Institutionalizing the Leftist Dogma on Race

by James A. Bacon

Last month Governor Ralph Northam announced the roll-out of a high school elective course on African American history. Sixteen school divisions are offering the course this fall.

Last year, the governor had directed the Virginia Department of Education, Virtual Virginia, WHRO Public Media, and a committee of historians to develop the course. Now complete, the course surveys African American history from precolonial Africa, the transatlantic slave trade, and American slavery through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights era to the present. States the Governor’s press release. “Students will learn about African American voices, including many not traditionally highlighted, and their contributions to the story of Virginia and America.”

That sounds anodyne enough. But this quote from Secretary of Education Atif Qarni hints at the ideological underpinnings of the course: “We can expect young Virginians to understand the enduring impacts of systemic racism only when they fully understand both the oppression experienced by African Americans and their significant contributions to STEM, the arts, education, law, and advocacy.”

To be sure, the oppression of African-Americans is part of Virginia and U.S. history. It needs to be taught, and not sugar-coated. Likewise, it is eminently reasonable to highlight the positive contributions of African-Americans to arts, culture, politics, business, and science. (Bacon’s Rebellion has highlighted the thinking of African-American businessman/entrepreneur B.K. Fulton making that very point.) Nobody but nobody wants to revive the long-discredited Moonlight-and-Magnolias version of Southern history that downplays past injustice and ignores the contributions of African-Americans.

What worries me is Qarni’s framing of the course: We can expect young Virginians to understand the enduring impacts of systemic racism only when…” Qarni’s supposition is that “systemic racism” is an ongoing phenomenon. While there can be no doubt that racial inequality persists, as does racial prejudice in some quarters, the view that “systemic racism” is the primary cause of inequality in 2020 is highly controversial. As we have repeatedly demonstrated on this blog, there are many other explanations for continued racial inequality, not the least of which is the utter failure of public policies espoused by those committed to the systemic-racism paradigm.

Moreover, there may be a world of difference between the confabulations of Northam’s press-release spinmeisters, who want to make the initiative palatable to the public, and the course as actually taught. A perusal of The Final Report of the Virginia Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth makes it clear that the courses will be ideologically loaded.

The report recommends a curriculum framework that incorporates several concepts which embrace the leftist perspective of history as the unfolding of various systems of exploitation. The concepts highlighted in the report include:

  • Freedom — the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.
  • Imperialism — the extension of imposition of power, authority of influence by one nation or another.
  • Nationalism — a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others.
  • Colonialism — the acquisition of full or partial control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.
  • Racism and systemic racism — prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race.
  • Capitalism — an economic and political system motivated by profit and characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods.
  • Economic motivation — the degree to which an individual is driven to gain money, things, or experiences for which a monetary value can be calculated.
  • Citizenship — being conferred with rights, obligations, privileges and duties of a citizen.
  • Servitude — a condition in which one lacks liberty.
  • Enslavement — the forced process of positioning a person as the legal property of another.
  • Advocacy — an activity by which an individual or group aims to influence decisions.
  • Agency — the capacity of individuals to act independently and make free choices.
  • Cultural expressionism — conveying culture through art, literature, music, linguistics, folkways, etc.
  • Colonization — bringing into subjection or subjugation.
  • Invasion — the use of force to enter and take control of another country.

There is nothing “wrong” with any of these concepts. They all describe historical phenomenon. The schema becomes problematic, however, if the concepts are the only prisms through which to students view African-American history, and downright dangerous if they are applied to taint whites with collective guilt for the deeds of their ancestors (even whites whose ancestors never owned slaves), or to imply that systemic racism (as opposed to individual expressions of racism) and economic exploitation based on race predominate to this day.

Sadly, there is every reason to believe that the teaching of these courses will be politically loaded.

The report articulates a “shared vision” for Virginia’s K-12 schools. One is to build “anti-racist” school communities. It is no longer acceptable to strive to treat students in a race-blind manner. The term “anti-racism” has a specific meaning. “Anti-racism acknowledges that racist beliefs and structure are pervasive in all aspects of our lives and requires action to dismantle those beliefs and structures,” states the report. “This requires that school leaders … dismantle systems perpetuating inequitable access to opportunity and outcomes for students historically marginalized by race.”

Note the emphasis on outcomes: Any disparities in outcomes between the races is assumed to be the result of prejudice, discrimination or institutional racism.

