State Rep. Ray Garofalo’s Proposed Ban On Teaching Critical Race Theory Becomes a Lost Cause After He Comments on “the Good” of Slavery

Louisiana state Rep. Ray Garofalo greets President Donald Trump on the tarmac of Louis Armstrong International Airport on Jan. 13, 2020, shortly after he arrives for the College Football Playoff National Championship game between the LSU Tigers and the Clemson Tigers at the Louisiana Superdome. Image credit: Bayou Brief.

During Tuesday’s nearly four-hour long discussion by members of the Louisiana state House Education Committee about a bill that sought to prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory (the academic discourse informed by a mountain of scholarship on the cultural, sociological, and legal implications of white privilege, systemic and institutional racism, and the patriarchy), the bill’s author, state Rep. Ray Garofalo of Mereaux in St. Bernard Parish, attempted to explain the legislation’s pedagogical merit after a series of pointed questions from one of his conservative colleagues, state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty of New Orleans.

“If you’re having a discussion on whatever the case may be, on slavery, then you can talk about everything dealing with slavery,” Garofalo said. “The good, the bad, the ugly, the whole….”

“There’s no good to slavery though,” responded Hilferty.

The room erupted into laughter, and Garofalo recognized his humiliating mistake. “Well, then whatever the case may be,” he said, as the cackles continued. “You’re right. You’re right. I didn’t mean to imply that and I don’t believe that and I know that that’s the case. But I’m using that ‘good, bad, and ugly’ as a generic way of saying that you can teach any facts, any factually-based anything, regardless.”

Hilferty then engaged him in an epistemological conversation about how history is defined, and for a brief moment, it appeared as if she was close to unraveling the central mistake of Garofalo’s entire premise: His fundamental failure to recognize the ways in which our understanding of history is both constructed by and contingent on who we empower with its retelling.

Garofalo’s bill, HB 564, is one of several similar bills that have been introduced by Republican legislators in states across the country. Ostensibly intended to depoliticize the teaching of certain “divisive concepts,” these bills are, in actuality, a rather brazen effort either to marginalize or to simply ban Critical Race Theory from the American curriculum.

Specifically, HB 564 would require elementary and schools as well as colleges and universities, both public and private, to impose sanctions against those who teach, among other things, any of the following:

  • That either the United States of America or the state of Louisiana is fundamentally, institutionally, or systemically racist or sexist.
  • That an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently or systemically racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, or has negative or positive characteristics that inhere in the individual’s DNA.
  • That an individual should be discriminated against, favored, or receive differential treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race or sex.
  • That an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility or is to be held accountable for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
  • That any individual should feel or be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological or emotional distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.
  • That the concept of meritocracy or traits such as a strong work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by a particular race or sex to oppress another race or sex.
  • That the concepts of capitalism, free markets, or working for a private party in exchange for wages are racist and sexist or oppress a given race or sex.
  • That the concepts of racial equity and gender equity, meaning the unequal treatment of individuals because of their race, sex, or national origin, should be given preference in education and advocacy over the concepts of racial equality and gender equality, meaning the equal treatment of individuals regardless of their race, sex, or national origin.

Garofalo repeatedly attempted to reassure his fellow committee members that he simply wanted to prevent the teaching of “opinions” as “fact.” It’s a claim that seems especially rich coming from a member of the political party that has consistently refused to repeal two state laws, one of which was already struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, that allows for the teaching of new earth creationism as “science.” But it’s also fairly obvious that Ray Garofalo’s “ban” would actually serve to enshrine into law Ray Garofalo’s opinions—really, his entire worldview—to the exclusion of any education that recognizes the counterfactual.

Incidentally, the rhetoric employed by Garofalo—one that emphasizes an unquestionable belief in American exceptionalism, uses the language of “equality” to deny the historical and present-day realities of racism, and diminishes the dignity of those victimized by the brutalities and cruelties of racism, while excusing the culpability of its beneficiaries—is strikingly similar to the positions trotted out by the Republican candidate in the 1991 Louisiana governor’s race.

Not long after his defeat, David Duke would return to openly embracing and promoting unquestionably racist ideology, but when he ran for governor, he used issues like opposition to affirmative action and complaints about so-called “reverse discrimination.” He didn’t want to completely repudiate his racist past; he primarily wanted voters to know that his persona was more telegenic and mainstream than it was when he was an LSU student spewing venom in Free Speech Alley.

