CSotD: Good intentions, and accidents

Mike Lester (AMC) continues to press the rightwing fantasy that Critical Race Theory is taught in elementary schools, when, as a formal inquiry, it is generally confined to collegiate graduate courses.

However, he hits on an element that I agree with, not about the real CRT as practiced by serious historians, but in how it’s being presented in popular media, which is this:

My problem with both the 1619 Project that launched all this kerfuffle, and much of the anti-racist dialogue that has followed, is in implications that the racism in our history was universally intentional.

Some of it clearly is: The emergence of the Klan in the wake of Reconstruction, as well as its re-emergence in the 1920s, was intentional racism, as was the Chinese Exclusion Act in the late 19th Century and further restrictions on immigration in 1924.

And Charles Lindbergh did not just innocently and naively flirt with Germany’s form of government: He was an avowed anti-Semite and openly admired Hitler even with the war in progress, though he shut up once we entered the fray.

And, certainly, the hateful cretins who assaulted protesters who sat in at segregated lunch counters or screamed at black children going into previously all-white schools are just as intentionally racist, if not as sociopathic, as those who murdered civil rights workers.

And, by the way, these pigs lived in South Boston as well as in Selma.

But another issue is the broad, social construct in which racism was simply part of how things worked, and that’s more insidious, because that’s why all but the most vicious, open, intentional racism went unchallenged.

I remember, for instance, knowing at a very early age that it was more polite to say “catch a tiger by the toe,” but most of my friends used the other term because that was how the counting-out game went.

They didn’t mean any harm. And yet the harm was there.

On a more ghastly scale, the horrific death toll among native people here was overwhelmingly a result of exposure to unfamiliar diseases. It’s not true, and deeply unfair, to suggest that Europeans did any of that intentionally (the smallpox blanket story is a myth).

However, from Columbus on, there is plenty of overt, intentional racism, including genocide, that should be part of the story.

The trick is documenting and dividing the elements, and explaining how the unintentional stuff enabled and reinforced the intentional stuff.

CRT itself is a rightwing whipping boy, and few of the people screaming about it even begin to understand it, but this much is true: Drawing that line between intentional and cultural racism, and explaining how their interaction has shaped our nation, is way above the pay grade of most high school teachers.

And elementary school kids are far too young to understand, though eliminating the construction paper feathers at Thanksgiving would help.

As noted here before, the solution is not to hide our heads in the sand but to completely rewrite our curricula to include all people, which would keep everyone busy for awhile, assuming they worked intentionally.


As long as I’m agreeing with cartoonists I rarely agree with, Tom Stiglich (Creators) picks up on the criticism of Stephen A. Smith, who gets a reported $12 million a year from ESPN basically to be an argumentative blowhard.

ESPN has several of these commentators, apparently to cement their standing among a young male audience that also listens to shock jocks on music radio.

It’s not clear what point Smith thought he was making, and his cohosts on the show tried to steer him back from the brink, but the fact is he said foreign people with limited language skills are bad for sports.

His timing couldn’t have been worse, given that ESPN is in the middle of a racism issue after a white correspondent was inadvertently recorded complaining that a black correspondent was given preference because the network is trying to overcompensate for its historic lack of diversity.


Smith later made an effort to cram the toothpaste back into the tube, but whether it was the result of a sudden understanding or a trip to the woodshed is unclear.

In any case, hiring blowhards is intentional.

Having them get out of hand may not be unintentional but it’s surely inevitable.


As for electing blowhards, that’s another case where you can’t pretend you didn’t expect them to cheerfully exceed the standards of decent behavior, and Ann Telnaes notes the appalling spectacle of anti-vaxxers dancing on the graves of dead Americans.

As noted here yesterday, Loren Boebert got up at the CPAC convention and laughed about those who have died from Covid, using their deaths to attack Anthony Fauci and the vaccination program that seeks to save lives.

But she’s hardly alone in a bizarro world where the vaccines don’t work but Trump deserves praise for developing them.

And where apparently 600,000 people could die on Fifth Avenue and he wouldn’t lose a single vote.


While, as John Branch (KFS) puts it, the state of Texas is intentionally making sure that, if anyone were tempted to vote against Trumpism, they’ll have to jump through some significant hoops to do it.

