Education Reform Funding Propaganda Racism

The Obscure Foundation Funding the Uproar Over “Critical Race Theory”

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Readers of this blog are accustomed to the rule “follow the money.” Thus, you should not be surprised that the national campaign to discredit teaching about racism (aka critical race theory) is an obscure rightwing foundation.

Judd Legum and Tesmin Zekeria wrote on a site called “Popular Information” about the activity of the Thomas W. Smith Foundation. In 2020, the authors correctly write, few people outside of law schools had ever heard about CRT. In 2021, CRT has suddenly become “an existential threat” to our nation, a subject of constant discussion at FOX News and other media outlets.

The Thomas W. Smith Foundation has no website and its namesake founder keeps a low public profile. Thomas W. Smith is based in Boca Raton, Florida, and founded a hedge fund called Prescott Investors in 1973. In 2008, the New York Times reported that The Thomas W. Smith Foundation was “dedicated to supporting free markets.”

More information about the foundation can be gleaned from its public tax filings, which are called 990-PFs. The Thomas W. Smith Foundation has more than $24 million in assets. The person who spends the most time working for the group is not Smith but James Piereson, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. According to the foundation’s 2019 990-PF, Piereson was paid $283,333 to work for The Thomas W. Smith Foundation for 25 hours per week.

The article continues:

Piereson has made clear that he opposes efforts to increase racial or economic equality, even if these efforts are financed by private charities…

In a 2017 column, Piereson criticized liberal philanthropists for focusing on “climate change, income inequality, [and] immigrant rights,” describing these as “radical causes.” He stressed the need for “a counterbalance provided by right-leaning philanthropies.”

Piereson also opposes classes dedicated to the study of women, Black people, or the LGBTQ community in universities, saying these topics lack “academic rigor.”

In the 1960s, universities caved to the demands of radicals on campus by expanding academic departments to include women’s studies, black studies, and, more recently, “queer studies.” These programs are college mainstays, making up in ideological vigor what they lack in academic rigor.

How did CRT, a complex theory that explains how structural racism is embedded in the law, get redefined to represent corporate diversity trainings and high school classes on the history of slavery? The foundation funding much of the anti-CRT effort is run by a person who opposes all efforts to increase diversity at powerful institutions and laments the introduction of curriculum about the historical treatment of Black people.

It’s hard to generate excitement around tired arguments opposing diversity and racial equality. It’s easier to advocate against CRT, a term that sounds scary but no one really understands.

The article goes on to describe the 21 organizations that have been funded by the Thomas W. Smith Foundation to attack CRT. They include the Manhattan Institute, ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, Judicial Watch, and the American Enterprise Institute.

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