Intimidation Masquerading As Virtue Is Chilling Free Speech
An Ontario Teacher Under Investigation Speaks Out
This is a guest post written by high school teacher Chanel Pfahl. She can be found on Twitter @ChanLPfa.
Just a few years ago, a teacher proclaiming that “all children should be treated equally” or that “all lives matter” would have received enthusiastic nods from fellow educators. Today, the situation is so vastly different that such statements can easily put one’s career on the line. In this article, I will describe the origins, manifestations and repercussions of this puritanical moral shift, and I hope that you will see why rejecting the new orthodoxy is so crucially important.
Let me begin by sharing my story with you. I am a 29-year-old teacher in Ontario, Canada, and as a result of a complaint filed against me, my teaching licence is currently at stake.
It all started last year, in February 2021. A teacher in a private Facebook group asked others to share Black Lives Matter resources to use in class. In response, I posted the following comment and supporting link:
Here, you can find the speech I posted, in which the UK Minister of State for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, explains her government’s opposition to the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT).
Within minutes, the backlash erupted. Here are some of the responses I received:
One teacher immediately filed a complaint that prompted a month-long investigation by my school board. In March 2021, I was suspended for one week without pay. I am currently appealing that ruling through my union, but it is a long process, and my arbitration date is not until May of next year.
More recently, on March 15th, 2022, I was informed by the Ontario College of Teachers that they too had begun investigating me as a result of a complaint they received about my two comments in that Facebook group. Apparently, to suggest that we should not be teaching ideas stemming from CRT as if they are accepted facts is no trivial thing! I did not know this when I signed up to teach high school science.
Brief overview of CRT
In the simplest of terms, CRT is a particular way of looking at race relations in society. The term was originally coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, in the 1980s, and its goal was to examine the ways in which racism continued to present itself in America despite the advances that were made during the civil rights movement.
Though slavery in the United States was officially abolished in 1865, Jim Crow laws (enforcing racial segregation), and other discriminatory practices, such as prohibiting black people from living in certain neighbourhoods, remained for nearly another century. The US, and Canada, to a lesser extent, have a history of racism that cannot be denied, and exploring the ways this history might have lingering effects on people of colour today is therefore a noble endeavour.
CRT does this in a flawed, counterintuitive way, however. It rejects the “common humanity” approach to achieving social justice – the very approach that has allowed us to overcome racist attitudes and race-based discrimination in the West to the degree that we have. Further, it is explicitly opposed to liberal principles like individual rights and civil liberties. Derrick Bell, the first African American tenured law professor at Harvard, and one of the founders of CRT, stated in his 1987 book that “progress in American race relations is largely a mirage obscuring the fact that whites continue, consciously or unconsciously, to do all in their power to ensure their dominion and maintain their control”. Indeed, for CRT supporters, racism is viewed as the ordinary, permanent state of affairs in our society.
This cynical view is shared by contemporary CRT advocates like author Robin DiAngelo. In her book White Fragility, which sat on the New York Times Best Seller list for a year in 2020, she claims that “anti-blackness is foundational to our very identities as white people” (p.91) and says “to be less white is to be less racially oppressive” (p. 149). She even argues, in this paper, that “raising white children to be white is a form of child abuse”. Beyond revealing her own racist attitudes, which she also projects onto every other white person, DiAngelo’s “insights” are not overly illuminating. Are Canadian taxpayers aware that they have been paying for her to share her views at “antiracist” events, like this one just last month?
According to CRT, racial identity is of primary importance when it comes to determining one’s position in society. Rather than saying “you are black, I am white, but most importantly, we are both human beings, and we should therefore be treated equally”, it says “you are black, I am white, and as such you are an oppressed victim, and I am a privileged oppressor; your experience of the world is completely different from mine, and the way to bring about positive change is to draw attention to the ways in which we are different”.
Indeed, based on the CRT framework, treating everyone the same regardless of skin colour (i.e., “colourblindness”) is actually a form of covert racism, as this approach does not “centre” racial identity. This is directly opposed to the unifying message of Martin Luther King, who famously stated his dream for his four children to see the day when people would be judged not by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.
