Despite strong efforts to recast it — including removing all use of the term in language folded into the state budget trailer bill — the GOP’s “divisive concepts” legislation has already lived up to that name, and then some.
The original bill, House Bill 544, was crafted to make it impossible to teach Critical Race Theory in the Granite State, but without naming that theory. It went far beyond that goal — banning virtually anyone working for or receiving state funding from discussing the ideas conservatives equate with Critical Race Theory. Those include the concept, they contend, that whites in America are inherently racist and therefore inferior, and ought to feel guilty about race and economic disparities. Why, how racist!
In reality, Critical Race Theory teaches that “racial gaps in wealth, power, and status persist not because of conscious hatred or malicious discrimination, but because of unconscious biases and the routine ways that institutions operate to benefit some groups at the expense of others,” according to an op-ed by Michael Schwalbe, a professor of sociology at North Carolina State University who teaches it. He notes it specifically does not aim to make anyone feel guilt; rather, it points to past systemic factors that resulted in a racial divide — not individuals’ ill intent.
There may be teachers who go about teaching Critical Race Theory in ways that need to be changed, but that’s a far cry from the idea itself being harmful enough that gagging those who rightly seek to teach honest lessons about our nation’s history is warranted. It’s been more than 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and despite the recent addition of Juneteenth to the list of national holidays, people of color continue to be at a severe disadvantage in our country. There are very likely systemic reasons for that. Critical Race Theory teaches aspects of our nation’s history that should not be swept under the rug.
But apparently, many lawmakers and officials, including in New Hampshire, don’t want to give up their brooms.
Not wanting to appear to be attacking Critical Race Theory directly, they slyly and cynically cast the legislation as, instead, tackling the teaching of “divisive” concepts, such as that historically, Blacks have been discriminated against in the United States. The bill went further than the classroom, however. So far, in fact, that members of the governor’s Commission on Law Enforcement Accountability, Community and Transparency have said it would preclude exactly the type of police training on implicit bias that they recommended, and that Gov. Chris Sununu had embraced.
Eventually, the language in the bill became so, well, divisive that state GOP leaders realized it wouldn’t pass, or if it did, Sununu would be likely to veto it to protect his self-styled image as a “moderate.” So they instead folded it into the budget legislation, and to be extra coy, they removed all specific references to “divisive concepts,” that phrase having become a divisive lightning rod itself.
They weren’t fooling anyone, least of all 10 members of another Sununu-appointed panel, the 17-member governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion. Tuesday, they resigned from that group.
“Given your willingness to sign this damaging provision and make it law, we are no longer able to serve as your advisors,” they wrote in a letter to Sununu. “... It should not be taken lightly that nearly every member of the Council that is not part of your administration is resigning today, as we collectively see no path forward with this legislation in place.”
Sununu responded by accusing the members, who include Cheshire County Sheriff Eli Rivera and Dottie Morris, associate vice president for diversity and inclusion at Keene State College, of “playing politics.”
So Sununu, who was lauded for his quick action in creating the LEACT commission in response to the racial justice movement a year ago, and the Diversity and Inclusion Council before that, is now carping at those he chose for those important groups because they called out his hypocrisy in not putting his political capital where his mouth is.
Sununu was, at least in his words, opposed to the divisive concepts bill before he was for it. Just as he was opposed to the extreme abortion ban also folded into the budget legislation, until he signed it.
Of that, Sununu said he still opposes the ban, but that it’s not enough to veto the entire budget over. Funny, he never found any problem in vetoing any of the Democratic-led Legislature’s 80-odd bills he whacked over the past two years, including the entire state budget. In each case, he swore it wasn’t partisan politics at play, but a matter of principle.
Maybe the key principle at play was keeping the favor of the state’s conservative voters.
Or, perhaps, after all that use, his veto pen has simply run out of ink.