Is the phrase “short primer” redundant? If so, forgive me. At any rate, there’s a pretty evenhanded treatment of CRT, covering its main tenets and its implications, in Forbes. You can see it by clicking on the screenshot below:
The author’s bona fides: Redstone is “the founder of Diverse Perspectives Consulting and a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. [She is] the co-author of Unassailable Ideas: How Unwritten Rules and Social Media Shape Discourse in American Higher Education and a faculty fellow at Heterodox Academy.”
Her main point is that Critical Race Theory “forms a closed system”, a “perspective that leaves no space for anyone, no matter how well-intentioned, to see the world differently.” In other words, it brooks neither dissent nor discussion.
Her concerns are these:
CRT’s critics are often portrayed as wanting to “whitewash” history and deny the reality of slavery. If the problem were that simple, the criticisms would indeed be worthy of the dismissal they often receive. Yet, there are serious concerns about CRT that are rarely aired and that have nothing to do with these points. As a result, confusion and misinformation abound and tension continues to mount.
She lays out what she sees as the four main tenets of the theory as it’s presented in schools or to the public. Note that these differ from conceptions of CRT offered by scholars in academia. Quotes from the article are indented; any comments of mine are flush left.
1. Colorblind racism—Deemphasizing the role of race and racism, including to focus on concepts of merit, is itself a manifestation of racism.
2. Interest convergence—Members of the dominant group will only support equality when it’s in their best interest to do so.
3. Race and racism are always tied together. Race is a construct meant to preserve white dominance over people of color, while making it seem like life is about meritocracy.
4. Inattention to systemic racism—An unwillingness to recognize the full force of systemic racism as determining disparities between groups is a denial of the reality of racism today (and evidence of ignorance at best and racism at worst).
I’d add to that the following three points, which are mine. (Actually, points 5 and 6 come from Ibram Kendi and point 7 from Robin DiAngelo and many others):
5. (Really a supplement to point 4): Inequalities in representation or groups, for example disproportionately low numbers of people of color in STEM fields, is prima facie evidence of current and ongoing racism in those fields and not a historical residuum of racism in the past.
6. The only way to rectify this kind of systemic racism resulting from ongoing discrimination is to discriminate in favor of minorities (i.e., affirmative action, dismantling meritocracies, etc.). As Kendi said, ““The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.”
7. Every white person, whether they know it or not, is a racist, embodying, even unconsciously, the tenets of white supremacy instantiated in point 3 above.
According to Redstone, the downside of promulgating CRT is that all criticism of the theory is immediately dismissed as racism, so that there is no room for “principled concerns some may have about seeing every aspect of society through the lens of race and power.” Further, it may be hard to restructure society, she avers, when all social problems are fobbed off on either racism and ignorance.
Finally, in this short piece she gives her recommendations for people on all sides of the political spectrum, as well as for schools and the mainstream media. I quote:
To conservatives: Stop trying to enact legislative bans on CRT. Such bans are censorious, probably unconstitutional, and, simply put, will do nothing to solve the underlying problem.
To progressives: Stop talking about CRT and, more importantly, its related ideas as though objections to it and concerns about it are all driven by a denial of systemic racism or an unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of slavery. As I’ve pointed out here, this is to grossly miss the point. The importance of this point stands even if the loudest critics are not raising the concerns I’ve outlined here.
To the mainstream media: See advice for progressives, above.
To schools and workplaces: Critical Race Theory is a social science theory—a tool to understand the world around us. As a theory, its related ideas about race, identity, power, and fairness constitute one possible way to see the world. As with any social science theory, but particularly one this controversial, its ideas should be placed in context. Placing the ideas in context requires presenting contrasting viewpoints—for instance, perspectives that do not automatically assert that racialized explanations and solutions should be the primary lens for viewing the world. Importantly, these contrasting viewpoints are to be presented on moral footing that’s equal to CRT’s.
I can’t say I disagree with any of these prescriptions. The presentation of CRT as a given that brooks no dissent is particularly troubling to me as a scientist, because, after all, it is a “theory” and can’t be taken as absolute truth. My points #5 and #7, for example, are dubious and, I think, palpably false assertions. Yet if you raise objections, you’re not only typed as a racist yourself, but demonized. We have to beware of a theory that is presented as prima facie truth, for, like CRT, it constitutes a system that, because it cannot be shown to be wrong, cannot be assumed to be right.
This is not to say, of course, that racism doesn’t exist, or hasn’t shaped our country profoundly. It does and it has. But it’s not the only problem we face (there’s the matter of class inequality, for instance), and even fixing racial inequality is far more difficult than some adherents to CRT suggest. (Effacing history, for example, by removing statues or renaming buildings, while such efforts may be warranted, will accomplish almost nothing.) And CRT won’t touch the issue of anti-Semitism.
Andrew Sullivan has a new book: a collection of his writings over the last three decades. I thought it might be his first book, but it’s actually his fourth, and you can order it here. It’s thirty bucks in hardback, though it’s 576 pages long. I’ll be getting it through interlibrary loan:
Most of his latest column is devoted to the book (click on screenshot below), but I’m more interested in another topic he discusses: critical race theory.
Click on the screenshot:
First, though, the book. Sullivan goes into sufficient (perhaps excessive) detail about the book—enough to make me want to read it, but not to pay thirty bucks. But face it: unlike many, Sullivan owns up to his mistakes and misjudgments, and often revises his opinions, which makes me respect him.
A summary of his precis:
I’m not that easy to categorize, though many have tried, and I hope these essays reflect that. Among the political figures I have supported: Thatcher, Major, Blair, Cameron, and Johnson in Britain; Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Dole, Bush, Kerry, Obama, Clinton, and Biden in the US. Among the causes I have passionately supported: marriage equality, legalization of recreational drugs, the Persian Gulf War, the Iraq War, welfare reform, the candidacy and presidency of Barack Obama, and an expansive concept of free speech. Among the causes I have furiously opposed: the US adoption of torture in the war on terror, the Iraq War, religious fundamentalism in politics, both the Republican and Democratic parties, mass immigration, deficit spending, tribalism, critical theory, and Trump.
They all reflect, I hope, a singular form of conservatism that emerges from the thought of Michael Oakeshott responding to the contingent facts of unfolding history. (I have one memoir of him in the book, an explicitly Oakeshottian defense of Obama, and one account of Oakeshott’s religious ideas in a profile of Pope Francis.) My models for thought and writing run from Burke to Orwell. And my greatest failure of judgment, my shamefully excessive defense of the Iraq War, was, in retrospect, a moment when I abandoned that conservatism under the torrent of emotion and trauma in the wake of 9/11.
But better than this is is part of his column called “TwoNotes on Kendi and DiAngelo”, which is about as accurate a presentation of “popular” CRT—and a stinging one—that you can find. A couple of excerpts:
Both avatars of the Successor Ideology [Kendi and DiAngelo] gave interviews this week to friendly outlets, The New Yorker and The New York Times. This is an encouraging sign — it suggests that there may be some inklings of pushback within the left-elite.
I just want to note two key points that help, I think, illuminate what critical race theory actually is. The first is from DiAngelo:
The foundation of the United States is structural racism. It is built into all of the institutions. It is built into the culture, and in that sense we’ve all absorbed the ideology.
This is the core argument of CRT. It was the argument of the 1619 Project. It is what a NYT reporter meant when he demanded in a meeting with Dean Baquet that the newspaper internalize CRT and ensure that every single story was a means of communicating it:
I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting … To me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country.
This is the core point. CRT can be misleadingly described as seeing how racial oppression is interwoven in American history, exploring its resilience. But this is the motte of the argument; the bailey is that “white supremacy” is the foundation of this country. Not a foundation. The foundation. Not of some historical impacts, but of “all of the systems” of the country.
And on Kendi, who isn’t spared the rod:
That brings me to Kendi, whose sole, sophomoric idea is captured by Ezra Klein here:
If a given policy or action reduced racial inequality, it was antiracist; if it increased racial inequality, it was racist. If you support policies that reduce racial inequality, you are being antiracist; if you don’t, you’re being racist. That’s it.
And seriously, that’s it. If you see racial inequality, it is by definition created by white supremacy. And nothing else.
So the fact that Asian-Americans consistently do better in education than African-Americans is because of “white supremacy.” It has nothing to do with the gulf between Asian-American and African-American family structures, nothing to do with cultural differences with respect to learning, and nothing to do with an ethic of hard work and deferred gratification helping you succeed in America that thrives more in one population than another, nothing to do with socio-economics, nothing to do with child-rearing. Bring any of these factors up and they are either dismissed or described as caused by “white supremacy.” It’s a completely circular, anti-empirical, ahistorical assertion that is unfalsifiable. It has great popular appeal because it removes any need to think of the complex ways groups may behave or interact, and because it encourages instant racial judgment of anyone else based on the color of their skin — as a moral act. You know: what racists do.
The one problem here is that although present white supremacy may not account for all these discrepancies, they may well be the legacy of white supremacy. Sullivan continues:
And so the remedy to inequality has to be as crude as the cause of it: race discrimination. Kendi actually believes that an unelected board of CRT experts should be established by constitutional amendment to enforce active race and sex discrimination by the federal government in every sector of society. In any part of society where the racial demographics don’t reflect those of the entire society, the government must ensure that some members of one race are fired and replaced with members of another. Kendi puts it this baldly:
The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.
