Tiffany: The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life by Simran Jeet Singh
Claire: Ingrid Goes West movie streaming on HBO Max
Nichole: Citations Needed podcast
Additional books recommended by Dr. Puett
White Too Long by Robert P. Jones
Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Join us in a fascinating conversation with Dr. Tiffany Puett of the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life about Critical Race Theory. Tiffany dedicates her time to the study of diversity in Texas and accurately presenting the rich populace of our state. Because of her PhD in religious studies, she also speaks authoritatively on the influence of religion on our state politics. All of these factors intersect in the issue of Critical Race Theory. She helps us understand why lawmakers in Texas felt a need to design and pass legislation to preemptively make sure the children of Texas would never be presented with any ideas remotely connected to CRT. We made many connections in this conversation, and we’re curious to hear your thoughts.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Critical Race Theory As The Boogeyman Of The Right With Dr. Tiffany Puett (Culture Wars)
We have an information-packed episode for you, discussing critical race theory and yet so many other things that informed this big culture war phrase. It’s on the scene these days. To learn more about this, we had Dr. Tiffany Puett come and speak with us. She is awesome. She does many things. She’s a professor at St Edward’s. She teaches Religious Studies classes. I wish I could be her student. I would love to sit in on her classes, especially after our conversation. She’s also the Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life. Nichole, tell me more about Tiffany because you’re the one who was like, “We have to talk to her. She’s so great.”
I feel lucky. It feels like one of those accidental, not accidental kinds of things. I did what we all do when we google searched and ran across her. Thank goodness she was available and said yes. We didn’t know at that point how informative and fascinating the conversation would be. It feels like one of those good luck podcasting moments. Enjoy, everyone, because she will fill your brain with fascinating information. I promise you will walk away having learned something new and gained some new perspective.
This is a great one. Check out our episode and our interview with Dr. Tiffany Puett.
We are eager to jump into this conversation with Dr. Tiffany Puett to talk about Critical Race Theory and how that is impacting Texans. How are you?
I’m great and happy to be here.
Thank you for joining us. There’s a lot to learn here. I was telling Nichole, as we were preparing for this interview, I was listening to all these different podcasts and still feel like I haven’t had a very concise idea of what this is. We’re going to try to do that and tackle this for our readers. We like to get started learning a little bit more about our guests, their origin stories, and how they came to the work that they do. Can you tell us a little bit about you, your upbringing, and if you’re from Texas?
Interestingly, I have some deeper Texan roots, but I’ve only lived for a couple of years now. I grew up in Oklahoma. My dad’s side of the family was from Texas. I had some familiarity with Texas. After college, I lived on the East Coast for about ten years, mostly in New York and Boston. I spent a little time outside of Toronto and then ended up moving to Texas in 2010.
When I came here, I thought that I knew Texas but I realized that the Texas that I knew was from the early ‘80s and that Texas had changed a lot. There was a lot for me to learn, discover and explore about Texas. It was exciting to discover that I was coming to a place that was completely different than I had thought it was going to be.
I worked in nonprofits for a while and then did a PhD in Religious Studies. When I came here, I started teaching at some local universities. I taught at Trinity University in San Antonio. I taught at St. Edward’s University. I still teach there part-time, but then in 2015, I started the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a more inclusive Texas through storytelling, research, and education.
I went down the rabbit hole of the website for the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life, IDCL. It’s a fascinating website you’ve built. There’s so much to take in. I would love for you to share more with us. I’m specifically curious about ethnographic interviewing and then storytelling in oral history. How does that all connect?
One of our bigger projects that we work on is called Religions Texas. It’s an oral history initiative and a digital archive. The main idea with Religions Texas is that Texas is a very diverse state. There are many different people who live in Texas, but larger narratives of Texas often don’t acknowledge that diversity, and they don’t include the voices of all the people who live here.
We’ve used religion as a lens to explore the diversity of Texas. We’ve done interviews with people from many different religious communities but with a primary focus on those that are often left out or receive less attention in public discourse. We interview folks and gather their stories. We try to create a space where people can tell their stories on their own terms and in ways in which they’d like to be known and understood.
Also, recognizing that there are a lot of minoritized groups in Texas. They experience very frequently being talked about rather than having the opportunity to represent themselves. We want to shift that dynamic. With that as well, we hope that we can bring nuance, dispel stereotypes, and help people understand how diverse and complex this state is.
I’m curious. What drew you to Religious Studies? What is it about religion that interests you?
