As Daily Kos continues to cover, the slew of anti-trans bills popping up in statehouses across the country is deeply concerning. Some measures, particularly ones focused on banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports teams, have actually been signed into law, while others are fizzling in and out of existence. In addition to anti-trans hysteria, however, some state lawmakers are trying to stoke a frenzy over what some describe as “critical race theory” and a desire to keep it out of public schools.
If you’re not familiar, critical race theory basically refers to teaching students about systemic racism (in most cases, specifically in the United States) and white privilege. As we know, systemic racism impacts all aspects of life, from the environment you’re exposed to, to the education you likely receive, to how many second (or first) chances you get, and so on. Systemic racism is at fault when kids of color are more likely to be suspended or even arrested at school, and is still at fault when we look at the carceral system and homelessness. It goes without saying that students should be learning the basics of systemic racism—and, given the GOP climate, it also goes without saying that some state lawmakers in Tennessee are trying to pass a bill that would ban the subject from being taught in public schools. And during a Tuesday debate over the bill on the Tennessee General Assembly floor, a Republican state representative decided to bring up the Three-Fifths Compromise in a startling rant. Let’s check out the clip and historical context below.
As first reported by The American Independent, Republican Rep. Justin Lafferty referenced the Three-Fifths Compromise—which, to be clear, counted enslaved Black Americans as less than a person for the purpose of population numbers—as a “direct effort to ensure that southern states never got the population necessary to continue the practice of slavery everywhere else in the country.”
He continued in his argument that by “limiting” the population count, they “specifically limited the number of representatives that would be available in the slaveholding states, and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery.” He noted he wasn’t sure if he was right in saying Tennessee has nine representatives (it does). He added that this happened “Well before Abraham Lincoln, well before [the] Civil War.”
Obviously, this is patently untrue. The fact that he made his claim while arguing against required education on systemic racism—which, for example, would include slavery and its long-term effects would be covered at length—is incredibly ironic. The fact that he also started his argument by encouraging people to write down what they thought the Three-Fifths Compromise was about and not to be embarrassed if they didn’t remember is additionally cringe-inducing.
Also, this is somehow not the first time a Republican has recently tried to defend and praise the Three-Fifths Compromise, as evidenced via Republican Rep. Ron Hanks out of Colorado.
Toward the end of his pontification, Lafferty added: “Do we talk about that? I don't hear that anywhere in this conversation across the country.” He suggested he doesn’t know how we’ve “gotten here” and framed critical race theory as “talking about changing our history ... changing’s not the right word … talking about incorporating another view of history, while ignoring the very writings that we have access to, is no way to go about it.” Of course, in reality, we know that history is already heavily whitewashed and shaped by colonizer rhetorics and framings as it is.
Lafferty also suggested that the United States has done more for the human race than any other nation in the history of civilization. (Yes, really.)
You can watch that clip here.
Democratic Rep. Antonio Parkinson opposed the amendment along the same lines, saying, “Based on this amendment, now, they are basically telling the teachers to whitewash the proof when it comes to history and other things that are being taught in our schools to our children,” as reported by WMCA 5 Action News. “It’s going to mean they’re being taught a lie and by law the teachers have to teach the lie.”
Lafferty isn't the only Tennessee Republican spewing some seriously jaw-dropping stuff when it comes to backing this anti-intellectual bill. On Monday, Republican Rep. John Ragan explained his reasoning for bringing the bill forward by saying in part: “These seditious charlatans would, if they could, destroy our heritage of ordered, individual liberty under the rule of law, before our very eyes. Disingenuously, these conniving hucksters masquerade as noble champions of the oppressed, regrettably, they have successfully hoodwinked a number of our fellow citizens into becoming what Lenin called useful idiots,” as reported by The Tennessee Star.
The overall stakes if this particular bill passes? Public schools that dare to teach “critical race theory” in schools—a.k.a., honest, real, responsible history and social studies classes on systemic racism—would have funding withheld as retribution. And of course, the even bigger picture context is that as the nation continues to fight against the pandemic, Republicans are doing everything they can to push divisive nonissues—like teaching history and letting trans kids play sports and access life-saving, gender affirming medical care—to distract from failures related to helping the general public manage life amid the global pandemic.
You can check out the May 4, 2021 session on YouTube below.