By Kevin Barrett, Ph.D.
Recently, legislatures in five states have passed laws regulating the teaching of history. Their target: Critical Race Theory. Texas House Bill 3979 bans teaching the 1619 Project, a pseudo-revisionist effort to rewrite U.S. history with a focus on slavery. Tennessee House Bill S.B. 0623 prohibits teaching history in a way that could make students feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress,” on the basis of race or sex. Laws of other states feature similar language and aims.
The lawmakers have good intentions. They are understandably outraged at the way Critical Race Theory has been used to shame whites for the crimes of their ancestors, promote anti-white racism, and inculcate students with a one-sided view of history. And they correctly intuit that Cultural Marxists and Critical Race Theory fanatics are fostering divisiveness that could lead to violence or even, in the worst case scenario, all-out civil war.
But the anti-Critical Race Theory bills create more problems than they solve. Like the excesses of Critical Race Theory itself, these excessive responses by state legislatures miscast the teaching of history as an exercise in emotional conditioning rather than a search for truth based on logic and evidence.
Victimization hustlers of various kinds have been shrieking with ever-increasing shrillness: “Don’t say that! Don’t teach that in the classroom! It hurts my feelings!” Now legislatures are getting into the act. But, instead of black snowflakes screaming “don’t teach Mark Twain because he used the n-word” or Jewish snowflakes howling “ban the Nation of
Islam because they discuss the Jewish role in the slave trade,” it’s now white snowflakes screaming “don’t teach us about slavery because it makes us feel bad about being white.”
Maybe Americans of all ethnic backgrounds should face up to a simple and obvious fact: Sometimes the truth hurts.
All of us have at least some ancestors who have done egregiously stupid and/or evil things. But nobody wants to hear that. Folklorists know that every tribe’s foundational myths and legends focus on the heroic deeds of the ancestors. Their faults and crimes are airbrushed out. The final product, which we call “myths and legends” in reference to the cultural memory of others, and “history” with regard to ourselves, often bears little resemblance to reality.
Ideally, the discipline of history uses critical thinking to question received narratives and (hopefully) get at the truth. But the process of questioning, and the truth it reveals, can make people uncomfortable. Fortunately, the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee has banned “discomfort” from the history classroom. From now on, students will be able to sleep comfortably through their lessons without being disturbed by disconcerting questions and uncomfortable truths.
The anti-Critical Race Theory laws are, consciously or unconsciously, modeled on European laws banning “Holocaust denial.” These laws, which have been used to prosecute and sometimes imprison thousands of researchers and historians, are the most obscene and ridiculous assault on free speech and academic freedom in the modern world. Highly skilled professional historians like David Irving have been imprisoned for offending the feelings of mindless blobs of emotional jelly like Deborah Lipstadt. (Yes, I know that’s not what Hollywood tells us, but read Irving’s Hitler’s War and Lipstadt’s Denying the Holocaust side-by-side and tell me who’s the historian and who’s the hysterian.)
European lawmakers have chosen to sacralize a one-sided view of World War II history. They have decided to make it illegal for historians to make Jews uncomfortable, and mandatory for historians to make Germans uncomfortable. The result: Mainstream Europeans are now a cowed, sick, timorous, defeated people, while, on the margins, outraged neo-Nazi movements gather strength.
A healthy society does not just legalize free and honest debate, it insists on it. So if there were a legal remedy to the problems so foolishly addressed by the five state legislatures, it would not be laws banning the teaching of certain interpretations of history, but rather laws mandating the teaching of the widest possible range of interpretations. Students should study the best of Critical Race Theory alongside the strongest challenges to it. Likewise they should read the most prominent defenses of Holocaust orthodoxy—Lipstadt’s books, Shermer and Grobman’s Denying History, and so on—alongside the best available revisionist works. And the same goes for all of the rest of history’s innumerable holocausts and genocides, such as the Irish Holocaust, called by deniers the “Potato Famine.” (Chris Fogarty’s Ireland 1845-1850: The Perfect Holocaust and Who Kept It Perfect argues that British troops removed Ireland’s more-than-sufficient food supplies in order to deliberately murder 5 to 6 million Irish; while the “deniers” say that fewer than 1 million Irish died due to a potato blight.)
There oughta be a law to mandate fearless debate, not ban discomfort. Unfortunately, intellectual courage can’t be legislated.
Kevin Barrett, Ph.D., is an Arabist-Islamologist scholar and one of America’s best-known critics of the War on Terror. From 1991 through 2006, Dr. Barrett taught at colleges and universities in San Francisco, Paris, and Wisconsin. In 2006, however, he was attacked by Republican state legislators who called for him to be fired from his job at the University of Wisconsin-Madison due to his political opinions.