John Oliver commended for perfectly explaining the problem with ‘panic’ over critical race theory

John Oliver on ‘Last Week Tonight' (YouTube/LastWeek Tonight)
John Oliver on ‘Last Week Tonight' (YouTube/LastWeek Tonight)

John Oliver has delivered a detailed rebuke to what he called conservatives’ “manufactured panic” over the teaching of critical race theory.

The host of Last Week Tonight returned on Sunday (20 February) for the late-night show’s ninth season and dedicated a 28-minute explanatory segment to the topic.

He began by outlining efforts by conservatives to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools. According to an Education Week analysis, 37 states “have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism” since January 2021.

“Multiple states have passed laws outlawing the teaching of it and Republicans are likely to make it a major focus of the midterms,” he noted.

Oliver defined critical race theory as “a body of legal scholarship that began in the 1970s that attempted to understand why racism and inequality persisted after the civil rights movement”. He cited an Education Week article explaining that “the core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

He played a segment from a CNN interview by scholar and law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw highlighting that supporters of critical race theory “believe in the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth amendment, we believe in the promises of equality, and we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality”.

“If you just found yourself there wondering that the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments are, that alone might be a good sign that we don’t talk about this stuff in schools enough,” Oliver added.

The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments were ratified in 1865, 1868, and 1870 respectively. The Thirteenth amendment outlawed slavery; the Fourteenth amendment protected the citizenship rights and legal protections of formerly enslaved people; and the Fifteenth amendment prohibited discrimination of voters “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”.

“A lot of people are getting very mad about critical race theory right now, and instinctively, you probably know it’s a manufactured panic, but the fact is the fear around it is having real effects,” Oliver said in his segment.

Later in the broadcast, he said the panic over CRT is likely to shut down constructive conversations about racism, adding: “And that is not all it is likely to do. Because the some pushing this panic the hardest are actually using it to advance a much bigger agenda that they have wanted for a very long time, and that is, school choice — basically letting parents take tax dollars afforded to the public schooling of their kid and use them at any school they like.”

Wrapping up his segment, Oliver said: “The debate around critical race theory is both very loud and very, very dumb, but unfortunately it is important to engage with it because if we don’t, the end point that we are heading toward is that honest discussions of race will be shut out of public schools even as some parents f*** off to voucher academies where their kids can learn a version of history that is basically antebellum fan fiction.”

Oliver received praise on social media for the segment. “John Oliver dispels all the bulls*** about #CriticalRaceTheory, much better than I ever could,” one person wrote.

“This video should be watched and retweeted daily. And, sent to every local, state, and Federal legislative member. Especially school boards,” someone else shared.