Erasure and Critical Racist Theory

As promised, I will start with the update in the criminal investigation into The Don and his organization. Indeed, indictments came down and it was a beautiful thing to watch Allen Weisselberg do a perp-walk handcuffed. The Trump organization allegedly paid executives off the books—collectively denying New York City, New York State, and the federal government hundreds of thousands of tax dollars. It’s hard not to think of the fact that The Don paid only $750 in income tax in 2017, or of his response to an accusation by Hillary Clinton during a debate that he had dodged paying taxes for years: “That makes me smart,” he boasted. 

Let’s hope that the next phase of the D.A’s investigation finally catches him with his hand in the cookie jar. That will definitely “smart.”

Now today’s piece:

We are embroiled in a national battle over the impact of teaching children about Critical Race Theory. Simply put: How dare teachers tell the truth about America’s brutal past? Come on, enough already. Didn’t we Republicans vote to make Juneteenth a national holiday without a peep? So let’s move on. This nonsense about facing institutional racism in our country is sheer nonsense. As Mike Pence has told you all: “There is no institutional racism.”   

Oh, you say it’s okay to teach children about slavery and what have you, but how dare you make our white children feel shame or badly about themselves if they realize that it was White people who perpetrated this? That it was White people who dehumanized Black people to rationalize their dominance and exploitation of them; White people that raped, brutally abused and lynched Black people. Why are you forcing our children to learn about this? Can’t you let bygones be bygones? Can’t we just continue the erasure of this history?

Could it be because exposing the brutal reality of this history destroys the myth of American Exceptionalism? Could it be that White people might have to come to the realization that we have been, and still, are a White Supremacist society?

America, for all its accomplishments, is a profoundly ill society. As a psychologist, I have come across numerous people who suffer from significant mental illness who refuse to acknowledge it. To the eyes of the world, they may appear quite successful, but underneath the veneer of this success, is a deeply troubled and damaged human. This suffering eats away at them, often leading to behaviors that are destructive to others. The denial that there is something wrong is a necessity to maintain the illusion that everything is fine.

America is like one of those people. It has all the trappings of success, but when you dig deeper, it perpetuates a denialism and fabulism that prevents it from becoming what it can be. 

After World War II, Germany worked hard to make sure that future generations were taught about the horrors of the holocaust. There were no statues of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels standing tall in parks; there were no high schools named Hitler Tech, as there are schools still named after Robert E. Lee. Allowing children to understand the reality of what really happened under Hitler may have produced shame, but that is a small price to pay for the truth and is necessary for the development of empathy and a moral compass. 

Our country has never accepted its original sins of slavery and the decimation of indigenous people. Our actions were shameful and had a profound impact on the millions of people who were the victims of these actions. Our inability to reckon with these actions perpetuate some of the same egregious actions to this very day.

When a child treats another child cruelly we expect parents to sometimes use shame as a way to make a child understand the damaging impact they have had on that person Shame can open the door to empathy and help us see that we are connected by our humanness. 

The Republicans are aghast that the telling of reality will damage our children; it will make them feel guilt and shame; it will make them feel badly about America. What kind of damage could compare to the suffering, past and present, endured by black folks, who remarkably sustain belief in the possibilities of America despite how badly it has treated them?

How will we ever heal as a nation if we don’t go through this moral reckoning? Wouldn’t it be great if every child came home after learning the truth and talked to their parents about how awful it all was? Wouldn’t that make it possible for more productive conversations about our country to happen around the dinner table? Shouldn’t we want this? Shouldn’t we want to heal our original sins? Like the ill patient, there can be no healing without acknowledgement of the original trauma. 

The attack on teaching C.R.T. is all about white grievance and feared loss of power, it is the denial that whiteness has its ugly side. It is an analysis that leads to the knowledge that all have not been treated equally and given the same opportunities to participate in the “American Dream” and that the color of your skin has a profound impact on one’s destiny. This is reflected in police brutality toward blacks, poorer housing, poorer schools and the incredible economic inequities.  

It is inherent in the election of the Don and his near re-election. It is inherent in the all out war on voting rights being played out all across state legislatures. It is about the insurrection on January 6th, the increase in right wing fanatics perpetrating violence and terror, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, the continued campaign to claim the election was stolen and increased attacks on Asians, Jews, Latinos, immigrants, and Muslims. 

Born from White Supremacist violence and domination of ‘the other’, America continues on its White supremacist path. The other day it was revealed that John Kelly told someone back in 2018 that The Don said: “Hitler did a lot of good things.”

74 million people voted for this admirer of one of the most evil men to ever walk the planet. America, you have a White supremacy problem. The only way to true American Exceptionalism is through acknowledgement of this. The only way to acknowledge this is for the truth to be known. With shame comes humility and grace. With shame comes the ability to mitigate the dehumanization of others because of the color of their skin. Bring on the shame!

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