Further, schools must engage in “culturally relevant pedagogy.” Such pedagogy must “yield academic success for students,” “help students develop positive ethnic and cultural identities” — it’s not clear if the positive ethnic/cultural identities extends to whites — and “support students’ ability to recognize, understand, and critique current social inequalities.”

These things are givens. Never mentioned is the need to teach students to think critically and analytically, much less to draw independent conclusions about the nature of race in America. Never mentioned is the possibility that the United States and Virginia have made tremendous strides in granting equal rights to all. Exorcised from the discourse is any mention of evolving white views of race, or of decades of government anti-poverty programs, affirmative action programs, and private philanthropy all designed to create equal opportunities for African-Americans.

In sum, this Northam educational initiative is an ideological project that appears designed to cultivate grievance and victimhood among blacks, and guilt and submission among whites. Whether the African-American history course becomes in actual fact a vehicle for leftist indoctrination depends upon how it is taught. I will have more to say about that in a future post.

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51 responses to “Institutionalizing the Leftist Dogma on Race”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    I don’t see how you can teach African-American history starting in 1619. It would seem to me that one needs to examine the history of Africa and its interactions with Europeans, Asians and Muslims far prior to 1619. This course sounds like it has an agenda. How did slavery develop in Africa? How was it exported to the US in colonial times? What were the attitudes in Africa about slavery? What were the attitudes in British colonies like Jamaica?

    I think this course is well worth teaching if it’s done correctly.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Slavery developed among humans at the time human violence against other human beings began. And it’s been roaring along everywhere ever since.

  2. “The absence of necessity” is not freedom.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    I could not locate a curriculum framework for this course on the VDOE website. How can you offer a class without a structured curriculum framework? Are teachers of this elective going to make it up as the go along this year?

    1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

      Why not? It’s elective, and not part of the SOLs, so leaving the syllabus to the lecturer always makes for a more enthusiac instruction.

  4. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    “We can expect young Virginians to understand the enduring impacts of systemic racism only when…” Qarni’s supposition is that “systemic racism” is an ongoing phenomenon.”

    Slight editorial change. He didn’t say systemic racism is enduring, only it’s impact is. Kinda like donating a kidney. The act of making the donation is not enduring, but doing without rum is.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Exactly right. There was systemic racism certainly through the 1960’s and, arguably, later. Disregarding the question of whether systemic racism still exists today, certainly the effects of it up until recently certainly still exist.

      1. Dick, You’re going to have to educate me on these effects. The Metro Richmond Honest Dialogue on Race and Jurisdiction tried to do that when I attended almost 20 years ago. The only thing I came away with was the I-95 destruction of Jackson Ward, with lasting effects on that community. It seemed to me, even at the time, that those effects were pretty much attenuated , but I will stand to be corrected on the point today. Other than that, all I heard was leftist, redistributionist politics.

        And I need to know the difference between systemic racism (whatever that is) and the effects of it.

        Guys like the Secy of Education, mentioned in the post, are long on the idea that “we can expect young Virginians to understand the enduring impacts of systemic racism “only when” they fully understand both the oppression etc.” (Why he then goes on about “their significant contributions etc. “is beyond me. It would seem to run counter to his main argument about systemic racism), but they’re always short on the details of the impacts that should be examined.

        The situation reminds me of my recent conversation with our choir director, who is terrified of Covid and stated he would refuse to reconvene the choir until it is “completely safe”. I asked what was meant by “completely safe” He said the church fathers would determine that. When I pushed back against the dodge, I got no further answer, though I pointed out that it was he, not the church fathers, who was doing the refusing.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          re: ” And I need to know the difference between systemic racism (whatever that is) and the effects of it.”

          ya ? maybe take that course?

        2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

          The chicken is an egg’s way of producing the next generation of eggs.

          It’s circular, ya know. One effect of systemic racism is racism.

          1. The chicken, egg, chicken egg cycle is a biological imperative. The chicken doesn’t really have a choice.

            There is nothing innately biological about racism – it can end any time people decide to end it.

          2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            But most of the time, you inherit it from the parents.

          3. N_N

            History is rife with examples of children who squander their inheritance.


          4. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            That’s why their parents should have establish a 401(KKK) ?

        3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          Black students in Prince Edward County were deprived of a public education for five years in the late 1950’s. The effects for those that did not finish high school and for their children have been profound.

          Many neighborhoods were red-lined. Black families were restricted to buying homes and property to certain areas of the city. As a result, they were limited in the wealth they could build up in their homes and pass on to their children.

