Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Fox News Fallacy

The Fox News Fallacy has colonized the brains of many Democrats. This is the idea that if Fox News (substitute here the conservative bĂȘte noire of your choice if you prefer) criticizes the Democrats for X then there must be absolutely nothing to X and the job of Democrats is to assert that loudly and often. The problem is that an issue is not necessarily completely invalid just because Fox News mentions it. That depends on the issue. If there is something to the issue and persuadable voters have real concerns, you will not allay those concerns by embracing the Fox News Fallacy. In fact, you'll probably intensify them by giving such voters the impression that Democrats simply don't care about their concerns and will do nothing to address them.
Crime is a great example of this. And one that's increasingly in the news is "critical race theory" (CRT), a term originating in academic legal theory that has been shorthanded by the right as a catch-all for the intrusion of race essentialism into teacher training, school curricula and the like. The Fox News Fallacy is very strong here as the standard Democratic comeback is simply to assert that any voters, including parents, who are concerned about "CRT" are manipulated by Fox News and are opposing benign pedagogical practices like teaching about slavery, Jim Crow, the Tulsa race massacre, redlining and so on. The not so subtle implication is that such voters are racists since who else would be opposed to simply teaching such historical facts?
But this misrepresents the concerns of many parents and what the whole CRT controversy is really about. A serious engagement with the issue demands a deeper and more accurate understanding of the roots of the controversy. Sociologist Ilana Redstone provides some clarifying analysis:
"CRT’s critics are often portrayed as wanting to “whitewash” history and deny the reality of slavery. If the problem were that simple, the criticisms would indeed be worthy of the dismissal they often receive. Yet, there are serious concerns about CRT that are rarely aired and that have nothing to do with these points. As a result, confusion and misinformation abound and tension continues to mount.
Before making a few clarifying points, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of teachers and DEI trainers are not sitting down with students or groups announcing a lesson on CRT. More often than not, the name “CRT” never comes up at all. However, a CRT-based perspective is quietly shaping the conversation anyway. Its impact can be seen in conversations about race, power, identity, intent, privilege, and in an insistence on seeing the world through its lens....
CRT is a theoretical perspective that asserts that race is always about inequality and domination. CRT has a few main tenets, some of which can be (over)simplified as follows:
1. Colorblind racism—Deemphasizing the role of race and racism, including to focus on concepts of merit, is itself a manifestation of racism.
2. Interest convergence—Members of the dominant group will only support equality when it’s in their best interest to do so.
3. Race and racism are always tied together. Race is a construct meant to preserve white dominance over people of color, while making it seem like life is about meritocracy.
4. Inattention to systemic racism—An unwillingness to recognize the full force of systemic racism as determining disparities between groups is a denial of the reality of racism today (and evidence of ignorance at best and racism at worst).
These tenets have far-reaching implications. For instance, through this lens, questioning the extent of the role of systemic racism in shaping disparities between groups is itself considered evidence of racism, either overt or internalized. The suggestion that such a question might not be tied to racial animus of any kind is dismissed as either the result of ignorance or of more internalized racism. So, while rightly shining a light on racism as a problem, CRT leaves no space for non-racist reasons to see the world—or, in this case, the causes of inequality—differently."
This is a good summary of basic CRT-inspired ideas that have arrived in educational systems (and of course many other places). It is easy to see why parents might worry about such ideas, regardless of what they're called, influencing educational practices. These worries cannot be bludgeoned away by saying CRT has no influence and parents just don't want their kids taught about slavery.
Redstone has some good advice for progressives and for the mainstream media:
"To progressives: Stop talking about CRT and, more importantly, its related ideas as though objections to it and concerns about it are all driven by a denial of systemic racism or an unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of slavery. As I’ve pointed out here, this is to grossly miss the point. The importance of this point stands even if the loudest critics are not raising the concerns I’ve outlined here.
To the mainstream media: See advice for progressives, above."
She summarizes:
"The upshot is this: The problem is that CRT and its related ideas form a closed system. It’s a perspective that leaves no space for anyone, no matter how well-intentioned, to see the world differently. When presented as the singular valid worldview, it isn’t a productive way to engage with students, groups, or with one another."
With this more realistic perspective on the controversy one can free oneself from the Fox News Fallacy and see the genuine danger for Democrats if they persist in ignoring legitimate voter concerns on the issue.
A recent Politico report from Virginia underscores the danger:
"The stakes aren’t lost on Amanda Litman, founder of the Democratic organization Run for Something, which works to elect school board members and other local officials: “This is a perfect storm of something that can appeal to, or draw back in, some of the suburban parents that might have voted Republican in 2016, Democrat in 2018 and 2020, but could be drawn back to the Republican Party in 2022.”
