What is a “divisive concept?”

Pilot What is a divisive concept

SCOTUS Justice Potter Steward, when pressed for a definition of obscenity, said ‘I know it when I see it.’  The test for divisive concepts should be more clear cut than that.

But it’s not an easy call.

I think that telling a young child that he or she is an ‘oppressor’ or privileged, or oppressed or hobbled by the color of their skin is definitely over the line. Likewise that they are owed, or owe, based on the actions or situation of ancestors long dead.

What about the teaching of history? How much context is required.

I remember the opening episode of Alex Haley’s “Roots” which had white guys on horses riding down and throwing a net over Kunta Kinte. That’s not history, but it is the image many people have.

In reality, slave traders bought slaves from Arab merchants who in turn bought them from local warlords. Everyone in the whole chain was wrong, but I think the context of slavery worldwide at the time is necessary, lest children be led to believe it was a US problem alone. Or for that matter, a white sin alone.

There is also the problem of presentism. Yes, Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. But neither had ever known a world in which rich farmers didn’t. Both knew it had to end but didn’t know how to accomplish it. Jefferson said ‘we have a wolf by the ears, we can’t hold on but we dare not let go.’

Jefferson is held in especially deep disdain because he fathered children with his slave Sally Hemmings and never freed her. But at the time, both cohabitation and miscegenation were illegal in Virginia. Keeping her as his slave was literally the only way they could be together. When Jefferson was Ambassador to France, where slavery was not legal, she attended diplomatic functions and lived with him as though she was his wife.

So, was Jefferson a cruel oppressor or were they two people in love getting along the best they could in the world they knew?

How much context is enough, how much is too little?

We may still have that wolf by the ears.

How do we draw the line?

66 thoughts on “What is a “divisive concept?”

  1. Every time this subject is brought up, I bring up the same facts but am told “but we are only interested in US history”. That’s the problem! The phony “white privilege” and critical race theory narratives are not history but attempts to hold people today responsible for what happened 150 years or more ago that of which was normal at that time. They don’t want to face the fact that blacks kidnapped blacks and sold them on the ivory coast to the highest bidder. that whites were captured and enslaved by the Moors of Northern Africa during the same time frame or that child slavery still exists today in the African chocolate trade. Context be damned, they only want someone to blame and get a payout from and it starts with teaching children they are either oppressors or the oppressed using “teaching history” as a cover for the obvious. Sure, teach history but include the big picture including all of the scabs but there is only so much instruction time. Stop the divisive racial nonsense and get back to living in harmony.


  2. RE: “How do we draw the line?”

    I think there is a way. Basically it is to recognize that there are some things you don’t try to teach to children (because they are not ready).

    In Western culture this concept once was formalized as the distinction between the trivium and the quadrivium. These two areas of learning corresponded, roughly, to the distinction between grammar school and college. Grammar school in this scheme consisted of learning how to read, write, reason and persuade. College in this scheme consisted of learning how to pursue Truth with a capital “T”. Or, put another way, first children learn how to use the tools of science, then they learn science.


    One of the biggest, dumbest concepts of the current age is the idea that children can be taught Truth with a capital “T” before then have learned how to read, write, reason or persuade.

    The reality of slavery from an anthropological/historical point of view is far too complex to teach to children. It is far too complex to teach to some adults.


  3. Slaves did not cross the Pettus Bridge in Birmingham.

    Why did it take us a century to acknowledge that? What cultural aspect did we have that permitted us to exclude American citizens from the benefits but not the obligations of citizenship, long after the “peculiar institution” was abolished.

    I think we need to acknowledge that we did not really end slavery in 1865, but rather replaced it with a long term second class of citizenship based on skin color and enforced by White Supremacy. That is a cultural phenomenon and it lingers today.

    Certainly, the racial situation is much different today than in 1950, so progress has been made. Yet, the very obvious fact that we still have NAACP, HBCU’S and BLM tells that the work of complete integration and acceptance of minorities into society is work in progress.

    Excluding the firebrands on both sides of the racial divide, we are seeing differences and advances in racial equity. And, over time, population mixing will resolve many, if not most, of the issues based on skin color alone. It took generations for the acceptance of immigrants from Europe as equals. It will take a bit more for our own “immigrants” we brought here, but did not allow past the Statue of a liberty until 1965.


    Liked by 2 people

  4. Such a serious discussion of “divisive concepts.”

    Yeah, right.

    You people are not fooling anyone except, I suppose, yourselves. The non-existent teaching of CRT and the banning of “divisive concepts” are obvious continuations of the GOP’s long-standing “Southern Strategy” of politics based on exacerbating white nationalism and racism. They are the current incarnations of “Welfare Queens”, “White Hands”, “Bucks with Food Stamps Buying Steaks”, “Willie Horton”, Birtherism, “rapists, drug bringers and criminals”, etc., etc., etc.

