Editorial: Classroom discussions of racism can counter racist conspiracy theories | Editorial

Only terms like “disgusting cowardice” and “perverse evil” can describe the act of suiting up in body armor and a camera to travel 200 miles to a grocery store and film oneself shooting unarmed, unsuspecting grandmothers in cold blood.

Multiple news sources have repeated that a manifesto and other writings attributed to 18-year-old Payton Gendron of Conklin, New York, frankly expressed a desire to kill Black people as a deliberate act of terrorism, motivated by a racist creed known as the “great replacement theory.”

Gendron faces an indictment on a first degree murder charge in the May 14 mass shooting that took the lives of 10 Black residents of Buffalo, four of whom were Tops Friendly Markets employees. The rest had simply set out that afternoon to buy dinner or restock their fridges.

One of the employees killed, Aaron Salter Jr., a retired police officer working as a security guard, made the ultimate sacrifice and died a hero. Salter fired back in an attempt to end the onslaught but couldn’t breach the shooter’s armor.

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News outlets report that Gendron wrote of a willingness to die or spend his life in prison for the sake of spreading the “great replacement theory,” a mass of idiotic frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Semitic nonsense that gibbers of non-white immigrants deliberately shipped into the United States to supplant the white majority and build a mentally pliable liberal voting base.

The white supremacist marchers at the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville summed it up efficiently, chanting, “You will not replace us! You will not replace us! Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!”

Replacement theory isn’t new. A recent Washington Post story finds an early champion in Mississippi governor and senator Theodore G. Bilbo, a Democrat, who before his death in 1947 wrote that he would rather see the entire white race and civilization destroyed by the atom bomb than permit interracial marriage. The Saturday Evening Post called him “America’s most notorious merchant of hatred.”

It’s not just obscure extremists repeating these demented falsehoods. If you’re unfortunate enough to have a friend or relative who has fallen for the bold-faced lie that immigrants are somehow the source of all the United States’ complicated challenges and social ills, you’ve likely at some point been forwarded video clips of Fox News’ “entertainer” Tucker Carlson ranting that “the Democratic Party is now trying to replace the current electorate with new people, more obedient voters, from the Third World … That’s what’s happening, actually. Let’s just say it, that’s true.”

Among the thousands of facts that easily disprove this stupid notion, consider this: a recent survey by the Texas Public Policy Foundation showed that Hispanic Texans are solidly aligned with the Republican agenda on multiple issues, including school choice and the crisis at the southern border.

Not that believers in replacement theory care about reality. Hispanic Texans were the target of a horrific 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Wal-Mart that slew 23, with the 21-year-old white suspect — still awaiting trial — allegedly writing a white supremacist screed in which he claimed he was “defending my country from cultural and ethnic replacement.”

Gendron is alleged to have cited the El Paso massacre as an inspiration.

Applying logic to a conspiracy theory is fruitless. However, even within this irrational framework, the idea that the majority of Black Americans somehow came to this country as part of a replacement scheme designed to aid liberal control only holds up if one chooses to believe that the plot dates back before the American Revolution and that slave-holding white plantation owners in colonial times were all part of the scheme.

Here’s one thing that could prevent inane garbage like this from taking root in another young mind: honest, unsparing, deeply informative lessons about America’s history of slavery, segregation and racism.

In other words, the sort of thing that the movement to forbid the teaching of “divisive concepts” in grade school is trying to prevent.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive orders against “divisive concepts” and his simultaneously alarming “tip line” have put Virginia on the list of 17 states that have imposed bans and restrictions on how teachers can discuss racism.

In Tennessee, a law similar to the one Youngkin and his allies in the General Assembly pushed for led to a challenge against “The Story of Ruby Bridges,” a book written for children about the 6-year-old Black girl who in 1960 became the first to integrate a Louisiana public school.

Forbidding classroom discussions of present-day racism, and avoiding all mention of injustices from decades past, throws the door open for children to get every bit of their information about the topic from the worst possible sources — online communities that foment hatred and celebrate violence. Reportedly Gendron did exactly that.

One of the most astonishing stories from the aftermath of the Buffalo slayings has emerged courtesy of shooting witness Grady Lewis, who told numerous reporters that he had a conversation with a youth he believes to be Gendron at the Tops grocery on May 13.

The push to ban “divisive concepts” in schools has gone hand in hand with a right wing conservative campaign to mischaracterize and rebrand the graduate-level academic framework for analysis known as critical race theory.

Lewis said that the youth wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Genius” made a claim, without any irony or apparent self-awareness, that critical race theory “teaches that all whites are violent.”

Not only is this characterization of critical race theory completely untrue, but allegedly the shooter was scouting the store to formulate plans for the next day’s carnage.

Lewis punctuated his tale with a plea for schools to teach about race. Conservative leaders like Youngkin need to heed that plea, and reverse the destructive course they’ve set in motion.

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