Those who give in to MAGA-rassment enable authoritarianism
Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)
As MAGA mobs storm school board meetings nationwide to protest mask requirements in the face of COVID, or the teaching of anti-racist curriculum, the right has demonstrated its willingness to threaten and intimidate policymakers in pursuit of their goals.
In response, sadly, reports suggest some school board members and other school officials are resigning, unwilling to put up with verbal abuse from unhinged parents and community members calling for their ouster, or in some cases, blatantly threatening violence.
So too, several Republican congresspersons have opted not to seek re-election in the wake of the Party’s devolution into a personality cult. Despite conservative voting records, even a minor deviation from Dear Leader — especially on the legitimacy of the November election or the awfulness of January 6 — has prompted Trump loyalists to target them with primary challenges and death threats.
But however easy it is to focus on the mobs — they are the tip of the spear when it comes to the authoritarian impulse within conservatism — it is essential not to overlook the dangers posed by those who are capitulating in the face of fascist tactics.
Whether “moderate” Republicans (moderate in the sense of not being full-tilt white nationalists and seditionists) or relatively liberal school board members and other school officials, those who are folding rather than fighting pose their own risks for democracy.
Unless these folks stand firm — unless the rest of us support and brace them for that battle — the future of schools and the nation is grim.
After all, the likelihood of changing the minds of anti-vax, conspiracy-addled fanatics, or racists looking to reinstate curriculum from the 1950s is slim. The only hope is to stop the attrition of otherwise decent people from school and policymaking positions and make sure other decent people run for these positions and assume leadership roles. Otherwise, the MAGA faithful will be able to capture local school governing bodies, city councils, and state and federal legislatures — which is precisely what they want.
And yes, I know the rejoinders.
“But the mobs are threatening us!”
“It’s not worth putting ourselves and our families in jeopardy just to serve in some unpaid school board position, or even in Congress.”
I am sympathetic to the people of color — Black folks especially — who have chosen to leave equity positions in school systems rather than subject themselves to the abuse of racist whites out to stifle even the most watered-down diversity initiatives. Black people have been fighting this fight for 400 years and have earned some personal time if that’s what they need.
That said, most of the folks packing it in or showing timidity in the face of the mobs (especially around the issue of masking and public health) are not Black.
And for those whites who fold up like a cheap tent in the face of pressure, it is hard to conjure sympathy. Giving up at the first sign of trouble is most assuredly not what allyship looks like.
Yes, it’s scary to be threatened.
But what do you figure is more dangerous — banding together and telling the playground bullies no, or leaving the sandbox altogether, so to speak, and relinquishing it to people like them?
Please don’t misunderstand; I am not a particularly courageous person. I’m 5’8 on a good day, I’ll be 53 in a few weeks, and I’ve been in maybe four fights in my life. But I’ve been standing up to right-wing bullies since the first time one threatened me when I was 18.
In that particular instance, I’d written an essay for my college paper critiquing U.S. support for the ongoing repression of indigenous persons in Guatemala. Within two hours of publication, I received a call in my dorm room from the son of some wealthy Guatemalan family, who said he could make me disappear.
I told him that would be fine, but he needed to move quickly: I had a big paper due at the end of the next week and was looking for a reason not to finish it. Having had too much to drink, my roommate had pissed on my last one, thinking the desk drawer was the urinal down the hall. So my next excuse would need to be really good, and frankly, extrajudicial execution seemed like it just might do the trick.
Then I told him if some death squad was going to pay a visit to the 8th floor of Monroe Hall to please make my last meal Pepián, after which I invited him to fuck off, hung up the phone, and got back to writing.
A few years later, I worked against David Duke when he ran for the U.S. Senate and the Governorship in Louisiana.
Every day we’d get death threats at the office. I had skinheads on more than one occasion follow me home and take pictures of my house. I didn’t run away. I stepped outside, flipped the last guy off, and told him to get the fuck out of my driveway. I’m not even sure what I’d have done had he rushed me. Maybe gotten my ass kicked, for all I know. But I wasn’t going to hide.
Every week for the last 20 years, I’ve received hate mail and threats of violence against my family and me.
These include e-mails from people saying they have bullets with my name etched in them.
Or voice mails from people saying they want to “blow my spinal cord” with a high-powered rifle or, in the case of one guy — apparently from the Jeffrey Dahmer division of Nazism — “cut me into small pieces and eat my internal organs.”
Sweet fella, that one.
Yes, we have taken measures to ensure our safety, and yes, we have a top-of-the-line security system, neither of which I’ll be any more specific about than that. As the Proud Boys say, fuck around and find out.
But taking precautions is just being careful. What it most definitely isn’t is running and hiding in the face of danger.
Elected officials coming under fire right now from know-nothing reactionaries and cranks have to fight back.
If you’re a principal or school official worried about what some parents might say if you let teachers use a children’s book about Rosa Parks or tell the truth about American History, stay strong.
Then tell the mob to kiss your considerably more educated ass.
Dare the school system to fire you. If enough people do that, it is the mob and their mouthpieces who will crumble. They can’t fire everyone, and they wouldn’t dare try.
Force that school system and its administrators to stand for the truth, public health, and democracy. Show courage so as to steel the spines of the teachers looking to you for guidance and leadership before they head for the exits too.
Show courage as an example to the children and young adults whose minds we’ve entrusted to you for 185 days a year.
Because if you don’t remain firm, the fascists will end up taking the jobs you abandoned.
Enough with this cowardice, with this capitulation.
Enough with this precious desire to blissfully live your life in security and safety while the world burns.
Because if it keeps burning, trust me, you won’t be secure or safe.
In the end, they will come for you anyway.