I started when I was much younger. I started as a kid always interested in questions about existence and the meaning of life. When I was in college, I was drawn to thinking more about theology and spiritual issues. I did a Master’s degree in Ethics, and then I started working at an interfaith organization in New York. We did a program where we would take people to visit different religious communities and learn about those communities.
I started working there in mid-2002. That was very much a post-9/11 context in New York City. There was a lot of interest in learning about religious differences as a means of responding to the climate of fear and misinformation that had developed right after September 11th. I loved doing that work. At the same time, while I was doing that work, I felt like there were some deeper questions, especially around power imbalances and power dynamics that we weren’t always able to address.
That led me to a PhD program where I could explore some of those questions. I’ve been interested for a while now in thinking about diversity, religious diversity in particular, but this extends to cultural diversity, racial diversity, and ethnic diversity, these things are all intertwined in how they get negotiated in our society. What are the political and social dynamics that determine how people get to experience their religious, racial, ethnic, and cultural identities? I find religion, especially thinking of religion in terms of identity, an interesting lens to use to quickly take you down the path of exploring other kinds of identities as well.
How timely it is with religious freedom and this talk that we have.
I was listening to an interview with Salman Bhojani, who is 1 of the first 2 Muslim Texas Representatives to be sworn in. He was talking about how one of his early priorities will be looking at religious parody so that Muslim imams have the same or similar rights to Christian leadership so that they can perform marriage ceremonies. It was eye-opening to think, “That’s something I had never considered before.” There should be a religious parody in that way. I can see the connection to what you’re talking about in a way that I don’t know I necessarily would have before.
That’s very interesting, and it is exciting as well that Texas has a large Muslim population, although it’s not exactly accurate to say it’s a Muslim population because it’s made up of many different communities. They’re very diverse and represent different cultures, ethnicities, races, and different sex of Islam as well. These are growing communities, and they’re a growing part of Texas, but they haven’t had a lot of representation and haven’t been seen.
Frequently, when we hear about them in public discourse, it has been when some Texas elected officials have made Islamophobic remarks and misrepresented and marginalized many of these communities. It’s very exciting that there are now Muslim representatives and the Texas legislature and seeing these communities have this growing power and space to represent themselves.
I’m already appreciating the work you do because something Nichole and I talk about in this show is challenging our assumptions, stepping back, and being like, “Why do we assume when we say faith, that means Texas Christianity.” Our brain short circuits there. We’re trying to step back and be like, “What are we talking about and what should we be talking about to be more inclusive?” That’s important, especially as you’re saying with our super diverse state. Nichole, should we move into Critical Race Theory?
I want to back up a little bit. I would love for you to talk about how diverse Texas is. This is a good moment to unpack the idea that Texas is a diverse state and it isn’t frankly a White Christian state.
One interesting data point is that Texas has been a majority-minority state since 2004, at least in terms of racially and ethnically Whites have been less than 50% of the population for many years. You wouldn’t know it to look at our halls of power because when we look at the demographics of the Texas legislature, they don’t mirror the demographics of the population as a whole. Additionally, we have, for a very long time in Texas, been a top immigrant destination. At one point in time, and this has changed in more recent years, we were a top destination for refugee resettlement. That’s thinking about the dynamics of movement in this country.When we look at demographics of the Texas legislature, they don't mirror the demographics of the population as a whole. Click To Tweet
From the perspective of religious diversity, Texas has one of the largest populations of Muslims of any state in the country. Religious demographics are interesting because religious identity isn’t asked in the US census. All the information we have about religious demographics comes from a university or private think tank research. There are some competing demographics.
I’ve seen surveys that say, “California has the largest population of Muslims, and Texas has the second largest.” I’ve also seen another survey that says, “Texas has the largest, and California has the second largest.” I can’t say for certain which one is correct, but I can say with certainty, we have one of the largest populations of Muslims. We have the second-largest population of Hindus. We have one of the largest Arab populations of any state in the country.
Now, if we look at the percentage of the population of Texas as a whole, they’re still a very small percentage of the population as a whole, yet Texas is so huge. When we talk about small percentages, we can still be talking about over a million people. It’s still more people who live in some states in this country. Additionally, another interesting data point as well is when surveys are done asking Texas about their religious identities, the third-largest religious identity group in Texas is no religion.