In other words, antiracism requires the abolition of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Again, the MSM keeps hiding the ball here. What is unique about the Successor Ideology is not that it takes racism into account in understanding society. What’s unique is the crudeness of its analysis and the totalitarianism of its solution.
I didn’t dare be that captious about Kendi’s book when I read it, but Sullivan is braver than I, and I pretty much agree with his characterization. Kendi’s suggestion about the Constitutional Amendment frightens me. As he wrote at Politico:
[The amendment] would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.
Can you imagine that? It suffers from the same problem as having A Department of Speech Monitoring: who, exactly, do you trust to make the judgments? And in this case, the result would be oppressive, authoritarian (it would supercede, for instance, the Supreme Court), divisive, and frightening. It would be the ruination of American society, turning into an Orwellian nightmare.
It baffles me that so many people seem to adhere to Kendi’s views—or at least this one.
About a week ago, I posted a piece about Critical Race Theory (CRT) called “Should teaching CRT be banned?” As you know, and will see below, legislatures, all of them Republican, are in process of banning what they see as critical tenets of CRT.
My own view was that it shouldn’t be banned as I was wary about government mandating what should or should not be taught in schools. (Creationism and its variant of intelligent design are exceptions; the courts have interpreted both as forms of religion, and teaching them in public schools is thus violates the First Amendment.) In saying that teaching CRT shouldn’t be banned but that teaching it, at least in its divisive form, was still bad, I agreed with Andrew Sullivan. There were, I thought, legal recourses against the most divisive aspects of CRT—the bits that set races against each other. Lawsuits, I thought, could eliminate that kind of pedagogy.
I’ve had to rethink all this after I read the new article below by Richard Hanania on his Substack site (click on screenshot). In particular, I didn’t realize that governments have a perfect right to dictate what and what cannot be taught (so long as it doesn’t violate the Constitution), that they do this all the time, that mandating what can be taught also tells you what cannot be taught, and, adds Hanania, it doesn’t matter anyway because teachers, who are mostly liberals, will manage to teach what they want regardless of the law.
I can’t find much about Hanania’s politics. He seems to be a conservative but it’s not obvious, and at any rate it doesn’t matter when we’re weighing his arguments:
First Hanania presents a map showing where anti-CRT-teaching bills have been passed or are in the legislature (some states apparently are labeled for bills “with other discussions about racism”):
Then he makes his points, which I’ve characterized in bold (Hanania’s quotes are indented; mine are flush left):
Legislatures have a right to tell schools what and what not to teach, and they do it constantly:
Legislators tell schools what to teach and not to teach all the time. It’s sort of a basic function of government. Illinois just mandated “Asian American History” and California requires teaching of “LGBT History,” cementing the idea that American history should be understood through the lens of groups of people defined by their sexual preferences or racial characteristics (or, in the case of “Asian American History,” a made-up census category). As of 2019, California mandated “LGBTQ+ inclusive sex ed,” which includes teaching kids about newly discovered genders and sexual identities. A Vox article tells the story.
Andrew Sullivan and I are thus confused in saying that CRT shouldn’t be banned but is still wrong to teach.
Some, like Andrew Sullivan, take the position that CRT is a pernicious and false doctrine, but that legislators should nonetheless do nothing about it. I’m struck by the discrepancy between his discussion of what’s being taught and his ultimate recommendations. Here’s how Sullivan describes CRT, implying that it is psychologically damaging to children and even potentially abusive.
The goal of education of children this young is to cement the notion at the most formative age that America is at its core an oppressive racist system uniquely designed to exploit, harm, abuse, and even kill the non-white. This can be conveyed in easy terms, by training kids to see themselves first and foremost as racial avatars, and by inculcating in them a sense of their destiny as members of the oppressed or oppressor classes in the zero-sum struggle for power that is American society in 2021.
Liberals want to teach Critical Race Theory because they think it is true, while others want to ban teaching it because they think it’s false. I can understand both positions. In contrast, the position “this is all pernicious lies but nobody should do anything about it” is puzzling to me.
Okay, I’ll accept that. Decisions by legislatures or school boards about whether to teach CRT should be made on the basis of whether it’s imparting facts that are right or wrong. But there’s the rub, for classic academic CRT is not what’s being taught in these schools, but interpretations of CRT filtered through the likes of Ibram Kendi and Robin Di Angelo. Anything racially divisive I see as wrong, but to call attention to the odious history of bigotry in our country should surely be done. Both are parts of “garden variety” school CRT.
Mandating teaching a subject or viewpoint explicitly prohibits teaching the other viewpoint.
Notice that by mandating one thing, you ban another. A classroom that is required to teach gender is fluid and homosexuality should be accepted is banning traditional sexual morality. One that teaches that every major racial census category has its own history decides which groups are singled out for official identities (“Hispanic” and “AAPI,” but not “Jewish” or “Italian”), and denigrates the idea that American history should be taught from a more unified perspective.
The idea that government schools teach some things, but not others, and that a government school curriculum is set by government, has never been controversial. It’s only causing such debate now because instead of Democrats mandating that you teach identity politics and gender fluidity, it’s Republicans wanting to teach their own ideas.
Now maybe you think Critical Race Theory is true. In which case, you should oppose these bans. If you think it’s a false and harmful doctrine, then banning it is pretty much the job of government.
But of course this all depends on what aspect of CRT is being taught, and you’ll never know unless someone monitors the classroom.
Lawsuits aren’t a solution. As Hanania notes:
This highlights what is so strange about David French and other writers arguing that if CRT discriminates against whites, that’s already illegal under the Civil Rights Act, and people can just sue. As I have pointed out, the Civil Rights Act has been interpreted to not only allow anti-white discrimination, but actually mandate it in the form of affirmative action. As it turns out, people interested in enforcing civil rights law think discrimination against blacks is a major problem society has to constantly be on guard against, while discrimination against whites isn’t really a thing.
And of course to stop CRT teaching with lawsuits is a piecemeal effort, state by state, that may ultimately wind up in the Supreme Court; and you know what that means.
But it doesn’t matter, for what does matter is who is teaching the kids. And who is teaching the kids are, of course liberals who will impart aspects of CRT to students if they can. Although secondary-school teachers aren’t as liberal as college professors, they definitely lean Left:
A 2017 survey of school teachers and education bureaucrats showed that they voted for Hillary over Trump, 50% to 29%. That’s actually not as lopsided as I would have guessed, but there’s evidence that Democratic teachers are more committed to politics than Republican teachers, just as liberals care more about politics more generally. In 2020, educators who donated money to a presidential campaign were six times more likely to support Biden than Trump. So while Democrats may have “only” a 21-point lead in voting preferences among educators, when it comes to those who care more about politics, it’s more like an 85%-15% advantage. And teachers are probably conservative compared to the kinds of people who write textbooks, design curriculums, and work in education departments.
With those kinds of numbers, there’s really nothing conservatives can do to make the schools friendlier to their ideas and values. A CRT ban might mean a teacher won’t say “Ok, kids, today we’re going to learn about Critical Race Theory!,” but they’ll still teach variations of the same ideas.
The solution? Send your kid to private schools, or homeschool them, as such schooling is either generally more conservative or, at home, you can teach your kids what you want. It’s this solution that makes me think that Hanania is a conservative. He notes, though that private school enrollment has dropped in grades 1-8 and 9-12, as it’s expensive, but homeschooling has nearly doubled in the last two decades:
On the conservatism of private schools:
That being said, are private schools really any less liberal than public schools? Maybe not at the most elite level, as Bari Weiss has shown. Yet every indication is that private schools are in general more conservative. According to a 2015 study, “of the 5.8 million students enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools, 36 percent were enrolled in Catholic schools, 13 percent were enrolled in conservative Christian schools, 10 percent were enrolled in affiliated religious schools, 16 percent were enrolled in unaffiliated religious schools, and 24 percent were enrolled in nonsectarian schools.” Combining Catholic and “conservative Christian” schools, this indicates that at least half of private schools teach a sexual morality that would be illegal if promoted by a public educator, at least in California and other blue states.
In the end, Hanania’s solution, if you’re worried about CRT being taught more widely, is to put private schools on a more equal footing with public ones, perhaps using school vouchers to avoid the expense. That, of course, is not a solution I recommend, as I’m a big fan of public schools. And his solution is sure to sicken other liberals. But at least, says Hanania, it is a kind of solution, and nobody has offered any thing else that’s likely to stem the teaching of CRT. Hanania ends this way:
“Banning Critical Race Theory” sounds like a new, vigorous, and exciting idea, while “more school choice” seems like the same old conservative spiel.
But those who hope to change the public schools have no plan to make an overwhelmingly left-wing, and increasingly radicalized, profession reflect their preferences and values.
Trust me, I like finding new and original ideas to promote, and hate to come out for such a conventional and boring suggestion like “more school choice,” although I at least take comfort in the fact that I took an unconventional path to get to that conclusion. Nonetheless, please try not to judge the idea based on how edgy it sounds, but based on a clear understanding of how the world actually works.
