“It’s past time for America to discard the left-wing myth of systemic racism,” former Vice President Mike Pence said during a 2020 presidential campaign stop in New Hampshire. Pence believes the ineffective racial equality measures the nation has attempted means mission accomplished!

The truth is it’s past time for America to discard the right-wing myth of American exceptionalism. That myth was deliberately created by rewriting American history to fit the narrative of an egalitarian America. Historical fabrications include that Columbus discovered America, the Puritans came to America for religious freedom, and rugged individualism enabled the pioneers to move west and settle the country. How does someone discover a land that is already owned and occupied? How is forcing everyone to obey your beliefs religious freedom? How does the Christian concept of Manifest Destiny give white people the right to steal land from Native Americans?

Critical Race Theory advocates helping young people understand America’s actual history, contradictory and convoluted as it is, to prepare them for success in a complex world. Who would not want students to know America’s messy and complicated history instead of teaching them a whitewashed version that prepares them for nothing? As Chris Myers Asch, a Colby history teacher, put it in a recent column, “Young Mainers (will) enter adulthood unprepared for life in a multi-racial society if they don’t know the country’s history on race.”

Looking at American history through the lens of Black people, one sees Jim Crow, then and now, and systemic racism, reinforced by law, throughout our culture. CRT is not about blaming whites for being oppressors; it is about teaching our young people the truth that will set them free to build back America better and create racial equality.

But those who oppose CRT are not just looking to suppress America’s racist history; their burning desire is to preserve a conservative view of America that a majority of people no longer support.

Moreover, conservatives know they need to increase turnout in the 2022 and 2024 elections to defend that view. So, because social issues drive turnout, conservatives shifted their priorities from small government, limited spending, and low taxes to opposing CRT, stopping abortion, limiting immigration, uncovering voter fraud, and making Christianity the de facto national religion; all social issues that hit voters on a politically motivating, visceral level.

Jessica Anderson, executive director of the conservative Heritage Action for America, believes conservatives have shifted to influencing red states because they know they have no chance to advance their fundamentalist agenda on a national level. Many conservative states have passed laws that severely limit abortions, deny transgender people their human rights, prevent teaching CRT, promote Christian privilege, and deny liberals and people of color their right to vote.

Most conservatives believe Christianity is under attack from progressive elites who promote same-sex marriage, transgender identity, voter access, abortion, and teaching CRT. However, they also think conservatives represent the real America, and they should be the ones with the power to prevent liberals from turning America into something they wouldn’t recognize.

Conservatives know they are fighting a losing battle. More than half of those becoming old enough to vote every year in many southern states are people of color. To keep conservatives in power for the next 10 years, or at least to delay the day when this emerging liberal coalition can make America be what it claims to be, conservatives will gerrymander congressional districts so, even if liberals and people of color manage to work around voter suppression laws, their vote won’t change the balance of power.

Now is the time to create a society where, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. To get there, we need to ensure everyone’s vote counts by ending voter suppression, gerrymandering, voter ID cards, and the Electoral College. We also need to stop honoring those who fought for slavery by removing monuments to those who supported slavery.

We need to end the practice of police making traffic stops for the crime of driving while Black, and if stopped, creating police procedures that assure the Black driver they needn’t make just staying alive their top priority. We also need to end a criminal justice system that gives white offenders a warning but incarcerates Blacks.

Teaching Critical Race Theory will help America become the nation it claims to be in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Tom Waddell is president of the Maine Chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He welcomes comments at [email protected] or ffrfmaine.org.

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