A lot of people ask me, “Jerry, what is Critical Race theory?” (Well, at least more than three people that I’ve seen in person.) My answer is aways to refer them to the Wikipedia article on CRT, though it’s too short to cover the major tenets of the theory, and leaves out some important stuff. Shortness is also a problem with the article on CRT at the New Discourses site of James Lindsay, who of course is an opponent of the “theory”—if it can be called a theory. (Some assertions of CRT are untestable and tautological, so I’m not sure what I’d call it.)
So if you want a short course on CRT, read the Wikipedia article but also the article below by Christopher Rufo, another opponent. To balance that, I’d recommend that you read—and you should do this for your own education—How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi. If you have the constitution, I’d also recommend White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. Kendi’s book isn’t so much a coherent argument for CRT as it is his autobiography heavily larded with conclusions and assertions that partly reflect CRT.
I’m not going to summarize Rufo’s article except to show how it differs from other articles and to give a few of my reactions. Click on the screenshot to read:
It’s clear that CRT, while it might not be a theory in the empirical/scientific sense, is an ideology, a belief system that is not self-evidently true and that can be contested. Further, some of these contestable assertions cannot be refuted—not because there are data that can’t be brought to bear, but because the adherents of CRT, many of them mired in confirmation bias, will reject any disconfirming evidence. So, despite ample evidence that “implicit bias” tests are worthless, and that diversity training accomplishes little, these procedures continue to spread despite the evidence.
There’s also the CRT claim that racism has not lessened over the history of the U.S., a claim that I think is flatly wrong. Of course slavery is gone, and, more recently, the civil rights laws and the movement itself seems to me to have led to a reduction in racism, not, as Rufo says for CRT:
Critical race theorists believe that American institutions, such as the Constitution and legal system, preach freedom and equality, but are mere “camouflages” for naked racial domination. They believe that racism is a constant, universal condition: it simply becomes more subtle, sophisticated, and insidious over the course of history.
This, of course, is not only refutable but has been refuted. Black people can no longer be barred from public transportation or accommodation, are not required to cower before white people. They also have any number of legally enforceable rights they didn’t have 75 years ago. The same “can’t be refuted” quality holds for the claim that “all whites are racist, even if they don’t know it.” How can you rebut an assertion like that?
In general, Rufo’s article sets out the tenets of CRT as I’ve understood them, and emphasizes some that are neglected in other articles, tenets like “opposition to meritocracy”, “restriction of free speech”, and “neo-segregation” (e.g., “affinity housing” in college). But some of these tenets are ones that puzzle me, like “abolition of whiteness”, meaning not just deep-sixing white social constructs, but actually “abolishing the white race”. If you think this kind of racism is nonexistent, Rufo provides quotes supporting each tenet, and at least one favors this kind of eliminativism. The problem is that three or four selected quotes do not establish that a tenet of CRT is widespread. That also holds for “abolition of property.” But the use of quotes is a useful addition to Rufo’s piece.
Less useful is his section on semantics, which simply lists terms and mantras associated with CRT. There’s also a section of school fights about CRT, involving both schools mandating its teaching, often in offensive ways, and governments’ attempts (like Trump’s) to ban teaching CRT. I don’t favor government bans, as I’ve said before. What’s taught in schools should be determined by school boards.
So, read Kendi, Wikipedia, and Rufo to get a start in CRT. As this “theory” becomes more widely adopted, and becomes embedded in mainstream media, it behooves us to understand it so we can detect and understand how it appears.