Leonard Pitts Jr.: A postcard from post-factual America
“Why haven’t you reported that Colin Kaepernick’s actions are due to his radical Muslim beliefs? Why are you covering this up?”
So reads an email sitting in my inbox.
Not shockingly, Snopes, the fact-checking website, has rated the claim it makes as false. Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback, did not mention religion in explaining why he refused to stand for the national anthem, nor has he ever spoken of a conversion to Islam.
That truth is not offered in hopes of persuading my correspondent. It is presented simply as a snapshot in time, a postcard from post-factual America. Meaning America of the last 20 years, where untruth is gospel, reality is multiple choice and “facts” are whatever you have testes enough to say and somebody is dumb enough to believe.
Perhaps you’ve been waiting for this era to pass over like a summer storm. If so, be advised: post-factual America is putting down roots.
Consider Texas where, this week, the state Board of Education will discuss whether to adopt a new textbook. But “Mexican American Heritage” is no ordinary book. A coalition of educators and activists, including the Mexican American School Board Members Association and the ACLU of Texas, has blasted it as amateurish, error-ridden and rife with offensive stereotypes.
Small wonder. The book claims Chicanos “adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.”
And that illegal immigration has “caused a number of economic and security problems in the United States.”
And that 19th-century Mexican workers were too lazy for their American bosses: “Industrialists were very driven, competitive men who were always on the clock and continually concerned about efficiency. They were used to their workers putting in a full day’s work. … In contrast, Mexican laborers were not reared to put in a full day’s work so vigorously. There was a cultural attitude of ‘manana’ or ‘tomorrow,’ when it came to high-gear production.”
The UK paper the Daily Mail reports the book takes a rather … elastic view of what constitutes Mexican American, with a curriculum that includes writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez (who was Colombian) and Isabel Allende (who is Chilean American), but no actual Mexicans. It says the book implies that Mexican Americans originated the tango (which is Argentine) and salsa (Puerto Rican and Cuban by way of New York City).
There is much here that should appall: the lies, the low-rent insults, the notion that a Mexican is a Colombian is a Chilean; the fact that Texas’ dominance of the textbook market could put this thing into classrooms around the country.
But save some vexation for this: With books like these proliferating in history — and, not incidentally, science — we now routinely miseducate the next generation in the name of ideology. Note that the publisher of this travesty is a right-wing former school board member who has called public education a “tool of perversion.”
She has published a book that would free students from the tyranny of truth and the burden of treating Mexican-American history with respect. It is just the latest proof that in commandeering the machinery of education, conservative extremists scored a quiet, insidious triumph. They laid claim to the future.
The rest of us must either reclaim that future one school board at a time, or watch as America becomes a permanently post-factual nation. Our children will compete in a global workplace where knowledge is currency. In preparation, we are teaching them ignorance.
They are going to find very little market for that.