My solution? Oppose the teaching on the grounds that much of it is false and it also has a pernicious effect on schoolchildren
Here’s another in Helen Pluckrose’s series of interviews with humanists and rationalists, presumably intended to bring attention to her new site Counterweight, part of whose mission is to defend those unjustly accused or mobbed. This interview is 17 minutes long and Sam is, as usual, extremely eloquent. The guy speaks in publishable paragraphs.
You should listen to it; it will hearten you.
The discussion begins with free speech, which Sam defends along John Stuart Mill-ian lines: as a general principle, not just as adherence to the First Amendment. Free and untrammeled speech is, he says (as did Mill), the only way we have of winnowing truth from falsehood, though sometimes it can’t do the job.
Here are a few of Sam’s quotes I’ve transcribed from the interview.
“Apparently we now have a generation of people who think that their capacity for outrage, their capacity to feel offended, is itself evidence for the rightness or wrongness of any given principle or idea or a set of values. The “Ick Factor” is ruling our epistemology now, and it’s getting so finely calibrated that we terms like ‘microaggressions’ and ‘speech is violence’ and this reconception of harm that has made everyone as thin-skinned as they can possibly be, and as performative as they could possibly be. . . “
On the effect of social-justice “mobs” in quashing speech:
“Grownups should be able to talk about more or less everything with a cool head and not endlessly castigate one another for merely thinking out loud.”
“One of the things that’s so pernicious about this silencing effect is that it creates an illusion of consensus where you have the most voluble and hysterical activists taking up most of the oxygen and successfully cowing other people into silence for fear of the reputational damage that awaits them if they open their big mouths on any number of topics, race being only one.”
He further discusses the “asymmetric advantage” of woke activists: it’s far more costly to be accused of being racist and transphobic acts or statements than to say the sensible things that “run counter to this moral panic.”
At 9:34 the discussion gets into race. Sam of course admits the existence of racism, but argues that our goal should be to eventually make skin color equivalent to hair color: a trait that nobody cares about and that needn’t be the object of “equity.” That day, I suspect, will be a long time coming.
Finally, there’s this quote:
“Racism exists in some places, but doesn’t exist everywhere, and it is being claimed to exist everywhere and is being found everywhere in what is clearly a mass hallucination. And this hallucination is being defended by people who are highly incentivized to defend it; and the level of dishonesty and callousness that surrounds this whole enterprise is just appalling. Genuinely good people, who everybody knows are not racist or sexist or transphobic, are being sacrificed to this new religion.”
In the end, he holds out the possibility that lawsuits against companies or institutions may be powerful ways to put the kibosh on the “mass hallucination” of the new religion.
After hearing this talk, I keep wondering why Sam is so demonized by a certain segment of the Left. Yes, I think he was wrong about objective morality, but he’s eminently sensible and surely does more good than harm. Yet he, and that other paragon of eloquence, Steve Pinker, are among the most demonized members of the anti-woke Left. Perhaps it’s just because they are anti-Woke, and won’t truckle to the mob.
As Scientific American continues its inexorable circling of the drain, it’s approaching the drainhole itself. For, from a week ago, we have an op-ed by Allison Hopper asserting that Americans’ rejection of evolution—73% of Americans are either straight-up Biblical creationists (40%) or think God helped guide evolution (33%)—is due not to religion as many suppose, but to white supremacy. It’s all about racism, Jake! (I was not the first to proposed the religion-is-the-main-cause of rejecting-evolution thesis, but laid out the case, with supporting data, in a paper in Evolution in 2012.)
Hopper rejects that thesis in her Sci Am article, saying that the idea that people reject evolution because of religion is a “lie”. To wit:
“I want to unmask the lie that evolution denial is about religion and recognize that at its core, it is a form of white supremacy that perpetuates segregation and violence against Black bodies. “
Well, she’s dead wrong about her thesis, as I’ll argue below, but also in her claim that evolution denialism “perpetuates segregation and violence against Black bodies.” It does nothing of the sort! You really have to distort your thinking to claim that people are prone to deny evolution because they’re white supremacists, much less embrace the idea that creationism (which is what I’ll call “evolution denial”, since they’re pretty much equivalent in America) creates “violence against Black bodies”. What kind of violence? Has any black person been harmed in the name of creationism? And what is it with this “black bodies” trope? That seems to me distinctly unwoke, since the trend in “progressive” language is to emphasize the humanity of oppressed people, i.e., “enslaved persons” instead of “slaves”. Saying “black bodies” instead of “black people” clearly dehumanizes people, and I deplore it.
But I digress. Before we examine Hopper’s arguments, such as they are, here are her bona fides from the article:
Allison Hopper is a filmmaker and designer with a master’s degree in educational design from New York University. Early in her career, she worked on PBS documentaries. More recently, she’s been creating content for young people on the topic of evolution. She has presented on evolution at the Big History Conference in Amsterdam and Chautauqua, among other places.
And here’s her article, which you can read for free by clicking on the screenshot below:
Hopper is trying here to jump on the current bandwagon that everything is about race, including rejection of evolution. And, she implies, once we acquaint people with the fact that creationism is a product not of religion but of white supremacy, they’ll give up their creationism and embrace evolution.
Her argument goes like this:
1.) Many people don’t realize that all humans descend from African ancestors (true).
2.) Those African ancestors had dark skin. (Also true.) However, in their case “black” or “brown” does not equate with “oppressed”, since there were no white people to oppress them. Different species of hominin may have oppressed each other, but that had nothing to do with pigmentation.
3.) Importantly, human culture sprang from dark-skinned ancestors who had religion, language, fire, and tool use. These were the foundations, argues Hopper, for the culture we have today. It’s true that these bases (except, perhaps, for religion and language, about whose origin we know virtually nothing) probably sprang from dark-skinned ancestors. But other features of modern culture evolved in Europe and the Middle East, where natural selection had already been lightening skin color. (This constant emphasis on the overweening importance of skin color repels me.) At any rate, agriculture and its attendant amenities of civilization probably arose about 12,000 years ago in the Middle East among people who were not black (but may have been brown) and further developed by people of all colors, including whites and Asians. But who cares? Only someone obsessed with racism and determined to make it the basis for everything bad.
4.) Hopper cares, for she says that evolution’s truth dispels the Biblical story that Adam and Eve (who were supposedly white) were instrumental in creating black people, who descended from a bad person—Cain—who killed his brother. This “mark of Cain” thesis that supposedly connects creationism with white supremacy, is advanced in several ways by Hopper:
Science education in the U.S. is constantly on the defensive against antievolution activists who want biblical stories to be taught as fact. In fact, the first wave of legal fights against evolution was supported by the Klan in the 1920s. Ever since then, entrenched racism and the ban on teaching evolution in the schools have gone hand in hand. In his piece,What We Get Wrong About the Evolution Debate, Adam Shapiro argues that “the history of American controversies over evolution has long been entangled with the history of American educational racism.”
In fact, anybody who looks at the data on creationism sees immediately its connection with the Biblical creation story (not including Cain)—the view that God created everything almost instantaneously, with humans made in His/Her/Their image. Everybody promoting creationism and intelligent design is religious, and all creationist organizations are religious at bottom.
In my life I’ve met hundreds of creationists, and every one of them was religious. (David Berlinski, whom I haven’t met, may be the one exception, but that’s just one person and he may be dissimulating about religion anyway.) They make no bones about their views, either. Yet in none of these people have I heard anything about white supremacy. Sure, there may be racists among creationists—there has to be given the connection between Evangelical Christianity and the South—but you’d have to essentially make things up to argue that creationism comes from white supremacy and that its connection with religion is “a lie.” (At any rate, were Hopper’s story of Cain and Abel true, it still shows a connection between creationism and religion.)
But wait! There’s more:
The fantasy of a continuous line of white descendants segregates white heritage from Black bodies. In the real world, this mythology translates into lethal effects on people who are Black. Fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible are part of the “fake news” epidemic that feeds the racial divide in our country.
There are those “Black bodies” again. But what are the “lethal” effects? Were black bodies really killed because white bigots and lynchers were motivated by a refusal to accept our ancient ancestry? I doubt it, and I doubt whether they were motivated by religion, either. They were motivated, I believe, by tribalism and the heritage of slavery with its attendant beliefs that blacks were inferior beings.
In fact, when Hopper talks about the dearth of children’s books on evolution, she inadvertently admits that religion (not the story of Cain and Abel!) is tilting kids towards creationism:
If you go on Amazon and look up “children’s books on evolution” you will find about 10–15 relevant titles. This is in contrast to the hundreds of children’s books on other scientific subjects such as chemistry, astronomy and other less controversial subjects. I found only one book on evolution for preschoolers, called Grandmother Fish. The author had to self-fund the book through Kickstarter.
On the other hand, there are hundreds of children’s books available on Amazon that focus on biblical origin stories. Science deniers are pumping money into a well-funded antievolution machine. In 2007, the creationists built their own Bible-themed museum and amusement park. What they understand is that to reach young children you need music, colorful characters and celebration.
