A Deeper Look at Critical Race Theory

In last week’s column on 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 from the founders and early adherents of the movement – “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement” – published in 1996. Here’s 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.

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• Critical race theory denies the possibility of objectivity. As the editors of the volume state in their insightful introduction, “A race scholarship in America can never be written from a detachment distance 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, more specifically the struggle between those who seek to maintain oppressive hierarchies and those who seek to overthrow them. The stock market can be a powerful weapon in this struggle.

• Theory shifts running to the center of our attention. As the editors have said, it aims to “recover and revitalize the radical tradition of racial awareness,” a tradition “which was rejected when the integration, assimilation and ideal of color blindness became official standards. of racial enlightenment ”.

• The founders of Critical Race Theory identified much more with the Black Power movements than with those who worked for integration. This form of racial consciousness cannot be reduced to class consciousness. Senator Bernie Sanders, who understood the struggle 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 leftist movement inspired by the thinking of an Italian neo-Marxist, Antonio Gramsci.

Against classical Marxism, for which material conditions are paramount, Gramsci (1891-1937) focused on “hegemony” – the belief system that “strengthens existing social arrangements and convinces the dominated classes that order existing is inevitable, ”as Ms. Crenshaw. the dish.

• 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 marked “symbolic” gains for black Americans but left their material conditions virtually unchanged, in part because civil rights law is inherently limited. These laws treat “discrimination” as isolated acts committed by specific individuals or companies, as exceptions to prevailing standards and practices, and not as pervasive and “systemic”. Civil rights law can alleviate the consequences of illegal and unjust acts, but it can do nothing to alleviate the lingering impact of past oppression.

• Critical race theory rejects the principle of equal opportunity. Its proponents insist that equal opportunity is a myth, not a reality, in America today, and that those who pursue it are misguided. The real goal is equality of outcomes, measured by blacks’ share of income, wealth, and social status. Critical race theorists reject the idea that the goods sought should be distributed through systems that assess and reward “merit.”

This measure is unacceptable, say the editors, because some “conceptions of merit do not function as a neutral basis for the distribution of resources and opportunities, but rather as a repository of hidden and race-specific preferences for those in power. to determine the meaning and consequences of “merit”. These critiques do not specify what conceptions of merit, if any, they would find acceptable.

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

Following Gramsci’s lead, Critical Race Theory has used dominant concepts such as equality and inclusion to wage a highly effective positional war against liberal ideology. Some Liberals have been co-opted and others silenced. But now the debate has shifted to states and school districts across the country, and many parents don’t like what they see. Presenting an honest view of American history in public schools is one thing, parents say, but focusing the curriculum on “Project 1619” is another. Hiring practices and workplaces should be fair and welcoming to all, say employees, but mandatory diversity training based on the pervasiveness of “unconscious racism” and “white fragility” is coercive and insulting.

The popularizers of critical race theory have done the movement no favors. In his bestselling book, “How to be an anti-racist,” Ibram X. Kendi bluntly states that “the only cure for past discrimination is current discrimination. The only remedy for current 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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About Leslie Schwartz

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