The Anatomy of a Dog Whistle

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The Anatomy of a Dog Whistle

The governor’s race in Virginia provided a preview of coming attractions for the GOP’s 2022 strategy on race. That preview looks much like Nixon’s “Southern strategy” in 1968, with its primary theme of racial division.

This year’s winner for Best Picture was the horror flick Critical Race Theory: Revenge of the Woke (CRT, for short). In it, zombies dressed as teachers separated preschoolers into oppressors and oppressed. Others educated kindergartners about a theory taught in some law schools, which describes how discrimination was built into our legal system years ago in ways we often do not notice.

Although Virginia does have some of the best public schools in the country, its curriculum is not quite that accelerated. CRT has not yet found its way into K-12 classrooms there or anywhere else.

The right, however, spent a fortune carefully and deliberately branding any discussion of race, from slavery to George Floyd, as CRT, and branding CRT, in turn, as a theory that teaches that white people, and the United States, are inherently evil and racist. That turns any discussion of race into an attack on all white people and America. The right-wing echo chamber has used this false branding to send angry parents to school board meetings all over the country, demanding that their children not be exposed to something to which they are not being exposed.

Could the CRT myth the right is peddling possibly be true? No. It would require a genuine zombie edu-pocalypse. Teachers are a cross section of society who share the same diverse range of party affiliations and attitudes on race as the rest of us. Like the rest of the population, few could even define CRT, let alone teach it to schoolchildren.

Are some teachers bringing their biases into the classroom? Sure. We all bring our biases everywhere, despite our efforts to check them at the door where they are inappropriate, and every bell curve has outliers, whose views and actions are off the beaten path of the other 99 percent.

Many commentators are taking literally the pre-election and exit polls showing “education” to be one of the most important issues to Virginia voters. But they are misinterpreting the data, by ignoring a significant problem with polls: You can’t ask people conscious questions about unconscious processes.

Psychologists established decades ago that when you ask people why they prefer one candidate, car, or candy bar, they will give you an answer, but they are “telling more than they know.” Our brains make complex decisions, such as voting, by integrating a range of conscious and unconscious assessments and associations. By definition, the only inputs to our decisions of which we are aware are the ones that are conscious.

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