One of the more significant milestones in America’s culture wars is the relatively recent convergence on the term “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) as the label to describe the collection of concepts and ideas associated with American liberalism’s cultural “awokening” on the issue of race.
It’s a significant milestone for a few reasons. The most obvious is that being able to accurately and collectively name a topic of discussion is a prerequisite for actually having that discussion (a point I recently made in an essay on the related topic of cancel culture). And until now, nothing has really stuck. Terms like intersectionality, social justice, and identity politics have had their place in certain contexts, but none have ever been specific or accurate enough to debate the actual ideas of this particular ideological turn in American liberalism. And as for “wokeness,” the term has referred more to a general political disposition or personality (often in relation to issues that go beyond race) and it, too, suffers from a lack of definition or association with a specific set of ideas. And besides not being a very sophisticated term, it’s now most often used derisively, which isn’t a sound or honest place from which to have any sort of good faith debate.
But the other reason CRT’s adoption is an important development is that as these ideas have matured and spread among America’s class of elites and professionals, they’ve begun to make their way into the actual workings of America’s public and private institutions.
— Shant Mesrobian, “Why the Great Awokening Isn’t Allowed to Have a Name”
But in the meantime, we must understand:
1) Criticizing Critical Race Theory as it operates in 2021 does not require perusing the oeuvre of Kimberlé Crenshaw, and the critique is not invalidated by the differences between what articles like that contained and what’s happening in our schools now.
2) Criticizing Critical Race Theory does not mean teaching students that America has been nothing but great. Constructive dialogue about complex and sensitive issues is impossible within the pretense that all matters reduce to binary oppositions. The Elect cannot reasonably insist America be more sensitive in their perspectives while responding to all critique with sandbox logic based on yes vs. no, off vs. on, and Selma vs. utopia.
Quibbles and cavils and performance art over what we call what’s happening in our schools are just that. The urgent thing is not what we call these developments, and pretending you have to be a legal scholar to have anything to say about them but Amen.
— John McWhorter, “You Are Not a Racist to Criticize Critical Race Theory”
And it’s vital for the rest of us to understand that these kinds of lessons are directly downstream of an ideology that, according to an early Critical Race Theory text, “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of Constitutional law.” For these reasons, CRT insists that what we have always understood as liberal education is, in fact, a lie, because liberalism assumes that we are all individuals, capable of reasoning with each other as equals, where, in fact, we are mere representatives of racial constructs which are part of a permanent struggle between the oppressors (white) and oppressed (non-white).
This is not teaching about critical race theory; it is teaching in critical race theory. And it is compulsory and often hidden from parents. It contradicts the core foundations of our liberal society; and is presented not as one truth to be contrasted with others, but as the truth, the basis on which all other truths are built. That’s why teaching based on CRT will make children see themselves racially from the get-go, why it will separate them into different racial groups, why it will compel white kids to internalize their complicity in evil, tell black kids that all their troubles are a function of white people, banish objective measurements of success to avoid stigmatizing failure, and treat children of different races differently in a classically racist hierarchy.
And this is why — crucially — it will suppress any other way of seeing the world — because any other way, by definition, is merely perpetuating oppression. As Kendi constantly reminds us, it is either/or. An antiracist cannot exist with a liberalism that perpetuates racism. And it’s always the liberalism that has to go.
…The question is: what can a liberal society do when almost all of its educational, media, business and cultural elites have adopted an ideology that believes that liberal society needs to be dismantled? And the answer is: not much.
— Andrew Sullivan, “Don’t Ban CRT. Expose It.”
The American experiment is fragile. It has always been fragile and always will be fragile because it is so extremely unnatural. ‘Unnatural’ in this context means in conflict with human nature. Jonah Goldberg has described the fragility of the American system by comparing it to a garden hacked out of a tropical jungle. A garden surrounded by jungle is unnatural. The gardeners must tend it with unremitting care lest the jungle return.
Treating our fellow human beings as individuals instead of treating them as members of groups is unnatural. Our brains evolved to think of people as members of groups; to trust and care for people who are like us and to be suspicious of people who are unlike us. Those traits had great survival value for human beings throughout millions of years of evolution. People who were trusting of outsiders were less likely to pass on their genes than people who were suspicious of them. People who were loyal to their tribe were more likely to pass on their genes than people who stood apart.
…The combination of acquisitiveness and loyalty to the interests of one’s own group (be it defined by ethnicity or class) shaped human governments for the subsequent 10,000 years. The natural form of government was hierarchical, run by a dominant group that arranged affairs to its benefit and oppressed outsiders to a lesser or greater degree, usually greater. The rare attempts to try any other form of government were unstable and short-lived. The American founders’ idealism lay in their belief that an alternative was possible. Their genius was to design a system with multiple safeguards against the forces that had made previous attempts self-destruct.
America proved that a durable alternative to the natural form of government was possible — a constitutional republic combined with carefully circumscribed democracy. The idea behind that alternative eventually spread around the world, but neither the United States nor any other country that has made it work has ever been out of danger. If we decide that our system for tending the garden needs to be replaced, and if the replacement should prove to be even slightly less devoted to keeping nature at bay, the garden will be reclaimed by jungle within a few decades.
The introduction of identity politics into that carefully crafted constitutional system does not simply distract us from warding off the jungle. It is the jungle, the primitive sense of ‘us against them’ pressing in upon the garden. It not only permits but insists that the power of the state be used to reward favored groups at the expense of everyone else. That view of power is the defining characteristic of the natural form of government that humankind endured until the miracle at Philadelphia in 1787.
…Events since the summer of 2020 make me think it is too late to talk about if whites adopt identity politics. Many already have. That’s the parsimonious way to interpret the red-blue divisions over wearing masks, the widespread belief in red states that the 2020 election was stolen, and the rage that resulted in the invasion of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. This is all evidence that the federal government has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of many whites. If that reaction spreads, the continued ability of the federal government to enforce its edicts in the reddest portions of the nation will be thrown into question. The prospect of legal secession may be remote, but the prospect of reduced governability from Washington is not.
— Charles Murray, “Identity Crisis: How the Politics of Race Will Wreck America“