Kids get their religion long before they learn evolution, and by the time they’re presented with Darwin and his successors, they’ve had at least a decade of indoctrination in the Bible, with many being Biblical literalists. They are effectively immunized against evolution. Racism is a separate issue.
In the end, Hopper argues that if we can just tell the story of evolution properly, including that we all came from Africa and our earliest ancestors were dark-skinned, creationism would go away:
. . . even in the current literature about human origins that we do have, the end point of evolution is often depicted as a white man carrying a spear. This image not only eliminates our African heritage but also erases women and children from the picture. Because evolution is foundational knowledge, we need the story to be told in many different ways, by many different voices.
As we move forward to undo systemic racism in every aspect of business, society, academia and life, let’s be sure to do so in science education as well. Embracing humanity’s dark-skinned ancestors with love and respect is key to changing our relationship to the past, and to creating racial equity in the present. These ancient people made the rest of us possible. Opening our hearts to them and embracing them as heroic, fully human and worthy of our respect is part of the process of healing from our racist history.
I wasn’t aware that the teaching of evolution was systemically racist; do teachers really deny that our ancestors were African? And does Hopper really believe that accepting that will get rid of racism? Really? Even Darwin was a monogenist, saying that all groups of humans arose from a single ancestor who probably lived in Africa. Did that get rid of racism? I don’t think so, though some people think Darwin’s monogenism was part of a strategy to combat racism.
(I can’t get over my gag reflex when hearing that we need to embrace our ancestors with “love and respect”, since I don’t know that they were either lovable or respectable)
Okay, now what’s the evidence against Hopper’s thesis? It’s strong:
a.) Ask people why they think evolution didn’t happen. Many will say because they believe the Bible or the Qur’an. Nobody will say because it shows that white people are superior. (Of course, you can say they won’t admit their bigotry.)
b.) Every creationist organization from Answers in Genesis to the Discovery Institute is based on religion, while we find no creationist organizations whose platform is white supremacy. As I said, the two are tangentially connected because of the religious and white-supremacist nature of the American South, but this is a matter of correlation, not causation.
c.) Most telling: several surveys, listed and summarized in this paper, show that blacks and Hispanics deny evolution more than do whites. This is the opposite of what Hopper predicts, but makes sense under the “religion-first” hypothesis, since blacks and Hispanics tend to be more religious than whites in general.
d.) There is a highly statistically significant negative correlation between the religiosity of 34 European countries and their acceptance of evolution, as I noted in my Evolution paper. Most of these countries are nearly all white, save France and Germany, which have high acceptance of evolution (and more black people than, say, Iceland or Demark). The US is near the bottom in accepting evolution (I’ll give the data in a minute), not because the U.S. has a higher percentage of whites than most European countries—it doesn’t—but because the U.S. is far more religious then Europe.
Here’s the correlation I found. The U.S., labeled, is next to last in accepting evolution, while below us lies only Turkey: a Muslim country that, by the way, happens to comprise many “people of color”. Note that the most religious countries, to the right, are the least accepting of evolution. I discuss issues with these data (nonindependence, etc.) in the Evolution paper.
The religiosity of these countries, which appears in the graph above, came from other sources given in my Evolution paper.
The thing to note is that virtually all these countries are white, and yet the correlation holds across them all. As I said, the countries with the highest proportion of evolution rejectors (those at the bottom)—are not only the most religious, but also probably contain the highest proportion of people of color. This is what the religious hypothesis proposes, but it goes counter to Hopper’s thesis, which predicts that the whitest countries should be the least accepting of evolution, for rejection of evolution is a sign of white supremacy. (Of course, you could argue that white supremacy will be manifested only in countries with a substantial proportion of black people, but that’s pushing it.) In fact, Hopper’s argument is a post facto confection to support anti-racism, and appears to make no predictions that seem to stand up to scrutiny.
It seems to me that Hopper is not only deeply misguided, but also motivated by ideology, tying creationism directly to white supremacy, and almost completely dismissing its connection to religion. As I always say, “You can have religion without creationism, but you can’t have creationism without religion.” Hopper seems to have deliberately ignored data inimical to her hypothesis, which of course is what one does when afflicted with the kind of confirmation bias that comes with wokeness.
And it’s just another sign that whoever’s in charge of Scientific American is letting through ill-informed and erroneous material. What has happened to that once-respectable magazine? Is there no longer an audience for the lively yet informative articles they used to publish? Are they becoming the Evergreen State of popular science magazines?
Four people at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have written a personal take on the new laws designed to prevent the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in campuses and secondary schools. Their views don’t constitute not an official FIRE position but rather raise some considerations about the spate of laws, put in place mostly by Republican states. What I like about FIRE is that they are nonsectarian, defending the civil liberties of students regardless of what ideology is involved. (That’s what the ACLU used to do.)
So in this case, though much of the motivation for these laws could stem from a Republican desire to prevent the teaching of the history of racism and the genocide of Native Americans, Lukianoff et al. argue that there are some genuine motivations for enacting these laws based on what’s happened in classrooms. On the whole, though, the authors come down with the view (a view I’ve expressed myself) that although these laws may be constitutional, they are also undesirable, and that there are other ways to prevent some of the invidious effects of how CRT has been taught in the classroom.
Click on the screenshot to read:
The authors call these bills “divisive concepts bills” (DCBs) rather than CRT bills, as Lukianoff et al. (referred to as “I” in the text) say that DCB better expresses what the bills promote. They make 13 points about the bills. These are not reasons to oppose to bills, but rather things to consider when thinking about whether DCBs should be opposed. I’ll list the points (FIRE’s quotes are indented) and give my own take in type that is flush left.
Note that most of the interest in these bills centers on their use in public secondary schools rather than public universities, which have greater latitude for teaching what the faculty wants.
1. There are dozens of these bills, with possibly hundreds of amendments. And they all differ, making it hard to formulate a blanket opinion. As FIRE says:
Indeed, there are so many that it has made discussion of the bills difficult, with some being clearly unconstitutional, while a few others essentially reiterate existing racial discrimination law and seek to ban the kind of compelled ideological speech that is already prohibited under the First Amendment.
2. Laws that bar the teaching of certain concepts or materials relating to race and gender in higher education are almost always unconstitutional and are contrary to a free speech culture. According to the essay, this constitutes illegal “viewpoint discrimination”. But that applies in universities, and such discrimination is surely illegal. The crunch comes in secondary education (kindergarten through 12th grade), where the law is different.
3 Laws that bar the teaching of certain concepts or materials relating to race and gender in higher education are almost always unconstitutional and are contrary to a free speech culture. Why FIRE thinks DCBs shouldn’t be passed to apply to secondary schools is largely because the parts of CRT that liberal parents object to involve compelled speech, such as attesting that you have white privilege and are racist—speech that is already illegal. Teaching about the history of racism in America, which is why Republicans largely want these bills, isn’t wrong, but is an important part of our history. It’s the compelled thought and speech bits that are illegal. But not all bills mandate that.
4. K-12 curricula are not suddenly political. They have always been political. The point is that curricula are decided in a “democratic manner”, which, I suppose means that the authors think that legislatures have the right to mandate curricula. Two quotes:
. . . what will become the curriculum in most public K-12 schools is democratically decided by a combination of state legislatures, local school boards, and individual schools. As such, they represent the will of the people, as expressed in local and state elections. The individual schools cannot exceed the scope granted them by their school boards, which themselves derive power and authority from the state. There is a large distinction between the expansive role that higher education plays in our society and the restricted responsibilities incumbent upon an American elementary, middle, or high school. Higher education is a gigantic engine not merely for teaching but also for engaging in knowledge-expanding research. As such, it enjoys certain necessary privileges, such as academic freedom.
. . . Because K-12 attendance is compelled by the state and, at public schools, funded predominantly by local taxes, it is understandable that the substance of that teaching is subject to democratic oversight, through state legislatures and elected (or appointed by those who were elected) school boards. Legislators are expected to exercise oversight when citizens with children in the schools voice legitimate concerns about curricular matters.
5. Most of the divisive concepts bills aimed just at K-12 are probably constitutional, given that legislatures have a lot of power to decide curriculum. That doesn’t mean they are above criticism. Restricting teacher’s speech rights is much easier in secondary school than in colleges. Exceptions, as I’ve pointed out, include teaching ID or other forms of creationism, which are banned from public education by the First Amendment (creationism is considered a religious doctrine).
But, as FIRE points out, “legal” doesn’t mean “wise”, especially when the bills prohibit teaching things that make students “uncomfortable”. As the essay notes,
Rhode Island’s H6070 (tabled in committee) bans “race or sex scapegoating,” defined as, in part:
(ii) “Race or sex scapegoating” means assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex and similarly encompasses any claim that any particular race or sex is responsible for society’s ills.
This could be read as making basic statements of fact — for example, “In the United States, until 1865, the enslavement of black people by white people was widespread practice,” — unlawful if spoken by a teacher or administrator to a student.
