In a recent appearance on Bill Maher’s show, conservative pundit Ben Shapiro was asked to define Critical Race Theory (CRT). Without hesitation, Shapiro rattled off that CRT “essentially argues that racism is baked into all the systems of American society, and that any sort of neutral system is in fact a guise for racial power.”
Shapiro further clarified, “If you can see any stat where Black people are underperforming white people, this means the system was set up for the benefit of white people and that white people have a duty to tear down these systems in order to alleviate the racism that’s implicit in those systems. When it comes to schools, what this tends to boil down to is: Kids who are white have experienced privilege because the system was built for white people, and we have to change the standards.”
After he was done, Maher turned to Shapiro’s sparring partner on the show, national security expert Malcolm Nance, and said “Okay, Malcolm, you tell me your definition.”
“Oh, I agree with everything he just said,” Nance responded with a sly smile, followed by a laugh of surprise from the crowd as it applauded. Nance continued, “I agree with all of those suppositions because they are grounded in truth.”
For the last two years, the words “critical race theory” have spilled from the lips of countless conservative leaders. All the while, nine states have passed laws barring CRT from public schools and charter schools, and 11 others have bills in motion to do the same. Simultaneously, the battle over CRT is also being fought at the federal level, thanks to conservative lawmakers like Senator Tom Cotton who has said, “Critical Race Theory teaches people to obsess over race and to believe that America is an evil, oppressive place. Federal funds should not be used to support activists in schools who want to teach our kids to hate each other and their country.”
The thing is, while lawmakers bicker over teaching racism in schools, other nations weaponize that same history to further divide us and weaken our nation. You see, countries like Russia and China already know racism is America’s Achilles heel, and they use it against us constantly. This isn’t my opinion; this is what their military leaders and strategists say –– they use America’s racial divisions to determine their operations and attacks.
Case in point: When Congress investigated claims of election interference by Russian agents and hackers, they found that the attacks were squarely aimed at Black people. The Internet Research Agency (IRA), which coordinated and conducted the online warfare against the American people and our democracy, concluded that nothing would divide Americans more than race. The Congressional investigation goes on to outline how the IRA used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube as vessels for their disruption. And while tactics for each platform were different, the strategy remained the same: exacerbating division by focusing on racial issues.
And that was way back in 2016. Russia’s efforts only grew more advanced as the next election cycle rolled around. In 2020, the Washington Post noted, “Four years after Russian operatives used social media in a bid to exacerbate racial divisions in the United States and suppress Black voter turnout, such tactics have spread across a wide range of deceptive online campaigns operated from numerous nations — including from within the United States itself.”
Not only had the racialized attacks continued, but now other groups were following the Russian example, developing their own playbooks for weaponizing America’s divisions on race against itself. “Racial appeals and a focus on American racial unrest have been part of recent disinformation campaigns emanating from Iran, China, Russia and Romania, as detailed by independent researchers and major social media companies when they announced the removal of accounts that were fake or violated other policies against online manipulation,” the Washington Post determined.
For their part, Iranian hackers have begun to use Black Lives Matter as a cover for their actions intended to sow greater chaos in America’s social fabric. Facebook has documented some of these efforts, stating in a 2019 report that they “removed four separate networks of accounts, Pages and Groups for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram,” three of which focused on Black Americans. “Rather than posting directly to one of their Pages, they used the app whose sole purpose appeared to be pushing content to a Page called BLMNews that masqueraded as a news entity,” the report read. “The Page admins and account owners typically posted about political issues including topics like race relations in the U.S., criticism of U.S. and Israel’s policy on Iran, the Black Lives Matter movement, African-American culture and Iranian foreign policy.”
Moreover, per a Google spokesperson, in the run-up to 2020 election, the search giant uncovered an online operation that used “spoofed” emails that looked as if they’d been sent by the Proud Boys in order to target Black voters with messages like, “We are in possession of all your information. You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you.”
“We have to accept that foreign powers seize upon these divisions because they are real — because racism remains the United States’ Achilles’ heel,” President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Sherilyn Ifill has said of this growing trend. “Indeed, it is, and always has been, a national security vulnerability — a fundamental and easily exploitable reality of American life that belies the image and narrative of equality and justice we project and export around the world.”
To weaken America, our foreign enemies and rivals target Black Americans, knowing that this will affect all Americans. Therein lies the real truth of who and what America is and has been: Black America exists at the center of America’s consciousness. To deny that — to prefer to focus on the imagined attacks of activist-schoolteachers — is ahistorical.
We cannot allow the fearful to euphemize our history of slavery, to write out the centuries of rape, forced birth, murder and lynchings in order to focus on Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation because it was positive, while minimizing the decades of Jim Crow segregation that followed. We cannot continue to downplay the effects of racial terror groups and systems of economic violence such as redlining and attempts to thwart Black wealth accumulation like the massacre that ended Black Wall Street in Tulsa, while also continuing to excuse police brutality throughout the nation. These are facts of life. To deny Black people the facts — and the truth that our stories and our struggles are central to America and its sense of itself — isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerous.
Conservative lawmakers in statehouses in Texas, North Dakota and Michigan have long used racism as a cudgel to divide and manipulate the populace. But what they don’t realize is that by continuing to use racialized politics to trigger American backlash and resentment, they’ve handed over their favorite weapon to foreign actors to use against all of us — turning our greatest national failure into a glaring vulnerability, and making us all a sitting target.
United we stand, and divided we fall, or so I’ve heard it said.