Image Credits: Nati Harnik/Associated Press.

Karen Attiah is wondering why state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), who chairs the House General Investigating Committee, has sent a letter to Texas’s school districts with “a list of more than 800 books.” She knows the letter includes a request that each district count how many copies of each book they have in their classrooms and libraries, and also an estimate of how much they paid for them. She knows that the list of books is clearly the result of someone doing a basic google search of keywords like: racism, puberty, LGBT, Black, gender and transgender. And she’s aware that the letter also includes an instruction to search for additional works that have “content dealing with human sexuality, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and graphic depictions of sex” or that might make some students “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”

Attiah offers up two hypotheses for why this letter was disseminated. The first is that it’s one man’s raw ambition.

On one hand, the whole thing reeks of a political stunt that will waste valuable educational time and resources. Krause is challenging Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a Republican primary next year. In today’s Texas politics, there is no penalty for going to extremes on the right.

The second is that it’s the Republican Party’s latest iteration of the age-old Southern Strategy.

It’s not hard to read between the lines. These attacks on books come as a response to the growing power that marginalized people have demonstrated recently in our public discourse. Book-banning, like the Southern Strategy of old, is an effort to harness White fears of a new, more racially equal America.

These are good and accurate explanations but a bit sloppily applied. For example, if this were all explained by race, the heavy emphasis on sexual content would be unnecessary. The binding force is not anti-minority but anti-woke.

Progressives have talked for a long time about the importance of people not feeling “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex” or sexual orientation. What we’re seeing here is straight white people trying to apply the same standard to themselves.

When “normal” is defined as white, heterosexual and Christian, those who aren’t in those categories are often marginalized and disadvantaged, and that’s assuming they can even get equal protection and treatment under the law, which too often is not the case. We can talk about this as “privilege” and “lack of privilege” but that doesn’t mean that every white person is living the good life, getting the best jobs and sending their kids to the best schools. A lot of white folks don’t feel like they’re at the top of the pyramid. They feel like victims themselves. The traditional jobs that fueled their communities are gone. A drug epidemic is crushing them. And when they look for some basic moral grounding, like going to church, getting married, being a good father who provides, they find that those values aren’t necessarily respected.

Under the circumstances, it’s not surprising that they seek comfort in the past. They want to fall back on the things they can be proud of, as this can provide some sense of dignity and inspiration. But they find that the past is now reinterpreted as mainly a period of brutal imperialism, slavey and genocide for which whites are almost solely responsible.

It’s easy to see why a white parent might be concerned about how their child perceives this. It should be easy to understand why it has so much political salience and power.

This doesn’t mean books should be banned or history whitewashed, but those aren’t the issues that should be our primary concern. They’re more symptoms of a much more general backlash that is now threatening our entire system of government. We’re losing the consent of the governed. A third of the country doesn’t believe Joe Biden rightfully won the 2020 presidential election, and more effort is now being made on the right to rig elections than to win them. We’re witnessing the rise of an anti-democratic ethno/religious nationalism that is synonymous with fascism. These folks are working to take over our school boards, our offices of elections, and our town councils, and it’s a mortal threat.

It’s hard to say people should be more focused on managing the hurt feelings of people who hate and resent them. But, as a political matter, and a concern for the well-being of our society, it could be suicidal to ignore the power of the anti-Critical Race Theory movement, as well as the broader backlash against woke culture. I’ve been arguing for years that when poor white communities don’t get left-wing populism on the menu, they will opt for fascism. That’s what is happening right now. That’s why books are being banned.

I don’t believe the solution is to stop teaching history or pursuing justice for historically disadvantaged groups. What the left needs to do is recognize that it can’t leave whole communities out or define them as the enemy. I’ve talked about an anti-monopoly movement at the most promising inroad, and I still believe that’s the best option.

The current trajectory isn’t promising, that’s for sure.

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