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Jena Schwartz: Ad stirs internet inquiry

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Thursday, March 02, 2023

I was drinking my coffee and reading a moving column online in the Gazette by Joanna Buoniconti (“The voice that I earned”) on Feb. 7 when an ad appeared between two paragraphs. I began to scroll past it and then the title caught my eye. “Critical Race Theory: What It Is and How to Fight It,” by Christopher F. Rufo, founder and director of Battlefront. “What the huh?” I thought to myself.

This led me down a rabbit hole, beginning with the ad, onto a 2021 article by New Yorker staff writer Benjamin Wallace-Wells, about Rufo’s “invention” of the conflict around critical race theory, and finally, to Rufo’s own website, where he introduces himself as “a writer, filmmaker, and activist challenging critical race theory and gender ideology in America’s institutions.” Seeing this ad in our local paper was distressing and a sign that the right is steadily growing its presence nationwide and in a way that would behoove anyone in a so-called “liberal” state to take seriously. In a recent blog post, Shay Stewart-Bouley writes, “What I’m saying is this: If listening to Black women is more than a nifty slogan to you, I strongly suggest you spend this Black History Month and beyond formulating an action plan and gathering a local community to pushback when the anti-Blackness and creeping fascism land in your community and on your doorstep.”

At a time when school districts across the country are emboldened to strip curricula of Black history, including dozens of writers, feminist and queer thinkers, and anything mentioning the Black Lives Matter movement, and when backlash against age-appropriate education around sexuality and gender is gaining traction, along with dozens of anti-trans bills in multiple states, I felt irresponsible as a reader and writer to let this ad go without mention. Rufo has the right to free speech. However, there is a difference between free speech and revisionist history and dangerous anti-democratic rhetoric and policy. I would hope that the Gazette would uphold the former rather than accept advertising dollars that perpetuate the latter.

Jena Schwartz

Amherst