    Your “wedge issues” have been so successful that you have managed to wedge away countless millions and left yourselves with a party totally dominated by “deplorables” that is now turning to lawlessness and political violence. Goodbye to the Grand Old Party. Sic transit gloria mundi.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Maybe you missed my point – there is nothing serious about this discussion. “Divisive concepts” is an undefined, undefinable, and dangerous construct. And that is obvious without a lot of navel gazing.

        The actual history of Republican race-baiting politics and how this crap fits into that history is not “ad hominem.” (You seem not to know what that means.) It simply provides relevant context. Since you have no rebuttal, you turn to an ad hominem response.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You attacked the commenters, not their arguments. That is ad hominem.

          And the point of the thread is to try to find a way to define ‘divisive concepts’ which you seem unwilling to address.


          1. In logic, the ad hominem fallacy involves an attempt to rebut a statement of fact with an attack on the speaker. I did not attempt to rebut any statement of fact. I did not commit the ad hominem fallacy.

            You, on the other hand, offered an attack on me as your response to the statement of fact that I made about where this “issue” fits historically. THAT was the ad hominem fallacy.

            You are welcome.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. You denied that we were trying to have a legitimate conversation on the topic by saying we were not capable of such a conversation.

            It doesn’t get more adhominem than that.


          3. Well, if you want to discuss divisive issues not permitted in schools, let’s do just that.

            You made slavery the issue. I made White Supremacy the issue AFTER slavery.

            Which do you think is more divisive: whether slavery was common or that until a few decades ago a Black person had no rights by law or contract.

            Should that be taught as racism or just a matter of Americans knowing their place.?

            We’re the massacres of Blacks in towns like Greenwood racist acceptance of a norm or just a party that got out of hand?

            Slavery was long ago and was an economic system justified by supremacy.

            Jim Crow was merely an extension of the same culture and racism in its most pernicious and deadly form.

            Should we not teach that?

            Liked by 2 people

          4. I would agree that the Ji Crow era is important for people to understand. But at the same time, we aren’t renaming schools and roads only because of Jim Crow.

            I think that the entire context is important. Yes Jim Crow is important, but so are Haiti and Nat Turner, if you are going to understand the fear that prompted a lot of the discrimination. Fear is often mistaken for hate.

            I doubt there would have been a KKK had there not been Haiti and Nat Turner.

            Things are a great deal more complicated than presentists seem to think.


          5. Complicated? Up until 1965? Really?

            Slave revolts are nasty. Why is that? Treat people terribly, split up families, rape the women, sell the children, deny education and then expect civility when a breaking point has been reached by some.

            Article of secession from many states made it clear that the African slave was inferior, but economically critical. How does that sound complicated?

            True, the backlash right after Reconstruction, was in part due to poorly executed plans to revitalize the South. But what part of our culture and history allowed the treatment of American citizens as second class citizens or worse for a century more?

            I think that is the reckoning we have yet to tackle except tangentially up until today.

            Liked by 2 people

          6. In fact, the Klan came about as a reaction the the forcible freeing of slaves and the brief period of congressional reconstruction when the federal government was militarily enforcing civil rights for freedmen. Every iteration of the Klan has come during a time of increased black rights, they would have formed absent Haiti and Nat Turner.

            Speaking of, what are you suggesting here with your assertion that the Klan was a result of slave rebellions? Why is that “context” important rather than why a man might feel he had been charged by God to seek vengeance on his captors? You love to remind us of your libertarian ideology, yet here you are suggesting Turner and Louverture, people who resisted tyrannical government are to blame for a terrorist organization? Should we not be celebrating these men as the freedom fighters they were?

            I once dated a woman who had grown up in Southampton County (where NT’s rebellion took place). She said that when studying that topic they took field trips to the tree they hanged him from. THAT is the historical “context” from which these topics have traditionally been taught in this country.

            Liked by 2 people

          7. How about Blacks that were roasted to death and hacked up while a town watched?

            Or the 4000+ lynchings.

            Or memorial statues to slave owners who may have sold children torn from mothers. Or worse (if that is possible).

            Why should Turner have spared anyone? If your children were sold, wife raped would you not be upset enough to exact revenge. Especially if you had no hope.

            Is it divisive to discuss Turner? Was he evil or crazy or enraged? Justified or a plain homicidal maniac?

            Plenty of classroom discussion about the meaning of violence in the face of generations of racial brutality. Eye for an eye or “Queensbury” rules for engagement. Do people have breaking points or not?

