President Trump in recent weeks has been on a crusade against Critical Race Theory, and for good reason. This is one of the most important things he has done with his presidency. When all is said and done, it may prove to be the most important thing of all. Even if no active steps were taken against it, an enormous service is provided simply by shining a light and showing it for what it really is.
But Trump has gone further than that. In a tweet last night, the President announced: “A few weeks ago, I BANNED efforts to indoctrinate government employees with divisive and harmful sex and race-based ideologies. Today, I’ve expanded that ban to people and companies that do business with our Country, the United States Military, Government Contractors, and Grantees. Americans should be taught to take PRIDE in our Great Country, and if you don’t, there’s nothing in it for you!”
This is a very good thing. Critical Race Theory is an ideological cancer infecting our societal bloodstream. The effects have been devastating. Racial strife, violence, riots — much of this can be traced, at least in part, back to this theory. Which raises a question: what is it, exactly, and why is it wrong?
A recent Boston Globe article, seeking to defend CRT against detractors like Trump, has this to say:
Scholars say the president’s remarks [about Critical Race Theory] prove he fundamentally misunderstands critical race theory and its aims.
“I am 1,000 percent sure that Trump does not know what critical race theory is. I have never been more sure of anything in my life‚” said Khiara Bridges, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and author of the textbook “Critical Race Theory: A Primer.” “And he certainly doesn’t understand the debates within and about critical race theory.”
Scholarship on critical race theory emerged in the 1970s and ’80s in response to “what legal scholars perceived to be the failures of traditional approaches to thinking about race and civil rights,” which tended to conceptualize racism “very narrowly,” according to Bridges, as a problem of individual bad actors. The movement’s architects included the late Derrick Bell, the first tenured Black professor at Harvard Law School, and Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, who first coined the term “critical race theory.”
…“Racism is not extraordinary,” she continued. “Race and racism are basically baked into everything we do in our society. It’s embedded in our institutions. It’s embedded in our minds and hearts.”
Despite the progress and promises of the civil rights movement, critical race theorists argue that racism infects all of our societal institutions — from public education to the criminal justice system. “What appears to be progress in the law is actually concealing a new modality of structural, societal, systemic racism,” said Rajesh Sampath, an associate professor of the philosophy of justice, rights, and social change at Brandeis University. Namely, our laws and constitution don’t protect everyone equally, he said.
In other words, racism is embedded in everything we do. America is racist down to its core. Even when it looks like racism is being addressed by laws and policies — constitutional provisions guaranteeing equal rights regardless of race, for example — really those laws are just creating “new modalities” for racism.
And racism, says the theory, is not as simple as a member of one race believing or professing that members of another race are inferior. No, as DismantlingRacism.org explains, racism can be defined as “race prejudice + social and institutional power.” It is, specifically, “a white supremacy system.”
So, not only is America racist to its core, and in all of its institutions, and in all of its laws, even when those laws are written specifically to address racism, but racism itself is a uniquely white phenomenon. One must have “institutional power” to be racist, and only whites have that, therefore only whites are racist.
This is all obviously nonsensical. For one thing, CRT doesn’t take into account the existence of the whole rest of the world. Let’s say I agreed (and I don’t agree) that black people can’t be racist against whites because whites have all the power in our country. How do we account for, say, China? Or India? Or any other non-white country where non-white people discriminate against other non-white people? If a person in India has feelings of superiority over black Africans, is he racist? By this definition of racism, apparently not.
Of course, even going along with this delusion that the non-western world doesn’t exist, or that it is a place of unending racial harmony (I can’t decide which claim would be more absurd), would it be true that racism at least in this country can only go from white to black and not black to white? No, not at all. That is an argument built on a false premise that, even if not false, still would not justify its conclusion. It is not true that only whites have institutional power in America. The fact that the Executive Branch was run by a black man for 8 of the last 12 years is evidence enough to disqualify that claim. It is also not true that only those with “institutional power” can be racist. Racism among the powerful might be more dangerous but that doesn’t mean it only exists among the powerful.
Critical Race Theory simply asserts that racism requires power in order to be real, and that only whites have power, but does not bother providing any rational defense of either position. That is because CRT is less a sociological theory and more a religious system, a dogma, a doctrine. The idea that racism lies at the root of all things, invisible and undetected, and that racism, in some strange and mysterious way, is a weapon wielded exclusively by those with a certain skin pigmentation, cannot be factually proven or supported, and is not meant to be. Those who proselytize for Critical Race Theory are seeking our spiritual and emotional assent, not our intellectual engagement. And if they cannot have assent, then cowed submission will suffice.
This is why President Trump should expand his war against this poisonous superstition into the schools, where it all begins, and where it does the most damage. It should be banned from public schools and public universities for the same reason that any other form of religious indoctrination is banned in those settings. If teachers cannot get up in front of their classes and insist that students accept Jesus Christ as their salvation, then they should not be able to get up and insist that their students accept Critical Race Theory as their salvation, either. If individuals wish to go out on their own and explore Critical Race Theory, they are free to do so. Our public institutions should not be in the business of promoting it. And, ironically, the fact that our public institutions do promote critical race theory is proof in itself that Critical Race Theory is false. A country dedicated to white supremacy would not have an education system that teaches that fact in a negative light. But I don’t expect proponents to connect these dots, because one thing is certain about Critical Race Theory: it doesn’t involve any critical thinking.