That’s something that also gets lost in conversations about who Texans are. To describe Texans as mostly White evangelicals is erasing the experiences. First, it’s inaccurate. Secondly, there are many White evangelicals here, but there are many other people. If you just focus on that, it erases the other identities, perspectives, and experiences of many Texans.
Thank you for unpacking that. We read a Tribune article that was comparing the actual demographics of Texas to the demographics of the Texas legislature. They did a great job of explaining it, but then also showing it in infographics. It was fascinating to see the disparity between our representation and the actual population of Texas. I’m grateful that you can help highlight the reality of the population of Texas, especially as we think about voting and how we want our leadership to reflect the actual folks who live here.
That’s a good plug for our social media because Nichole made a wonderful TikTok showing this article and the graphics and making comments about how the representation doesn’t reflect our population. Follow us on social media and vote. If you are eligible, please vote. Let’s transition into Critical Race Theory. We’re curious to know what it is and what it isn’t. There are lots of different ideas, but tell us what it is from the academic definition.
Critical Race Theory started as a pretty specialized area of research and inquiry in the field of legal studies. It started with legal scholars. Some of the major names of folks that founded this area of inquiry are people like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell. They started asking questions about ways in which the legal system and the criminal justice system both reproduce the dynamics of racism and what was very much shaped by racism. They’re interested in thinking about structural racism. This was moving beyond thinking about racism as a matter of individual prejudice but thinking about something that’s embedded in the way that the law is enforced.
These simple questions are that Black Americans and White Americans don’t necessarily have the same experience in our legal system. “Why is that? What does that look like?” Kimberlé Crenshaw, also in doing this work, coined the helpful term intersectionality, which is the idea that our identities all intersect one another. One’s race, one’s gender, we can extend these two to thinking about sexual orientation, religion, and other kinds of identities that all mediate one another, that they’re never experienced in isolation. If we’re thinking about something like racism, we shouldn’t look at that in exclusion from sexism or other forms of inequality.Intersectionality is the idea that our identities all intersect one another. Click To Tweet
They started doing this work in the 1980s, and we have been doing this work for a very long time, mostly in the field of legal studies, but folks in other fields have picked up on that theory. I learned about it in classes I took in Religious Studies because a lot of their theorizing was helpful to think about what other institutions in the United States have been shaped by racism and maybe reinforced those racial dynamics.
We read from Critical Race Theory to think about how this applies to thinking about the way religion functions in the United States. It’s all been very academic. When I say academic, maybe you would study it as an undergrad, but mostly graduate students, researchers, and scholars are thinking about these issues.
If we were going to reduce it down to one core concept, Critical Race Theory centers on the idea that the real power of racism in this country is that it is structural. Our problem is not that people just hold personal prejudices. Our problem is that all of our American institutions, social institutions, the education system, the economy, and the criminal justice system are all structured around racism, White supremacy, and these hierarchical thinkings where some groups are dominant and have power, and other groups are stuck in this perpetual underclass.
What I feel might be helpful is to even dig a little more into examples of the economic system. How would an examination of Critical Race Theory play out in the economic system?
A great example of this, and there are some scholars who have done research in this area, is looking at housing and looking at the practice of redlining. The practice of redlining was written into local zoning ordinances. It was also incorporated into banking that there were certain parts of town where houses and property were considered not valuable, and therefore, banks would not give mortgages to people to buy property in those parts of town.
These weren’t arbitrary parts of town. These were parts of town where people of color live primarily, especially Black Americans but not just Black Americans. It has also happened especially in places like Texas where Latinx Texans also experienced this as well. This led to undervaluing of property, and difficulty in buying property. That impacts generational wealth because a major way in which Americans accumulate generational wealth is through owning property, building equity, selling it, making money off of that, and passing it down to children, and that property becomes part of inheritances that people can give to their children.A major way in which Americans accumulate generational wealth is through owning property. Click To Tweet
If you have entire groups of people that are shut out of participating in those economic activities, then that impacts the way that they get to participate in the economy as a whole. That’s one example. Part of that as well, in looking at the history of redlining, Austin has this where there are many parts of Austin that have deeds of houses or properties that were restricted to only Whites that could own these properties.
There are all of these kinds of policies. They’re not always passed at a State or Federal legislative level. Sometimes they’re unseen in that way because they can be so localized. They have left folks out of opportunities. They’ve limited their access, and that has further reinforced racial hierarchies in this country. Racial hierarchies in this country have also been connected with class hierarchies, too, because there has always been this connection between race and economics, at least economic opportunity.