            Is a White child worth more than a Black child?

            Lots of points here. School worthy or too divisive?

            Liked by 2 people

      1. Cherry picking individual events of “bad teaching” (see my post of John Oliver) is part of the culture war playbook used by the right.

        Pay very close attention to what is said by Christopher Ruffo and how Oliver takes it down. Brilliant.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. This is not the only case. Glad you can finally agree that racist CRT garbage IS in fact being taught to children in leftist school systems. Shame on the perpetrators of race baiting education. November is going to be a s laughter house, watch and pay close attention to the demise of liberal racism.


          1. It is NOT part of the curriculum. Your fear is unwarranted. Watch the Oliver video and see what I am talking about.

            As far as slaughterhouses go, maybe you should be more concerned for your boy possibly going to the Big House for his many multitudes of crimes against the country. From stealing classified docs to inciting insurrection.

            Liked by 1 person

      2. Privilege Bingo was used by one teacher in one school. We have almost 90,000 public school teachers in VA. Was it a good idea? Possibly not.

        But to say that being White is not more advantageous than Black in our history and even in the present day is false.

        Should we keep ignoring the issue or meet it head on and see if we can change that?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Was it a good idea?

          Well, it was not a bad idea in spite it somehow becoming the whipping boy of the haters. It teaches an important lesson for future informed citizens. Namely that the ideal of equality of opportunity is not matched by reality. It remains an elusive goal and this “privilege bingo” is a way to help high school students develop a better informed and more empathetic perspective. IMHO.


          1. We are in an era when truth is irrelevant and political populism reigns supreme for conservatives.

            Trump’s new website is call “Truth”. I guess the red party just can’t let “Pravda” be the sole bailiwick of the other major “red” party.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. So, responsibility and achievement on the part of parents is now racist?

            Your children having their own rooms and access to a bathroom not shared with adults are now supposed to be sources of shame?

            I have a real problem with telling kids that providing a good life for their children is a sign of shameful ‘whiteness’

            I find that highly insulting to responsible, successful Black parents.


        2. Had my former neighbor’s children played that Bingo, they would have been found to be guilty of white privilege. They are of course, black.

          But their parents are married, both employed, own their home. The children have their own rooms and are driven to school.

          So, is that ‘white privilege or responsible parenting?

          Conflating responsibility with racism is kind of divisive(and racist.)


          1. The bingo was NOT about “white privilege.” Duh. It was about “privilege” and the fact that real equality of opportunity is still an illusion for many people of many colors.

            You are trying so hard to be offended that you don’t bother to read or think.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, that was a waste of my time.

      No one is claiming that graduate level Critical Theory is being taught to grade schoolers. It is that the divisive concepts are being incorporated in other topics.

      He wasted a lot of my time fighting a straw man.


      1. Well, you have evaded the issue like Walter Payton evaded tacklers. If CRT is not being taught as your party insists, then what are the divisive issues?

        Do we teach Greenwood? Birmingham? GI Bill restrictions for Black servicemen? Real estate covenants based on race? Black codes? Brown v. Board of Education? These are the realities long after “Roots” and it’s possible artistic license overreach.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. …”that was a waste of my time.”

        How so? Because he laid waste to the idea that CRT is being taugth in schools? You are now playing the “concepts” game with your words. Some of the concepts of CRT are legitimate concerns that should be addressed. People on the right who fear those concepts are claiming that the grad level ideals are being taught as curriculum.

        Col Potter says “Horse Hockey!”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You’re both three months behind and off topic. No one has said for months that CRT was being ‘taught’ in schools. The problem is that teaching other subjects is being influenced by CRT

          And in any case, the question was to DEFINE what ‘divisive concepts’ would be.


          1. ” No one has said for months that CRT was being ‘taught’ in schools. ”

            That is all we keep hearing. A constant drumbeat from the Governor of VA to right wing talking idiots who don’t even now what CRT is (Tucker Carlson said that himself.)

            Nice attempt to say otherwise, but if you think no one has been saying it for three months, then you haven’t been paying attention.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Please keep in mind that the original question was how to define “Divisive Concepts” and not whether they are being taught, or if they are justified.

    We still do not have a consensus on that question.

    I would say that the concept of ‘equity’ as opposed to equality is divisive whether linked to race or not.

    I would also say that labeling responsible behavior as ‘whiteness’ that should be stamped out is both divisive and racist.

    But before we continue to argue whether these concepts are being taught or are justifed, let’s try to settle on what concepts we are looking at.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. “We certainly won’t if we don’t make a good faith effort to do so.”

