Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center released its annual Hate Report documenting extremist activity in the United States. Among the 1,225 groups identified by the SPLC, this year’s newcomers included a dozen “parental rights” groups focused on shaping local school curricula. The groups’ leaders decried the “extremist” categorization and scoffed at their inclusion on a list featuring 61 armed anti-government militias, but a close examination of their agenda and its consequences supports the SPLC’s judgment.

The parents’ groups identified in the report are part of a growing far-right movement to eliminate classroom discussions of sexual orientation and, especially, Black history. They are pursuing a county- and district-level strategy to intimidate teachers and ban books with Black historical subject matter. The largest of them, Moms for Liberty, has more than 250 chapters in 42 states and aims to “recruit moms to serve as watchdogs over all 13,000 school districts.” In recent years, MFL members have served as frontline foot soldiers in the advance of more than 600 bills, memorandums and executive orders designed to drastically curtail or eliminate the teaching of Black history and race generally.

The movement’s flagship success is S.B. 3, signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in July of 2021. According to the legislation, a “teacher may not be compelled to discuss a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” But critics note that the language is intentionally broad, and could be used to criminalize course material concerning the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement as a response to police violence and white supremacist killings.

A statue commemorating June 19, 1865, when freedom arrived for slaves held in Galveston Bay, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The bill might even be used to restrict any discussion of the key moment in Texas history that is today being celebrated across the country as the federal holiday Juneteenth. The day commemorates the arrival of 2,000 Union soldiers in Galveston Bay on June 19, 1865, resulting in the emancipation of a quarter million slaves who had been kept captive for months after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Virginia’s Appomattox Courthouse on April 9.

If groups such as Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education get their way, laws like S.B. 3 could be used not only to stop educators from teaching the history of Juneteenth, but also to shut down any discussion of the role white supremacist ideology played during slavery and post-bellum American history.

Along with being ridiculous, the educational strictures sought by these parents’ groups are dangerous to the emotional and physical health of Black folk. This is because barring discussion of the racism, cruelty and inhumanity of slavery devalues the lives of Black people. And as the SPLC report highlights, organizations and ideologies that devalue groups of people exist on a continuum that includes violence.

Maintaining fictions about race and history has consequences, for Black folks and the soul of the nation at large. For too long, American history and hate have enjoyed an illicit relationship, a bad romance rooted in secrets, shame, erasure and, ultimately, bloodshed. America’s perception of itself as a paragon of justice, opportunity and freedom does not match the historical or contemporaneous experience of Black Americans. Pretending that it does will only lead us backward.

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