In fact, even racial segregation is being brought back into fashion by proponents of CRT. They say it is for the “safety” of people of colour — a space to be free from white people, or from “whiteness”, as they like to call it. Have a look at this Chicago church that decided that they were “fasting from whiteness” for Lent this year… and proudly advertised it on their front lawn!
Language games breed self-censorship
With many elements of postmodern thought baked into the theory, CRT is more concerned with “dismantling” abstract “systems of power” through “deconstructing” language than it is with actually finding material solutions to real-world problems using evidence-based analysis. This manifests, notably, as an obsessive focus on what words we should and shouldn’t use (if we are to avoid “harm” and “microaggression” accusations, or worse).
How does knowing the current “accepted” term, say between “racial minority”, “coloured people”, “racialized people”, “Black”, “BIPOC”, and “people of colour” translate to any change for this particular group of individuals? It doesn’t.
But when it becomes such a grave, racist offence to use the “wrong” words, most people would rather not mess it up. This hyperfocus on language, which does not present any real world benefit for black people, simply keeps us guessing, and stops us from saying what it is we think. It is chilling free speech.
At the same time, this insistence on politically correct terminology provides incentives for certain ambitious types to master these language games and become self-appointed members of the thought police. Generally, it is white, university educated, middle and upper class women, who have discovered that between being accused of using the wrong words — i.e., “perpetuating white supremacy” — and accusing others of using the wrong words, while benefiting from a sense of moral superiority, the latter is preferable.
It isn’t clear whether they ever stop to wonder “who is this helping, anyway?” — they simply stay up to date on the latest woke beliefs, and enforce them onto others, ruthlessly at times, while claiming to be the compassionate and inclusive ones. They probably actually believe it.
These ideologues are encouraged not only by the innocuous sounding language that covers up this divisive ideology – like “equity”, “anti-racism”, “inclusion”, etc. – but also by the complex-sounding explanations below the surface. Of course, the underlying ideas are deceptively shallow and straightforward, but being able to virtue signal by using words like “hegemony” or “intersectionality” and cite academic papers (ignoring the fact that rigour is severely lacking in these fields) is addictive for some.
Escaping the burden of proof
“Anti-racist” or “CRT” activists claim that racism permeates our society at every level in a subconscious and/or systemic way. This is tremendously useful for anyone who champions the ideology, as it allows for an easy way out of having to show evidence for their claims. After all, the alleged racism is hidden, so how are they supposed to prove its existence? Why should they be expected to? (And also, you must be racist if you think proof is required.)
If you are brave enough to ask them to substantiate their beliefs, or voice genuine disagreement, many will immediately disengage, label you or accuse you of “harm” for your truth-seeking ways. To illustrate, here is a private Facebook message I received the night I posted my two innocuous comments:
The more rational folks – those who still believe in having good faith discussions, rather than resorting to accusations – usually justify their views with statistics pointing to different group outcomes. For example, they might tell you that people of colour make less money, on average, than white people in Canada.
Does this mean that racism and discrimination are automatically to blame? What other factors could be at play?
A quick look at this Statistics Canada website shows that in 2020, the average income for Canadians between the ages of 25 and 34 was $50,200, climbing to $65,800 for individuals aged 35-44 years. This shows the significance of age when it comes to income: at least until they retire, as people age, they tend to earn more money.
Have we considered, for example, that the median age of black Canadians is 29.6 years, whereas the median age of the entire Canadian population is 40.7 years?
And what do we make of the 2016 census data which shows Japanese people were the top earners in Canada? This should bring up some questions, but instead, these statistics are disregarded or rationalized away. Asians have relatively light skin, making them beneficiaries of “white privilege” despite the fact that they are not white, they tell us. Have we looked at what might contribute to their success, in terms of their education, their values, or their work ethic?
What about family structure? Have we considered that in Canada, dual income families with two children, for example, earned a median income of $119,580 in 2019, whereas lone-parent families with two children earned a median income of $39,830 that same year? What are the differences in family structures across ethnic groups, and how might that influence their relative socioeconomic status?