Louisiana state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty (R- New Orleans) thought carefully while questioning her colleague state Rep. Ray Garofalo about his proposal to ban the teaching of critical race theory during a meeting of the House Education Committee on April 27, 2021.

Earlier this year, Republicans lawmakers in Iowa passed a proposal to prohibit the teaching of systemic or institutional racism in so-called “diversity training” programs (the proposal originally applied to all educational programs but was scaled back once it reached the state Senate).

“This bill is a denial of history,” state Rep. Marti Anderson of Des Moines said. “The bill doesn’t want our next generations to receive complete American history education that includes the facts of our darkest hours.” 

An effort considered by the New Hampshire General Court—the Granite State’s name for its 424-member bicameral legislature— appears headed toward defeat after swift public backlash and criticism from business leaders.

In addition to Garofalo’s bill in Louisiana and the apparently doomed bill in New Hampshire, similar legislation is currently under consideration in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Washington state and is expected to be introduced in Texas.

As legislators in Louisiana discussed HB 564, a nearly identical proposal in Idaho, HB 377, won passage in their state Senate and now awaits the signature of Gov. Brad Little. Notably, only Montana and Wyoming have fewer Black residents, per capita, than Idaho. According to the most recently available data from the American Community Survey, approximately 0.9% of Idahoans are Black. In Louisiana, on the other hand, Blacks comprise 32.8% of the population, eclipsing everywhere but neighboring Mississippi, with a 37.8% Black population. I bring this up not to “explain,” as it were, the ignorance of the Idaho state legislature but to call attention to the context in which these bills were introduced.

The proliferation of proposed legislation in state Capitols represents the latest part of a coordinated attack against Critical Race Theory first launched by former president Donald J. Trump, a man whose rise in politics began with his promotion of the racist conspiracy theory that the birth certificate of his Black predecessor, Barack Obama, was fraudulent.

That said, it’s hardly the first provocative and ill-intentioned bill in recent years to insult the perspectives of Black people.

In 2016, Louisiana state Rep. Lance Harris, a Republican from Alexandria, won passage for what he promoted as the nation’s first-ever “Blue Lives Matter” law, an almost certainly unconstitutional state statute that expands the definition of “hate crimes” to include criminal acts committed against members of law enforcement. Because existing law already provides for enhanced sentencing in those cases, Harris’ Blue Lives Matter bill was purely symbolic. As its title suggests, the bill was designed as a way to both trivialize the then-nascent Black Lives Matter movement while also undermining the legal status of Blacks as members of a “protected class,” manufacturing a narrative about the police as victims at the very moment in which a mass movement of Americans began demanding accountability for police killings and started to confront the realities of institutional racism.

But while Harris’ legislation was a crass response to a burgeoning social and political movement, the proposed bans against the teaching of Critical Race Theory are primarily driven by a desire to silence a critique about and quash dissent against a political leader.

Wikipedia features a stand-alone entry about the “racial views of Donald Trump” that is longer and more thoroughly sourced than the entries for most of his 44 predecessors. Arguably, his presidency and his political movement have offered some of the most compelling and definitive evidence imaginable in support of Critical Race Theory, the academic discourse that not only forces us to confront the way power persists but also explains, at least partially, how white privilege allows someone like Ray Garofalo to ascend to the chairmanship of the Louisiana state House Education Committee.

One thing is for certain about Tuesday’s marathon committee hearing: It provided state Rep. Garofalo with a lot to consider. By the end of the day, he decided to pull his legislation.

The votes simply weren’t there. It was, he realized, a lost cause.

Update: I may have given him too much credit. Although he had repeatedly suggested he would not be tabling the legislation, there were reports late Tuesday that he had decided to defer on the bill this year but expected to re-file another bill during next year’s session. However, it’s not clear that ever was the case. As soon as there is clarification on whether Garofalo understands that reality bites and has learned the truth about cats and dogs (sorry, wrong Garofalo) will continue pushing for this legislation, I will let readers know.

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Lamar writes about the people, the politics, and the magic of Louisiana. He is the founder and publisher of the Bayou Brief and a contributing writer for the Daily Beast. Lamar is best known for his investigative reporting on public corruption, racism, and civil rights. He has appeared as a guest on CNN, MSNBC, and the BBC, and he's been the subject of profiles in The Washington Post, The Advocate, and Huffington Post. Before launching the Bayou Brief, he published CenLamar, a popular blog that initially covered the drama of City Hall in his hometown of Alexandria. Lamar is a graduate of Rice University in Houston and the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Today he lives in New Orleans and is currently writing a book about the life of reputed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. Support Lamar's work on Patreon.