The way I’m conceptualizing this now feels like this is an inquiry. It’s a framework for asking questions. If you look at outcomes for the Black population versus the White population, why are the outcomes different, for instance, in the criminal justice system? You then start inquiring, “Where are these differences playing out? Why are sentences different on the same criminal charges?” It’s almost like the only difference could be attributed to race because all other things are equal. I don’t know if I’m oversimplifying. I’m trying to put it in my own words. That’s what I’m trying to do.
What I’m landing on is that it feels like it’s a study of inquiry. Why are outcomes different for people of different races? Inevitably, or often, what can be discovered and what is found is that there are systemic differences between people. The ways that these institutions treat folks, there are evidence-based differences. Something that you alluded to is not about individual feelings and actions. This is institutional.
If the force of racism were really driven purely by individual attitudes and behaviors, then we would see a lot more social equality now than we do. This is a question that people have asked. We have the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century. We start to have more and more people recognize the problems of racist ideas. We see some changes in our society, yet there are ways in which there is still a significant amount of lingering inequality and what accounts for that.
Critical Race Theory says, “What accounts for that is that the force of racism is about how it works structurally. It’s not just about those individual attitudes.” If we get every single person in the United States to say, “I believe that everyone’s inherently equal,” that doesn’t change racism in this country. We have to change those social structures.The force of racism is really about how it works structurally. It's not just about those individual attitudes. Click To Tweet
I love this example of housing, redlining, and how that’s created a wealth gap in this nation. What’s the opposition saying? To me, something like that feels very fact-based and evidence-based like Nichole saying that these deeds said, “Only White people can be sold these properties.” That would exclude many other people from being able to build wealth, have property, and pass it on generationally. How they counter that is what I’m thinking.
I haven’t spent a ton of time looking at the counterarguments to this particular issue, such as redlining. Speaking more broadly about some of the counter-arguments that I hear about when people are trying to push back against ideas of racism embedded in various US structures, I hear people say things like, “That was a long time ago. There’s been enough time for us to get past this.” The reason we’re not past this or the reason that there are people that are still not doing as well economically is because of their own individual volition. They’re not trying and working hard enough that there’s some individual personal flaw.
That’s one of the big arguments. Interestingly, this connects to my area of research, which is thinking about the relationship between religion, race, and structural racism. One thing that I have seen is that amongst certain Christian theologies, particularly evangelical Christianity, there has been this tendency to want to say that racism is a sin, and it’s an individual sin.
Sin is always an individual issue. It’s always a matter of individual attitude or behavior. An individual can repent, ask for forgiveness, pray, change their attitude, and have a different attitude. That’s always the place where our social problems lie. It’s always about the individual, and it’s always the individual that’s going to change it.
Interestingly, in 2019, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution saying that Critical Race Theory was problematic because it’s not biblical. In some ways, this is funny because it’s not biblical. It is part of Legal Theory. Their whole point in it not being biblical and being inconsistent with biblical reasoning was that biblical reasoning locates sin in the individual and doesn’t recognize this idea of structural racism, and institutional racism is not discussed in the Bible. That makes it a secular ideology, not a religious ideology.
Therefore, it’s something that biblically oriented folks like Southern Baptists should reject, be suspicious of, or be skeptical of. When you have a large denomination like the Southern Baptist Church pass a resolution like this, that influences people and these ideas that they get preached in pulpits. There’s an amazing book called White Too Long by Robert Jones. He talks about this long history. He talks about the Southern Baptist Church and its long history of using religious language, theological language, and rhetoric to uphold first slavery and then segregation and White supremacy. They have been a major force in reinforcing White supremacy in this country.
Something that even folks who don’t study religion need to keep in mind and think about the ongoing structural racism is how a deeply influential religious ideology is in many people’s lives. Once somebody has this idea that there’s a way of thinking about the world that’s determined by God, it can be difficult for them to step back and question that. That gets so deeply rooted, taken for granted, and people can’t see beyond that. This doesn’t entirely explain some of the resistance to Critical Race Theory, but this is a big piece of it.
I’m having light bulb moments over here. With that connection to individual sin and, in general, institutional harm, there’s so much that makes sense. Sexual scandals and all things that can easily be dismissed as individual problems rather than institutional suddenly make a lot more sense.
Even I’m thinking about environmental issues rather than the climate of how individually, I can do what I can do, but systemically, that’s how it feels. You’re absolved of trying to fix these bigger, massive problems.