The point is that rather than doing multivariate analyses to determine why certain groups might be better or worse off than others on any given metric, CRT insists that differential outcomes — when white people are ahead of black people — are due to one thing and one thing only, and that is racism. It labels any insinuation that there might be more to the story as racist in itself, and therefore it stops the very conversation we should be having in order to accurately diagnose and appropriately address any real sources of inequality.
Far from black vs. white
Before I go any further, let me be clear: CRT is not a black vs. white people issue. Though it can be argued that it does, as a by-product, heighten race-based tribalism, a person’s skin colour doesn’t have much bearing on their receptivity to this theory.
And despite the fact that racialized individuals, according to CRT, are said to have a unique voice which is regarded not only as pure and authentic, but also authoritative, this principle is actually only applied if the said individual shares experiences and opinions that are ideologically consistent with the tenets of the theory.
Take the example of Jamil Javani, a black radio host who was recently fired for having views that were not in line with “wokeness”. “Bell Media/iHeartRadio was not prepared for a black man who loves his country, rejects victimhood politics, maintains strong ties to his faith community, and shares heterodox views on a wide range of issues”, he explains. He tells the story in this brilliant article.
Why is it that Ibram X Kendi, the author of How To Be An Anti-Racist, a black man who believes present discrimination is the solution to past discrimination, is revered and praised, whereas black scholars and thinkers who oppose the doctrine, such as Thomas Sowell, John McWhorter, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali are accused of being “white supremacists” or “Uncle Toms” for not espousing the same views?
You would think that at the very least, the people claiming to be “anti-racist” could appreciate the notion that black people are not a monolith.
The church of “CRT” can exist, but attendance must be optional
To evaluate these ideas and come to believe them, as an adult, is one thing. To take this set of unproven, controversial beliefs and push it onto children is another.
For a black child, I can’t imagine a more disempowering message than being told the whole system is rigged against me, and that my white peers have an unfair advantage over me simply because of their skin colour. For a white child, the unnecessary guilt being inflicted is going to cause feelings of resentment and anger, maybe even despair. Not to mention the impact on biracial children.
And yet, here we are: these ideas have crept their way into our institutions, little by little, to the point that merely voicing concern about teaching that is ideologically biased is no longer tolerated. While I am being investigated for simply suggesting that CRT should be approached in a balanced way, and presented as one possible theory among other competing ones, if at all, many states in the US are currently passing bills to ban the teaching of CRT. We are lagging behind in Canada, and we will pay dearly for our complacency if we continue down our current path, where we are no longer allowed to speak our minds, and where we must adhere, or pretend to adhere, to sets of beliefs with which we disagree.
Bari Weiss, a brilliant journalist who resigned from the New York Times in July 2020, citing a hostile, illiberal environment that devalues truth in favour of ideology, says “we got here because of cowardice [and] we get out with courage”. I couldn't agree more. We have been holding our tongues for far too long.
The views I hold are not unpopular — a quick look at my email inbox, or at the comments on my Rebel News interview, and you could see this for yourself — but people are afraid to speak. I am not exactly thrilled about being ostracized for voicing my dissenting opinions, losing so-called friends, and potentially even sacrificing the career I love. But the reality is that we each have a decision to make regarding our own participation and complicity in allowing this tragic drift away from our once free country.
John Diefenbaker, former Prime Minister of Canada, beautifully expressed the essence of what it means to be Canadian in his famous quote: “I am Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind." This quote brings me shivers — do you feel it, too?
Freedom, as a fundamental human right, is what sets Western countries apart from other nations — it is what allows us to live in accordance with our own religious and moral beliefs while coexisting peacefully with millions of others who have different convictions. Our ability to live freely in such a pluralistic society is a complete anomaly, historically and in the world today. Most countries have not been, and are not free by any stretch – people are required to think and behave in ways that are consistent with the chosen orthodoxy. It is the default setting for our species. We must remember that if we do not defend our freedom, it will inevitably slip away.
