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Critical Race Theory: Not The Threat The GOP Makes It Out to Be

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

Welcome to the right’s latest manufactured outrage: Critical Race Theory (CRT). They have no idea what it is, but they are sure it is a dire threat to all they hold dear.

Politicians have responded with a raft of legislation banning CRT from our schools and threatening teachers who might violate their vague prohibitions. Fox News has gone all-in with CRT dominating their programming all month.

This is what Trump has done to our politics. Once he established that America was inhabited by a vast population of gullible fools ready to back anyone who told them a pleasing lie, he opened the door to legions of grifters aiming to exploit them. So now we have a parade of attention seekers floating one outrage after another, hoping theirs will catch on. As one circulates around the right-wing media, it might get noticed by the mainstream press who cover it as a political story, thus propelling it into the national dialog, and we find ourselves talking about the genitals of Potato Head. When a meme gains traction, crafty politicians move in hoping to gain standing with the base. They make impassioned speeches and introduce pointless legislation to rally the forces.

What is CRT, Really?

With all the hoopla, you might be surprised to hear that Critical Race Theory is an academic model used in graduate courses on legal theory, not something being taught in public schools. Graduate studies in jurisprudence and political science involve examining history using different paradigms, giving scholars multiple perspectives on events. CRT is one of these. Does that sound scary? It shouldn’t. But CRT has become an obsession on the right to the point of violence at school board meetings and death threats against teachers. It’s not Potato Head, so let’s take it seriously.

Essentially, CRT proposes that the disadvantages faced by Blacks/African Americans are not just the result of overt personal acts of discrimination, but also biases embedded in institutions carried over from more racist times.

An example is the loss of potential Black wealth resulting from banks declining to offer Black veterans GI Bill home loans. Without property passed on through generations, today’s Black families have 15% of the wealth of white families.

Similarly, segregated housing resulted in more Black children residing in underfunded school districts. CRT offers advice in assessing the problem, such as listening to those affected.

The critical part of CRT goes back to the Frankfurt School, which views social problems as products of societal structures and cultural assumptions. Applied to race, it means institutional racism works against Black Americans. Back when there was an intellectual conservative movement, the Frankfurt School was decried as an incubator of socialism. Marx was indeed part of it, along with Freud, Kant and Hegel. Again, this is political philosophy, not the sort of thing they teach in grade school.

After coming on the scene in the 1990s, CRT spread throughout academia in a movement among legal and political scholars concerned with a humane, egalitarian and democratic society. But it’s still not in public schools. CRT studies had been concentrated at Harvard and Cornell, but are now spreading throughout academia. Yale Law School hosts an annual conference on CRT, which focuses on practice as well as theory. Likely, it’s this activism that has caught the eye of the right. To them, criticizing the state sounds very Marxist.

How They See It

When we listen to the critics of CRT, we get a mass of unrelated buzzwords related to hot-button topics in society, such as racism, privilege, diversity, equity and inclusion.

Those who are ignorant of the academic meaning of Critical Race Theory are left to figure it out on their own. “Critical” makes it sound like people are being criticized and no one likes that, especially if you are sensitive about being called a racist. “Race” triggers an equally defensive reaction and opens up the Pandora’s Box of white racial fragility and reverse racism. “Theory” is taken to mean an unfounded speculation, as they like to say about the Theory of Evolution. Add it all up and it sounds like an attack on white people (to them).

The parts the right finds most objectionable are the notions of white privilege and institutional racism. They want to view success as personal achievement not aided by the advantages whites may have. (Remember how crazy they went when Obama said, “You didn’t build that”?) And they feel that becoming colorblind is enough to overcome the forces of racism in society. To them, to point out the racism embedded in our institutions is to hate America … and therefore to support a communist takeover. They think giving students an accurate understanding of historical racism will make them hate themselves for being white.

What Started the Misinformation Campaign

The CRT flap started when conservative activist Christopher Rufo, compiling complaints about racial sensitivity training in federal agencies, came across CRT in some of the books being referenced. He decided this would be a perfect attack point against the Democrats because it sounded vaguely scary and could be made to mean anything. He took it to Tucker Carlson, who got Trump onboard, resulting in a federal ban on the training (rescinded by Biden on his first day in office).

Fox News got ahold of the term and has been using it to whip up right-wing outrage for weeks now. Since the right doesn’t know what it means, it can be made to encompass any racial grievance that comes along. CRT functions for the right today primarily as an empty signifier for any talk of race and racism at all, a catch-all for “multiculturalism,” “wokeism,” “anti-racism” and “identity politics”—or indeed any suggestion that racial inequities in the United States are endemic. They are simply against any mention of race except to say we shouldn’t tell kids about it.

They equate systemic racism with condemning America as evil and CRT with indoctrinating kids to hate America.

It is undeniable that many of our founding fathers were racist slave owners; this comes through in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Their attitudes toward Native Americans and women were just as barbaric by today’s standards. (And their personal hygiene was equally appalling.) What’s important is that they were men of their time. Even if they did not perceive every injustice as we do today, they did heroically stand for democracy and brought forth a great nation. And let’s not forget that the Bible endorses slavery, the Roman Empire was built on slavery and slavery was practiced in every corner of the Earth. We have evolved.

I suspect the real issue is here is teaching of the Civil War, a highly contentious topic in some parts of the country. Rather than love of America, it’s love of the Lost Cause as expressed in the ubiquitous Dixie flags and statues of Confederate leaders. They prefer to teach that states’ rights rather than preservation of slavery was the cause of the war. The shame and guilt of that failed revolution still scars the Southern psyche.

Right-wing evangelicals have embraced CRT as shorthand for identity politics, which they see as a worldly threat to traditional values. They are terrified of cultural change and see CRT as an existential threat. Evangelical theology’s emphasis on personal salvation allows white Christians to make personal choices the answer to racism. In this view, efforts to address systemic or structural injustice become more than simply odious to many Southern white Christians; like their view on integration itself, those efforts become contrary to God’s plan. They claim CRT is a religion and must therefore be opposed by the godly.

Painful Truth

Why is this topic so compelling? Because learning that some white people were cruel racists makes other white people feel bad. Therefore, the only logical conclusion is not to teach the truth about the racial history of this country!

How are school children harmed by hearing about slavery? The real “danger” is that they see the evil and want to do something about it. Let’s turn to my favorite blogger, Lee Papa at the Rude Pundit, who has been on a tear about CRT recently. (Fair notice: His writing style is definitely rude, so if you are put off by cussing, best not go there.)

“If what you get ... is that white people are bad and you don’t want to feel bad, that’s on you. For chrissake, as a white person, why wouldn’t I feel like sh*t about the fact that the country wouldn’t exist without the enslavement of one race and the genocide of another, both done by white people?

“Why wouldn’t I feel like sh*t that the white-run government didn’t enforce the very laws that it created to bring about equality between the races? Why in the world wouldn’t I feel like sh*t about lynching and terrorism by whites against Black people? As someone who grew up white in the south, why wouldn’t I feel like sh*t about the Supreme Court-endorsed apartheid that prevented Black people from prospering for a hundred years after slavery? Why wouldn’t I feel like sh*t about policies like red-lining and banking discrimination and environmental ghettoes? We’re now talking about things white people have done in my lifetim