A discussion of CRT

May 7, 2021 • 12:45 pm

CRT is, of course, Critical Race Theory. Here’s a 1.75-hour discussion of CRT involving several luminaries. Reader publius, who sent me the link (I haven’t watched it yet), singles out a segment you should watch”

Starting at 42:10 there’s an excellent nuanced group discussion of CRT with Randall Kennedy (Harvard Law) and Ralph Banks (Stanford Law).  They are critics of the CRT movement but insist there are core truths to it that critics are wrong to dismiss and demonize. They imply that McWhorter and Loury go too far in their condemnation.

Here are the YouTube notes:

Critical race theory, as both an analytical framework and a movement, is pulling hard at the strands of racism that are supposedly woven into the very fabric of America. For critical race theorists, injustices are ubiquitous, entrenched in every corner of American society. Books such as Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility became bestsellers over the summer, and their concepts are fast entering the American vernacular. But is critical race theory reality?

Join Manhattan Institute senior fellow Jason Riley for this important discussion on critical race theory’s language, origins, and growing mainstream influence.

FEATURING: John H. McWhorter, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University Jason L. Riley, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute

PANEL: Randall Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law, Harvard Law School Christopher F. Rufo, Contributing Editor, City Journal Ralph Richard Banks, Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor of Law, Stanford Law School Moderator: Jason L. Riley, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute

29 thoughts on “A discussion of CRT

  1. This discussion about CRT reminds me of the battle that atheist scientists have with the more liberal religious people.
    The scientists claim that religion is the major impediment against widespread public acceptance of evolution, and the liberal religious types tell them that the atheists haven’t studied “sophisticated theology..” ..
    and of course, the rank and file believer would not recognize the word-salad deity of the philosophers or theologians.

    Similar here: where the woke stuff being done in the name of CRT might not be consistent with CRT, the public doesn’t give a hoot about the scholarly argument. They just want HR departments to not be so overbearing…for people not to get “called out” because they used a 3 finger symbol to celebrate winning 3 contests, etc.

    So while the scholars and law professors were correct, the reporters more simple examples resonate more with the public

    1. In the Unitarian Universalist community, there is a significant overlap between the “sophisticated theology” defense and the promotion of CRT. It is disturbing.

      1. Damned right it’s disturbing. My husband and I were married in the UU Church — CUUPs branch, to be precise — and if the church is now falling for the new racism-lite, we’ll have to cut our ties with it. How have the mighty fallen!

      2. One of the pillars of UU is a dedication to science. Let’s hope that prevails. Because there’s nothing scientific about CRT.

    1. I still haven’t reached that point…and honestly, I don’t really want to. The Cathode Ray Tube was a brilliant invention that changed the world of information and communication (as well as entertainment). The other CRT is…well, it’s an invention, certainly, that’s about all I’ll say.

      1. #metoo ^2 And I still think “Bureau of Land Management “, which is literally all around my nesting area.

  2. Speaking of CRT and CRT-adjacent matters, this week I received the May, 2021 issue of Scientific American which contained an article of great interest to me, “Journey into the Americas”, about the peopling of the American continents. Its author is Dr. Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Kansas. Early on, the article states:

    “In their journey into the Americas, the ancestors of present-day Indigenous peoples overcame extraordinary challenges……

    There are many perspectives that aim to explain these events. Indigenous peoples have numerous oral histories of their origins. Passed down from one generation to the next, such traditional knowledge conveys important lessons about the emergence of each group’s identity as a people and their relationship with their lands and nonhuman relatives. Some of these histories include migration from another place as part of their origins; others do not. The framework that most Western scientists use in understanding the history of population movements is different. This article will focus on their models for the peopling of the Americas, while respecting and acknowledging that these models stand alongside diverse and ancient oral histories with which they may or may not be congruent.”

    Those last 2 sentences struck me: Is Dr. Raff essentially saying that what science uncovers is to be treated as no more factual than personal truth or myth? Had these people been Christian fundamentalist, Would she have been as solicitous? It’s also interesting that no mention is made of the extinctions that followed the arrival of homo sapiens to the Americas, and related effects. Instead, there is a tone of romanticization.

    I link to the article below and also to an article from Quillette which makes a great companion to the one from Scientific American called, “The Campaign to Thwart Paleogenetic Research Into North America’s Indigenous Peoples”



    1. “Had these people been Christian fundamentalist, Would she have been as solicitous?”

      No. But there is a different standard for oppressed peoples. To contradict their cherished myths with scientific facts is considered oppressive, and therefore sensitivity to that wins out over scientific accuracy.

      Apparently, it is not contemplated that indigenous peoples might be interested in actually learning the science. But Dr. Raff has a PhD, and I don’t, so I guess she knows better.

      1. … there is a different standard for oppressed peoples.