Sometimes the theological language then gets framed in terms that there are problems in this life that won’t be there in the next life or heaven, that one needs to be focused on their own salvation, that you tried to be a good person in this life, and that’s all that you can do to be a good Christian. You can’t fix the rest of it. You can focus on yourself. We see a lot of that language generated, especially amongst a lot of evangelical Christian groups. It’s all about, when we look at problems, social problems, the answer is prayer, spirituality, personal piety, and not action to change policy, structure, and things like this.
Same to Nichole. This is making a lot of sense to me because we’ve had some episodes. One specifically talked about Christian nationalism, but that’s been a throughline in our conversations and this tension between those who believe in this personal piety is the answer being almost antagonistic to more social justice Christians. There’s a real tension there, and it’s starting to make sense why that’s there and why they’re not only going to be personally pious, “You shouldn’t be doing these other things.” That’s what I’m thinking.
Another great book that talks about this is Jesus and John Wayne by Kristin Du Mez. That’s an excellent one as well. If you read White Too Long and Jesus and John Wayne and couple them together, you get this interesting picture of how White evangelical ideologies are really shaping American politics now.
I have one more thing, and I know that we are trying to focus on CRT, but this is quite the journey we’re on here. Is there anything explicitly said about protecting the institution? I’m wondering if that part is a result of the individual sin that we’re talking about, or is there anything explicitly said and promoted about protecting the institution?
When you say institution, do you mean institutional racism?
For instance, if I were a member of the Southern Baptist Church, would I be explicitly encouraged to protect my church at all costs? Is that the result of the preaching about how sin is individual?
This is an interesting point. You’re right. On one hand, there is all this emphasis on individual faith and individual piety, but at the same time, the church is also important. Part of that, too, is that the church, the protection of the church, and the cultivation of the church is biblical. For many evangelicals and White evangelicals in particular, there’s so much emphasis on Biblicism and the idea that their ideology needs to reflect their interpretation of the Bible.
There’s a lot in the Bible about building, growing, and maintaining the church. That institution can be justified to protect that. Other kinds of more nuanced institutions, especially more modern ones that wouldn’t have even been thought of during the times the Bible was written, become this big question like, “Do we need to pay attention to that?”
Thank you for indulging in that. That’s going to be the thing that I walk away thinking a lot about.
There’s already so much to think about. We’re going to press on and give you some more. You touched on this a little bit about the role of how this evangelical Christian ideology is infiltrating our American politics. That’s happening here in Texas. Can we talk a little bit about some of the bills that are infused with that, specifically Bill 3979, which passed in the last legislature?
SB 3 as well. These bills are interesting. Both of these are often called Anti-Critical Race Theory Bills. That’s a way to understand them, but they don’t mention Critical Race Theory by name within the language of the bill. It’s very subtle. We see the subtle emphasis on what they outlaw as the idea of thinking structurally and systemically. They also prohibit negative depictions of the United States that we have to tell a story in a way that supports American exceptionalism, not that they’re using that exact language. It’s problematic to talk about racism as anything other than individual opinion, belief, or behavior.
This part is so fascinating to me. They include language that prohibits teachers from creating discussions about provocative current events that might make students feel uncomfortable. Part of why this is so fascinating to me is because educational researchers have been telling us for a very long time. Many of us know this from anecdotal stories from folks that students of color have been feeling uncomfortable in classrooms for many years in Texas. This bill was not written to address their discomfort. This was written to address the discomfort that White students might feel in having to think about their racial identities and also think about how their racial identities are tied to these structures of dominance and oppression.
What are some of the consequences if teachers violate these bills?
I don’t know the entire answer to this, but I’m not sure that this has all been exactly laid out. My sense is that the consequences now are creating this culture of intimidation that people think their jobs could be on the line, that individual teachers could get fired, school districts could be sued, and the TEA could intervene in a district in some way if they are found violating this law. I’m not exactly sure that we have cases. You’ve been doing a lot of research on this. You might have the answer to this more so than I do, but I’m not sure that there have been cases of actual violations yet.
It seems like there have been more districts trying to create mandates and anticipation of violations, and then these mandates are wildly problematic. They are suggesting that both sides of the Holocaust should be taught. Later, legislators walked back and said, “We never intended this. We never intended the bill to be interpreted this way.” Some of the power of the bill is vaguely worded.