This isn’t the only part likely to cause anxiety for well-intentioned teachers. Manyof thebills prohibit “making part of any course” that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” It is not hard to imagine a student feeling uncomfortable by learning true facts about historical racism, presented reasonably, coming home distraught and telling their parents. Under these bills, parents may argue that the teacher has done something unlawful. This is always an issue when speech restrictions focus on concepts characterized by a subjective reaction like discomfort or guilt, without making absolutely clear that the regulation is targeting behavior intended to create that response in students. Indeed, my book with Jon Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” emphasized the dangers of focusing on impact over intent.
As Lukianoff et al. emphasize, these constitute “vague speech codes”, which could, and will, lead to both chilling of student speech and lawsuits.
6. Banning specific curricular materials like The 1619 Project in public K-12 schools, whether or not you agree with doing so, is within the power of the government in many states. I object to teaching the 1619 Project not on legal grounds, but on didactic grounds: it’s an ideological program that promulgates a view of history that is largely inaccurate. But banning its teaching is censorship. Its vetting should be done democratically, through legislatures, school boards, and schools themselves.
7. Misleading reporting has muddied the waters. One example are reports that the new Florida law mandates that students and professors must register their individual political affiliation. That simply wasn’t true: the bill mandates a “climate report” on “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” in schools which could be useful in seeing how many students feel that they aren’t able to speak freely. FIRE did oppose that bill, but for other reasons
8. Proponents and critics of the divisive concepts bills are largely talking past each other on the issue. This is, I think, the most important of all the points. I’ll quote Lukianoff et al. here;
On the other hand, critics of these bills see bans on the 1619 Project, and vague clauses that arguably reach any discussion of slavery, and interpret them as a highly politicized mandate to teach a certain view of history intended to soften the horrors of slavery and minimize historical racism. They see those who support such laws as wanting children to learn a jingoistic and propagandized version of history. While some on each side are undoubtedly acting in bad faith, the majority are motivated by sincere and valid concerns, and both proponents and opponents are motivated to ignore the valid points of their opposition.
Each side’s distorted impression of the goals of the other side, and of what’s actually in the bills, has been an unfortunate side effect of the media coverage. Those listening to left-leaning outlets and pundits could be forgiven for thinking that the bills outright ban discussion of slavery. Those listening to right-leaning outlets and pundits could be forgiven for having no idea of the breadth and vagueness of a lot of the clauses in these bills, and the chilling effect they may create with teachers making good faith attempts to comply. The media coverage of these bills has been largely lacking in deep-dives into the actual text of the bills, instead relying on broad characterizations of their intent and the motivations behind those introducing them.
As one example, South Carolina’s bill prohibits schools from promoting things like the superiority of one race over another or that an individual bears responsibility “for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” The authors point out that these things are already prohibited by laws on racial discrimination and harassment.
And yet the termites continue to dine, as in these examples of real things that happened in school, collected by Bonnie Snyder:
A biracial high school student in Las Vegas was allegedly singled out in class for his appearance and called derogatory names by his teacher. In a lawsuit, the student’s family alleges he was labelled an oppressor, told denying that status was “internalized privilege,” and told he needed to “unlearn” the Judeo-Christian principles imparted by his mother. When he refused to complete certain “identity confession” assignments, the lawsuit claims, the school gave him a failing grade. He has had to attend counseling.
Third grade students in California were forced to analyze their racial and other “identities,” rank themselves according to their supposed “power and privilege,” and were informed that those in the “dominant” culture categories created and continue to maintain this culture to uphold power.
These exercises are indeed illegal, and some of the proponents of the new bills are worried by stuff like this. They are right to do so, especially because ascertaining that these things happened might be difficult if children’s speech is chilled. I have no doubt that much of this stuff goes on now and yet is unreported.
9. Legislation is not the only way to address the aforementioned concerns. First of all, many of the behaviors prohibited by the new bills are already illegal. This could be remedied with either lawsuits or things like issuing the “warning letters” that are a specialty of FIRE. The other ways are less convincing, involving vague notions of “broader reform with a positive vision and lots of creative thinking and experimentation.” Granted, it wasn’t this article’s brief to outline specific reforms, but rather to give us thinking and talking points. Still, if you don’t think the bills are a good idea, but still shouldn’t be banned in general, you need to figure out a way to eliminate their invidious effects.
10. Critical race theory isn’t a perfect termfor the problematic behavior these bills are trying to address. The authors note that the academic version of CRT, as adumbrated by scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell, isn’t what is being prohibited. Instead, it is the more authoritarian versions of anti-racism, as spread by people like Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. The authors consider variants of the latter ideas to be “antiliberal.”
11. The California ethnic studies curriculum helps demonstrate what the proponents of these bills are afraid of. I won’t go into detail here, but the authors consider the California curriculum anti-Semitic. Their essay gives examples.
12. What is the deeper cause of this battle? A breakdown in societal trust and trust in expertise, particularly along partisan lines. One quote from the essay:
While trying to explain the situation in a forthcoming interview with Michael Moynihan at VICE, I realized that at the core of what’s going on is a fundamental lack of societal trust and the lack of trust in expertise. Many parents, even many on the left, don’t necessarily trust K-12 teachers to do the right thing on their own. They believe that without new laws, rather than educating about certain historical facts, teachers will be indoctrinating their children into a bleak worldview.
The authors see no quick fix for this problem. Indeed, it is the reason why we have so much vaccination resistance and opposition to evolution in the U.S.!
13. There are going to be lots of lawsuits.That’s for sure!
The authors’ conclusion, with which I again agree, is that “Sometimes the principled thing will make nobody happy.” Apparently the “principled thing” espoused by Lukianoff et al. is that teaching bans are unconstitutional for higher education, but often are not unconstitutional in secondary schools, so they can’t be dismissed or attacked as illegal. Here’s how the authors end:
The reality is, as usual, complicated. Proponents of these bills need to realize that they can’t legislate these ideas out of existence, and that the more egregious bills are not only unconstitutional and thus totally futile, but throw fuel on an already raging culture war fire. Opponents of these bills need to read the bills and be honest about what’s actually in them and recognize that their opponents are motivated by something other than a desire to hide the true history of slavery. It is my hope that, wherever you lie on this issue, this article has given you a greater understanding of the opposing side. And if not, you’re welcome to join those yelling at me across both sides of the aisle!
I’m not yelling, as these are all good points. It’s worth reading the piece and cogitating before you take a stand on the anti-CRT (or anti-DCB) bills.
A new paper in PLoS Biology (click on screenshot below) calls for a thorough revamping of the way scientists are evaluated for the quality of their work, replacing traditional methods of assessment (research productivity and quality) with evaluations of “mentorship”. The reason the authors want to dismantle the traditional “meritocratic” methods of evaluation (based, they say, but erroneously, on citation rates) is that these methods are biased against women and minorities. But their evidence for that is almost nonexistent, and, in the end, what they are doing is replacing the traditional empirical purpose of science—to understand the universe—with a social purpose: to increase social justice.
I want to emphasize at the outset that insofar as science is racist, with the racism built into the system, that needs to be changed. The authors feel that science is deeply racist, with the result that women and minorities don’t get cited, don’t get grants, don’t get tenure, and in general achieve less than white people or men. If that is due to current practices in science, or current biases of scientists, then this must change. But the evidence that structural racism is pervasive in science today is nonexistent. (Some scientists, of course, are racists, but the system itself, I claim, is now set up to favor women and minorities, not hold them down.)
Further, as I’ve said before, we do need a form of affirmative action in education and in science. It simply won’t do if the present system somehow results in a glaring deficit of women and people of color in science. I think more equitable representation (though not necessarily proportional representation) is a moral imperative, if for no other reason than to provide a form of reparations for groups who were held back years ago and haven’t yet caught up. What I do claim is that, at present, science is not nearly as racist as the authors represent.
In fact, if you’re involved in American academic science, you know that departments are scrambling hard to get minority and women faculty and graduate students. The reason we have trouble getting minorities, however, is the “pipeline problem”, based on a system of oppression and cultural differences that traces back centuries, and must be rectified not by changing the criteria for advancing in science, or sniffing out a “systemic racism” in science doesn’t exist, but by allowing everyone to have an equal opportunity to become a scientist. And that involves big societal changes that afford equal opportunity from birth.
I’ve said all this before, so let me present the authors’ abstract, which pretty much tells their tale:
Success and impact metrics in science are based on a system that perpetuates sexist and racist “rewards” by prioritizing citations and impact factors. These metrics are flawed and biased against already marginalized groups and fail to accurately capture the breadth of individuals’ meaningful scientific impacts. We advocate shifting this outdated value system to advance science through principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. We outline pathways for a paradigm shift in scientific values based on multidimensional mentorship and promoting mentee well-being. These actions will require collective efforts supported by academic leaders and administrators to drive essential systemic change.
In short, the authors want to replace citations (who cites your papers in their papers, and how often) and “impact factors” (the quality of the journals in which you publish) with “multidimensional” and “holistic” mentorship—a mentorship not designed to produce scientists who find out things, but who are healthy, happy, mentally stable, dedicated to equity, and representing all ethnic groups. This is a proposal to make science into a vehicle for social engineering.
Here’s a figure in which the authors purport to show the problem.
Note that their characterization of how science is done now is said to focus exclusively on “citations” as a measure of one’s impact on the field (encompassed by the “H index“, which didn’t exist for most of my career), while the “inclusive view” focuses on basically everything.
Much of the PLOS paper focuses on the inequalities said to be faced by both women and minorities: fewer citations, fewer awards, less grant funding, greater difficulties in publication, and so on. If one evaluates people based on these factors, especially citations, one is said to be exercising biases that hold down women and minority representations.
But I know of no academic vetting process that just counts citations and ignores mentorship as a way of evaluating quality. What is important is not just impact measured by citations, but by the quality of one’s work, assessed in many different ways. The most important is reading your papers, seeing what you’ve found out, and learning whether other scientists express interest in your work. Have you pushed the field forward with interesting findings? Have you produced some accomplished students (which, by the way, is mentorship)? In the promotion and tenure committees I’ve been on, citation counts have not ever been mentioned. Rather, a candidate’s papers are read and discussed, letters solicited from people in the field are considered, production of graduate students is noted, teaching is assessed (not so heavily at a research school), and—in some places, but not Chicago—outside research support is assessed. Citation numbers are only a small part of this process, and at Chicago weren’t even considered when I was on the promotion and tenure committee in biology.
Removing not just citations but other ways of evaluating scientific productivity—all aimed at answering the question, “Has this person pushed our knowledge forward?”—is a surefire way to erode the quality of science. As I said, our main aim is to find out stuff, not act as a vehicle for social justice, though we should of course behave towards our students and colleagues in an unbiased fashion.
What about replacing the traditional criteria with measures of mentorship? This itself involved problems, because, at least for academic mentorship, exposure to science means exposure to research. One of the signs of a good mentor, like Dick Lewontin, is that they produce lots of students who themselves produce lots of research, so their reach is extended. You could use grand-citations to do this, but traditionally a “holistic” metric is used: how much knowledge has come, directly or indirectly, from this person?
But what if your goal is to produce teachers or workers in industry rather than researchers? First, having research experience always helps you get a job in industry. As for teaching, I would argue that exposure to research, even if it isn’t published, is an essential part of producing someone who’s a good teacher of science. Good teachers understand how research is done, and you need to learn to do that by doing it, not by reading about it. In the end, research should always be part of any scientific training. And if you’re at a teaching school, or teaching science in secondary school, citations and research are of minor or no importance.
But Davies et al. aren’t interested in this kind of mentorship. They want a “holistic” mentorship in which research is downplayed in favor of producing students who conform to social-justice expectations. These students are mentally healthy as well as having “bystander intervention training” and “anti-bullying and antiracist mentoring and teaching practices”. One’s mentorship must “promote justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in science.” Other practices of good mentors include these:
To ensure that training opportunities become valued by participants, institutions may consider implementing mandatory participation by requiring training for career advancement or as prerequisites for recruiting mentees. However, training programs should be mindfully designed to engage those who may complete training for inauthentic reasons. [JAC: What???] Discussions of topics covered in training should become standard practice at regular events including faculty meetings and retreats and graduate student association meetings. Undergraduate programs can include discussions of unconscious bias and how such biases influence classroom dynamics.
And we must become experts in mental health as well:
While good mentorship can foster a sense of belonging in science for the mentee, relationships of many mentees from marginalized groups with their mentors—who are often from the majority group—are not always positive, leading to health issues, such as insomnia and anxiety, and lower retention of these groups in science (reviewed in [93,104]). In order to effectively mentor, all mentors—particularly those who are not familiar with the experiences and perspectives of systemically marginalized scholars—should engage with cultures, communities, and perspectives that differ from their own, connect with communities that are working toward creating justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, and support institutional change already underway. In addition, increasing representation from marginalized communities throughout institutional hierarchies provides greater opportunities for mentees to find mentors with which to build meaningful relationships.
Of particular concern is the recently highlighted decline in mental health of many academics and a growing crisis at the graduate level. Graduate students are at least twice as likely to experience mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression, compared to the general population with equivalent education. This trend is even more striking for women of color in STEMM, who are facing systemic sexism and racism, along with daily microaggressions and safety concerns. Sexual minorities and LGBTQ+-identifying people are also subject to discrimination that adversely affects their well-being, mental health and, ultimately, retention in STEMM fields. Laboratory work, field work, and simple existence in the academy can often place marginalized groups, including those with disabilities, at risk of injury, harassment, bullying, and assault). To combat these challenges, specific strategies for safety and well-being must be supported at the research group, departmental, institutional, and funding organization levels.
Multidimensional mentorship clearly requires expertise in psychotherapy.
While good mentors are sensitive to their student’s psychological needs, there are other groups within universities designed deal with these issues. And emphasis on all of them dilutes the very purpose why one does science, turning it into a vehicle for promoting “social justice” in the community. But that’s exactly what the authors want.
I am drawing to a close, for I’ve seen paper after paper like this in the last few weeks, all suggesting that we ditch traditional ways of assessing scientific merit, because those ways give a disadvantage to minorities and diminish social justice.
I would suggest, though, that there are better vehicles than science for promoting social justice, and that we shouldn’t turn our field into an ideological juggernaut. Of course we must provide equal opportunities for all, but I think academic science is doing a pretty good job at that. There will surely be dissenters touting their own lived experience of oppression, but the data we have now suggests that science is doing a pretty good job at promoting equal opportunity. And I have not yet heard a way to improve the mission of science—to find out truth—than the ways we’re doing it now. We’re casting wider nets for talent, and fighting hard to eliminate any biases that we can find. All I can say is that I disagree with the idea of replacing the criteria currently used to evaluate someone as a scientist with criteria mainly concerned with mentoring people in a social-justice-y way.
There are as many interpretations of Critical Race Theory (CRT) as there are interpreters, and while I agree with its motivation (equality of opportunity), and with some of the tenets I see in it (e.g., the pressing need to fix inequalities that began with slavery and bigotry centuries ago, or the need to call out clear instances of racism), I disagree with others (e.g., the ideas that all whites are infused with subconscious bias and the Kendi-an notion that inequality of proportions automatically implies bigotry). But it’s one thing to disagree with some aspects of a theory, and another to ban its teaching altogether.
And that’s what many states are doing now: banning the teaching of CRT or of their interpretations of what it says. These initiatives are nearly all, as far as I can see, from Republicans, though some liberal parents are opposed to teaching the more divisive aspects of CRT in secondary schools. The New York Times op-ed below asserts (correctly, I think) that banning the teaching of CRT or its perceived principles in secondary schools is “un-American”. The authors identify themselves as a libertarian (Kmele Foster), a progressive (Thomas Chatterton Williams, I think), a moderate (Jason Stanley, I think), and a conservative (David French).
And they agree, as do I, that these laws are, in effect, censorship, for they ban the promulgation of ideas because those ideas could make students uncomfortable. Read on, and click on the screenshot:
They changed the title in the last hour but the article is the same. Why do you think they changed the title? I have no idea.
Here’s how the authors describe some of the new laws:
In recent weeks, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho and Texas have all passed legislation that places significant restrictions on what can be taught in public school classrooms, and in some cases, public universities, too.
Tennessee House Bill SB 0623, for example, bans any teaching that could lead an individual to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” In addition to this vague proscription, it restricts teaching that leads to “division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people.”
Texas House Bill 3979 goes further, forbidding teaching that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States.” It also bars any classroom from requiring “an understanding of the 1619 Project” — The New York Times Magazine’s special issue devoted to a reframing of the nation’s founding — and hence prohibits assigning any part of it as required reading.
Right off the bat you can see problems with the laws. Teaching evolution, geology, Western medicine, or any fact that contradicts the Bible or Qur’an, for instance, could cause resentment by religious people (but see below). Emphasizing the degree of economic inequality among Americans could make those in the upper classes uncomfortable.
As for Texas’s law, what the “authentic founding principles” of the United States are could be seen as racist in part. Even at the Constitutional Convention the “founders” determined that each slave would count as only 3/5 of a person for purposes of taxation and representatives. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence do not condemn slavery, and tacitly accept it (Constitutional amendments and later legal clarifications fixed that.) The ringing words of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” could be said to have been violated right off the bat.
No, not all men were seen as “created equal” nor endowed with even the same basic rights. These things should be taught in American history classes. I would not, of course, go so far as the 1619’s projects assertion that slavery was intentionally baked into the founding documents from the outset, nor would I want an ideologically slanted newspaper like the NYT determining how our children are taught history.
As the authors note, any teaching of American history in an honest way will make people uncomfortable. How can you teach about slavery, about the ripping apart of African families and forced servitude under horrible conditions, without making people uncomfortable? How can you teach about the extirpation of Native Americans without making people uncomfortable? As our former University President Hannah Gray said, “Education should not be intended to make people comfortable, it is meant to make them think.” That was intended for college students, but should also apply, in a more diluted form, in secondary schools.
Of course there are things that I wouldn’t want taught in classrooms: divisive practices like demonizing white children or telling them that they’re all racists, or accepting the 1619 Project’s claim that the Revolutionary War was fought to preserve slavery. But I prefer to leave these matters to the judgments of school districts and teachers than to legislatures.
The authors point out the necessarily fraught nature of teaching history in America, but object to the new laws on two further grounds, and with these I also agree:
a.) The laws are imprecise. I quote:
Because these laws often aim to protecting the feelings of hypothetical children, they are dangerously imprecise. State governments exercise a high degree of lawful control over K-12 curriculum. But broad, vague laws violate due process and fundamental fairness because they don’t give the teachers fair warning of what’s prohibited. For example, the Tennessee statute prohibits a public school from including in a course of instruction any “concept” that promotes “division between, or resentment of” a “creed.” Would a teacher be violating the law if they express the opinion that the creeds of Stalinism or Nazism were evil?
Other laws appear to potentially ban even expression as benign as support for affirmative action, but it’s far from clear. In fact, shortly after Texas passed its purported ban on critical race theory, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a list of words and concepts that help “identify critical race theory in the classroom.” The list included terms such as “social justice,” “colonialism” and “identity.” Applying these same standards to colleges or private institutions would be flatly unconstitutional.
b.) The laws amount to censorship. By banning the teaching of ideas or even the use of specific words (see the Texas think tank’s recommendations above), these laws violate the First Amendment, which applies to all public schools. To quote again:
These laws threaten the basic purpose of a historical education in a liberal democracy. But censorship is the wrong approach even to the concepts that are the intended targets of these laws.
. . . . Let’s not mince words about these laws. They are speech codes. They seek to change public education by banning the expression of ideas. Even if this censorship is legal in the narrow context of public primary and secondary education, it is antithetical to educating students in the culture of American free expression.
With such politically motivated control of school curricula, American education is at the mercy of the ideologies and political view of those in power. And those powers will change over time. We cannot allow this to happen.
So why can’t legislatures ban the teaching of evolution because it makes religious children uncomfortable as well? Well, the government does retain certain rights to ensure that subjects are taught “properly”. That’s why both federal appellate courts and the Supreme Courts have declared the teaching of creationism and intelligent design illegal, for they are considered religious doctrine: teaching them violates the First Amendment.
CRT does not do that. Certain aspects of CRT violate principles of fair and objective teaching, but not the Constitution itself.
So what do the authors propose to do, then, given that CRT is already being taught, and, as we know, often in invidious and divisive ways that even liberal parents find objectionable? And this is where the authors offer weak tea as a solution:
A wiser response to problematic elements of what is being labeled critical race theory would be twofold: propose better curriculums and enforce existing civil rights laws. Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act both prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, and they are rooted in a considerable body of case law that provides administrators with far more concrete guidance on how to proceed. In fact, there is already an Education Department Office of Civil Rights complaint and federal lawsuit aimed at programs that allegedly attempt to place students or teachers into racial “affinity groups.”
But “proposing better curriculums” won’t solve the problem unless you specify what you mean by “better”. Even liberal high schools have constructed curriculums (curricula?) that I consider propagandistic and divisive. People are not going to unite behind any one curriculum, as each group has its own agenda.
As for enforcing civil rights laws, that’s already being done, and perhaps will solve some of the problems associated with teaching about ethnic groups, like creating “affinity groups” that, as the authors imply, could be construed as illegal. But in the end, it will be hard for people to agree, given the Zeitgeist, how our kids should be taught history.
I have no solutions, but I know that no solution should involve government mandates about what can and cannot be taught if such matters don’t violate the Constitution. I’d rather trust teachers, school boards, and parents than to trust the government. In that way the process at least becomes a bit more democratic.
But perhaps you feel differently, and this is the place to discuss the new anti-CRT laws.
John McWhorter’s long-awaited new book, which I thought was going to be called The Elect, is actually going to be called Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, and you can already preorder it on Amazon. It’s scheduled to come out October 26, published by Portfolio, a division of my own publisher, Penguin Random House. He calls woke racism “electism”.
Given America’s love of religion, McWhorter is already anticipating the most likely objection to his book: “woke racism is not a religion“. (McWhorter maintains that this isn’t just an analogy, but that Woke Racism, known as “anti-racism” really is a religion.) And that criticism would be enough for many people to reject the book in its entirety, and without reading it. Comparing a godless movement to a religion isn’t on these days, even if the movement is one that liberals subscribe to.
Thus McWhorter’s Substack column this week (click on screenshot below) is devoted to defending in advance his claim that Woke Racism really is a religion, quoting some examples. I’m not sure how much purchase this simile will have on the acceptance of McWhorter’s thesis. I worry it may quash interest in some people, especially because I think that in today’s political climate, everyone should read this book, even those who reject its thesis from the outset. It’s not Mein Kampf, you know! From “excerpts” I’ve read, it’s a thoughtful and well written analysis about how “progressive” anti-racism is destructive to its own ends and will wind up being a falling tide that lowers all boats.
Click on the screenshot to read.
A few examples adduced by McWhorter to show that the ideology of “The Elect” really is a religion:
My point about The Elect is that its ideology involves – and actually is founded significantly upon – that type of religious thought. No devoted spectator of the emergence of this way of thinking could miss that it has morphed from a sociopolitical stance infused with religion (as in what I pointed out in 2015 here) into a straight-up religion.
The difference is that believers have actually started saying it outright.
Sometimes it’s where the people don’t think they’re being heard beyond their flock. A memo went around in one department at New York University last summer actually laying out “Our first guiding principle is that participation in political movements such as Black Lives Matter is analogous to a decision to attend a religious or spiritual gathering.”
One might picture this written by a black theologian. But it was an especially rich thing to see coming from a white statistician!!! This was a sign of a new era.
One case of the religious character of “woke” antiracism:
Another example is the status that Michael Brown, killed by white officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, has taken on among some people of this world. The issue is that difference between fact and “belief.”
The fact is that Michael Brown was not killed with his hands up by a marauding white bigot who couldn’t perceive his humanity. Brown tried to take Wilson’s gun, hit him, and then – for reasons we will likely never fully understand – repeatedly charged at Wilson until Wilson finally fired. This has been corroborated beyond any reasonable doubt by the forensic evidence as well as by neighborhood observers.
What, then, do we make of a theologian who thinks Michael Brown was a modern Jesus?
“As with Christ, the flesh of Michael Brown, Jr. made him imminently killable in the eyes of many and mitigated any claim of empathy on the hearts of too many others,” Stephen J. Ray informs us. “Michael Brown Jr. is and will be our shining Black Prince for from his death God has brought Life to us all and in his gaze we are enveloped in its power.”
Now, the Elect defense here is to say “Oh, this guy is just some ….” – but watch it! He’s “just some” black President of the Chicago Theological Seminary, penning a serious article called “Black Lives Matter as Enfleshed Theology” in this book.
And an audio, which speaks for itself:
Listen to this Elect white teacher at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School. Here’s another grand old academy being choked by CRT ideology, while smart media types stand by claiming nothing’s going on because legal theorists forty years ago had no such things in mind and thus it isn’t CRT and thus if you don’t like it, * you’re a racist and … (note that this is religious thought as well, in that sharp break with sequential logic at the point I marked with an asterisk).
Anyway, listen here to this person who openly likens white people to alcoholics, who need to meet and cleanse themselves:
The student continues, “These comments are particularly concerning. Comparing simply being white to an alcoholic is dehumanizing and just plain wrong. CGPS is definitely embracing critical race theory… “ pic.twitter.com/mQIqi5p9MB
The strong religious component in AA meetings needs no explanation, and this teacher is openly calling for him and his colleagues to, essentially, come together and pray, self-flagellate – complete with dismissing those in disagreement as not belonging in the setting, having no place among them. Just imagine this blithe, tribalist kind of dismissal coming from anyone you had as a teacher in your life, and yet now, zealots like this man are normal in institutions of instruction. This man likely doesn’t realize that he, despite likely happily guffawing at the thought of Jerry Falwell and looking upon Ultra-Orthodox Jewish people as curiosities, is on the vanguard of a religious faith himself.
I know McWhorter’s “hook” for his book involves indicting Kendi-an style antiracism as a religion (McWhorter is an atheist and says it openly), and the comparison goes pretty far, but for most people “religion” involves gods and the supernatural. The most relevant definition of “religion” in the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, is this one:
Action or conduct indicating belief in, obedience to, and reverence for a god, gods, or similar superhuman power; the performance of religious rites or observances.
Given that there are some godless religions, one could say that “electism” is like Buddhism, and the OED does have this definition as well:
A particular system of faith and worship.class, mystery, natural religion, etc.: see first element.
According to those lights, electism is a religion. And, I suppose, there is a point to the comparison, for McWhorter wants to convince readers that the emphasis on faith in unsubstantiated claims, accompanied by an irrationality that brooks no questioning or dissent, is characteristic of both electism and of religion. But then you’d have to be an atheist or antitheist for this comparison to have weight. So be it; I do look forward to McWhorter’s book.
He ends by telling us what kind of religion electism is:
What we have been seeing over the past year in terms of how serious people are comfortable presenting themselves and their thoughts is analogous to watching creationism taught alongside evolution. It’s scary, whether or not I’m an atheist and whether or not I’m up on my Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and Niebuhr.
However, the this-universe version of The Elect [i.e., forging genuine social change] make a pretense of being about activism when what really gets them going is shaming people and virtue signalling, while exploiting black people they don’t truly respect as tools for the former – as actual black people join them unaware of the profound dismissal that pity entails.
