Critical Race Theory Race

Do Critical Race Theorists Know What Racism Is? The subtle art of missing the point.

By: Steve QJ


Let’s be honest; you’re not quite sure what critical race theory (CRT) is.

Don’t get me wrong, you probably know it began as a tool for examining how legal systems produce racial inequality. You’ve almost certainly heard of some of its offshoots, like intersectionality and “whiteness” studies. You might even have read the foundational work of people like Derrick Bell or Kimberlé Crenshaw. But whether you’re a critic or a supporter, CRT has pretty much become shorthand for, “that thing that proves the ‘other side’ are the real racists.”

This isn’t an accident.

Back in March, Christopher Rufo, one of CRT’s leading critics, freely admitted that he’d set out to confuse the American public about what CRT is:

We have successfully frozen their brand — “critical race theory” — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.

The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.

Rufo’s work is the reason why an obscure legal theory from the 1970s finds itself at the centre of today’s racial discourse. It’s the reason politicians like Vernon Jones pledged to prohibit the teaching of CRT despite being unable to explain what it is. It’s the reason Fox News has mentioned critical race theory an average of eight times a day, every day, for the past eight months.

But it’s also the reason why legitimate criticisms of this one legal theory are being portrayed as attempts to stifle all conversation about race. It’s the reason celebrities like John Leguizamo are rushing to defend aspects of “a bunch of academic thinky-talk” (his phrase not mine) that few — if any — people are attacking. It’s the reason discussions about race education in schools have become about defending ideologies instead of defending children.

To say that Rufo succeeded in freezing critical race theory into the public conversation would be an understatement. But he’s also allowed the supporters of these “various cultural insanities” to split hairs about what CRT is instead of forcing them to acknowledge what CRT does. And the more I see critical race theorists do this, the more I find myself asking the same question:

“Do these people understand what racism is?”

Take, for example, the “anti-CRT” bills that have been making so many headlines recently. “Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack” warns The Hill. “New Bills Limit How Teachers Talk About Race” reads NPR. “Nearly A Dozen States Want To Ban Critical Race Theory In Schools” says CBS News.

As of this writing, these evil, racist bills have been passed in seven states (Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Texas, and Tennessee), with at least 19 others debating legislation with nearly identical language. And given that America has a far from perfect record when it comes to teaching children about its racist history, I was prepared for the worst.

So imagine my surprise when I took the time to read themsomething the writers of these headlines don’t appear to have done — and learned that the only thing under attack is outright racism.

Idaho’s is the only bill that mentions critical race theory at all, and even then, only in passing. Iowa’s bill expressly prohibits any attempt to “inhibit or violate the first amendment rights of students or faculty”. In fact, the only limits placed on how teachers can talk about race affect promoting ideas such as:

  • One race is inherently superior to another.
  • An individual by virtue of their race is inherently racist or oppressive.
  • Individuals should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment on the basis of their race.
  • Individuals are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by members of the same race.
  • Members of one race cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race.
  • An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of their race.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m not completely up to date on contemporary race scholarship. But all of these sound PRETTY FU**ING RACIST to me.

I mean, wasn’t the malignant belief that one race is inherently superior to another the foundation of the trans-Atlantic slave trade? Didn’t Rosa Parks refuse to give up her seat precisely because she understood that individuals shouldn’t receive adverse treatment on the basis of race? Didn’t Dr. Martin Luther King give his life in the hope that members of one race would one day treat others without respect to race?

How in God’s name have critical race theorists gotten so confused in the past 50 years that they’d defend these ideas in any setting? And more importantly, how is any teacher who isn’t a card-carrying member of the KKK upset that they can’t teach this absolute garbage to their students?

CRT has become such a lightning rod that it could be pretty much anything you want it to be.

Batya Ungar-Sargon calls itthe perfect ideology for affluent progressive whites who want nothing to change — but who still want to feel like the heroes of a story about social justice.”

Ibram X Kendi says it’s “an imagined monster conjured to scare the American people“.

Seth Abramson describes it as…uh, “a postmodern metaphysical praxis that is dialectical, self-admittedly neo-Marxist, non-exclusive — cooperative with other critical lenses — and ONLY TAUGHT IN GRADUATE SCHOOL.”

But while we’re busy arguing about what is or is not technically a part of this ever-evolving field, actual racism, primarily targeted at children, is being overlooked.

While debate rages over whether CRT’s emphasis on anecdote…excuse me, lived experience is intellectually bankrupt, ninth-graders are being made to feel, and I quote, “like worthless scum, undeserving of living” because of the colour of their skin. Meanwhile, the teachers who try to protect them are being forced to resign.

While we wax lyrical about intersectionality’s singular focus on victimhood being corrosive to the mentality of black children, elementary school kids are being taught to rank themselves in terms of their “power and privilege”. And the teachers who are supposed to be protecting them are segregating them by race (for anybody taking notes, this is illegal under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

While we bicker about whether an ideology of “race consciousness” is antithetical to the goal of ending racism, teachers are talking about race in such toxic, divisive and bluntly racist terms, that states have had to resort to legislative means to protect children from ideas that can be found in a Hitler Youth syllabus.

And worst of all, none of this is necessary to talk honestly about race. From the Atlantic slave trade to the Fourteenth Amendment. Segregation to miscegenation. Jim Crow laws to sundown towns. Brown vs Board to the Little Rock Nine. Children can (and should) learn all of this without learning that “one race is inherently superior to another” or that they’re “responsible for actions committed in the past by members of the same race”.

The goal is to root out racism, not to teach racism. If you’re struggling to see the difference, consider the possibility that you’re the “real racist”.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Texas’ bill actively requires teaching “the history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong.”

This section was removed in a later version of the bill that’s currently awaiting consideration by the House. Thanks Joe Duncan.

Update: The plot thickens! Apparently many of these elements were removed from the updated bill because they’re already required by the Texas Education code and therefore redundant. Still no requirement to teach that they were morally wrong though. Thanks I am Jim.

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