          Many blacks were shut out of good-paying, middle-class jobs due to their race. As a result, they were restricted in their ability to build up wealth, save to buy homes, etc.

          1. You are 100% correct.

            What do you think should be done today, right now, about these past abuses?

  5. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Enduring bigotry. The anti-Irish and Italian Blaine amendment lasted for well more than 100 years and was only recently struck by the Supreme Court. The Constitution prohibits a religious test for public office, but the bigoted junior Senator from California called an incumbent federal judge unfit for office because of his membership in the Knights of Columbus. But silence from Democratic Party officials and the butt-licking MSM. Some bigotry is OK.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Your example shows that you believe some types of bigotry is still OK.

        And don’t go putting your southern segregation on everyone. Clearly, there was bias against blacks throughout the U.S. But I never saw a “whites only” bathroom, waiting room or water fountain. I went to school with blacks. We used the same facilities. I played on teams with blacks. I tried just as hard when a black teammate had the ball or was pitching as I did for a white teammate.

        So why is Senator Kamala Harris’s anti-Catholic bigotry OK?

        1. “But I never saw a “whites only” bathroom, waiting room or water fountain. I went to school with blacks. We used the same facilities. I played on teams with blacks. I tried just as hard when a black teammate had the ball or was pitching as I did for a white teammate.”

          Same here. And I grew up in Virginia.

        2. Nancy_Naive Avatar

          Doesn’t mean that hotels don’t block out rooms, or Denny’s their tables.

          I may not have seen the drinking fountains, but they existed. And, later in life, the occasional hotel and restaurant did get caught.

          1. The phrase “..did get caught” says that the behavior was illegal. Businesses which engage in illegal discrimination need to be rooted out and punished. I don’t think I or anyone else is saying otherwise.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            re: ” Doesn’t a candidate for a judgeship have a right to conform his or her personal beliefs to those of his or her religion? Don’t organizations have a right to advocate for their beliefs? Or is it just conservative individuals and groups that cannot advocate their beliefs?”

            TMT – I’m a little surprised here because you are a lawyer, right or maybe I do not understand.

            There are a lot of religions and conflicting religious beliefs which is why the country was designed to one governed by laws and not religion. (I thought).

            Wasn’t that one of the preeminent concerns of the Founding Fathers?

            If judges ruled based on their own personal religious beliefs and not the law – what would happen to our legal system?

            Some Conservatives have warned us about how some Islamic folks would use religious Sharia law.

            Do you support using religious beliefs in our legal system?

            Isn’t that what Kamala Harris is saying?

            Maybe I misunderstood what you were saying.

        3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
          Dick Hall-Sizemore

          I need to differ with TMT on some minor details. It was not Kavanagh to whom she posed the Knights of Columbus question but to federal district court nominee Brian Buescher. But, that’s just a minor issue. It really does not matter who the nominee was.

          Her remarks can be interpreted as not being “anti-Catholic” but anti-antiabortion folks. She should have framed her questions in that way. After all, there are some Catholics who are pro-choice, just look at her running mate.

          With those thoughts laid out, in the end, her questions were wrong, or, at least inappropriate. She came close to imposing a religious test on judicial nominees. And her questions smacked of the questions asked by Joe McCarthy–“Have you ever been a member of any Communist organization?”

          1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            Dick, I never said it was Justice Kavanaugh. It is District Court Judge Brian Buescher. It’s is anti-Catholic because Church teaching opposes and has always opposed abortion. Personally, I think hell is good enough and that civil laws should not ban abortion. Maybe I’ll have to answer to St. Peter when I arrive at the gates but that’s what I believe. But I admit my belief is not in sync with Church teachings.

            Doesn’t a candidate for a judgeship have a right to conform his or her personal beliefs to those of his or her religion? Don’t organizations have a right to advocate for their beliefs? Or is it just conservative individuals and groups that cannot advocate their beliefs?

            Some groups and individuals argue against capital punishment from religious perspectives. Yet, it’s both legal and constitutional. Should they be banned from holding a judicial or elective office?

            Kamala Harris is a bigot, a bigot whose views conform to many Americans, but a bigot nonetheless. She’s a journalist’s candiate.

          2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            I apologize for mistaking the reference. Somehow, I had it in my mind it was Kavanagh that you were referring to.

            I agree that candidates for judgeships have a right to conform their personal beliefs to the teachings of their church. That does not mean that they have a right to conform their judicial rulings to those teachings, just as no judge should allow his or her personal beliefs dictate judicial rulings.

