THURSDAY, APRIL 27, 2023
Has the state of New York really done that? Charles Blow's column in today's New York Times offers a describes a lengthy broadside by the late Harry Belafonte—a broadside Belafonte delivered tin the summer of 2013.
In part, Belafonte's statement that day was an assault on the effects philanthropy had exerted on what was left of the civil rights movement. More to the point, his broadside was an assault on the quality of what was left of Black political leadership at that point in time.
This afternoon, we'll post the parts of Blow's column where he summarizes Belafonte's presentation. In our view, Belafonte's reported analysis of Black progressive leadership can easily be extended to progressive leadership cadres from other "racial" groups.
For now, we'll limit ourselves to Blow's account of the way Belafonte's presentation affected him at that time. This is what he says:
BLOW (4/27/23): It was a warm July day, so after that session, I decided to walk back to The Times’s offices, and as I did, Belafonte’s question kept repeating in my head. The reality seized me that I had been playing much too small as a writer, covering and commenting on society and its systems rather than truly challenging them. I was at peril of being serenaded to sleep by professional vanities. I was squandering an opportunity and a responsibility.
Belafonte’s question lived with me henceforth and changed what I wrote and how I wrote it, and a few years ago, it spurred me to write my most recent book, “The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto.” It was the thesis of that book, reversing the Great Migration to consolidate Black power in a few Southern states, that prompted my own move to Atlanta.
Blow says he was deeply affected by what Belafonte said. For better or worse, the result was a political thesis which seems to make little apparent sense..
Are Black Americans going to migrate to a few Southern states to consolidate political power? Everything is always possible—although, almost surely, not that!
We would draw a certain conclusion from this—intensity isn't enough.
Charles Blow is a good, decent person who very plainly wants to live in a better, more decent society. Belafonte's address filled him with fervor—but intensity, and a sense of certainty about one's cause, will never be enough.
This returns us to a news report in Tuesday's New York Times. As we noted yesterday, the report dealt with the College Board's announcement that it's going to change the changes it has already made to its new, high-profile Advanced Placement course.
Yesterday afternoon, Nicolle Wallace was gushing about how brilliant the reporting had been in the Times. She fawned over one of the journalists who had produced the report.
It was typical stuff from one of our blue tribe's clubhouses. Yesterday morning, we mentioned the claim which we have highlighted in this part of that report:
GOLDSTEIN AND SAUL (4/26/23): Some experts are wary. Cheryl Harris, a legal scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a leading thinker in the field of critical race theory, has helped organize the May 3 protest. In an interview on Monday, she said she hoped the College Board had learned that it could not appease a political movement that, in her words, was seeking to “censor and suppress” ideas.
An analysis last year by the education publication Chalkbeat found that 36 states had moved toward restricting education on race.
Say what? As of last year, had 36 of the fifty states "moved toward restricting education on race?"
That seemed like a very high number to us. Could that number be accurate?
As we noted yesterday, the brilliant reporter who Wallace praised had used some slightly fuzzy language in that formulation. When we clicked the link to the Chalkbeat report, we found that Chalkbeat had actually recorded "efforts to restrict teaching racism and bias" in at least 36 states.
"So far, at least 36 states have adopted or introduced laws or policies that restrict teaching about race and racism," the Chalkbeat reporters said (our emphasis). In a significant number of those states, some law or policy may have been introduced, but they hadn't been adopted.
It seemed to us the reporter to whom Wallace fawned had perhaps glossed that distinction in the brilliant Times report. In that sense, it seemed to us that the New York Times had perhaps embellished matters a bit.
An important question remained unexplored:
What kinds of "laws or policies" were being referenced in these reports? Setting Chalkbeat to the side, what kinds of laws or policies did the New York Times have in mind when it said that 36 states had "moved toward restricting education on race" as of last year?
What kinds of "moves" did the Times have in mind? In what ways had those states "moved toward restricting education on race?"
As we mentioned yesterday, we noticed at Chalkbeat that the state of New York was listed as one of the 36 states which had "moved toward" doing that. That struck usas possibly odd.
The trees grow high in New York State / They shine like gold in autumn. Also, though, the state of New York is politically blue.
When we clicked the relevant link at the Chalkbeat report, we found the text of the proposed law in question. According to the Times report, that proposed law meant that the state of New York had "moved toward restricting education on race."
Instantly, let it be said—the proposed law in question doesn't seem to have been adopted. It was proposed by Republicans in the state legislature, but we can find no sign that it ever passed into law.
Perhaps that's what the Times reporters had meant when they said that states like New York had only "moved toward" restricting education on race. But had the proposed law in the state of New York actually done any such thing?
Below, you see part of the text of the proposed law. You can peruse the full text here, through the Chalkbeat link.
Before you peruse it, we'll ask you this. What part of this proposed law do you disagree with?
Assembly Bill A8579 / 2021-2022 Legislative Session
AN ACT to amend the education law, in relation to prohibiting courses in critical race theory
THE people of the state of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:
Section 1. The education law is amended by adding a new section 817 to read as follows:
817. COURSES OF STUDY IN CRITICAL RACE THEORY.
1. No teacher, administrator or other employee of a school district, charter school, or city school district shall require or make part of a course the following concepts:
A. One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
B. An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherenrly racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
C. An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.
For now, let's stop right here. So far, is it clear to you that something is wrong with what this proposal is saying?
Granted, we all know how to complain about the silly, overwrought use of the term "critical race theory." Also, some of the language in statement 1, seen above, can be said to be a bit unclear.
That said, do you think that students in public schools should be taught that "one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex?" If that's what the proposal seeks to forbid, would you actually disagree with that stipulation?
Moving along, do you think that students in public schools should be taught that some individual, "by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously?"
If that's what the proposal seeks to ban, would you disagree with that?
The proposal moves on through six more "concepts" which, it says, "no teacher...shall require or make part of a course."
Concept D is quite clumsily worded, but with effort it can be puzzled out. Meanwhile, how about such concepts as these:
Do you think that public school students, in any grade, should be told that "an individual's moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex?" Also, are we "restricting education on race" if we say that a teacher can't do that?
Do you think that students should be told that some individual or individuals should "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex?" Are we "restricting education on race" if we say that shouldn't be done?
Do you think that children should be taught such things? If that's what this proposal was meant to address, do you really disagree with such assertions?
Please understand! We aren't saying that this proposal should have been adopted. As written, some of its meaning isn't perfectly clear.
Also, we can imagine provisions which might be added to some such effort—provisions which hold that children should be taught that we all bear responsibility, as American citizens, for trying to make our large, sprawling nation live up to its stated ideals.
We can imagine clarifying the language of this proposal. We can imagine adding provisions which are more positive in nature—provisions about what children should be taught.
For today, though, we'll leave you with a few questions:
Do you really disagree with what this proposal seemed to be saying? But also, we'll ask you this:
Do you know why the New York Times, a newspaper in the state of New York, would tell us that the mere introduction of this proposal means that the state of New York has "moved toward restricting education on race?"
Why in the world would a newspaper say that? As we think back to Bill Clinton's strange suggestion to Joe Scarborough, we'll offer much, much more on this question tomorrow.
For today, a simple question:
The trees grow high in New York State, but how about this:
When Republicans offered that proposal, did that mean that the state of New York "had moved toward restricting education on race?" Because that's what the New York Times said!
Tomorrow: Disconsolate experts despondently say that The Others must always be wrong!
This afternoon: Charles Blow's account of what Belafonte said