John Oliver Returned To The Air With A Merciless Debunking Of The Rightwing Hoopla Over Critical Race Theory

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Three months have elapsed since John Oliver’s last episode of Last Week Tonight, and so much has changed. There’s been another COVID wave. Russia might be invading Ukraine. There were the Olympics that, again, not enough people watched. Former president Donald Trump both soft-launched his long-threatened Twitter clone and might lose all his income save for his pensions. But when Oliver returned to HBO, he devoted most of his first 2022 episode to a controversy that won’t go away: the rightwing hoopla over Critical Race Theory.

For months, conservative firebrands and their outraged civilian followers have been up in arms over [checks notes] a purely academic practice that is only taught in higher education. And yet a lie has arisen that it’s being taught in public schools to second graders. It’s not. And Oliver and his writing staff, as is their wont, spent a lot of time meticulously debunking their nonsense.

“A lot of people are getting very mad about critical race theory right now, and instinctively, you probably know that it’s a manufactured panic; but the fact is, the fear around it is having real effects,” Oliver explained. “Last year, Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race in Virginia after repeatedly promising that on his first day in office he’d ban CRT from being taught in schools; multiple states have passed laws outlawing the teaching of it; and Republicans are likely to make it a major focus of the midterms.”

Oliver then explained what CRT is, to everyone but especially to pundits like Tucker Carlson, who confessed he has no idea what it is even though he’s spent months railing against it. “It’s the name given to a body of legal scholarship that began in the 1970s that attempted to understand why racism and inequality persisted after the civil rights movement. The core idea is that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something that is embedded in legal systems and policies,” offered Oliver. He also tackled Carlson’s outrageous claims. “As for Tucker’s notion that it teaches some races are superior to others, or that parent’s claim that it teaches kids to hate America, none of that is remotely true.”

He also reminded people that “CRT is graduate-level legal theory, so unless your 5-year-old is currently pursuing a law degree, they’re not reading Kimberlé Crenshaw,” referring to one of the practice’s leading scholars.

As usual, Oliver and team dug in deep to the scandal: how it was invented out of whole cloth; how it took on a life of its own; how 37 states (so far) have introduced laws prohibiting teaching of it in schools; how it’s been used to inspire parents to impose restrictions on teachers who may point out, say, that the nation was founded by slave owners. And he pointed out that it’s been a way to short-circuit any real discussion of racial problems plaguing America.

“For all the laws being passed to prevent discomfort or anguish on account of an individual’s race, whose discomfort, exactly, are we prioritizing here?” Oliver asked. “Because kids of color can tell you, they don’t get a choice to not talk about race and have it go away.”

You can watch the full Last Week Tonight episode above.