What do many “red” school boards and Vladimir Putin have in common?
As you know, the Russian President insists that his country’s invasion of Ukraine is not an invasion let alone a war but a “special military operation” and any media that says otherwise has been shut down and any reporter who accurately reports what is really happening will be arrested and sent to jail. Mr. Putin also asserts with absolute certainty that Ukraine does not have an independent history from Russia or a cultural identity. He assures us that Russian airstrikes, rockets and artillery are not targeting civilians, and wants the world to know – like the QAnon conspiracy theorists convinced the Democratic Party is a cabal of Satanist child abusers – that Ukrainian Jewish President Volodymyr Zelensky is a Nazi and that his regime is engaged in “genocide” against Russian-speaking Ukrainians (i.e. most of the population), among other grotesque distortions intended to erase the story as it unfolds.
Similarly, Republican-run school boards in many US states are trying to cleanse the curriculum of “critical race theory” (i.e., any discussion of racism or racial injustice as a result of slavery) in favor of a more purely “patriotic” narrative. of United States history as a relentless celebration of freedom and justice for all. In this version of our national myth, discrimination, segregation, economic exploitation, the routine murder of unarmed black people by bad cops, among other facts, are not simply abnormal but non-existent, the ungodly propaganda of the woke left .
No matter how successful Putin’s conquest of Ukraine or how thoroughly the American history curriculum is cleansed of its darkest cross-currents, both attempts to deny unpleasant and ideologically inconvenient truths are ultimately doomed. failure because reality has ways of asserting itself that no amount of propaganda, double talk, censorship, lies or omissions can eradicate. In the case of Ukraine, journalists and civilians on the ground complicate the official story everywhere except Russia, where objective news has been blocked, banned and banned in all media. Yet a much more believable narrative is circulating widely, and even those Russians who prefer not to know will find it hard to ignore their own demoralized and demotivated conscripted young soldiers sent back from the front in body bags.
Here in the free world, such as it is, American historical revisionists can muzzle as many teachers and burn all the books they want, but an increasingly pervasive multicultural reality will not be so easily suppressed. Countless writers and artists of color in multiple media mixes are already telling a more reliable story than what children were taught in school until recent decades. In the early 1950s, that golden age of white supremacy before the civil rights and black power movements changed the way we understood our complicated racial history, young students like me were thoroughly indoctrinated with the smiling vision our nation’s oath of allegiance. Republicans are trying to resuscitate.
I’m sure I’m not the only kid from that era who managed to unlearn much of what we were taught. A demographically and culturally diverse social landscape is a far more persuasive teacher than anything I learned in school, and it doesn’t take any sort of critical theory to see disturbing evidence of injustice in the news nearly every day. racial.
Virtually every nation and national government attempts to present its own mythology in virtuous and heroic terms. Eventually, with luck and honesty, these myths are deconstructed to create an even richer and more interesting story. The idea, born out of panic and paranoia, that the truth of history can be undone by banning books or firing arrogant professors will not stand up to the evidence everywhere else that no amount of obfuscation will can obscure. As disturbing as it may be to see political powers trying to twist history for their own ends, sooner or later these efforts will be revealed as fabricated fictions.
Stephen Kessler’s column appears on Saturdays.