What it means to enforce this and what it encompasses is uncertain. It’s this chilling effect that it’s left a lot of districts and teachers feeling uncertain. We can’t overlook as well that this is all happening in the general climate of this late pandemic. Is that what we call the times we’re in now? I don’t think we’re quite post-pandemic. Late pandemic, maybe. People are still, in many ways, reeling from the past few years, and public schools, in particular, have struggled.
Teachers have struggled with online learning and the risks that they’ve had to deal with and manage around health. I’m thinking about COVID mitigation and things, but also the mental health issues that students and teachers have had. Many teachers leave their jobs. We’re seeing this loss of teachers across districts and the state. We already have this environment where teachers are exhausted. They feel demoralized. They also generally feel that they have so many states mandates that they’re not given the freedom to structure their classrooms and teach in the way that they would like to, according to their own teacher training.
Instead, they have these mandates from above and from the state legislature. This adds one more thing. In addition to all these things, by the way, make sure that you never have a conversation in your class that might make a White student feel uncomfortable. That’s pretty burdensome for teachers. There are many that have decided that they need to play it safe and don’t have the energy to battle this out.
If there’s a conversation that they would’ve once had about racism, civil rights, social justice, or oppression, maybe it’s safer to not have those conversations anymore. I find that disturbing because if we can’t have those conversations in public school classrooms, this is the one place where public schools are the place where we have children as representatives of our public coming together and getting to know people who are different from them and learning about what it means to be ideally a good citizen. If we can’t have those conversations in our public school classrooms, where can we have them?
I realized something. I used to teach in elementary school. In one of our yearly exercises, we would do the blue-eyed, brown-eyed experiment. I’m trying to remember exactly how we did it now. You would choose an outgroup, and we wouldn’t be as kind. I would do things like ignore. If we had chosen that the outgroup was kids with brown eyes, I would ignore their requests to get a drink of water.
We didn’t do it for very long during the day, but it was incredibly effective. I realized I probably wouldn’t feel like I was able to do that anymore if I was still teaching school. I would be so worried about the blowback that I have a feeling we would probably self-censor that activity. We also did a big Black History Month unit amongst my second-grade team. It was one of our favorite things of the year.
I’m wondering now how we would’ve potentially changed that or altered it to stay safe. I don’t know that we would’ve. We were teeny but rebellious, so maybe we wouldn’t have stopped any of this stuff. We would’ve done it, knowing that we were taking a risk that was worrisome. It’s sinking in what this chilling effect would look like and feel like for people.
I would imagine, too, being a teacher that you get so much excitement in the room from this critical thinking and discomfort, which hopefully leads to growth and then deeper learning. To take that away takes another joy of teaching and being in the classroom. It’s one more thing to add to the negative side of being in the teaching profession.
There are some complicated dynamics at play, too, in the State Board of Education. I can’t remember exactly which year, but not that long ago, they added Mexican American Studies as an elective in high school classes. When you have some of these classes that have been added to the official Texas curriculum, and then you turn around and say, “Be careful how you talk about race, and you can’t talk about structural racism,” how would you teach about the history of Mexican Americans, especially in Texas? Can you talk about the very well-documented history of the Texas Rangers violently repressing Mexicans and Tejanos? It’s part of Texas history, and it’s well documented. We know that this happened.
If this gets taught, will a parent complain? Will someone say it violates this law? What will that mean? How will that be addressed? At the moment, there are a lot of questions. I don’t think that the law has been elaborated and that enforcement has been determined in a clear way that teachers understand what it means to follow that law.
Why did they put all this time, energy, and effort into passing these laws?
One piece of it is that this hasn’t happened in Texas. These laws have been passed across the country. They were initially generated by ALEC.
The American Legislative Exchange Council.
For those reading who aren’t familiar with ALEC, it is an organization that has been in existence for quite some time now. They write up templates of legislation. They’re pretty much centered in, at best, the more conservative right wing. They share these templates with state legislatures around the country, and then these bills. You’ll see similar bills getting introduced in multiple states around the same time. That’s the case with the Anti-Critical Race Theory Bill that this didn’t just happen in Texas. ALEC played some role in drafting some of the ideas or parameters around what these bills could look like.
I don’t know enough. What would be an interesting thing to look into is how closely Texas’s bills look to the things that ALEC put out. If the House or Senate bill pulled from that or added in some other things, I haven’t investigated that. Part of it is that this is a larger national movement. In Texas especially, we have long seen a lot of contention around who gets to dominate the public square. I interpreted a lot of this contention as well as being influenced by the dynamic growth of Texas, and that Texas is becoming more and more diverse, and we’re growing.