            I am not a fan of Harris, but I don’t think her attack on Buescher for his antiabortion stance necessarily makes her an anti-Catholic bigot. Unfortunately, Democrats generally have made being pro-choice a required stance for any office.

      2. When was the last time you saw one of those in actual use?

        TMT’s examples were contemporary.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          been a while since these signs were there but the point I was making was in response to claims that Italians and Irish were discriminated against – as if it was not just blacks…

          Blacks were actually systematically discriminated against – as a race in many parts of the country and for a hundred years and more – unlike the kind of discrimination that the Irish or Italians or others were.

          here’s the timeline for blacks – no such timeline for Italians and Irish and the idea that you personally never saw such things does not mean they did not happen:

          1831 Blacks barred from schools.
          1870 Segregated public school system created.
          1896 Plessy v. Ferguson, Supreme Court rules racial segregation legal – “separate but equal” doctrine.
          1940 Federal court rules Norfolk School Board violated 14th Amendment by not paying black and white teachers equally.
          1948 President Truman orders desegregation of Armed Forces. Chesterfield, King George, and Gloucester counties ordered to equalize black and white schools.
          1950 Gregory Swanson enrolls in UVa Law School. First African American student at white school in Virginia. Black students admitted to Virginia Tech and the College of William & Mary -for programs not available at Virginia State College in next 5 years.
          Virginia Leads the Way to Brown v. Board of Education
          1951 Students in Farmville protest unequal conditions, then sue for an integrated school. Lawsuit becomes part of Brown v. Board of Education.
          1954 Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas rules “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Base school at Fort Myer is integrated by Dept. of Defense. Catholic schools in Richmond Diocese enroll sixty blacks in formerly white schools.
          1955 Brown II. Supreme Court rules that school desegregation must take place with “all deliberate speed.”
          Virginia Massively Resists
          1954 Defenders of State Sovereignty formed to oppose Brown decision. African American students sue for admission to white public schools.
          1956 U.S. Senator Byrd encourages “massive resistance” to school desegregation. Massive Resistance laws are passed to “prevent a single Negro child from entering any white school.”
          1958 Federal courts order nine white schools in Warren County, Charlottesville, and Norfolk to admit black students. Governor J. Lindsay Almond closes those schools.
          1959 White parents win suit against school closings in Norfolk. Federal and state courts rule Massive Resistance laws unconstitutional. Closed schools are reopened with limited integration. Arlington admits black students to white junior high school.
          1959 Prince Edward County, refusing to integrate, closes public schools, locked until 1964. White students attend private school. Tuition grants for “segregation academies” begin.
          1959 Virginia approves Freedom of Choice Plan. Few black students apply to transfer to white schools. Fewer are accepted.
          1963 Surry School converted to white-only private school. County’s black schools remain open. Few white students attend public school for next 10 years.
          Making It Real
          1964 Supreme Court orders Prince Edward County schools reopened.
          1964 Civil Rights Act passed.

          1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

            1967 Loving v. Virginia. 3 years after CRA. Still, marriage is a State thing… Didn’t Virginia just recently have a State Constitution amendment having to do with marriage.

          2. “and the idea that you personally never saw such things does not mean they did not happen”

            I was talking about recent history and you know it. I have NEVER denied the existence of this country’s or this states history of racial discrimination here or anywhere else. Your constant postings about things that happened and situations that existed 55 years ago (and longer) is disingenuous, intellectually dishonest, and does nothing to help find solutions to any remaining issues we still need to address. Why are you behaving like such a grievance-monger? Do you have some dark racist past you’re trying to atone for?

            There, that was a LOT longer than my original 3-word response to your white-guilt diatribe but at least I haven’t been banned…

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            war on poverty… war on drugs… war on crime… lock em up
            then blame them for one parent families and needing more welfare… yadda yadda..

        2. Eric the Half a Troll Avatar
          Eric the Half a Troll

          Then came the “War on Blacks”… I mean “Drugs”

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    The post here is ok but the headline waaay overstates things. Hard to see howrecognizing African American achievements is “leftist dogma”

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Oh just “studying” it is rife with potential leftism!

      1. Nancy_Naive Avatar

        ‘Splains why the Right doesn’t want to study it.

        Or, maybe it’s because the Right doesn’t want to study it… Hey, may be on to something here.

    2. Recognizing African American achievements is not leftist dogma.

      Claiming that Freedom = the absence of necessity is leftist dogma.

