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By Claudia Meléndez Salinas
Last week’s meeting of the Salinas Union High Board of Trustees was a spectacle for the ages — and it had little to do with its leadership.
I only saw about five minutes at the beginning as two highly emotional women deplored Critical Race Theory in terms that were too bizarre for the average human mind to comprehend. The women, however, seemed genuinely scared and were crying into the microphone, slamming what they believe CRT is, equating it with incongruous facts about “gods of human sacrifice” and “children hating each other and seeing each other as the oppressor.” If you missed the coverage, watch this KION video or the actual board meeting here.
That meeting, along with the legislation being approved or considered all over the country to ban CRT points to something bigger, something more coordinated and, as it turns out, something more Machiavellian. I’ll get to that later.
But first, back to the women: their passion and fervor against something they had obviously no trustworthy information about reminded me of something else I’ve witnessed: the immigration debate.
My journalism career began around the time when anti-immigrant fervor in California was at a fever pitch, so much so that voters approved Proposition 187, called “Save our State,” to prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving medical care and their children from attending public schools. Most of the measure was eventually deemed unconstitutional, but, boy, it whipped up a frenzy like nothing I’d seen before.
It was early in my career; I was green and naïve and, following my mentors’ guidance about “objectivity,” I attempted to give full airing to the immigration detractors’ grievances, a thorough explanation of their arguments and why they held no water. Statements like “people should go to the back of the line” and “these people are stealing our jobs” would get the full, rational response of an economics professor explaining supply-side economics. In my mind, I was doing a public service by convincing people of the fallacy of these arguments.
At some point, I realized that trying to disprove fallacious “facts” and opinions is an exercise in futility. There’s no line where immigrants can queue up and wait for their status to be resolved, so why should I try to explain that one didn’t exist? Immigrants are not stealing anybody’s jobs, they just do the work nobody else will – because it’s underpaid, dangerous, monotonous, and emotionally non-rewarding if you can do something that does not demand so much of your body — so why would I even mention this false claim in my stories? Basically, I stopped quoting nonsense.
So when I heard the phrase “god of human sacrifice” at the school board meeting, I immediately recognized it as something bogus. Right up there with “go to the back of the line” and “you’re stealing our jobs.” Something you should not respond to, because why would you? Would you argue with a 3-year-old throwing a tantrum because she wants to stick a fork in an electrical socket? Or a teenager trying to persuade you of the goodness of alcohol for his 14-year-old brain? Or a conspiracy theorist attempting to convince you that a certain president was sent by God? I suspect the answer is no, but if you said “yes” then I have a beach-front condo in Cabo I’d like to sell you.
Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of daily journalism does — it’s one of the reasons I needed to stop producing articles that way. Media is so consumed with the breaking news aspect, the competition, the he-said-she-said model that passes for objectivity but allows no room for thoughtful analysis or real understanding of what’s going on in our cities, in our society.
So this attack on Critical Race Theory, a complex set of ideas and a body of analytical tools for examining how race and racism work, is prime to be exploited in the most callous way. And that’s exactly what’s happening. According to an excellent article published by NBC news, the topic is being used by a movement with the backing of major conservative organizations and media outlets to galvanize Republican voters. The same way the abortion topic was used, or the gay rights movement, or the immigration debate in California 30 years ago.
In other words, you distract the public with emotional, galvanizing issues so they don’t see or react to the self-dealing of hedge fund owners or the slow erosion of our democracy.
Republicans are losing voters faster than Rudy Guiliani’s losing clients. But instead of “rebranding” after their 2020 losses, they’re doubling down on the tactics that used to bring them big wins, such as scapegoating immigrants, gays, and anybody with a body part that begins with a “v.” Those were the tactics of 45, and it’s no coincidence: that’s what the party’s mega donors want. That’s why so many in their ideological camp are still intent on declaring 45 a winner of the November elections, all evidence notwithstanding.
And that’s why we may see more distressed women and men whipped to a frenzy about “Aztec gods” (because nothing gets white people more riled up than Brown people’s deities and religions) and attending school board meetings to slam CRT — even though they probably have never read a book that explains it.
And that’s why everyone should learn what CRT is (it’s not an attack on white people), what it does, and why it is important for everyone to discuss how racism works, how it’s nearly everywhere around us, and what we can all do to stop its pervasive effects in our society.
And that’s why journalism should be totally revamped to stop the he-said-she-said model, to stop giving a full airing to fallacious arguments. To stop spreading lies. How’s that for a concept?
Lastly, that’s why it would be a great idea not to engage with those who believe such desperate arguments. Responding to their claims is akin to engaging with an uninformed, tantrum-throwing brat. Our energy is better spent elsewhere.
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