        Hell, to hear American white evangelicals tell it, no one is more oppressed than they — for example, by being forced to listen to baristas and department store clerks say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” or by having people who don’t share their religious beliefs being allowed to have sex in ways they don’t approve of or to exercise control over their own reproductive systems.

        1. Oppressed peoples as defined by the Left. Most of academia, particularly anthropology, is left-leaning.

          Agreed that white evangelicals are not oppressed…pretty pathetic of them to claim that.

      2. They may not be. If you get a chance, do read those 2 articles I link to. There is at least one important underlying theme in the topic of ancient DNA vis a vis the Americas: land ownership.

        In essence, far from being peaceful, people in the Americas,like everywhere, were at war, pillaging and displacing each other.

        I understand that there have been cases in which a claim to land by certain tribes was anchored in their ancestors being buried for centuries in that land. When DNA analysis was done, it was not their ancestors.

        That may be a critical reason so few whole genomes exist of native Americans. The most often mentioned reason, and usually the only one, is distrust of the white men and their science and abuse.

  3. I will listen to the discussion, but I have one basic question about CRT. That is, what makes it a “theory”.

    My understanding of a theory is that it is a rigorous, tested, and robust framework that explains a large amount of data and makes verifiable predictions. Plate tectonics, the germ theory of disease, the Modern Synthesis (Evolutionary theory), and General Relativity all meet this standard. In addition, I can think of many potential observations that, if ever shown to be true, could falsify these theories.

    What in CRT even remotely approaches this standard? Calling it a hypothesis might even be a stretch, because it’s not clear if it generates predictions that we can test. Can it even be falsified, or is it so mushy that it can incorporate any observation into its framework?

    At best, CRT seems to be an interesting conjecture, but has nowhere near the level of evidence that a legitimate theory enjoys.

    I could be wrong of course, but calling CRT a “theory”, up there with the works of Einstein, waters down the meaning of the word, and gives it a level of legitimacy it has not yet earned.

      1. I don’t think so. One tenet of CRT is that systemic racism is pervasive in the United States, and that it is the main or only explanation for disparities in the outcomes of the races. For instance, the reason that black children tend to do worse on tests of mathematical ability is due to systemic racism. No alternative cause seems to be entertained.

        That’s a testable claim, akin to “the increase in the average temperature of the planet is mainly or solely caused by increased greenhouse gases produced by human activity.” Rigorous climate studies seem to have born this out, and have also ruled out alternative causes for the temperature increase.

        It’s important not only to observe phenomena (the planet is warming), but also the reasons why, as that drives the solutions.

        So where are the CRT studies that identify “systemic racism” as the main causal factor for these disparities, as well as the consideration of alternative causes?

        If CRT advocates are wrong about a) the degree of racism in this country at present and b) its role in observed disparities in the races, then they may be leading us in the wrong direction and wasting valuable time and resources.

        1. I don’t think CRT is very testable in most areas. When someone acts in a racist manner, do should it be considered an individual act that must be punished or do we identify the perpetrator as simply part of a structure that oppresses Black people? A lot of these things are just a point of view. Similarly with goals. Do we want a color-blind society or do we deem that as an unreachable and unrealistic goal? CRT is only a theory in that it’s a collection of coherent ideas.

        2. Banks defines the central tenet of CRT as “if one wants to understand how basic institutions of American society operate even now, … you need to attend to the role of race in those institutions.” (about 55:00 in the video) That’s a broader claim than the one you suggest by analogy to manmade global warming, but still testable. I don’t know whether anyone has trained predictive computer models of major institutions with and without racial variables, but then, I’m not up on the literature, so I wouldn’t know.

    1. I’m oversimplifying (I’m sure, right?)… but I imagine ‘theory’ is appended to the official subject because it adds credibility as a PhD study, credibility to the public at large who doesn’t have the inclination to look into it, and it’s a ‘branding’ trick to give it an air of scientific validity. In essence – good marketing that works. Kind of like “all natural flavors”.

    2. Oh my. You seem to be assuming that CRT is science and that the people who espouse it are scientists. It isn’t and they’re not and they aren’t using the word in the scientific sense (even if they think they are).

    3. “I could be wrong of course, but calling CRT a “theory”, up there with the works of Einstein, waters down the meaning of the word, and gives it a level of legitimacy it has not yet earned.”

      Agreed, although I note that many CRT proponents seem to be denigrating science and other established intellectual traditions as hopelessly racist and imperialistic. The CRT clerics are the sole keepers of truth, judge and jury, and (where opponents are recalcitrant and sufficiently vulnerable) executioners via mob justice.

      Looked at in context of history, the emergence of CRT and its cadre of clerics seems almost inevitable. It’s what humans do when they reject the possibility of objective truth, then proclaim themselves the oracles of truth. It’s ultimately about power; it always is.

