The Buffalo Shooting Brings to Light Why the Great Replacement Theory Is a Danger to Us All

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Image: Andriy Onufriyenko.

Over the past two years, there has been a persistent uproar from parents across the country, most of them white, about critical race theory. The premise being that schools should not teach students a theory that “makes white kids feel bad about being white” or ideas that the US is inherently a racist country. Over the past few years, at least 28 states have either introduced or passed legislation banning the teaching of critical race theory or discussions around race and racism.

Parents have showed up in mass at school boards, angry, threatening and mobilizing around the elimination of critical race theory, despite the fact that there is little evidence that it is even being taught in schools. The tragedy in Buffalo last week, which has been ruled by law enforcement officials as a racist domestic terrorist attack, resulted in 13 people being killed, 11 of them Black. In doing investigations into the shooter’s background, a number of writings on his social media accounts revealed deeply disturbing anti-Semitic and anti-Black references. Steeped in the manifesto, the shooter made reference to the great replacement theory.

The great replacement theory written about by French author Renaud Camus in his 2011 book Le Grand Remplacement is a white nationalist, far-right conspiracy theory which states that there is a complicit or cooperation plan of elites who want to demographically and culturally replace European whites through mass migration, demographic growth and decreases in the birth rates of whites.

Think Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, when chants of “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us” was shouted by protestors. These anti-Semitic comments serve as some of the foundational belief of great replacement which date back to the 19th century. The idea behind great replacement theory in this country is that non-white people, cultural outsiders, national interlopers or foreigners will overtake the United States via immigration or reproduction and seize political power.

Steeped in the idea is that the US is being taken over by immigrants and minorities, briefs from the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto state that: “Diversity is not a strength. Unity, purpose, traditions, nationalism and racial nationalism is what provides strength. Everything else is just a catchphrase. Diversity is weakness.”

The promotion of the great replacement theory poses a much more significant and theoretical danger than critical race theory. Yet, where is the outrage from parents who were worried about their children being exposed to critical race theory? Where is the anger to say that the great replacement theory is racist and has no place in our schools and society? Moreover, where is the repudiation of a theory that has resulted in the senseless killings of innocent people? 

The danger is not discussing issues tied to race and racism in US schools allows the great replacement theory to go unexamined, dismissed or challenged in the eyes of many young people. Schools have a responsibility to teach young people about the dangers of hate, how it plays out in our society, and how we all can play a role in eliminating hate. The innocent killings in grocery stores in Buffalo, synagogues in Pittsburgh, Walmart’s in El Paso, and churches in Charleston, South Carolina tell us that too many young white people are growing up becoming radicalized under the premise of the great replacement theory. The Southern Poverty Law Center documents at least 733 active groups in the US as of 2021, with thousands of members who are self-proclaimed white nationalists, neo-confederates, and neo-Nazis, who believe that their country is being taken over, and Blacks, Jewish people and Latinos, and that these “minority” groups must be eliminated.

Let’s be clear, demographers have documented that whites in the US are declining, and that people from non-white backgrounds are increasing. This is primarily due to immigration patterns, lower birth rates and an aging white population in the US. The racist ideas tied to replacement theory teaches that people of color are a threat, are dangerous and a threat to the national culture of the US. Are the same parents who don’t want white children to feel bad concerned about how children of color feel when they are deemed as a problem or threat to the nation? In short, the manner in which critical race theory has been politicized is the reason that replacement theory has not—America refuses to recognize its race problem. I

This country frequently turns it collective heads the other way when non-white people are dehumanized and deemed as problems. As discussions have unfolded in response to the Buffalo shooting, more mentions are made about the need for gun control legislation (which seems to go nowhere, and seems unlikely to ever happen). But what has been missing is an explicit mention of the anti-Black ideology and what leads an individual to drive 200 miles to senselessly murder Black people.

If children of color have to endure the ugliness of racism in the US, white children should be willing to learn about it. It is through learning about the ugliness that racism still has in this country that we can begin to educate young people that diversity is a strength, diversity is something that we should celebrate and something that we should all be proud. Replacement theory, steeped in fear and criminalization should have all of us pouring into school board meetings, upset, angry and vocal. Let’s be clear, critical race theory has not resulted in a single life being lost in the US, but replacement theory has—so which poses the bigger threat to us as a nation?

Tyrone C. Howard is professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is also president-elect of the American Educational Research Association.

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