We’ve been a minority-majority for many years now, and we’re not going back. That’s not going to change. People who have historically been in positions of power in Texas that are primarily White evangelicals want to retain that power. There is the option to try to represent the needs and interests of your constituents, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the road that a lot of folks are choosing to take.
Instead, they are drumming up this culture war rhetoric and this idea that our, not meaning everyone, but this select dominant group, our values are under attack, and we have to protect our values. In some ways, this is not exactly new. We saw this rhetoric come up in the civil rights movement. Most confederate monuments in this country were built in response to the growing civil rights movement in the 1950s.
These aren’t exactly new things. This is a long pattern in US history, but Texas in particular. Sometimes the national media gives too much attention to dominant groups in Texas, and so they’ll cover Texas as if this right-wing White evangelical perspective does represent all of Texans. When that happens, what they’re missing is that this is a response to the growing power of people who aren’t White, who aren’t evangelical, and who have different perspectives on what it means to be a Texas, what Texan is, and what Texan should be. It’s about trying to double down and hold onto power in many ways.
You’re answering this, but I want to ask it and then pass it off to Nichole. This question keeps coming up in my mind as we’re having this conversation. What is so wrong with thinking about systemic racism? I’m curious why just thinking about it there’s such a concerted effort to crush it. We’re not even going to think about that. To me, understanding this Critical Race Theory and the ideology behind it makes me feel a little bit better like, “This is why things were the way they are.” It’s not my fault or your fault. It’s the air we breathe, and yet you have these other folks who are like, “Don’t even think about that.” Why is that so scary?
There could be multiple answers to this. One answer could be as simple as it conflicts with some people’s ideologies that they feel that they can’t question. A more complex answer to that might be that somehow some folks recognize that once you start unpacking and questioning our social structures, we might have to change them. That might change our world. I, for one, am up for changing a lot of our social structures, and I feel like we could use some change in many different ways, and I have no problem with that, but I know not everyone feels that way.
There are people out there that feel threatened by that. They think that it’s going to be destabilizing. They think that somehow it’s going to lead to chaos, or, and this is a more cynical response, they think that they personally are going to lose money, power, status, or something like that. They’re not up for giving up anything that they have. In some ways, it’s like, “No free thinking, no questioning.” It’s a way of doubling down and trying to maintain the status quo. The reality is that the time is up for that status quo. There’s nothing to be done about that. That’s where we are. It’s changing.
We’re not who we used to be. Time is moving forward. We’re a more diverse society than ever before, facing new problems that we haven’t faced in the past. A lot of people have different perspectives on those. There’s not going to be going back to 1950, but that’s not stopping people from trying. This also relates to thinking about legislative responses to LGBTQ identities. They can be understood in a very similar way, that if you start questioning gender hierarchies, then all of our hierarchies could fall apart.
We have some great episodes on gender identity. If that piques your interest, go back and read. Nichole, what last thoughts do you have? I have so many notes.
For me, too, where I’m at this point in the conversation is thinking about how all of these things are so interconnected. Talk about intersectionality, here we go. I’m having many light bulbs go off from recent conversations we’ve had. There’s the one we’ve had now that is fascinating. About our conversation with Scott White and talking about abortion and the lack of clarity, what almost seems to be the point is that people self-censor and feel scared of consequences because there isn’t clarity.
The work of providing that clarity, part of the problem is that that would reveal what is beneath and underneath. You then have to say that quiet part out loud. You can’t talk about the 1619 Project because Black, White, and Latinx students then might have a greater understanding of the American story. That would lead people to inevitably see the racism that has been present in our country since its founding. That’s the quiet part nobody wants to say, so you don’t say it. You don’t clarify. You just let people exist in this fearful state of confusion.
It’s fascinating to me the themes that we keep seeing played out in all of these culture war issues, which is a lack of clarity and definition because, at its core, it’s hateful. That’s what we’re talking about. All of this stuff, too, happens when there is not an actual problem that needs to be addressed, it’s this preemptive strike because the truth is what you alluded to is how the change is already here. That’s factual. If we can culturally try to legislate and scare people, then it’s the only defense that some folks have. Clearly, my brain is firing like crazy. Anyway, culture wars, boo.
