M is for McCarthyism: A case study in anti-CRT hysteria

Franklin Strong
5 min readMar 14, 2022

A few weeks ago I posted a spreadsheet of more than 300 books that a pro-censorship PAC in Eanes ISD (outside of Austin) provided to its members and to a Moms for Liberty Facebook group. While the creators of the spreadsheet said they weren’t suggesting the entire list be banned from school libraries, they also said, “Please schedule a meeting with your librarians, principals, and board members, and ask that they remove ALL pornographic/explicit materials from the libraries ASAP!” They suggested that distributing such books to students could be a breach of federal laws. Furthermore, they said, “In addition, the CRT books break the new TX law passed (Senate Bill 3)” and they flagged any book they thought violated SB3 with an all-caps notice: “‘CRT’ ILLEGAL IN TEXAS!”

Now, I will admit that before this recent surge of book bans, I hadn’t read much recent children’s literature or many of the young adult novels that fill up these lists. But I’ve been trying to catch up, reading as many of these titles as I can. I don’t want to defend the indefensible.

Now, as I pointed out in my last post, none of the titles listed as “‘CRT’ ILLEGAL IN TEXAS!” are actually CRT. Nor is CRT actually illegal in Texas, but let’s let that slide for today. But, usually, if I squint hard enough, I can see some sort of connection between a book on the list and at least some vague idea of what “CRT” is in someone’s imagination. Maybe the book illustrates a concept that’s central to critical race theory, like systemic racism. Maybe the book is critical of America’s racial history. Maybe the book has a generally pessimistic tone towards contemporary race relations.

None of those things make the book “CRT,” but at least I can understand what the folks in favor of censoring it find threatening.

But then, in my exploration, I got to Brad Herzog’s 2018 book W is For Welcome: A Celebration of America’s Diversity.

According to Eanes Kids First and Moms for Liberty, the book is “Porn/Explicit” and, additionally, “CRT ILLEGAL IN TEXAS!” Which … y’all.

The book is a charmingly illustrated tribute to immigrants and to the things immigration has brought the US. It takes the standard children’s book trope of assigning each letter of the alphabet a word associated with its topic. A is for America, N is for Naturalization. Etc.

The usual (incorrect) critiques of “critical race theory” are that it’s anti-white or anti-American, but this book is plainly neither. The author includes stories and images of immigrants of all races and nationalities, including white immigrants like John Muir, Albert Einstein, and Alexander Hamilton. There are tributes to the White House (and its immigrant architect James Hoban), to immigrant servicemen & women, to the transcontinental railroad, and to the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus’s poem at its base. There is one page dedicated to refugees that mentions that “international laws protect refugees from being returned to situations that risk their freedom or their lives.” That probably pisses off immigration hardliners, but it’s also true. And there are dozens of positive references to America as “the dreamer’s destination” and the home of freedom and opportunity.

The book has no hidden message — the subtitle tells us up front that it’s a celebration of America’s diversity. I would love for someone, anyone, to tell me how that message is critical race theory. Or why that message should be banned from our public school systems. Reading the book, I kept waiting for the hammer (or sickle) to drop: Would “R” be for Revolution of the Proletariat? Would “W” be for White Privilege? But, no, nothing like that ever appeared.

There are two ways to interpret its appearance on these groups’ list. One is that this is an oversight, that somebody compiled this list carelessly, saw that the book was about “immigrants” and “diversity” and added it without reading the book.

The other is that this reflects that actual beliefs of whoever compiled the spreadsheet: It’s out of bounds to say anything positive about immigrants, or about diversity.

Of course, there are people on the right who believe that. Tucker Carlson, for example, has argued against the idea that diversity brings strength. And Stephen Miller famously chafed at the values Emma Lazarus espoused in her poem “The New Colossus.” But those are extremists, and most Americans reject such obvious bigotry.

Ultimately, though, either interpretation points to the same conclusion regarding American education’s new McCarthyism. Whether the people driving it have wildly out-of-touch, extremist views about what’s acceptable in schools or whether they’re so caught up in their fervor that they’re not concerned with who they burn, any movement that freaks out over W is for Welcome is not one that should be setting our educational agenda.

Call to Action: If you’re wondering what to do about this kind of extremism, this week I launched a database to help organize to win vital school board races in Texas — races where book-banning candidates are running with the backing of deep-pocketed political action committees. Please use it to donate to and volunteer for great candidates who will stand up for academic freedom and young readers.



Franklin Strong

PhD in Comparative Literature. Latin American lit, African American lit, religion, politics, feminism, teaching, Cuba, Spain, Texas.