Those who feel that the CRT framework is accurate and valuable should absolutely be allowed to express their opinions. I will always defend their right to disagree with me. That said, they do not have the right to impose their beliefs on others, like myself, and especially not on vulnerable children. This would be a flagrant abuse of authority.
Of course, striving toward eliminating bias in our teaching requires us to know the difference between a position that is objectively true, or morally unobjectionable, and an opinion. Unfortunately the line between the two can be hard to decipher when it comes to this particular ideology, because words have been redefined, and most people just do not realize it.
For example, “racism is wrong” is an obvious, non-controversial statement, and what it means in the eyes of most people is that we should not judge others by the colour of their skin; everyone should be treated the same regardless of their race.
However, because the language has now been hijacked by “social justice” activists, normal, well-meaning individuals who agree with the above sentiment are being led astray, and agreeing to statements that do not mean what they imagine them to mean. For example, the idea of “anti-racism” might seem intuitively worthy of support, but it is in fact a politically charged concept which signals adherence to this illiberal doctrine. Compelling teachers to be “anti-racist”, as if that is the only morally acceptable stance, is akin to imposing religious views on them, and by extension on their students, and it is wrong.
The Ontario College of Teachers defines anti-racism not as the act of “judging people by their character and merit, rather than their skin colour”, but as “an active and consistent process of change to eliminate individual, institutional and systemic racism as well as the oppression and injustice racism causes”. And what do they mean by racism? Well, they are referring to the “attitudes, values and stereotypical beliefs” that are “deeply rooted”, and that people might not even be aware they have. This is grounded in the assumption that differential group outcomes in society only exist because of discrimination, which stems from CRT.
Based on this kind of flawed thinking, until all outcomes are completely equal for all groups of people in all facets of society (i.e., equity), we will need to continue the purification process of all white people, who are presumed to be guilty. Evidently, achieving equal outcomes for all groups will require brutal violations of individual rights, like discrimination based on skin colour, and we are already seeing these unjust practices in selecting only candidates of certain ethnicities for jobs, scholarships, or even for access to tax-payer funded homes. Anyone who does not see that allowing for this “skin colour first”, unjust playing field will only serve to inflame racial tensions, not diminish them, needs a wake up call.
When it comes to standing against the current push toward ideological conformity, each one of us has a role to play no matter our place in society. Teachers, in particular, who are entrusted with educating the next generation, must stand up and advocate for what it is we signed up to do. We are not preachers or moral guidance counsellors, and we are not political campaigners. Enough is enough!
We are all equal. I am what is considered to be a “person of colour”. Growing up I was told that I could become anything I wanted to be if I worked hard and persevered. It would have crushed my self-esteem to have been told that I am oppressed, by the way I am not oppressed. This CRT agenda is harmful to people of colour and is not at all helpful for people of colour. Let us focus our efforts on solving the educational challenges of people of colour, instead of teaching kids that they are oppressed and lesser than others because of the colour of their skin.
I can't imagine a better teacher than Chanel Pfahl. I would like to comment on three of her statements. First, "'Anti-racist' or 'CRT' activists claim that racism permeates our society at every level in a subconscious and/or systemic way. This is tremendously useful for anyone who champions the ideology, as it allows for an easy way out of having to show evidence for their claims." It also gives them a back door to the best university programs or best jobs in society. CRT is self-serving for its ironically righteous practitioners. Second, "The Ontario College of Teachers defines anti-racism... as 'an active and consistent process of change to eliminate individual, institutional and systemic racism as well as the oppression and injustice racism causes.'" That's a tall order, for the OTC: eliminating oppression and justice in addition to racism. Underlying CRT is deceit. The theory will only create more oppression, injustice, and racism. It is sophomoric blather and prattle, and not the sort of curriculum kids need. Third, "[Teachers] are not preachers or moral guidance counsellors...or political campaigners." Sadly, this type of teacher is on the ascendance, as that is the example set by higher-ups. Ms. Pfahl gets to the heart of the matter - teaching being for the betterment of children and not for indoctrinative and manipulative adults. Academic values such as open inquiry and coming to one's own conclusions ought to be paramount. I am reminded of Mark Twain's observation: "In the first place, God created idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards."