I’ve written several posts trying to explain Critical Race Theory (CRT) as it is understood by scholars (see here and here, and here, for instance), and I won’t reiterate the definitions, which, of course differs from scholar to scholar. There is no “approved” definition. But the variants all have certain things in common, including the concept of “white privilege,” intersectionality, systemic racism, and, usually, reparations and the complicity of oppressors (in this case, white people) in oppressing minorities. CRT is identity-centered rather than individual-centered.
I was going to write a corrective to the misconceptions of the Left about CRT, which are actually distortions because anybody who cares to can find out what CRT really is. Likewise, the Right distorts CRT in an attempt to minimize the extent of racism. Both ends of the political spectrum, in fact, tailor their own definitions of CRT to meet their goals
Mona Charen at the Bulwark (see first article below) has written a sensible article on CRT (click on screenshot) which makes these points. It turns out that the Right-wing concept is closer to the real CRT than is the Left-wing version, but both sides distort what happens when an dumbed-down version of CRT is taught in schools.
Like me, Charen, doesn’t think there should be any laws against CRT on the books (most of them have been confected by Republicans). In my case, given the various conceptions of CRT, telling schools what’s legal and not legal to teach infringes the freedom of teachers to teach what they think is best. (Note to creationists and IDers who will use my last sentence to justify the teaching of their nonsense: CRT is not evolution, which is a “theory” that happens to be a true theory as well, and, unlike CRT, one can’t with any rationality debate the truth of evolution.)
So, as Charen notes, the Left (including, recently, Paul Krugman) characterizes CRT simply as the idea, which is true, that there was slavery and oppression of black people for centuries, and that there is still racism, and both the history and current racism injures minorities and violates the tenets of our democracy. As we see below, most Americans agree with these claims. But they are not CRT!
.Charen (my emphasis below):
The laws some Republican-dominated states are passing to curtail CRT and its progeny are bad ideas for many reasons. But the depictions of those laws in big outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post are frequently wrong or incomplete. A recent CNN report about Florida’s new law that would prohibit teaching methods that make people “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin” mangles the facts. The law, CNN claims, is a response to critical race theory, which the network defines as “a concept that seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US. The term also has become politicized and been attacked by its critics as a Marxist ideology that’s a threat to the American way of life.”
Not quite, though CNN is hardly alone in describing CRT in such an anodyne fashion. Paul Krugman argues that most people don’t know what CRT is (which is true), but goes off the deep end claiming that Republican “denunciations of C.R.T. are basically a cover for a much bigger agenda: an attempt to stop schools from teaching anything that makes right-wingers uncomfortable.” [JAC: I think there’s some truth in what Krugman says!] One news outlet suggested that anti-CRT bills “may make it even harder to discuss African American history,” and it is common to see anti-CRT bills described as “efforts to restrict what teachers can say about race, racism and American history in the classroom.”
If you were judging by much of the mainstream press coverage, you would think that CRT is just a movement to ensure that the history of slavery, racism, and Jim Crow is not neglected in America’s classrooms. But 1) large percentages of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching those things, and 2) that’s not what CRT is.
So what does Charen see as the “real” CRT? Here:
In their book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic state forthrightly that “Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, rejects the notion that racism is a character flaw in some individuals, declaring instead that “White identity is inherently racist.” That marks a dramatic departure from the traditional understanding of racism.
Critical race theory adherents favor teaching techniques that most Americans believe violate our commitment to colorblindness, such as “affinity groups” wherein people are segregated by race to discuss certain issues. In Massachusetts, the Wellesley public schools hosted a “Healing Space for Asian and Asian American students and others in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.” An official email explained that, “This is a safe space for our Asian/Asian American and Students of Color, *not* for students who identify only as White.”
And, contra Krugman and Scientific American, this kind of stuff, and not just the history of racism and slavery is actually taught in some schools.
In Virginia’s Loudoun County, teacher training materials encouraged educators to reject “color blindness” and to “address their whiteness (white privilege).” Each teacher was exhorted to become a “culturally competent professional who acknowledges and is aware of his or her own racist, sexist, heterosexist or other detrimental attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and feelings.” The training strayed into racial essentialism like this: “To the African, the entire universe is vitalistic as opposed to mechanistic. . . . This precept suggests that African Americans have a psychological affinity for stimulus change, often exhibit an increased behavioral vibrancy and have a rich and sometimes spontaneous movement repertoire.”
