So, after passing a whole law last year to protect an imaginary white girl from crying over Critical Race Theory courses that aren’t taught in K-12 schools, Tennessee lawmakers missed an opportunity to crack down on a theory that led a white youth to cause real Black people to cry over killings that really happened.
What they should have targeted was Great Replacement Theory.
That racist theory, revved by President Obama's election in 2008 and again in 2020, when Black and brown voters helped to elect Obama's vice-president, Joe Biden and eject President Trump, sees diversity and demographics as a Jewish-led conspiracy to replace white people.
It has been parroted by FOX News host Tucker Carlson, and abetted by Trump Republicans like Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, whose skills set seems to lie in ginning up fears about non-white people than in generating ideas that can help all people.
Well, last Saturday 18-year-old Payton Gendron apparently acted on what he learned from that theory online, and, more than likely, from what he learned from Trump and his GOP acolytes offline.
After buying himself some body armor and an assault rifle, the Gendron is suspected of fatally shooting 10 Black people, and injuring three other customers, at a Buffalo, N.Y., Tops supermarket.
His writings, according to National Public Radio, include a 180-page screed filled with racist rants and references to replacement theory.
He even wrote the N-word on the barrel of his gun.
Sadly, this tragedy isn’t solely the result of racism and xenophobia polluting the online and social media sphere, but the effect of GOP-led culture wars that have, among other things, painted teaching about race as racism, and white students as victims of the lessons, and not the reality, of racism.
Problem is, by restricting teaching truths about race in schools under the flimsy excuse of it potentially traumatizing white students, these lawmakers leave an opening for white youths to absorb lies about race online.
Which will make it easier for states like Tennessee, which now, according to Southern Poverty Law Center, has the highest number of hate groups per capita than the states that surround it, to spawn the next teenage white supremacist to drive hundreds of miles to murder Black grandmothers out shopping for Sunday dinner.
“The main arguments that elected officials, primarily with the GOP, have been peddling for the last four years is that immigrants are coming to invade America, that Black history seeks to white out white identity in America, and that a secret elite, and we all know they’re talking about Jews, are trying to control America,” said Eric Ward, senior fellow at SPLC and executive director of Western States Center, a Portland-based organization that focuses on anti-authoritarianism and inclusive democracy.
“Basically, they’ve been promoting the Great Replacement Theory, an anti-Semitic theory, without naming it, and in doing so, they’ve created an environment that has encouraged individuals to take that rhetoric and elevate it to violence…
“I don’t know how many times we have to see it…”
The Buffalo shooter's actions illustrate why Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer wasn’t being paranoid when she pressed assault charges against George “K-Rack” Johnson.
Johnson, a Neo-Confederate, harassed Sawyer by singing "Dixie" as she spoke last year at the site where Nathan Bedford Forrest’s statue once stood, encouraged other racists to harass her, and fantasized about beating her up.
Like the racists who believe in replacement theory, Johnson views the removal of racist symbols as a form of replacing white culture – an issue that some, like the suspect in the Buffalo shooting, will kill Black people over.
Like Critical Race Theory, Great Replacement Theory isn’t being taught in Tennessee schools. But the outrage here is that lawmakers didn’t care that CRT wasn’t being taught.
They passed a law based on a lie to gain favor with constituents who view any teachings of Black history or reality, or anything that deals with righting systemic racism, as a wrong.
Hence the vagueness of the law banning something that isn’t taught.
But teachings about race can certainly be used to debunk racist replacement theory teachings; teachings that drove a white youth to target Black people.
The anti-racism grants that Gov. Bill Lee bullied the University of Memphis into cancelling?
Those grants could have been used by some professors to stop some students from buying into replacement theory.
The Memphis Massacre of 1866, in which white Memphians and former Confederates elevated a fracas between a white police officer and Black Union soldiers into an excuse to riot and kill 47 Black people, rape five Black women and burn down Black churches and schools?
Lessons about that massacre would help students learn about the dangers of replacement theory and how ginning up fears about non-white people taking their place can lead to atrocities.
But teachers must now fear whether such lessons could be interpreted in a way that could make white students feel guilty about being white.
That’s the law. And it’s dumb.
To be clear, the monster who massacred 10 Black people last Saturday in Buffalo wasn’t specifically instructed by Carlson, Trump, Blackburn, or the Tennessee lawmakers who frothed at the mouth in their denunciations of CRT last year, to do so.
But he didn’t have to be.
By weaponizing Black people’s history and struggles against racism as a threat to white children, by ending an effort aimed at helping college students grasp what racism is and how to fight it, and by traveling to the Texas and Mexico border to drum up imaginary fears about an invasion of undocumented workers here, Tennessee's lawmakers feed racist extremism as much as the online conspirators do.
“Absolutely, he [Gendron] is responsible for his individual action,” Ward said. “But let’s also be clear: Social media platforms are responsible for allowing this individual access to materials that could do nothing but radicalize him.
"And elected officials are equally responsible for credentialing that rhetoric and Great Replacement Theory through attacks on Critical Race Theory, through attacks on immigrants and through the dehumanization of others…”
That’s why, instead of worrying about CRT, lawmakers here ought to worry about GRT. Because when racist teachings online mesh with laws that distort the history and humanity of non-white people as a source of divisiveness, you get more divisiveness.
And, in the case of the Buffalo mass murderer, a massacre of Black grandmothers.