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How Adherents See “Critical Race Theory’
William A. Galston – Wall Street Journal
July 13, 2021

 

It’s worth examining the academic roots of a phrase that has become a catch-all

At its recent annual meeting, the National Education Association adopted an agenda item stating, “It is reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.”

Becky Pringle, the teachers union’s president, declared “if this grand experiment in democracy is to succeed,” then “we must continuously do the work to challenge ourselves and others to dismantle the racist interconnected systems and the economic injustices that have perpetuated systemic inequities.”

Asked about the NEA’s decision, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that President Biden believes “children should learn about our history,” including the view that “there is systemic racism that is still impacting society today.”

With this statement, Mr. Biden has plunged headlong into a roiling national debate about critical race theory, and it isn’t clear he can win it. The issue has become central to the cultural agenda that Republicans hope to ride to victory in the midterm elections. The share of Americans who believe its impact on our society will be negative is twice as large as those with a positive assessment. Only 16% strongly support teaching critical race theory in public schools, compared with 29% who strongly oppose it.

 

Between Feb. 1 and June 13, Fox News mentioned critical race theory more than 1,300 times. Christopher Rufo, a young conservative activist who was instrumental in persuading President Trump to issue an executive order restricting diversity training throughout the executive branch, has a remarkably effective strategy. It’s no secret: In a well-known tweet, he described his plan for turning critical race theory “toxic” by putting “all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.”

 

The evidence suggests that so far Mr. Rufo is succeeding. Critical race theorists, who have written extensively about the power of narratives, are losing ground to a counter narrative focused on stories drawn from workplaces, universities and public schools, and states across the country are busy enacting bills banning it in K-12 education.

 

Still, relatively few Americans—including those who regularly denounce it—know much about what critical race theory is. It originated in law schools in the 1970s and has since become a sprawling movement. To find out more about it, I turned to “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction,” co-written by one of the movement’s founders, Richard Delgado. He writes that critical race theory “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” It builds on critical legal studies and radical feminism, the work of European theorists such as Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, and the American radical tradition, including the Black Power and Chicano movements of the 1960s and early ’70s.

 

 

Mr. Delgado and Jean Stefancic proceed to describe the key tenets of critical race theory. These propositions include the belief that racism is ordinary, “the usual way that society does business,” not aberrational; and that “triumphalist history”—the confidence that the legislation and court decisions of the 1950s and 1960s set the U.S. on the course of irresistible racial progress—neglects social backlash and legal retreat. Liberal approaches to racism, such as colorblindness and neutral principles of law, can fix only the worst abuses. But if racism is deeply embedded in thought processes and social structures, they say, then only “aggressive, color-conscious efforts” to change the status quo can make a difference.

 

“White privilege”—the unspoken, unseen advantages that whites enjoy—is a key aspect of these social structures. Changing laws without undoing the “racial subordination” inherent in white privilege will not get us very far. Incrementalism is a bankrupt strategy; “everything must change at once.” The logical conclusion is that to overcome racism, we need a cultural revolution.

The case against affirmative action, we are told, rests on “an implicit assumption of innocence on the part of the white person” this policy displaces. The guilty parties are the beneficiaries of affirmative action who take what does not rightfully belong to them. But if racism is “pervasive, systemic, and deeply ingrained,” as critical race theorists insist, then “no white member of society seems quite so innocent.” Because all whites benefit from a system of unearned advantage, race-conscious remedies simply rectify that injustice.

 

I have barely scratched the surface of this complex movement in these paragraphs. But one thing is clear: Because the Declaration of Independence—the founding document of the American liberal order—is a product of Enlightenment rationalism, a doctrine that rejects the Enlightenment tacitly requires deconstructing the American order and rebuilding it on an entirely different foundation.

A Deeper Look at Critical Race Theory
The neo-Marxist movement rejects equal opportunity, merit and objectivity.

