Texas, Florida, and Arizona are trying to outdo each other to pass the most reactionary, anti-intellectual legislation regarding higher learning. The Texas House of Representatives just passed HB 1006 to amend the Education Code thus:
"Each institution of higher education shall adopt apolicy detailing students' rights and responsibilities regardingexpressive activities at the institution.
"The policy must:(1) demonstrate a commitment to intellectual freedomand viewpoint diversity; (2)prohibit the funding, promotion, sponsorship, or support of any office of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and any office that funds, promotes, sponsors, or supports an initiative or formulation of diversity, equity, and inclusion beyond what is necessary to uphold the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; and (3) and [prohibit] the endorsement or dissuasion of, or interference with, any lifestyle, race, sex, religion, or culture."
The splitting of diverse hairs is essential to note. By arguing for "viewpoint diversity" in section 1, then prohibiting diversity, equity, and inclusion in section 2, the argument is that DEI is censorship, while individualism, and by extension, free speech – as the quintessential essence distilled from the Englightenment, is under attack. It is worth recalling that the Enlightenment, as a way of dividing the world, is the original anti-free speech force, denying agency, humanity, history, and futures to non-European people of the world. Instead, the Enlightenment supplanted diverse peoples' experiences and cosmologies with cultural homogeneity, centralization, and authoritarian domination, to "exterminate all the brutes."
In 2017, the Arizona Legislature failed to pass HB 2021, a law prohibiting social justice courses and events at schools. While in Florida, earlier this year, the legislature passed Senate Bill 7044 that focuses on accreditation.
Set to take effect in September of 2023, the Texas law is in direct linear response to various social justice movements against tyranny, specifically the racial justice protests from 2020. These revanchist politics also dates back at least to the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman and the protests in Ferguson, MO, for justice for Mike Brown. These bills are also in response to immigrant rights advocacy, organizing by LGBTQI communities, calls for Indigenous sovereignty and the protection of mother earth, the widespread and organized public refusal of the overturn of Roe v Wade, and the labor union power gathering within the service, warehouse, and transportation industries. Yet, the historical lineage of "putting people back in their place" by legal force and violence in the US is quite long – perhaps since predator came.
Within the university, the attacks on new ideas, curriculum, pedagogies, and the human bodies that created and inspired new academic disciplines are hardly novel, as Roderick Ferguson demonstrates in We Demand: The University and Student Protests (University of California Press).
Right-wing ideologues do not like the idea of people demanding justice and equality. So, squash, infiltrate, prosecute, and criminalize political movements, and outlaw teaching the history of violation, control, and the use of violence to impose order. The response is not only to outlaw the teaching about injustice and political movements but to defund academic disciplines and programs that mention, think about, or enact diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
This bill is about censorship, commitment to U.S. exceptionalism, and prohibition.
If diversity, inclusion, and equity are the devil-spawn of liberal thought, and Western philosophy and political theory traffic in binaries, this bill explicitly and implicitly calls for homogeneity, exclusion, and inequity. These are the values and ideas that curriculum and teaching should aspire to uphold, that might MAGA.
When read next to the increasingly popular public discourse that the United States should return to its supposed founding principles of Christian patriarchal nationalism, a longer trajectory of right-wing political positions emerges to "take back America for God." These positions are hardly reactionary but structural, elemental, and embedded in USian history and historiography.
As Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry argue in Taking Back America for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States,
"Christian ideals and symbols have long played an important role in American public life, but Christian nationalism is about far more than whether the phrase "under God" belongs in the pledge of allegiance. At its heart, Christian nationalism demands that we must preserve a particular kind of social order, an order in which everyone–Christians and non-Christians, native-born and immigrants, whites and minorities, men and women recognizes their "proper" place in society."