          So, your constant stream of baseless slanders, name-calling, and charges of “corruption” are an example of a “good faith effort” to end divisiveness?

          Hmmm. Interesting.


    1. RE: “We still do not have a consensus on that question [what are ‘divisive concepts’?].”

      I’d say the following are “divisive concepts”:

      • One race is superior to another.
      • One race owes a moral debt to another.

      • The institutions of our society are systemically racist.

      Basically, any deviation from the principle that we are all equal in the eyes of God would be divisive, and prideful (you can substitute “in the eyes of Nature” if you want).


      1. “One race is superior to another.”

        I am reminded of how you people have railed against college students for their protests over appearances by Charles Murray over his theories that white people have genetically superior intelligence. I guess THIS “divisive concept” was just fine with y’all and should be welcomed in the interest of academic freedom.

        “The institutions of our society are systemically racist.”
        Where is the border between “divisive concepts” and “facts?” Is there one? Or are some facts inherently divisive and should be expunged? This statement you have singled out is supported by a huge amount of compelling evidence. It is what is normally called a “fact.”

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Murray’s “Bell Curve” work on IQ is a college-level subject, not one suitable for grammar school instruction.

          The concept of “systemic racism” is also a college-level subject and — more importantly — a complete fraud and a fallacy that any college-level student should instantly recognize.

          The border between “divisive concepts” and “facts” is actually quite easy to define, especially in terms of what children can usefully be taught.


          1. So, you realize that now you are talking about age-appropriateness as a defining quality of “divisive concepts.” That only illustrates what a nebulous construct it is.

            As for your denial that our institutions are systemically racist you only confirm – again – the evidence from the real world is meaningless to you people. Here is evidence of the problem in yet another area of economic life.


            Liked by 1 person

          2. Appraisers use comparable sales to determine value. It’s not subjective.

            In an area in which home values are rising, appraisals will lag behind final sales price as the comparable sales are generally a few months old.

            So, that lag is an indication that those neighborshoods are on the rise.


          3. “It’s not subjective.”

            It is not SUPPOSED to be subjective.

            But black homeowners have found that they can get significantly better appraisals if they recruit a white friend to interface with the people doing the appraising. If you read the link, it was many such events reported in the media that triggered the statistical analysis by FreddieMac which confirmed the pattern which you can explain or wish away.

            From a scientific method point of view, this FreddieMac evidence is confirmation of CRT since it would predict exactly the kind of differences found.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. “ I would say that the concept of ‘equity’ as opposed to equality is divisive whether linked to race or not.”

      So discussion of the concepts of capitalism, socialism or communism are divisive? Just leave out the Cold War in history and move on?

      Can’t talk about differing healthcare systems either? How about the laws surrounding affirmative action? That was about equity.

      Brown v. Board of Ed.? That was all about equity in education. Can’t bring that up, never know where that might lead.

      Divisive topics are, for now anyway, those topics that make some folks uncomfortable about our history. Just skip that stuff and settle for Washington cutting a cherry tree down?

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Equity vs Equality.

          You sure do get worked up over words that you define for yourself!
          “Equity” does NOT mean what you say it means.
          Here is the actual definition: “the quality of being fair and impartial”

          Liked by 1 person

          1. “But that is not how the term is used.”

            Yes, it is.
            Maybe not how YOU use it, but educated speakers and writers use words as they are defined.

            When a progressive says we want “equity” in the workplace we do not mean that everyone gets paid the same. We mean that everyone is treated fairly.


        2. It sounds like you are equating equity with equality of outcome.

          Without quality education, outcomes are certainly never going to be very good with some rare exceptions.

          If everyone got the best education from K through 12, an ideal that we once touted as the big equalizer though probably never realized, then outcomes have a reasonable chance at being much better for most folks. Unfortunately for the poor, urban or rural, quality education is questionable.

          Equal outcomes have never been a realistic or even a desired goal. A talented artist may never get as wealthy as a banker. Few top athletes are going to be nuclear engineers.

          But a good goal is to at least not have folks too poor to eat, live in a decent home or afford medical care.

          “A healthy and well educated populace is the best we can do for capitalism, but that doesn’t mean all will get rich or find nirvana.” L. Rothman, 2022

          So, to get back on the subject, is my statement divisive?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Equity as used in government today is exactly equality of outcome.

            For example, dropping advanced placement math from high school because whites and Asians are “over represented.”

            Liked by 1 person

          2. ” . . . dropping advanced placement math from high school” for equity.

            That is not actually happening. One of those cherry-picked tidbits and/or fibs that gets spread in “conservative” white victimhood media. AP courses are very much on the rise in spite of the growing criticism that they are too rote oriented and confining.


            Liked by 2 people

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