      I think having a course on the subject matter is a good idea. However, if such a course were to be taught by a person like the guy who taught my high school AP History course, then it would be used to promote grievance-mongering and race-hatred.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    Take a place – like Richmond or Lynchburg.

    Poll the landowners. How many blacks inherited land from their ancestors? How many whites did?

    Would there be a difference ? why?

    is that something that is systemic?

    1. Here are some national figures: Black homeownership increased from 35% to 42% between 1950 and 1970. Between 1970 and 2017, despite all manner of federal programs to democratize homeownership, the rate decreased to 41%. The problem isn’t structural racism — it’s failed government programs that have perverse negative consequences.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Not failed programs – it’s called recessions… and because blacks typically have far less family wealth – they cannot weather economic downturns as well especially properties that were mortgaged and not already owned as inherited.

        You’re never going to really understand and some of it is on purpose, right?

      2. Eric the Half a Troll Avatar
        Eric the Half a Troll

        Ummmm. it rose steadily to 50% in 2004… skipped that part.

    2. Larry,

      Unless you’re going to take such a poll there is no sense speculating about it.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        We already have some data… blacks were not allowed to own property in the past and white folks had a couple centuries of owning property and passing it on while blacks did not.

        “The magnitudes of differences in inheritances have been found to be large. Avery and Rendall (2002) use the 1989 SCF to document that far fewer black households reported receiving an inheritance than whites and that, of those who did, the average value was about five times smaller than that of their white counterparts. Other studies find that differences in intergenerational transfers, like differences in returns, are not the largest driver of the racial wealth gap.3 Menchik and Jianakoplos (1997) estimate that between 10 percent and 20 percent of the racial wealth gap can be accounted for by inheritances, while Gittleman and Wolff (2004) find that if black households had the same inheritances as white households, the wealth gap would have closed by an additional 5 percentage points. However, differences in inheritances do not appear to drive the racial wealth gap simply because so few households, whether black or white, receive what could be considered “large” inheritances (Hendricks, 2001).”

        some folks don’t want to know to start with… it’s easier for them to just not know and not want to know.

        1. Why do you always change the subject when someone points out a flaw in your logic?

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            because I didn’t and there was no flaw – only your nit picking..

            all you are doing is going through looking for stuff…you’re not really credible… in the discussion here?

            got that?

            When I said “poll” I was alluding to the fact that some studies show just that – and if you went and polled – you’re probably get similar results.

            why are you doing this? what’s your point other than nit-picking?

            keep on – and I’ll just ignore you guy..okay?
            You got your warning.

          2. Matt Adams Avatar

            These two statements should tell you all you need to know.

            “because I didn’t and there was no flaw – only your nit picking.”

            “Why do you always change the subject when someone points out a flaw in your logic?”

          3. You did. You went from people who have inherited land, to inheritances in general. There is a difference.

            RE: “all you are doing is going through looking for stuff…” – What’s wrong, you don’t like it when someone gives you a taste of your own medicine?

            At least now you have some idea of exactly how annoying and exasperating YOU can be at times.

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          I WAS pointing out that the number of folks who inherited property as well as the size of the inheritance differs between blacks and whites as one of the indications of the current effects of past discrimination – what some are calling system racism.

          You’re nitpcking here and you have a pattern at it and like madams – you will be ignored if you continue it.

          address the points – dont get personal.. – deal with the points or talk to yourself.

          1. “You’re nitpcking here and you have a pattern at it”

            Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, this is pot.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Aren’t you the one that said he needed to be left alone a while back?

            FWIW. I make points in discussion. I almost never attack the person and when someone thinks I have, I quickly apologize.

            But stay on topic and don’t be personal.

            if the argument is illogical then do that and also add that it is to you as you are not the arbiter of logic either. Or lay out specifically what you are complaining about and I’ll address that.

            but I get weary of personal attacks and related so don’t do it.

          3. Larry,

            So, you’re saying I should not include such disingenuous and condescending insults as: “some folks don’t want to know to start with… it’s easier for them to just not know and not want to know” in my posts to you?

          4. LarrytheG Avatar

            re: ” So, you’re saying I should not include such disingenuous and condescending insults as: “some folks don’t want to know to start with… it’s easier for them to just not know and not want to know” in my posts to you?”

            yep. and I promise to not say “Wayne, you ignorant moron – you just don’t want to know, do you?”

            do the argument not the person. some folks can’t seem to.

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