The nation is currently embroiled in a debate over Critical Race Theory, a social science that emerged in the mid-1970s that analyzes how racism has been used as a system to denigrate people of color. The view was popularized by people like Ibrahim X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, whose books How to be an anti-racist and White fragility has integrated the idea that racism is systemic and must be fought constantly and vigorously, at all levels of society. More recently, there has also been some setback: Republicans across the country have attempted to ban this theory from public schools, pointing out that its practical application has led to the demonization of white students.
The problem with critical race theory goes much deeper than that, however. It stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the complexities of our social and political realities, reducing them to a single factor: racism. But when it comes to how race and power intersect, black history is far richer than critical race theorists allow.
Many in the critical camp of racial theory view black people as being particularly destitute by the history of racism in America. Racism “has contributed to all contemporary manifestations of racially-based group advantages and disadvantages, including differences in income, imprisonment, health, housing, education, political representation and service military, “write several scholars of critical race theory, including Kimberle Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda in Words that hurt. “Our history calls for this presumption.”
But our story also tells a different story, that of empowerment through struggle. In racist Jim Crow South, segregation has forced African Americans to create their own businesses, universities, legal funds, and other civil society institutions. “The more black communities were cut off from white communities and the more white businessmen refused to meet the needs of black clients, the more possible it became for enterprising black entrepreneurs to create their own viable businesses,” writes Donna Braden of the Foundation. Henry Ford.
Barber shops, cafes, motels, taverns and other small local businesses owned by black people have started to proliferate in the Jim Crow South. Newspapers, churches, banks, construction companies, radio stations, and other black-owned businesses have also thrived in the vacuum of black business created by white racism. These business owners were following the lead of Booker T. Washington, who preached economic independence and progress through education and entrepreneurship as a path to freedom. And they were reaching out to a growing black middle class that lived up to the dignity that their independence bestowed upon them, even as white America denied them.
This economic empowerment was revolutionary, and not just at the personal or community level. He was essential to the success of the civil rights movement. Access to monetary funds and an active network in black-owned newspapers, churches, and legal advocacy funds housed in organizations such as the NAACP has given black communities the necessary economic clout and political power. to successfully boycott bus companies and reduce their income in Montgomery, Alabama. in 1955. Some 40,000 bus drivers participated in the boycott after Rosa Parks refused to give up her place. This would have been impossible if the black churches had not acted as institutional centers to collect money to compensate for the losses, and if the black-owned taxi companies did not agree to charge black passengers ten cents. for the trip, the same cost of the bus trip. .
In other words, it was in the systemically racist South that money and political power accumulated in black communities – with startling results.
This means that racism simply cannot be blamed as the sole or main reason for disparities in access to money and power; the historical record shows that social reality is more complicated than this reductive claim, and that in the face of much worse racism than today, the southern black community has been able to overcome and, in many cases, thrive.
To understand this point, compare it not only with today, but with the plight of black Americans in the North at the same time. In both North and South, the US government has attempted to cripple black Americans with state-mandated racism. In the South, this was manifested in the Jim Crow laws which imposed racial segregation in all public facilities and social services. In the North, this took the form of redlining and public housing laws that prohibited whites from selling houses to blacks and prohibited black Americans from living in public housing with white Americans. After the Great Depression, this meant that many black communities were housed in underfunded and overcrowded ghettos that deteriorated over time.
Yet despite attempts to politically and economically deprive blacks in both parts of the country, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights establishment have found it. After difficult to organize black Americans in the North than in the South. In fact, after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act in 1964 and 1965, the movement completely disintegrated in the North.
Why has the South provided more fertile ground for black organization? In cities like Chicago, impoverished and demoralized black Americans simply could not support a movement that “relied so heavily on an autonomous network of black institutions, a firmly entrenched petty-bourgeois culture, and the pervasive influence of the Church. “, writes the historian. Christopher Lasch in his book The true and unique paradise. “The movement sought to give black people a new dignity by making them actively participate in the fight against injustice, but it could only be successful if the materials of self-respect had already been achieved to some extent.”
An entrepreneurial spirit, combined with the Church’s moral outlook, imbued black South Americans with a sense of inherent dignity and self-worth that was lacking in many northern communities. As a result, the spiritual doctrine against resentment and vengeance embodied in nonviolent agitation against segregation in the South fell on deaf ears in the North, as so many black Americans in the North had failed no sense of self-worth to begin with.
“Chicago Negroes have a greater sense of helplessness than anything I have ever seen,” said Hosea Williams, Dr. King’s chief lieutenant, after discovering the Chicago ghettos. “They are not participating in the government process because they are psychologically shot. We are used to working with people who want to be released.”
These differences between North and South show that racism is not an invincible scarecrow. It is not an all-powerful force that permeates everything and holds back all black people. The opposite is true: he can be brought to his knees by a strong, robust and vigorous black community.
And it is this complexity that critical race theorists fail to address. On the contrary, they are attached to the opposite point of view: Words that hurt Crenshaw and Matsuda write that the goal is not to extract racism from things like traditional values or established land interests; “[i]Rather, we ask ourselves how these traditional interests and values serve as vectors of racial subordination. “
But again, this approach has a lot to learn from the historical record of how black Americans overcame the indignities of the Jim Crow South. It is precisely traditional values like free enterprise, Protestantism and these same property interests that created black wealth. despite white supremacy, proving that regardless of cruelty and corruption, institutionally sanctioned discrimination simply did not measure up to the power and resilience of a ‘forward-looking, upward-looking people “.
You can see that kind of resilience in the description that great jazz critic Albert Murray gave of dance or “swing” in jazz. He called it the ultimate achievement, the highest thing a person can do: “I maintain that there is nothing that no one in the world has ever done that is more civilized or sophisticated than dancing. elegantly, which is to say with your total physical being an affirmative attitude towards the pure fact of existence. “
None of this is to reject the cruel racism and fanaticism that have plagued our nation’s history; nor should we ignore how it played a role in shaping social and political realities on the ground. But we must be careful in emphasizing this factor in the name of social justice. Such a movement threatens to distort our collective understanding of black life and reduce it to nothing more than a never-ending cycle of degradation and despair.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We should reject the social gospel of critical race theory not only as a desire not to see anyone – including whites – dehumanized because of their skin color, but also as an affirmation of power, beauty and purpose. lasting triumph of the lives of black Americans despite the tragedies. we were made to endure.
Chloe Valdary is the founder of Theory of Enchantment, a compassionate New York-based anti-racism company.
The opinions in this article are those of the author.