So the problem is not that The Elect is a religion. It’s that it’s a shitty religion.
The days are gone when I was compelled to take apart papers about feminist glaciology or the unbearable whiteness of pumpkins, yoga, and Pilates. This kind of insanity has become daily fare, and one no longer has to wonder whether it’s a parody or not—it isn’t. Below, for example, is a long screed about how French food is the apotheosis of white cuisine, ergo is white supremacist, racist, and colonialist. You can read it, but the laughs quickly diminish as you realize that author Mathilde Cohen is absolutely serious in her contentions.
Now it’s no surprise to readers here that I’m a big fan of French food. But I’m not that keen on the the haute or nouvelle cuisine that’s pricey and comes in small portions. I prefer bourgeois cuisine, what the regular people eat who aren’t so poor that can’t afford any decent food. Give me a cassoulet, a coq au vin, a good steak frites, or a haricot mouton, and I’m in paradise—so long as there’s endless bread and a decent bottle of wine. But it turns out that, to Mathilde Cohen, the whole megillah of French food is white, white, white, as well as colonialist and oppressive. Now nobody will deny that France has been a colonial power, and that racism persists in France. But to assert that racism is embodied in the cuisine is an insupportable claim.
Click on the screenshot to read. You can also download a pdf at the site.
Her argument, which I claim works for any cuisine from white countries (or indeed, any cuisine anywhere), is to connect food, which is invariably something a nation prides itself on, with some bad trait of the nation, and then say that they’re connected because they’re both part of the same country. I kid you not! Here’s the abstract!
Food is fundamental to French identity. So too is the denial of structural racism and racial identity. Both tenets are central to the nation’s self-definition, making them difficult, yet all the more important to think about together. This article purports to identify a form of French food Whiteness (blanchité alimentaire), that is, the use of food and eating practices to reify and reinforce Whiteness as the dominant racial identity. To do so, it develops four case studies of how law elevates a fiction of homogeneous French/White food as superior and normative at the expense of alternative ways of eating and their eaters—the law of geographical indications, school lunches, citizenship, and cultural heritage.
Well, Galoises cigarettes and polite behavior (politesse) are fundamental to French self-definition, too, and yet do we want to see papers on how they’re connected? What about fish and chips and a love of the British monarchy? In fact, most European countries, even if they have racial friction, “deny structural racism or racial identity”, and try to assimilate immigrants.
One of Cohen’s beefs is that France, when deciding to confer citizenship on someone, looks for evidence that they’ve assimilated to some degree into the culture. To her—and she really has to stretch to make this argument— this means eating the national dishes. But that’s bogus, as there are plenty of French citizens who eat the food of their ancestors. Algerian food like couscous, for example, is so ubiquitous that it’s almost a French food now. (Cohen also argues that in this transformation it’s somehow become “white”.) And she has not the slightest evidence (well, she has one dubious anecdote from 1919), that eating French food is considered evidence of
But I digress. I’ll just reprise her four arguments and pass on (or pass out):
The law of geographical indications. This is the French use (and not exclusively French; Italians and other countries do it, too) of controlled appellations, so that a food or drink must be from a specified region of origin to be labeled as such. Champagne is the classic example, as it has to be made in the Champagne region of France. American bubbly or Spanish cava cannot be labeled “champagne.” Likewise with Roquefort cheese, as I recall. This system designed to give the consumer some confidence in the quality of the product, but Cohen says these are signs of French colonialism and “the racialized project of ensuring that the White majority can maintain its foodways and agricultural wealth.” Enough said.
The law of school lunches. France specifies a school lunch programs, with many lunches offered cheaply or free to poorer kids. The food is hot and designed to be nutritious. What foods are offered differ among municipalities. What Cohen objects to is that the cuisine doesn’t cater to special diets, even though Cohen adds that many schools “quietly accommodate students with religious based dietary restrictions”. Students are also allowed to bring lunches from home. This is part of the French tradition of laïcité , or secularism, avoiding entanglement of religion and government.
Cohen says that this is imposing Christian whiteness on the school food, though Wikipedia contradicts her, saying “food menus served in secondary schools pay particular attention to ensuring that each religious observer may respect his religion’s specific restrictions concerning diets.” Since I don’t know the truth, I’ll pass on.
The law of citizenship. People applying for citizenship in France need not be white, as you’ll notice immediately when you see the high proportion of North Africans, Asians, and black Africans in the big cities. What exercises Cohen is that prospective citizens must show some evidence of assimilation, though of course not full assimilation. The implication is that assimilation requires adoption of French food, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. Sohen gives only one example, and that’s from 1919:
To illustrate, in 1919, one Ignace, born in Madagascar to a Malagasy mother, applied for citizenship on the ground that he was the unrecognized son of a French national. The records of the Antananarivo colonial civil bureau contain a memo mentioning approvingly his service in the French Foreign Legion during the war, his seriousness and humility, before scrutinizing his lifestyle. A shift in Ignace’s dwelling and diet is observed. Before the war, Ignace “lived with his mother . . . in a simply furnished cottage kept in the indigenous style [à l’indigène]. The basis of their diet was rice.” Upon returning from the front, Ignace moved in with a Greek friend from the Legion. The memo observes that now “he always eats with this European and is nearly constantly in his company,” concluding that the application should be granted. While Ignace’s service in the armed forces is the primary basis for the positive appraisal, his transition from the typical rice-based, Malagasy diet despised by colonists to a “European” diet clearly militated in his favor.
. . .Ignace’s renunciation of rice and eating on a mat on the floor together with his commensality with a White man must have been assessed as signs of White enculturation and performance
She must have dug hard to find the story of Ignace! Now Cohen doesn’t say that Ignace abjured rice, only that he “ate with a European.” At that, brother and sisters, friends and comrades, is the totality of Cohen’s “citizenship” argument for the whiteness of French food. She mentions people being denied citizenship for other reasons, like gender segregating in their homes, but that has nothing to do with food.
The law of cultural heritage. This rests solely on UNESCO’s having designated the “gastronomic meal of the French” as an item on its list of “intangible cultural heritage” items. This is defined “as a four-course repast beginning with apértif and ending with digestif, served with appropriate wines and tableware, and made up of carefully chosen components.”
Why is this racist and expressive of Whiteness? Cohen tells us:
The creation and defense of the idea of a gastronomic meal of the French involved erasing not only the diversity of eating practices of French citizens across races and ethnicities, but also among Whites, essentializing a supposed innate national (and racial) character. For Ruth Cruickshank, “[t]he repas gastronomique des Français seeks to solve a perceived problem of French decline by inventing a codified ‘French’ meal which, as well as eliding cultural diversity, fails to grasp how food cultures survive by maintaining their currency through the negotiation of change and the accommodation of external influences.”In short, it is a White washed (and bourgeois) version of French foodways which is now consecrated by the World Intangible Heritage List.
Give me a break! The diversity of eating practices remains in France, but you can’t make a diversity of habits an “intangible cultural heritage”. It would be a different list in Italy, with antipasto, pasta, contorno, etc., and in China it would also vary among provinces, but would include multiple courses served at once, usually with rice or another starch, and the dishes often stir fried. Just because each nation has some characteristic ways of eating, as does France, does not mean that France is trying to enshrine whiteness. Let me add that the “heritage” French meal is something that should be experienced, and something I love, for it’s not just dinner, but theater as well.
Such is Cohen’s argument for the Unbearable Whiteness of French food. It’s much worse than I make out here, as the whole essay is larded with the usual jargon and with arguments that have nothing to do with her main point. The poor scholar must be hard up for topics to write about. And yet she threatens to continue!
This article connects critical Whiteness studies and food studies in the French context. It has shown that the set of eating habits known as French are racialized in a way that reinforces White dominance. The four cases studies examined here—geographical indications, school lunches, citizenship law, and world heritage law—buttress an ideal of White alimentary identity implying that non-White and non-Christian communities are insignificant, alien, or deviant. Law has been a primary tool to shape food production and choices, privileging and normalizing certain alimentary practices and stigmatizing others. The current legal regime marginalizes racial and ethnic minorities in their foodways through the elevation of White French food as the high status, legally protected food.
. . .Though this article focused on the Whiteness of French food from within, it has relevance for the broader understanding of racial identity formation through eating in other socio-cultural contexts. As such it is but one installment of what I hope will be a series of scholarly contributions on the Whiteness of French food in France and outside of France.
By the way, I found the description of the author at the end, well, interesting. . . .
Mathilde Cohen is the George Williamson Crawford Professor of Law at the University of Connecticut and formerly a research fellow at the CNRS. She works in the fields of constitutional law, comparative law, food law, and race, gender and the law. Her research has focused on various modes of disenfranchisement in French and U.S. legal cultures. She has written on why and how public institutions give reasons for their decisions and the lack of judicial diversity. She currently examines the way in which bodies coded as female are alternatively empowered and disempowered by the regulation of the valuable materials they produce and consume, in particular milk and placenta.
As the Wicked Witch of the West said, “What a world! What a world!”
À la fin: cassoulet in Paris and a decent red. Ah, France is paradise enow!