Branch is specifically targeting Harris County (Houston), but “If it ain’t broke, restrict it” is becoming a national byword, as GOP legislators move to ensure that we are protected from the mythical threat of voter fraud — disproven in every investigation so far — with measures that will inevitably lower voting rates by the young, the elderly and minorities.

Democratic legislators have temporarily blocked voter suppression laws in Texas, but it’s obviously a stopgap if the feds don’t clamp down on this stuff.

It’s not unintentional.


Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?

I apparently enjoyed the Euro 2020 final more than Matt did, but, then, I didn’t care who won.

It ended in a shootout and, as one of the commentators remarked, a shoot-out is no more meaningful than a coin flip. As the father of two ‘keepers, I love a good shootout, but it’s got nothing to do with identifying the better team.

Which is probably a metaphor for something or other in today’s post.

If so, an unintentional one.

Like that matters.


18 thoughts on “CSotD: Good intentions, and accidents

  1. “As the father of two ‘keepers, I love a good shootout. . . .”

    Ellen would be appalled. On the rare occasion one of our boys was rotated into the keeper position in low-level youth soccer she was consumed with dread that someone would score on him. Peter Handke’s short novel, /The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick/, apparently takes no notice of the anxiety of the goalie’s mother.

  2. The Lester one has me scratching my head even beyond the transparent straw-man surface:

    – Why is only “one of” the parents “the devil?”*

    – Why is the kid clearly coming home from lacrosse practice rather than school? The “CRT” bag is clearly part of his game kit — maybe it explains the unusual curriculum if the coach is actually the one teaching CRT between drills.


    *Given the sulfurous cloud emanating from the stove, I’m guessing the Dad

  3. As a kid I’d only ever heard “tiger.”

    In high school I played VP Throttlebottom in Of Thee I Sing. At one point I recited:

    “Eenie Meenie Miney Moe,
    Catch a committee by the toe…”

    And at the word “committee” the Senate let out a collective sigh of relief. None of us in the cast could understand why.

  4. Oh, JGM, you will hate yourself for not seeing this.

    Only one is “the devil,” and it’s not Dad, who is clearly at least a half a shade darker than Mom.

    You just missed that he saw one more awful place to take it to, probably because your mind doesn’t go there. I feel a touch of unease that mine can.

  5. Alley Oop (ca 1965) had a panel of buttons to choose from, and in the absence of any other guidance, cheerfully started ticking them off:

    “Eeny meeny miney moe,
    Cracky feeny finey foe,
    Amah noojah, papa toojah,
    Rick bick, ban dough!”

    My sisters and I laughed at the nonsense words, though my inner critic insisted “he had it wrong!” Anyway, it was a great dodge, and funnier than the ‘real’ version.

  6. Recently I added Brazil nuts to my diet. When I was a kid growing up in upstate NY, we called them N….r toes. If anyone was insensitive enough to use the term today, I don’t think anyone would know what you’re talking about. I was 14 or 15 before I ever saw a black person.

  7. Growing up in the 60s, there was enough awareness that at least one word was seldom used. Instead, we got arch, wink-wink euphemisms, like “Senegambian Kids” in the candy section.

    Then about five minutes later, ‘conservatives’ developed an aversion to being even that polite, and we’re living the results.

  8. JGM—maybe the lacrosse gear is a visual signifier for a wealthy “liberal” school? And the “CRT” on the backpack is because everything must be labeled in political cartoons and there wasn’t room on the kid’s forehead.

  9. One of the ironies of the GOP rushing to restrict minority voting is that they, like the Democrats, are taking if for granted that POC will vote in lock step for Democratic candidates. Post election analysis showed that DJT made inroads with African-American and Latinos votes in 2020 while losing ground with college-educated white voters.

    So by the GOP is basically trying to shutdown those voters that are trending conservative and irritating the voters that used to support them.

  10. Along w/ many readers Randi Weingarten, President of America Federation of Teachers says CRT (a curriculum that segregates children) is not taught in schools. And to prove it she announced their legal defense fund to defend teachers against any law suits for teaching CRT.

    This is the “I didn’t put the bullet in the furnace and stop talking about my Mother” joke.