      I just hope this house of cards begins to collapse before a sufficient mass of otherwise intelligent voters are so offended that they decide to hold their noses and vote for Trump again rather than put up with this nonsense.

    4. I’m paraphrasing James Lindsay here, who has taken it upon him to read all this stuff: the name refers to the “Kritische Theorie” approach by the Frankfurt school of philosophers. The term was invented by Max Horkheimer, who contrasted “classical theory”, which is concerned with explaining in a value-neutral fashion how things work, with “critical theory”, whose point is to criticize and change the status quo. This was considered by its proponents “an advanced form of Marxism”. CRT takes the same approach, but (to put it bluntly) replaces Proletariat with PoCs and Bourgeouisie with Whiteness.
      Edited to add: so yes, this is an abuse of the word “theory” as it is used by scientists, but it’s an abuse that was introduced eighty years ago.

  4. I only watched it from the recommended 42:10 mark but it was an interesting discussion.

    The two Black law professors seemed to like CRT because it has drawn attention to the race issue. This was important because of (a) the SCOTUS Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013 that resulted from conservative justices thinking that the problem had been essentially solved and (b) Donald Trump’s overtly racist presidential administration. Although Christopher Rufo, the one white participant, mentioned that at least 500 companies were putting their employees through CRT-based training. All seemed to think that that was horrible but still somewhat dismissed it as “anecdotal”. In short, the Black lawyers thought the attention to racism that CRT has brought outweighed its less wholesome aspects.

    Looking at the fight against CRT from a more general perspective, I believe the telling of anecdotes about people’s lives being destroyed by it are not going to convince many to oppose it. As long as their lives aren’t touched by it, they feel it is a small price to pay for increased attention to the pernicious problem of racial bias. I suspect that the argument that CRT doesn’t fix the problem, and likely broadens the black/white divide, will be a lot more compelling.

    1. I do not have any problem understanding it but that may be because I listen in here at this site and hear about it all the time. However, as an old retired guy who did not spend anytime around schools except when I was going to them I had little understanding. Dr. McWhorter does a great job of explaining CRT and how it has become a religion, a cult. How dangerous is this thing and where is it going, that is what we need to know. The connection to the internet platforms is key to this disease.

      However, I see a mirror image of this thing on the other end of politics in this country and that is the Trump cult. As far as danger goes, I see this one as far more dangerous at the current time. But the insanity of it is similar to the CRT cult and the cancel culture is even more so in the republican cult. Look at what is happening right now with Cheney. Check out 45 or more states going like a bunch of crazies to make voting harder. Look at what the hell is going on in Arizona right now with the audit of an election that happened 6 months ago. Tell me which of these cults is most dangerous?

      1. The Trump cult is definitely more dangerous than CRT. If the Trump cult gains sufficient control at any point in time, we lose the country and our democracy. Even if I lost my job due to CRT (not going to happen), Trump taking over would still be much worse. I don’t know why you think that’s even a choice that we need to consider. Both CRT and Trump are bad and need to go.

      2. IMO the great danger of CRT is the credibility it lends in people’s minds to Trumpism. With help of Fox and its ilk, nonsense on the Left will end up encouraging otherwise intelligent people to hold their noses once again and vote for people who are not just misguided, but truly evil. Our Republic sits on the edge of a knife right now. Borrowing words from Obama, it’s important now more than ever not to “do stupid s**t.”

  5. I just thought it was a fair question. I understand why one is dominate on this channel but I think the other deserves a mention. If we have no democracy in this part of the world in a few years maybe we can talk about it then.

  6. A late comment relating to post #4 above. Of course, the labelling of assorted kinds of vacuous prattle and grievance-mongering as “theory” (e.g., “Queer Theory”) is a PR gimmick. Beyond that, however, it is a symptom of Physics envy, a condition sometimes found in the dopier groves of academe. Another, transparent example was Discourse Analysis, the computer-based tabulation of word use frequencies. This satisfied the urge of Physics envy both in its use of computers and in the amount of money that could be spent on it. I remember one website of the University of Rummidge in the UK which actually boasted about the extensive funding for its “Corpus-Based Discourse Analysis” program. [Fans of David Lodge will recognize the identity of U. Rummidge.]

  7. I watched the entire discussion last night, during the time I usually set aside for watching a movie.

    It seems to me that, although there were disagreements in emphasis, there was a broad consensus among all the panelists: that to ignore the vast progress the US has made since the civil-rights movement, that to deny black people agency regarding their lot in life, that to view these matters strictly along a racial binary, especially where based on mere incantation rather than evidence — that all these things are deeply misguided. The consensus also seemed to be that it is similarly misguided to ignore that there remains entrenched inequality in our society today, much of which breaks down roughly along racial lines, and that this inequality has deep roots in this nation’s long history of maltreatment of black people — a history that was largely whitewashed during the first century of compulsory K-12 US education and by the US culture more broadly.

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