Politicians have always used eye-catching and clever tactics in order to win elections. Many use their platform to advocate for their own identities, though most will not admit it at the risk of putting off other voters who do not share these identities. In recent years, we have seen an uptick in politicians proudly using their identities to appeal to others. Consider Hillary Clinton emphasizing her gender or Kamala Harris proudly stating her parents’ immigrant status. However, to use race is quite different from simply stating it and receiving votes — something that Barack Obama benefitted from heavily. Instead, using race is a more covert, fear-induced projection of one race or the other. Former presidents Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush are great examples of this. Most recently, denouncing the supposed teaching of critical race theory in the public school systems also does the trick.
On his first day in office, Governor Glenn Youngkin signed nine executive orders and two executive directives. Among these was banning critical race theory and other “divisive concepts” in public education. Youngkin’s obsession with critical race theory has existed for some time and was one of his most prominent points during his election, garnering him a vast number of votes and support from Virginian parents and lawmakers alike. I would argue that critical race theory and his promise to mitigate its “inherently divisive” influence was one of the reasons that Youngkin now occupies the executive mansion.
How did a previously publicly obscure law concept become the face of Youngkin’s campaign? Donald Trump, of course. Since his executive order in September 2020 excluding diversity, equity and inclusion training from federal contracts under the guise of being “divisive,” critical race theory has been a prominent political prop. Firstly, this paints critical race theory in a light that keeps many people — most of whom had no idea it existed — from actually knowing what the actual concept is, but it manages to turn a legal concept used to explain racial disparity in law and justice into a hellish reincarnation of Jim Crow laws. To call an academic theory divisive says a lot about who we have as a governor. Moreover, Youngkin’s executive order banning critical race theory is even more ridiculous.
As I have stated in a previous article, critical race theory is not taught in most public schools nationwide. More specifically, in Virginia, history usually consists of simplified — somewhat too simplified — detailings of how America or other societies came to be. The curriculum consists of learning about Jamestown settlements, the Revolutionary War, slavery and so forth until modern America is reached. Third graders are not learning about the racial undertones of the legal system. Neither are sixth graders, nor are tenth graders. Programs that do exist in public schools within Virginia, such as a new elective to talk about racial experiences and different cultures in the U.S., are used more so to talk about one’s identity rather than educate — they bring students together rather than divide them. Simply put, critical race theory is not taught anywhere in Virginia’s public schools.
Even still, Youngkin’s executive order to rid the Commonwealth of critical race theory will be applauded by many as a step toward a more unified country. Much like how the citizens in Orwell’s “1984” have no idea if there is actually a war going on, many will never actually be convinced that critical race theory doesn’t even exist in public schools. People have already learned of its devious agenda to corrupt school children into picking sides — oppressed or oppressor. Because of this lack of actual CRT-inspired curriculum, Youngkin is not really banning anything that already existed. Instead, he is using the fear already cultivated by others — and himself — to play the hero. He is the man that will slay the evil of critical race theory before it can reach our beloved children. Much like this was used to secure votes, it will most likely have a similar effect on his approval rating.
Youngkin is not banning critical race theory. He is banning the idea of it — something that actually frightens people. The thought of children and teenagers learning effectively about race when many adults do not even fully understand it scares people, and Youngkin has profited politically from this, crafting a blueprint that Republicans across the country will utilize in coming years. Step one — paint a concept as someone’s worst fear. For many parents, it is the thought of their children returning from school with tears in their eyes and white guilt in their hearts. Step two — say that you will get rid of it. Build your platform being the only one brave enough to storm the political correctness of the era and stand up for colorblindness. Step Three — win.
Shaleah Tolliver is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.