The other side of the culture wars as well is that they’re effective in distracting Texans from other issues such as our failing electric grid or how we are going to deal with climate change like these pressing issues that we could be thinking about, but we’re not. I suppose there’s a cynical part of me that ask, “Is the whole point of some of this just for people in power to not have to tackle the actual difficult issues that they need to?” I’m not sure that it’s quite that strategic. In some ways, it is more about latching onto this trend across the nation of a dominant group of folks, White evangelicals, trying to hold onto that position that they’ve had that is slowly slipping away from them.
Thank you. This has been such an informative conversation. I read our episodes when they come out, and this one I know I’ll read this a couple of times because there’s a lot of great stuff here. Let’s go ahead and transition into our Attention Mentions where we send our readers off with some fun cultural content they can consume in their free time. It’s something that has your attention, like an article, a book, or a show. Do you all have anything, Tiffany or Nichole? I’m trying to think.
I would love to make a pitch for a friend’s book, Simran Jeet Singh, in 2022 published book called The Light We Give. He is the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Religion & Society Program, but he is a native Texan. He is First Generation Texan. He’s Sikh and grew up in San Antonio at a time when there weren’t very many other Sikh Texans around. He wore a turban, and his father and brothers still do. They were visible minorities in San Antonio. In this book, The Light We Give, he talks about his experiences of growing up as a visible minority in San Antonio. Not all of that was easy.
He draws from his religion of Sikhism, which is cool because a lot of folks who aren’t Sikh don’t know very much about it. This book tells you about this religion, and he talks about the values of his religion that he’s been able to draw from to address the hate and discrimination that he’s experienced as a Sikh and Brown American. It’s a cool book because there’s a memoir, a Texan story, and a little bit about religion. There’s also a fair bit about grappling with discrimination and racism as well. It’s great. Everyone should read it. It’s not an academic book. It’s geared at a general audience, but I’m using it in one of my classes at St Edward’s now, and my students love it.
If you can read it, you feel like a smart student. Nichole, what have you got?
I’m going to use a recommendation from you, Claire, which is the Citations Needed podcast. It’s fascinating. It is looking at the ways that we have presented narratives in the media from a critical point of view. The episodes I’ve listened to require some deep thinking. You have to hang in with these guys. They do a great job of explaining. It’s interesting and has lots of food for thought. Relatively, the one that I listened to about the way that we look at the homelessness issue is fascinating.
They talk about redlining and the historic nature of housing and how it has been very racist. They’re great. We are big fans of Citations Needed. The one I had in mind is silly.
We need a silly one.
I’ll do a silly one. I like to read these articles about nepo babies, like children of actors who get labeled beneficiaries of nepotism. I didn’t realize Wyatt Russell, Kurt Russell’s and Goldie Hawn’s son is a nepo baby because I think he’s great. I have a little celebrity crush on him. I read this article about his top performances and found this movie called Ingrid Goes West, which stars Aubrey Plaza. It was fascinating.
It’s about this woman who’s obsessed with Instagram like a single, White woman she follows on Instagram. It’s a very dark comedy. It’s only an hour and a half. Check that out if you’re looking for something to have to go on in the background. Not too heavy, but funny and good. Wyatt Russell’s a cutie.
I like the trail you took us on to land on Ingrid Goes West. That’s so hilarious.
That’s how I found that movie. Thank you everyone for reading this episode. As a reminder, sign up for our newsletter. This is where we provide nice summaries of the episode and can point you to Dr. Tiffany Puett’s work. We are so grateful for your time. This was fascinating, and I appreciate a deeper understanding of this. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
- Institute for Diversity and Civic Life
- Religions Texas
- White Too Long
- Jesus and John Wayne
- Is Gender Identity Part Of A ‘Woke Agenda’? Ash Hall Educates Us, Part 1 (Culture Wars) – Past Episode
- Scott White – Past Episode
- The Light We Give
- Citations Needed – Apple Podcasts
About Dr. Tiffany Puett
Dr. Tiffany Puett is a scholar of American religions, a community educator, and the founding Executive Director of the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life. At IDCL, she researches, develops resources and leads programs that explore the religious and cultural diversity of Texas as well as issues of identity, equity, and belonging. She also teaches courses on religious diversity and religion and politics in the Department of Religious Studies at St. Edward’s University. She holds a PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Waterloo and a master’s degree in Ethics from Boston University. She lives in Austin, TX with her husband, two teen children, and two energetic dogs.