The Fight Against Fake News Has Moved Away from the Internet & Into the Voting Booths

The debate over critical race theory is being weaponized by Republicans to gain votes from ill informed white voters - here's why we must push back.

The rise in popularity of social media has changed United States politics in ways we are only now beginning to understand the full scope of it. 

While it has increasingly impacted elections over the past two decades or so, Donald Trump’s presidential race and eventual reign relied heavily on social media buzz. He was the first president to disclose more on his Twitter page than in his addresses to the nation. One could pick up their phone, open any social media app, and gauge just how close we were to nuclear war with North Korea based on Trump’s inflammatory posts alone.  

During the Trump presidency from 2016-2020, it felt as though the news cycle was moving faster than ever before - making it harder to fact-check all that was being said. 

Trump’s politics thrived off panic, misinformation, and momentary trends. He avoided receiving too much backlash at any single one of his many offensive social media posts and statements by immediately moving on to the next offensive thing. Politics became less about knowing what is true and acting accordingly, and more about focusing on what was the most dangerous situation at hand at playing damage control. 

It was a frantic period of time in our country we are still coming down from. 

But there is a select group of politicians who don’t want to come back from the era of misinformation. In fact, they are thriving off of it, collecting thousands of votes amidst the panic. A pressing example of this can be seen going on right now in Wisconsin where the debate over teaching critical race theory in schools has greatly impacted ongoing midterm elections

Critical race theory is the highly researched academic framework that teaches racism as being ingrained in modern law and institutions rather than something that exists only as a belief humans hold. When you make racism something dependent only on a person, you discount the larger ways in which it works in our schooling, prison, mental health, and just about every other publicly accessible system in the United States. 

Of course, to recognize that racism exists in these systems is to admit that they need to be torn down and rebuilt, a sentiment those who the system works for do not wish to acknowledge. Their thinking is, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” - and they’re right. 

The system isn’t broken. It’s working for those who built it, those it was meant to benefit - straight, cis, wealthy, white men, and those closest to them. 

Critical race theory became a topic of debate during the summer of 2020 when Black Lives Matter protests were at an all-time high following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police. Many educators called for a change in the way racism is taught in schools. For decades, racism has been taught as something that existed in the past, something that ended when Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Washington in 1963. 

Turn on any news station in the world (except for perhaps Fox News), talk to any person of color in this country, or take a walk through any number of U.S. cities that still have active Ku Klux Klan chapters and you’ll find that racism is alive and well. Republicans are merely using the same fear-inducing tactics they saw Trump thrive off of, weaponizing critical race theory as some sort of tool to make school-age white children hate themselves. 

One could argue that the racist common core curriculum implemented in this country teaching Black children their only history in America is the brutal legacy of slavery has negatively impacted Black children’s self-image for decades - but Republicans don’t seem nearly as concerned with this fact. 

The heated, mostly ill-informed debate around critical race theory is a ploy for politicians feeding off party division to get votes. I’d argue that most parents truly outraged at the idea of their children being taught critical race theory don’t even fully understand what it is.

Kendi is currently a student at New York University and is the author of multiple award-winning poems, short stories, stage, and screenplays.