 

 

By William A. Galston – Wall Street Journal
July 20, 2021

In last week’s column about critical race theory, I said that I had barely scratched the surface of this complex movement. To dig deeper, I turned to a collection of essays by the movement’s founders and early adherents—“Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement”—published in 1996. Here is what I found in the volume and in an article by Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the book’s editors and one of the movement’s most insightful thinkers.

• Critical race theory denies the possibility of objectivity. As the volume’s editor’s state in their illuminating introduction, “Scholarship about race in America can never be written from a distance of detachment or with an attitude of objectivity  Scholarship—the formal production, identification, and organization of what will be called ‘knowledge’—is inevitably political.” And politics is about power—specifically, about the struggle between those who seek to maintain oppressive hierarchies and those who seek to overturn them. Scholarship can be a powerful weapon in that struggle.

• The theory moves race to the center of our focus. As the editors put it, it aims to “recover and revitalize the radical tradition of race-consciousness,” a tradition “that was discarded when integration, assimilation and the ideal of colorblindness became the official norms of racial enlightenment.”

• The founders of Critical Race Theory identified with Black Power movements much more than with those who were working for integration. This form of race-consciousness can’t be reduced to class-consciousness. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who understood the fight for equality as a class struggle, learned this lesson the hard way during his quest for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

• Critical race theory is an explicitly left-wing movement inspired by the thinking of an Italian neo-Marxist, Antonio Gramsci. Against classic Marxism, for which material conditions are primary, Gramsci (1891-1937) focused on “hegemony”—the system of beliefs that “reinforces existing social arrangements and convinces the dominated classes that the existing order is inevitable,” as Ms. Crenshaw puts it.

• The theory offers a fundamental critique of the civil-rights movement and the liberal ideology it reflects. Such theorists argue that the civil-rights movement scored some “symbolic” gains for black Americans but left their material conditions mostly unchanged, in part because civil-rights law is inherently limited. Such laws treat “discrimination” as isolated acts by specific individuals or businesses, as exceptions to prevailing norms and practices, not as pervasive and “systemic.” Civil-rights law can mitigate the consequences of illegal and unjust acts, but it can do nothing to redress the continuing impact of past oppression.

• Critical race theory rejects the principle of equality of opportunity. Its adherents insist that equality of opportunity is a myth, not a reality, in today’s America, and that those who pursue it are misguided. The real goal is equality of results, measured by black share of income, wealth and social standing. Critical race theorists reject the idea that sought-after goods should be distributed through systems that evaluate and reward “merit.”

This metric is unacceptable, the editors say, because certain “conceptions of merit function not as a neutral basis for distributing resources and opportunity, but rather as a repository of hidden, race-specific preferences for those who have the power to determine the meaning and consequences of ‘merit.’ ” These critics don’t specify which conceptions of merit, if any, they would find acceptable.

For those who reject meritocracy and demand equal results, even race-conscious policies such as affirmative action are diversionary. “The aim of affirmative action,” the book’s editors insist, is to “create enough exceptions to white privilege to make the mythology of equal opportunity seem at least plausible.” Such policies are an inadequate response to the persistence of “white supremacy.”

Following Gramsci’s lead, critical race theory has used mainstream concepts such as equality and inclusion to wage a highly effective war of position against liberal ideology. Some liberals have been co-opted, and others silenced. But now the debate has moved to states and school districts around the country, and many parents don’t like what they are seeing. Presenting an honest view of American history in public schools is one thing, parents say, but focusing the curriculum on the “1619 Project” is quite another. Hiring practices and workplaces should be fair and welcoming to all, employees say, but mandatory diversity training premised on the ubiquity of “unconscious racism” and “white fragility” is coercive and insulting.

 

Critical race theory’s popularizers have done the movement no favors. In his bestselling book, “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” Ibram X. Kendi bluntly asserts that “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” If prescriptions such as Mr. Kendi’s come to be seen as the inevitable consequence of critical race theory, the movement will end in failure.

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