from the passage of Nuremberg Laws in 1935 until the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, were treated essentially the same as African Americans here, whose racial persecution continued unabated into the 1960s. That same knowledge frightens today’s right-wing Christians across the Western world. The Christian nationalist parties in Europe all seek to diminish the Holocaust, especially the role played by Christians in their own nations: those in power in Poland and Hungary, and those trying for power in Germany and France.


The literal wording of recent Republican censorship laws bans education that doesn’t exist. The fake narrative that critical race theory is taught in public schools is the basis of this wave of legislation. A different and broader invention imperils Holocaust education: the claim in Wisconsin’s 2021 law that it is necessary to forbid teachers from indoctrinating their students with the idea “that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex and that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals of the same race or sex.” That kind of systematically damaging pedagogy was in fact integral to American education for centuries. The long racial reckoning which began in the 1960s demonstrated how white supremacy was written into all levels of educational curricula. The claim that American racism is over, the foundation of the attacks on critical race theory, ignores the continuing power and weight of adult Americans who were subject for years to those curricula, as I was.


Any hint that a teacher is promoting racial or gender superiority is likely to be called out without any help from new laws. The Republicans are not anxiously hunting for hidden examples of white supremacy or male superiority. That’s what they promote. They want their supporters to believe that they will reveal and defeat the teaching that blacks are superior to whites and that women are superior to men, exactly the kind of fake crisis that dominates the politico-cultural war.


Over years of interacting with teachers of the Holocaust, I never heard of any who told students that they bore “responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals of the same race or sex”. Holocaust teachers do mention that this was precisely what Christian churches had been saying for centuries about Jews. Such claims were fundamental to murderous persecution. But inducing guilt in today’s students is hardly useful in teaching history.


The discussions during the Republican effort in Louisiana to ban critical race theory display how the right-wing ideology of the Holocaust plays out at the state level. Republican state representative Valarie Hodges sponsored a bill in 2021 to mandate Holocaust education in Louisiana. Hodges was an avid promoter of the idea that Democrats are as bad as Nazis. She was part of the effort of conservative Republicans in the state to require the teaching of patriotic themes in American history and to block more teaching about America’s racial history. Hodges brought a Metairie resident to testify about the dangers of “communism” in our government: “To put it in Holocaust terms, the communists are now the Nazis and we are the Jews. They are the predators. We are the prey. We need to teach this history to our future citizens so we don’t end up like the Jews.” No Jewish organizations testified in favor of Hodges’ bill. The executive director of the American Historical Association, Jim Grossman, speaking for professional historians in America, recognized the ultimate goal. “You’re saying, ‘You have to teach the history of Holocaust, but you can’t teach the history of institutionalized, deeply embedded racism in the United States.’”


Rep. Ray Garofalo, the head of the Louisiana House Education Committee, sponsored a bill barring teaching about institutional racism. He then slipped and said the right-wing truth: any lessons about American slavery should include “the good, the bad, the ugly”. Garafalo’s other unprofessional antics made him such an easy target, that the Republican Speaker of the House removed him as chair, and replaced him with another Republican. All the bills about mandating and preventing subjects in Louisiana public education ultimately failed.


The legislative history of Republican censorship in Arizona offers similar clues about what the issues are and what will be attempted in the future. Arizona Republicans in the state legislature are unanimously in favor of putting an amendment to the state’s constitution before the voters. The bill’s lengthy section B enumerates seven varieties of fake complaints about non-existent educational practices. The key is section A: teachers in public schools from elementary to high school: “may not use public monies for instruction that promotes or advocates for any form of blame or judgment on the basis of race, ethnicity or sex”. The bill’s sponsor, Michelle Udall, argued that, “If a teacher can’t teach [history] without placing blame or judgment on the basis of race, they shouldn’t be teaching.” She was clear about what she meant: it will be okay to say that a mass murder in a Buffalo grocery story happened, but it would “not be appropriate” to say that the mass murderer was a white supremacist. Her bill would insure that such teachers could be personally punished. Republicans in the Arizona House and Senate unanimously voted in favor. The bill was signed into law as part of a budget whose main item was a tax cut for better-off Arizonans.


How does one teach the Holocaust or slavery without detailing the responsibility of particular human groups for inhuman treatment of fellow humans of other groups based on racist ideologies?


Conservative politicians can count on well-funded organizations to create the local crises around curriculum that alarm enough parents to get educators fired. Nearly 900 school districts across the country, educating one third of all public school students in the country, were targeted by anti-CRT efforts from September 2020 to August 2021. The most thorough study of the nationwide campaign against teaching about race concluded: “The anti “CRT” effort is a purposeful, nationally/state interconnected, and locally driven conflict campaign to block or restrict proactive teaching and professional development related to race, racism, bias, and many aspects of proactive diversity/equity/inclusion efforts in schools, while — for some — gaining political power and control. The conflict campaign’s loudest, most powerful voices caricature actual teaching and stoke parent anxiety in a quest to control both schools and government.”


The real danger that Republican curricular censorship presents to Holocaust teaching is not the occasional eruption of stupidity, as in Southlake, Texas. Texas House Bill 3979 requires teachers to present multiple perspectives when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” issues. Gina Peddy, the executive director of curriculum and instruction in the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, told teachers,

“Just try to remember the concepts of 3979 . . . make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.” That caused a small scandal. Despite posing for photographs with Holocaust deniers, Republican politicians don’t yet demand that Holocaust denial become part of the curriculum.


But when Holocaust denial comes from within the community, from antisemitic parents, the new laws make teaching difficult. A North Carolina teacher wrote: “My SUPERINTENDENT asked us to advise students to ‘ask your parents’ rather than insist that the Holocaust was real. We received professional development to help us navigate this political environment safely. Our superintendent attended and told us to advise kids to ‘ask your parents’ instead of try to show evidence to a child whose family swears the Holocaust didn’t happen.”


New Republican laws and their emboldened approach to white supremacy will inevitably lead to an attack on any Holocaust teaching which goes beyond the discussion of prejudice to analyze the power of embedded racism and Christian white supremacy.


For Republicans, teaching the histories of America and of the Holocaust is too dangerous to allow. Those educations cause intellectual, then social disturbance. Both explain the role of embedded racism in Western society and the disastrous consequences. The Holocaust is over, and Christian nationalists all over Western society have been calling for Jews to get over it. But American racism and sexism are not. The success of the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements in demonstrating the continuing influence of male and white supremacy has frightened Christian conservatives. They are using the inevitable discomfort of students learning that their predecessors committed genocide to try to sanitize the history they will learn.


The American Association of University Professors and the American Historical Association, along with other educational organizations, released a statement in June 2021 opposing the new rollout of bills restricting the  teaching of history. The statement focuses entirely on “the role of racism in the history of the United States”. Thus far, Holocaust teaching has suffered only collateral damage in the Republican war against American history. But without trivializing Holocaust education into anodyne lessons on intolerance, Republicans will never be able to cover up the historical truth that critical race theory foregrounds: racism has been and may still be embedded in American life.


Today teachers of American history are the targets of Republican censorship. Holocaust teachers, you’re next.


Steve Hochstadt


22 June 2022