Actors on both sides are taking positions that they reject in other circumstances. Prior to this year, observers of American politics could expect a bill targeting discrimination on the basis of race or sex (as at least six of the seven concepts named in the legislation do) to be disproportionately supported by Democrats invoking values such as diversity, inclusion, and the importance of combatting hate, and disproportionately opposed by Republicans citing concerns about restricting individual liberty and needlessly inviting costly, frivolous litigation. Instead, the Republicans pushing the bill say that “it simply prohibits schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts,” as Representative John Torbett, the lead sponsor, put it. Opponents of the North Carolina measure and similar bills in other states emphasize their potential chilling effect. Commenting on GOP proposals collectively, the ACLU declared, “Using these laws to prevent talk about racism is anathema to free speech—a right many conservative lawmakers claim to hold dear.”
This role reversal is due to the confluence of many factors. For years, academic training programs and professional organizations for American educators have asserted that teachers have an ethical duty to advance progressive notions of social justice in the classroom, given the opportunity. More recently, an opportunity to advanced these notions arose: The rise of Black Lives Matter, the ideological shift of white liberals to the left of Black voters on issues of race, and the murder of George Floyd all contributed to greater support, especially in blue America, for radically transforming the way that public schools discuss race, for better and worse. Events such as the arrival of enslaved people in English colonies, Juneteenth, the Tulsa massacre, and unjust police killings have received due attention. And education about the workings of systemic racism—for instance, how redlining created racial disparities in inherited wealth—has grown more sophisticated.