A school administrator in Southlake, Texas, has come under heavy criticism for suggesting that the school district’s curriculum should contain books that offer an ‘opposing view’ of the Holocaust, balancing out the existing Holocaust materials already being taught. The suggestion of including Holocaust denial resources took place in the context of a wider debate regarding educational materials, and viewpoints that should be taught to students.
The Republican controlled state legislature in Texas, in line with their political colleagues in other states, has been waging a campaign to ban critical race theory (CRT) – which involves teaching students the history of bigotry and racism in the United States. A newly passed law in Texas, HB3979, legislators have undermined efforts to teach CRT. This effort is part of an ultranationalist right wing campaign to deflect from teaching future generations about racism and white supremacy.
The dispute in Texas involves more than just one school board or curriculum; it speaks to the nature of whitewashing history, removing any reference to the culpability of racism and white nationalism in American – and western – colonialism. Influencing the school curriculum obviously impacts how future generations understand their history – and develop amnesia regarding the crucial role of racism in shaping American capitalism.
Holocaust denial hiding behind the shield of scepticism
How does Holocaust denial fit into all of this? The denial of the Holocaust is sadly nothing new. It is part of a concerted attempt by ultranationalist and hard Right forces to remove the genocidal culpability of the Nazi regime and its ideology, white supremacy. By cancelling the main crime of Nazism, its doctrines are open to rehabilitation. This is already occurring in numerous Eastern European nations with ultrarightist regimes.
Holocaust deniers do not live in a vacuum – they have witnessed the condemnation of Nazi doctrines after the end of World War 2. So to make their message palatable, they have adopted the disguise of being ‘sceptics’; academics and writers who are merely ‘questioning’ the globally accepted version of the Holocaust. What is wrong with free scholarly inquiry?
The notion of balance – listening to opposing points of view – is all well and good, but it is not unlimited. The Texas state teachers repudiated any attempt to shrewdly introduced Holocaust denial material into the curriculum, stating that the notion of ‘balance’ does not give anyone the right to attack historically verified facts. There are not ‘two sides’ of the Holocaust.
Critical race theory – don’t buy into the ultrarightist hysteria
The Australian Senate explicitly voted to reject CRT – which is surprising, given that Australian politicians think they have the power to restrict the national curriculum. In the United States, CRT has come under strong attack for being a purportedly ‘divisive’ subject. So, what is it?
CRT began as an obscure collection of legal doctrines which sought to answer serious questions – why do economic inequalities and racial disparities in health care, law, education, employment, real estate and so on – persist decades after the abolition of segregation and the civil rights movement? A number of academics, such as Kimberle Crenshaw, sought to answer these questions in terms of intersectionality. People experience oppression and discrimination in multiple ways, including race and ethnicity.
Race is now recognised as a social construct, but this does not prevent people from categorising into biological ‘races.’ Institutional discrimination, while suffering a fatal blow in the 1960s, did not end there. Numerous systemic measures – from the economic to the cultural – have maintained racial disparities over the succeeding decades. This is part and parcel of settler-colonial capitalism, and understanding these facts contributes to a better appreciating of measures at redressing racial discrimination.
The purpose of CRT is not to create a new racial hierarchy with African Americans at the top – it is to expose the racialised hierarchy of settler-colonialism, and work towards abolishing racist hierarchies altogether. No, CRT is not ‘racist towards white people’, but rather seeks multiethnic cooperation in an antiracist alliance.
No, not every mention of settler-colonialism is an application of CRT. It is an understanding of the history of societies based on the violent dispossession of indigenous peoples. It is not entirely surprising that the conservative airwaves have resounded with shrill denunciations of CRT, with supportive politicians attempting to block it. An exposure of the embedded white racism in the foundations of American capitalism highlights American culpability for the crimes of white nationalism.
CRT is not a Marxian conspiracy to subvert the American way of life. It is an attempt to comprehend the racist history of settler-colonialism, and understand ways to change it. Let’s recognise that white supremacy continues to harm minority communities. Rather than denying history, it is better to focus our energies on strategies to confront racism and build a more inclusive and socially just society.