Democrats often object that CRT is “not taught in K-12 schools,” which is evasive. It’s true that third graders are not being assigned the works of Kimberly Crenshaw or Ibram X. Kendi, but affinity groups, “anti-racism” (in the sense of rejecting the ideal of color blindness), and other CRT-adjacent ideas are making their way into classrooms. New York City has spent millions on training materials that disdain “worship of the written word,” “individualism,” and “objectivity” as aspects of “white-supremacy culture.”
I’ve given other examples, such as the Smithsonian’s ill-advised (and now removed) characterization of white and black “culture”, and explicit demonizing of whiteness in classrooms, which is divisive and sometimes traumatic, and the recounting by students and parents in New York’s fancy prep schools about the divisive propaganda those schools purvey. There is no shortage of examples.
Republicans and righties aren’t immune, either, attacking perfectly warranted and sensible school units on racism. Charen gives the example of Republicans attacking a school district in Tennesee because on grade had a “Civil Rights Heroes” module that the plaintiffs said was “Anti-American, Anti-White, and Anti-Mexican [sic]”. There’s little doubt that their attempts to ban teaching CRT in schools is motivated at least in part by racism and a continuing attempt to efface American history.
So a pox on both ideological houses, especially because both Republicans and Democrats agree (as do I) that the nature, history, and damage of racism need to be taught.
It’s so easy—and remunerative—for progressives to characterize opposition to CRT as straight-up racism, and for conservatives to reach for heavy-handed, overbroad laws to restrict teaching they resent. But it is possible to oppose CRT for non-racist reasons, in fact for pro-national unity reasons, and even if Republicans are not making the case well or at all, it still needs to be made.
Large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching about slavery, racism, and other sins of American history. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favor teaching that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. Ninety percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Republicans believe textbooks should say that many Founding Fathers owned slaves. Nearly identical percentages of Democrats (87) and Republicans (85) say textbooks should include the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and slightly higher percentages want children to learn about the theft of Native American land.
That is not the picture of a nation (or even one party) that is refusing to grapple with the history of racism. Where you do get partisan divergence is on whether schools should teach the concept of “white privilege.” Seventy-one percent of Democrats say yes, but only 22 percent of Republicans agree.
This is getting long, so I’ll refer you to Eric Kaufman’s long survey of the divisions in America about CRT (click on screenshot below). A lot of it is age-related, with young people approving the teaching of “dictionary CRT” while older people oppose it. Kaufman draws a distinction between “cultural liberalis” (those “classical liberals” who oppose the strict construal of CRT, and “cultural socialists” (those who stress the importance of identity groups over individual rights and favor the teaching of CRT). The ratio of the former to the latter in the U.S. is now 2:1, but Kaufman thinks as the young people of today age, they’re going to remain cultural socialists.
(You can see Kaufman’s full data and analysis here—in a much longer article.)
The cultural socialists on the Left apparently include the editors of Scientific American. A comment the other day on my post “The inanities of Scientific American—almost all within just one year,” went as follows.
This aways confuses me. I have been reading Scientific American in magazine form for years, and I haven’t seen ANY of this offensive stuff. Indeed, the February 2022 issue has an editorial by the Board of Editors basically blasting “wokeness” in American History curricula, and recommending more material covering the treatment of minority groups both historically and currently.
It would really help me if all these critiques of the “failing Scientific American” could cite issues and pages, so I could see for myself.
I have the article below, which I’ll send to anyone who wants it (it’s in the paper edition). Scientific American makes the mistake of conflating CRT with “reality”, using the construal that CRT is simply teaching about racism and its history in the classroom. The article (no link):
Here’s the abstract:
The authors emphasize the importance of critical race theory (CRT) to a fact-based education in the U.S. They cite the implication of the election of officials who opposed CRT and enactment of legislation banning CRT from school curricula in some states for children’s education. They mention the significance of lessons about equity and social justice to young people. They point out that truth and reality will be removed from education if conversations around race and society are eliminated.
I won’t go on except to say that the editorial flirts with the classical definition of CRT, but then says that that all it does is teach us our “true history” and that it “teaches children about reality.” This is a good example of how the Left deliberately misconstrues CRT so that they can call people who oppose the theory “racists.” But that’s not true.
The title tells all.