Welcome back to the Brutal South podcast, Episode 27.
I guess this was inevitable: We're going to talk about critical race theory, both as an actual framework for understanding the world and as a mostly unrelated buzzword that conservatives have been screeching about nonstop since this summer.
It's been more than 3 months since I put out an episode, and customarily this is where I as a podcast host would apologize or make some retroactive announcement that this is actually season 2 or whatever. Honestly I was just busy and tired. But I'm glad to be back at it, and this was a banger of a topic to jump back in on. I wrapped up recording with my guests the other night and I remembered what a joy this was — learning, talking to people, expanding my horizons.
My guests today are AJ Davis (@Anjene1976) and Dr. Davíd G. Martínez (@FromFireToTable). AJ is an educator and community education advocate here in Charleston County, and Davíd is an assistant professor in the College of Education at my alma mater, the University of South Carolina, where he studies education funding and policy. I brought them on because they each had a unique perspective on this latest right-wing freakout from their vantage points in K-12 and higher education, respectively. I also knew them a little bit from my previous work as an education reporter in South Carolina, and they're the kind of people I would interview and think, "Man, I wish everybody could hear this entire conversation."
One piece of reporting I did during my podcast hiatus was an August 25 piece in the newsletter called “Blueprint for a race panic."
Basically, I was trying to figure out why and how South Carolina's superintendent of education, Molly Spearman, put out a blanket condemnation of "critical race theory" earlier this year, so I put in a Freedom of Information request for her emails on the subject, fought back against some petty price gouging for public records, raised the money to pay for the records, and put them all out there for anyone to read. Here's one of the truly unhinged constituent emails she received on May 22:
Critical race theory is already in our schools. It is absurd that it even exist … It’s time to stand and do what we are paying you to do. LETS DO IT TOGETHER AND RALLY PARENTS UP TO BACK US ON IT!!!!!! FIRE ALL PRINCIPALS AND TEACHERS THAT BELIEVE IN ALL THIS CRAP!! FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE THEM ALL FIRE THEM ALL NOW MAKE THEM WORK IN A BLUE STATE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE THEM ALL!!!!! NOW!!!!!!
So, these are the kind of philosopher kings we're dealing with right now, and that's the tenor of the public debate we are trying to intervene in today.
One bill I'll be keeping an eye on come January 2022 is South Carolina House Bill 4325, which states that public schools may not "direct or otherwise compel students to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere to the tenets of critical race theory." This slapdash reactionary bill was introduced this May and is sitting in the Education and Public Works Committee right now waiting for the General Assembly to come back. Its sponsors include Rep. Rita Allison, the chairwoman of the Education and Public Works Committee.
Folks, I don't love it, and I'd love it if you joined me in raising holy hell about this obvious attempted censorship.
The episode art is “Three Woman Figures” (1930) by Kazimir Malevich.
The theme music for the podcast is “Crooked Cross” from the album Words Are Fragile Vessels by my band, The Camellias, which you can stream or purchase at camellias.bandcamp.com.
Brutal South is an independent podcast and newsletter recorded, written, and produced by me, Paul Bowers, at home in lovely North Charleston, South Carolina. If you would like to support this work and get access to some exclusive content as well as some cool vinyl stickers that I'll send you in the mail, subscriptions are $5 a month at brutalsouth.substack.com/subscribe.