THURSDAY, JULY 15, 2021
Would we want them to?: We became aware of Karen Attiah in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi's death.
Khashoggi went missing in 2018. As the Post’s founding Global Opinions editor, Attiah surfaced as the voice of the Post during this episode. She was only 32 at the time. We assumed she must be very capable.
We've had a different reaction to her work as a columnist in the past year or so. Her work strikes us as highly bombastic and highly (tribal) war like. One example would be this morning's column from Oklahoma—her column about "emergency rules...limiting what students in the state can be taught on race and gender."
Attiah speaks the language of war. We were most struck by some of the things she chose to omit. We'll focus on the emergency rules the State Board of Education recently approved.
Were these rules necessary? Probably not. But the rules are eight in number, and as it turns out, here they are:
HB 1775 prohibits educators from teaching the following:
1) One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex
2) An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously
3) An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex
4) Members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex
5) An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex,
6) An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex
7) Any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex
8) Meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race
A few of those rules are perhaps a bit fuzzy:
Interpretation of Rule #3 would turn on someone's judgment of what counts as a case of someone being "discriminated against."
Due to a double negative, Rule #4 is clumsily composed, though we think we know what it means.
That said, the draconian rules against which Attiah rails are, in the end, rather sensible, possibly even admirable. To wit:
Do we want educators teaching that "one race is inherently superior to another race?"
Do we want educators teaching that "an individual, by virtue of his or her race, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race?"
Do we want educators teaching that "a hard work ethic is racist, or was created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race?" (Warning! Some high-profile ethnic justice training sessions have come very close to making that assertion. Our Town is capable of tilting toward very dumb statements too.)
Smoke was rising from Attiah's column—and then we searched and read these eight new rules. We don't know that these rules were needed, but especially given their rather gentle thrust, we feel the same way, even more strongly, about Attiah's smoke.
At times of tribal war, our lizard brains will instruct us to join the tribal fight. In our view, Our Town can't win this tribal war. Only the crazies can, because only the crazies want a war to the end.
We'll make one other point about Attiah's tone. At one point, she offers this standard complaint:
ATTIAH (7/15/21): Carlisha Williams Bradley arrived knowing she would cast one of the most consequential votes of her professional life. The only Black member of the board, she wondered whether she would be removed from her position for pushing back. But the education advocate and former executive director of Tulsa Legacy Charter School spoke truth: that the right-wing’s current bête noire, “critical race theory”—which the legislature claimed to be responding to—means merely the examination of laws and legislation that uphold racism and oppression. Oklahoma’s new education law and harsh punishment, she said, would serve only to generate fear in teaching an accurate history of the United States.
Bradley, we were told, is the only black member of the state board. As if by instinct, we wondered how large the board might be.
As it turns out, there seem to be six board members, with the superintendent seeming to make it seven. Based on surface indicators, the demographics seem to break down like this:
Five white members, one black member, one Hispanic member.
That said, the state is 65 percent white; it's less than 8 percent black. How many black members should be on the board given demographics like that?
Attiah didn't list or explain the rules or the demographics. To our ear, she only engaged in war. In fairness, engaging in war is an easy thing. Also, it tends to sell.
One last point:
Attiah spoke to the superintendent. She then proceeded to clown Post readers by offering this:
ATTIAH: Ultimately, there would be little debate, though Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister acknowledged the lack of transparency with the process and then voted yes on the emergency rules anyway. Once the governor signs off on them, Oklahoma will have the harshest penalties in the nation for the crime of making White people uncomfortable.
“We didn’t ask for this law,” Hofmeister told me with an air of helplessness, arguing that the move was necessary for the sake of clarity.
The super spoke "with an air of helplessness." Meanwhile, the new rules are designed to regulate "the crime of making White people uncomfortable."
Our judgment on those presentations would be sad and sad. For the record, as we did some background reading, board members and statewide teacher reps referred to the pre-existing statewide curriculum. They said the curriculum does teach our nation's brutal history with respect to race.
What does the state curriculum actually look like? Attiah blew past that question too.
We see no way out of this tribal war. Can a war like this be won? (There's no good answer to that.)
Is the Post just peddling pure warfare now? That's the way it sometimes seems. In the process, is it possible that readers get disrespected, dumbed down, treated like fools, poorly served?
Is it possible that this sort of thing is unhelpful? That a certain amount of imperfection also exists in Our Town?