A Rhode Island woman named Nicole Solas made her June 2, 2021 national debut on Fox News, sobbing after inundating the South Kingstown School Board with 200 public record requests about the use of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the classroom, which in turn led to the Board contemplating a legal response. I could not resist a bemused chortle.
Solas and her dark money allies have caricatured CRT, the new Trumpkin fetish, as some kind of Bolshevik plot. Meanwhile, here in the real world, Black radicals have for years dismissed CRT as being too centrist and accommodating. My Facebook timeline has been filled all week with opinion columns and academic papers by such thinkers, which makes me wonder if anyone actually still approves of CRT.
Three years ago, an emeritus professor from my undergrad alma mater of Rhode Island College, Dr. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, hired me to offer technical assistance on illustrations for the updated second edition of her CRT textbook, Race and Racism: An Introduction. I deeply appreciated the opportunity from an extraordinary scholar and mentor but also recognized that this mainstream textbook was exactly that. It’s an instructive and important volume, but also not some tome that will eventuate construction of the guillotine.
To resolve the issue of racism in Western society, Critical Race Theory (CRT) seeks to apply the negative dialectics of critical theory to the intersection of race, law, and power in the pursuit of racial and ethnic equality in Western society. That is to say, critical race theorists seek to convict Western society for not identifying with their values and ideals (liberty, equality, fraternity, etc.) due to the prevalence of racial and ethnic oppression and subordination in the society.
Within academia, CRT is a multi-disciplinary lens that seeks to interrogate the racialized nature of our wider social contract and to obviate the inexplicit racism embedded within it. CRT is highly legalistic and at least originally proposed that you can legislate and reform America out of racism. That’s pretty utopian given how extraordinarily reactionary this society is.
The textbook that I worked on was a primer on CRT and an intellectual history of anthropology, the author’s discipline of study, which played a key role in the construction during the last 150 years of racialized hierarchies within social and legal codes. There are many more disciplines in the academy that have willingly engaged with that project as well, meaning that it is easy to envision a CRT lens being applied to film studies, the history of medicine, or political science.
Far from being some innocent Know Nothing stay-at-home mom, Nicole Solas is a 2013 graduate of the Roger Williams School of Law in Bristol, Rhode Island, a municipality just adjacent to Newport. This means her feigned ignorance about how the volume of public records requests would gum up the municipal archival research system is nonsense. Indeed, anyone who spends time in a university law library understands exactly how much legwork is necessary in primary source document research. Furthermore, one is forced to wonder if Solas was even exposed to the writings of thinkers like Derrick Bell, the Black legal scholar who cofounded CRT fifty years ago.
When Solas spoke at the school board meeting on Wednesday, she portrayed herself as a naïf who had “done what she was asked to do” by filing the paperwork and felt “bullied” by the Board’s response. Ultimately, however, it was a pathetic stage performance that would be laughed out of her alma mater’s summer stock theater, which may explain her lack of success as a trial lawyer and decision to resign from the workforce.
The group that has taken up Solas’ banner, Parents Defending Education (PDE), merits further skepticism. In reality, PDE is an astroturfed nonprofit organization whose ultimate goal is further privatization of public education via the school voucher route. Democrats support charter schools and accuse teacher unions of sheltering racists, while Republicans advocate for vouchers that can be spent at religious schools and claim that public education promotes a grand Secular Humanist Cultural Marxist woke ideology-cum-religion. It is rather obvious that this is yet another stunt seeking to turn millions of dollars in public property over to American oligarchs.
On a deeper level, this is a very cynical offensive charge within a larger battlefield. As I have reported multiple times, ex-Breitbart News chairman and former President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, and the sector of the GOP leadership he represents, are seeking to reintroduce Gilded Age scientific racism to public discourse. By manipulating unwitting parents with certain Trumpian allegiances, cynical political operatives like Solas and PDE are launching a scorched-earth campaign to prevent the success of anything that might hinder this –like teaching kids about the history of racism and racial stereotypes that marginalization and discrimination hinge upon.
In fairness, not everyone who has been amped up into a panic by Solas is a flaming white nationalist. But she absolutely is, and should be treated accordingly.