“We’re trying to argue ‘No, you’re mis-defining critical race theory,’ and that’s not the point,” Litman added. “The point is that people are scared about what their kids are learning.”...
Polling suggests that the majority of voters still aren’t aware of critical race theory. But as the current debate escalates, activists and Republican officeholders are succeeding in giving voters a negative impression of it. As of mid-June, fully a third of voters told pollsters from the firm YouGov they hadn’t heard of critical race theory, and only a third of voters said they’d both heard of it and had a good idea of its meaning. But opinions among those who’d heard of it were sharply negative. Fifty-three percent said they were “very unfavorable” of it while only 23 percent said they were “very favorable.”
People who identified as Republican and had heard of critical race theory were especially negative: 85 percent termed their views “very unfavorable.” But the same was true of 71 percent of independents, the group that was key to Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump, favoring the Democrat by 9 points, according to the Pew Research Center, after Trump had narrowly won the group over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Among Democrats who had heard of critical race theory, most (58 percent) were “very favorable,” while a smaller but still significant 7 percent were “very unfavorable.”...
In Loudoun County, Va., where heated opposition to the district’s plans to implement new diversity initiatives has led to an attempted recall of board members, culminating in a viral school board meeting in June where two protesters were arrested, organizers have similarly noticed support coming from outside the Republican Party. A poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in early June for the anti-critical race theory advocacy group Fight for Schools found that 48 percent of independent voters and 59 percent of public school parents overall in Loudoun and neighboring Fairfax County viewed critical race theory negatively, while 31 percent and 39 percent of each group had positive views.
Biden won Loudoun County by 62 percent to 37 percent over Trump, and Fairfax by 70-28."
Let that sink in. And this:
"In Palm Beach County, which voted 56-43 for Biden over Trump in 2020, a statement intended to increase equity in the district adopted in May quickly devolved into a heated dispute because the district vowed in the five-paragraph statement it would work to eliminate “white advantage.” It sparked hundreds of calls from parents concerned about the phrase, culminating in a school board meeting where dozens of parents testified they wanted “white advantage” removed.
“My children will never be taught to be ashamed of or apologize for who they are because of their skin color,” one parent told the school board during the meeting.
In May, the majority of Democrats on the school board sided with the protesters and voted to edit the “white advantage” phrase out of the equity statement. But the local Democratic Party took action and censured those school board members with a resolution saying they had betrayed the party’s values. Two school board members declared they would leave the party as a result."
The Wall Street Journal also looked into how the issue is evolving in Virginia.
"Some voters interviewed in Virginia, including suburban white women who were important to Democrats’ improved performance here and in other states that President Biden carried, said they felt national conversations about race and equity were divisive and often cast all white people in a negative light. Others were concerned that their children would come home from school believing that their parents are racist...
[Republican gubernatorial candidate} Youngkin is trying to engage voters such as Karen Mineo, a Loudoun County teacher.
“They are trying to make me feel bad because of the way I was born,” Ms. Mineo said. She said she participated in a 2019 meeting where school staff were told to be aware of implicit bias that comes with being white, something she took issue with: “They are trying to make me feel bad about me, for who I am, that I can’t help.” A spokesman for the district didn’t respond to a request for comment....
Recent polling finds that Americans have nuanced views about classroom lessons on race. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll this month, state bans on teaching critical race theory in public schools drew support from a majority of Republicans but not of Democrats or independents. Majorities in all three groups said they supported teaching high-school students about the impact of racism and slavery on the U.S.
Winsome Sears, the GOP nominee for Virginia lieutenant governor, often tells supporters that she doesn’t view the country as fundamentally racist. Ms. Sears, who is Black, invokes her father—who migrated to the U.S. from Jamaica to find work—as she rejects critical race theory. “It gives Black children the impression that they are victims and that, as a result, they can’t succeed in life,” she said.
Her story resonated at the event outside Richmond with Angela Allen, a corporate strategist who is running for a local school-board seat. She said Ms. Sears’s story shows that America isn’t racist. “I struggle to make that leap,” she said. “I don’t see it lived out. I just heard from Winsome Sears—she isn’t a victim.”...
Ann James, a retired postmaster from Goochland County, Va., said her biggest issue with critical race theory was that she thought it suggested all white people were bad. “I just think every race is important. We’ve all got a story,” said Ms. James, 84.
To win, Mr. Youngkin will need to both appeal to the core supporters of former President Donald Trump, who are the most active Republicans in the state, and persuade some Virginians who have turned away from the party."
Part of Youngkin's strategy is clearly to work the "CRT" issue. As Democrats attempt to respond to the issue in Virginia and elsewhere, they should not fall for the Fox News Fallacy.

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