  11. @Mike Lester-

    Um, not really. As evidenced by the number of baseless lawsuits filed post 2020 election, anyone can file a lawsuit for a perceived slight. Regardless of the merit, the defendants of these lawsuits need legal representation which could bankrupt someone. SLAPP lawsuits are notorious for using this tactic to quite someone, even if they are within the limits of the law.

  12. @Brad Walker @Douglas Hawley FWIW, my own experience: Growing up in rural central PA in the 1960s, I wasn’t aware of any version of “Eenie Meenie” than “tiger”. In my early 20s I migrated to northern VA and western MA and still wasn’t aware of any other version.

    It wasn’t until I’d lived 8 years in east TN that I heard the other version of “Eenie Meenie”. The same person introduced the alternate name for Brazil nuts to me. And when I bought a small book of traditional American song standards at a local music store I discovered lyrics to Kookaburra that I’d not heard before.

  13. As your link helpfully explains, there is documentary proof that Europeans on at least one occasion DID give smallpox blankets to Native Americans, and the expenditure for the blankets was paid by General Gage, colonial commander, as approved by other officers.
    It’s hard to see how it is “deeply unfair” to say that “Europeans did any of that intentionally”.
    The effectiveness of this atrocity may have been overblown, and the blame on Amherst may be misplaced, but this is not a myth.

  14. Peter, if you read it again, you’ll see that it was one event that may not have even worked and very likely could not have.

    My point is that using that one highly dubious event to claim that the millions who died of infections were intentionally killed is deeply unfair.

  15. By that reasoning about the smallpox blankets, then any Klan rally not ending in a lynching didn’t :intend” any harm.

  16. The vicious genocidal racism of Amherst and other Europeans toward Native Americans should not be discounted or excused because they did not succeed in killing millions.

    I think it is worth repeating some of the words of Sir Jeffery Amherst, commander in chief of the British forces in North America:

    “Could it not be contrived to Send the Small Pox among those Disaffected Tribes of Indians? We must, on this occasion, Use Every Stratagem in our power to Reduce them”

    “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race. I should be very glad your scheme for hunting them down by dogs could take effect, but England is at too great a distance to think of that at present”

    According to Amherst College’s FAQ on this topic, Amherst’s letter encouraging these atrocities arrived AFTER the documented case where we know that smallpox blankets were deliberately distributed, as approved and reimbursed by the commander in chief and other British officers.

    This indicates that he atrocity was independently conceived by two separate officers.

    Also worth considering:

    Elizabeth A. Fenn, “Biological Warfare in Eighteenth-Century North America: Beyond Jeffrey Amherst,” Journal of American History vol. 86, no. 4 (March, 2000), pp. 1552-1580:

    Our preoccupation with Amherst has kept us from recognizing that accusations of what we now call biological warfare—the military use of smallpox in particular—arose frequently in eighteenth-century America. Native Americans, moreover, were not the only accusers. By the second half of the century, many of the combatants in America’s wars of empire had the knowledge and technology to attempt biological warfare with the smallpox virus. Many also adhered to a code of ethics that did not constrain them from doing so. Seen in this light, the Amherst affair becomes not so much an aberration as part of a larger continuum in which accusations and discussions of biological warfare were common, and actual incidents may have occurred more frequently than scholars have previously acknowledged. [p. 1553]

  17. We’re obviously not going to come to agreement, but I will repeat one more time: The great mass of deaths from European diseases among the American native population did not come from intentional infection. It was deeply tragic, but it was an inevitable disaster given the lack of similar diseases in the indigenous American population.

    Claiming the overall numbers to boost claims of genocide is at least an error, if not a falsification. And we have enough clearly intentional genocide on record that it’s not necessary.

    Feel free to continue the conversation, but I’ve had my say.

  18. I don’t disagree with anything in your “say”, Mike.
    I do disagree with your earlier assertion “the smallpox blanket story is a myth”.
    I also think this is too much of a blanket statement (sorry): “It’s not true, and deeply unfair, to suggest that Europeans did any of that intentionally”. They probably didn’t do much, but they definitely are not entirely exempt from blame, and Amherst stated that he wished he could do more.
    Basically, I think you overstated your case in an interesting way. The infection of the native people was not 100% innocent, and maybe it wasn’t 100% innocent to get a naughty tingle from catching the toe in the unexpurgated version.

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