Had you even heard the words “critical race theory”—CRT—two years ago?
The Washington Post may trumpet that “democracy dies in darkness” (the definition of darkness apparently being that you don’t rely primarily on the Washington Post for perceptions of reality), but the semi-darkness of an academic environment was perfect for Critical Race Theory.
While CRT propagated the concepts of systemic racism, white privilege, and white fragility in various powerful institutions, corporate and academic, it managed to stay under the radar.
But now CRT is coming into the open, and that is a good thing.
Former President Donald Trump boosted its profile when he publicly condemned it and banned CRT-based training in federal agencies. (The Biden administration has since restored CRT to a place of honor.) A group of prominent black intellectuals called attention to the underlying concept of systemic racism with a project called 1776 Unites.
In a piece in City Journal headlined “Critical Race Fragility,” Christopher Rufo, one of the best people reporting on CRT, indicates that proponents of the theory preferred not to debate with the general public the underlying of CRT. Instead of defending their ideas, CRT proponents falsely accuse conservatives of wanting to restrict free speech.
Nothing could be further from the truth—conservatives know that the more they use free speech to accurately portray CRT, the better they can point out the flaws in this highly insulated system of thought. In short, we really, really want to talk about CRT.
It is the other side that doesn’t want to “submit their ideas to public scrutiny.” As Rufo writes:
This shift in momentum against the new racial orthodoxy, which has now grown beyond America’s borders to England, France, Italy, Hungary, and Brazil, has rattled the American Left. Their first argument against this change is that conservatives are using state power to “cancel wokeness.” New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg recently followed this line, attacking my work “leading the conservative charge against critical race theory,” declaring that the Right wants to ban critical race theory because it is afraid to debate it. This is false, of course. For more than a year, prominent black intellectuals, including John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Wilfred Reilly, and Coleman Hughes have challenged the critical race theorists to debate—and none has accepted.
After Goldberg published her column, I called her bluff even further, challenging to “debate any prominent critical race theorist on the floor of the New York Times.” Predictably, none responded, catching the New York Times in a fib and further exposing the critical race theorists’ refusal to submit their ideas to public scrutiny.
Without forcing CRT to come outside and debate, too much of the public will continue to regard CRT as some vague and benign program for ending racial discrimination. In broad daylight, it is something else entirely:
If the Ku Klux Klan sponsored a public school curriculum that stated, “whites deserve to have the power and privilege” and “black culture is inherently violent”—a simple transposition of critical race theory’s basic tenets—would [CRT apologists Michelle] Goldberg and Sachs jump to the Klan’s defense? They would not—and for good reason. Racism, from the Right or from the Left, is wrong.
However, for the critical race theorists, opposing racism is not categorical; it is instrumental. Official discrimination against blacks and Latinos is considered “bad”; official discrimination against whites and Asians is considered “good.” Following Herbert Marcuse’s dictum on “repressive tolerance,” the modern Left has begun to enact a regime of officially sanctioned double standards: discrimination is encouraged, as long as it advances the Left’s power.
This is the subtle beauty of the “divisive concepts” legislation being considered in state legislatures: it would equally prohibit the old-style racism of the Klan and the new-style racism of critical race theory from being promoted in public institutions. In a way, this legislation is simply a reiteration of the basic American premise that advanced from the Declaration of Independence to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964: that all Americans should be treated equally, regardless of race, color, creed, or religion.
The critical race theorists, on the other hand, have embraced a philosophy of European-style pessimism, dismissing equality under the law as “mere nondiscrimination.” They would replace it with a system of “equity” that treats individuals unequally in order to arrive at equal group outcomes. Most Americans, lulled into complacency by the race theorists’ manipulative homonymy—suggesting continuity between “equality” and “equity”—would be outraged at the true nature of these ideas, which are simply a reformulation of the Marxist oppressor/oppressed dialectic, replacing the class categories of “bourgeoisie” and “proletariat” with the racial categories of “white” and “black.”
IWF will continue to spotlight CRT when we host a virtual discussion with the U.K.’s Helen Pluckrose, coauthor of Cynical Theories; How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody. March 18th—don’t miss it.