*This piece was originally written in July, 2021.*
By now you must have heard about it. It is everywhere! And whether or not you’ve been paying attention, this insidious ideology has taken over the country and indoctrinated the populace for the last few years. It’s the toxic racial theory poisoning the minds of children and adults in our nation – Great Replacement Theory (GRT).
‘You Will Not Replace Us’
GRT made headlines in 2017 during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, where a mob of torch-bearing white men marched around a recently-removed Confederate monument chanting “you will not replace us”. Attendees engaged in barbaric violence, injuring several people and ultimately killing activist Heather Heyer after a perpetrator drove his car through a crowd of counter-protesters. This mantra is identified as a white supremacist slogan by the Anti-Defamation League and reflects a long-held fear of demographic change in America. In sum, Great Replacement Theory posits that a rising majority of people of color in the country is a plot to “replace” the shrinking minority white population, pushing them and their way of life into supposed extinction. The theory was popularized in 2012 by French author Renaud Camus who wrote a book of the same title.
While originating in Europe as a response to increased Black and Muslim immigration, it has since gained a foothold in the United States. The ideology is typically not explicitly named, but the sentiments can be detected in the comments of politicians like former Rep. Steven King who in 2017 tweeted “you cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else’s babies” when discussing US immigration. Consider former North Carolina Lt. Governor Dan Forest who during his failed gubernatorial campaign in 2019 stated “no other nation […] has ever survived the diversity and multiculturalism that America faces today” supposedly due to a “lack of assimilation”. Or the now-abandoned proposed America First Caucus in the US House of Representatives, which was intended to preserve the so-called “Anglo-Saxon political traditions” of the country while warning the “unique identity” of the nation is at risk. Perhaps worst of all is the decidedly more flagrant messaging of Fox News Correspondent Tucker Carlson who in April plainly stated that a law undoing racially restrictive immigration by limiting it strictly to free “white person[s]…of good character” was the biggest attack on democracy.
Taking all these examples together, are we supposed to pretend we don’t notice a pattern? It’s no mystery, the common thread in all the discourse is the notion of a white or Western European cultural and political supremacy that must be protected at all cost – including circumventing democracy itself, if necessary. All the pretense is gone at this point. We are instead left with raw nativism, no additives or preservatives.
GRT versus CRT
You likely do not know about this theory or the threat it poses because nearly every bit of corporate media’s coverage of racial resentment is concentrated on “Critical Race Theory”. The general population now believes they have a sophisticated understanding of the 30+ year old academic analytical legal framework that looks at how racism functions at the structural level, particularly in the post-Civil Rights era. This is thanks in large part to a coordinated far-right disinformation campaign. The phrase has been laundered unquestioningly by news outlets simply repeating the bogus accusations it is being taught in K-12 classrooms across the country without much critique or investigations of merit. We now know that pseudo-intellectuals like Cristopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute and organizations like Parents Defending Education are behind this intentional misappropriation of the term. It now is a convenient stand-in for any investigation of systemic racism.
Sadly, it has been effective in grabbing headlines, but also ineffective as even conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation reports many parents who know little about CRT have a neutral or favorable view. The backfiring of this propaganda should come as no surprise. The implication that examining systemic racism is somehow “un-American” isn’t landing so well after the racial reckoning of 2020. Nevertheless, conservatives seem to be banking on the idea that focusing on Critical Race Theory will somehow confirm Great Replacement Theory and trigger the historically reliable mobilizing force of white resentment. They are betting the house, better yet, the nation on the belief that a divided structure will somehow remain standing. The message is simple, “See! They are trying to replace you, your history, your worldview, your customs, etc. Be afraid!” Doubling-down and pushing all chips to the center of the political table. It’s hard to argue with their logic, for reasons they seek to prohibit from being included in US historical canon. But we know why.
In truth, the country has changed, but it’s not the existential crisis far-right extremists make it out to be. Change is an inevitable part of any nation’s evolution. Resistance to this shift in composition and culture – commonly called the “culture wars”—is about maintaining predominance, instead of plurality. The premise of the conflict rests on the idea that multiple things cannot exist harmoniously at once. That America will no longer be “America” without white social or cultural dominance. For them it’s zero sum, there is no power sharing to be had. You are either the oppressor or being oppressed, dominating or being dominated, there is no in-between. At a basic level, culture is connected to how people think, act and behave. For so long this has almost entirely been determined by white Americans and with all others (including Central and Eastern European immigrants initially) being forced to conform. However, after years of dependence on us – citizens of color as the mass producers of culture – it’s no wonder our influence and worldview is more widespread than ever.
Just take a moment to consider the reactions to Beyonce’s halftime performance during the 2016 Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players kneeling in protest of police brutality and injustice, NBA and WNBA players donning shirts that say Black Lives Matter or weighing-in on electoral politics, or even race car driver Bubba Wallace leading the effort for NASCAR to ban the confederate flag from all events. Now add the 2020 Movement for Black Lives, the culminating global protests and the unprecedented multiracial coalitions, and anyone can see something is different. The faux outrage is a stubborn resistance to the changed power dynamic, one that permits historically excluded others to speak in their own voices and see the world through their own eyes.
This was not supposed to happen. Those people are supposed to “shut up and dribble”. They are supposed to enjoy their immense financial rewards, huge platforms, and choose to remain mute on issues of societal import to their communities. If things are so bad, they should leave the country, right? But that ain’t us, in fact it never has been. The difference now is they no longer have the unilateral ability to silence us. Our perspectives are maligned as “woke”, “political” and “divisive”. But when one asks the simple question, “for who?”, deductive reasoning makes it obvious. Any shift of the national culture to reflect those who have historically been on the margins is seen as a lost battle in a sadistic war for cultural supremacy. This is GRT! They’re crying about the sky falling when it’s actually just opening up.
White Supremacy Manifestos
The danger of these disinformation campaigns cannot be understated. They signal desperation and a racially-primed panic that often plays out in violence. This is why for students of history, the armed insurrection of January 6th was no surprise. GRT themes are consistently captured in the manifestos of white supremacist terrorists like Dylan Roof, killer of 9 parishioners in the Charleston Church Massacre of 2016 and Patrick Crusius, the El Paso Shooter who killed 20 people outside of a Walmart in 2018. Both murderers seemed fixated on Black and Hispanic “invasions” of the country. While many politicians and pundits railing against antiracism are not terrorists, the substance of their rhetoric is nearly ideologically identical. The widespread voter suppression and rash of bills attempting to whitewash history are all connected. This should concern all of us if we consider far-right extremists as the greatest terrorist threat in the US and research that shows white Americans who hold racial prejudices are less committed to democracy and more supportive of authoritarianism.
This is GRT, and it is the most dangerous racial theory being propagated in the country, not CRT. It is white identity politics in self-destruct mode, and if we do not work feverishly to name and eradicate it this disingenuous strategy may just succeed in preserving the America of the past while preventing it from having any foreseeable future.