What Is Critical Race Theory?
You’ve heard that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is “just teaching history.” Or that it’s just a theory with no actual practical component. None of that is true. Critical Race Theory is a framework for thinking about the world with a clear component of practice. And that component means that the ideas of Critical Race Theory are to be leveraged into every area of American life – and in particular, education.
Critical Race Theory is an outgrowth from the 1960s argument made by racial radicals that America’s institutions were irrevocably shot through with racism, unfixable and worthy of destruction.
Robert F. Williams, a thought leader whose writings influenced the Black Panther Party wrote:
The Afro-American militant is a ‘militant’ because he defends himself, his family, his home, and his dignity. He does not introduce violence into a racist social system – the violence is already there, and has always been there. It is precisely this unchallenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetuate itself.
Malcolm X famously echoed this sentiment in his writings:
…At the same time we realized that we were black people in a white society. That we were black people in a racist society. We were black people in a society whose very political system was steeped and nourished upon racism. Whose social system was a racist system.
In the 1960s, such arguments were understandable if wrong: after all, many of our American institutions had been designed with discrimination in mind.
Jim Crow laws, for example, prevented black people from using the same public facilities as white people. From segregated water fountains, to separate schools, to the illegality of interractial marriage, there was in fact a different standard applied to black Americans in the not too distant past. Even voting rights for black Americans were different than for White Americans during this time.
The need for change was real, and the work of men like Martin Luther King Jr. was necessary. Who could possibly disagree with the fundamental civil rights he desired for all Americans?
He wrote, “I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
Now, here is precisely the point where we can see the slight of hand used in Critical Race Theory. Like a skilled magician, the left hand draws all of your attention and focus onto the evils of America’s past, so that the other hand can then begin the dirty work of convincing you that white superiority must therefore be an essential American ideal, when in fact, it is not.
But the key American ideals – ideals laid forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – were not only NOT rooted in racism, they were ringing rejections of it.
The argument against American institutions, however, quickly merged with the argument that any institution resulting in disparate outcome had to itself be racist. This was ridiculous on its face. But it was the central component of what would become Critical Race Theory.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Critical Race Theorists began to lay forth their main argument. Professors Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic set out the basic principles of CRT in their book, “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction.” The two most basic principles were:
- “Racism is ordinary, not aberrational”;
- “Our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material.”
Critical Race Theory pioneer Derek Bell took the arguments of CRT to their logical conclusion. He wrote that “the whole liberal worldview of private rights and public sovereignty mediated by the rule of law needed to be exploded . . . a worldview premised upon the public and private spheres is an attractive mirage that masks the reality of economic and political power.”
According to Bell, even purportedly good outcomes may be evidence of white supremacy implicit within the system — white people are so invested in the system, that if they have to do something purportedly racially tolerant to uphold it, they will. But in the end, it’s all about upholding white power.
No wonder Bell posited that white Americans would sell black Americans to space aliens in order to alleviate the national debt — and suggested in 1992 that black Americans were more oppressed than at any time since the end of slavery. In fact, Bell went so far as to argue that Brown v. Board of Education was an attempt by the white patriarchy to reinforce racism for its own purposes.
In this view, the system is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t. Every time it does something purportedly anti-racist, it upholds itself, and thus upholds racism; every time it does something that ends in disparate outcome, it demonstrates its own racism. The only solution is to tear everything down.
This is why the Smithsonian Institute, in the middle of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and riots, put out an online exhibit condemning “whiteness.” The exhibit, titled “Aspects & Assumptions of Whiteness & White Culture in the United States,” explained that Americans had internalized aspects of white culture. What were these terribly white cultural barriers posing challenges to nonwhites? According to the exhibit, “rugged individualism” was a white concept, rooted in nasty ideas like “the individual is the primary unit,” “independence & autonomy highly valued + rewarded,” and “individuals assumed to be in control of their environment.” “Family structure” represented another white concept, with “the nuclear family” condemned as an aspect of whiteness, along with the notion that children “should be independent.” Other irrevocably white ideas included an “emphasis on scientific method,” complete with “cause and effect relationships”; a focus on history, including “the primacy of Western (Greek, Roman) and Judeo-Christian tradition”; a belief that “hard work is the key to success” and encouragement of “work before play”; monotheism; placing emphasis on “delayed gratification” and following “rigid time schedules”; justice rooted in English common law and intent and private property; “decision-making” and “action orientation”; and, of course, “be[ing] polite.”
CRT isn’t just another theory. It’s a call to action. Delgado and Stefancic openly stated in 2011 that they were happy that CRT had infused the education system: “Seeing Critical Race Theory take off in education has been a source of great satisfaction for the two of us. Critical Race Theory is in some ways livelier in education right now than it is in law, where it is a mature movement that has settled down by comparison.” CRT thinkers – the intellectual line continues all the way down to Ibram X. Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones – argue that in order to be “anti-racist” one must target “racist” institutions, which can be defined as any institution with a racially disparate result. Kendi says, “A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups…. There is no such thing as a non-racist or race-neutral policy.” Robin DiAngelo, Kendi’s white woke counterpart and a professor at the University of Washington, summarizes: “if we truly believe that all humans are equal, then disparity in condition can only be the result of systemic discrimination.”
All of this has boiled itself down to the term “equity” for the Left. The substitution of the word “equity” for equality is a semantic game, a trick to avoid the obvious: equality of rights does not mean equality of outcome. But “equity” suggests that any disparity is evidence of discrimination. And “equity” has now infused the Biden administration.
On the day of his inauguration, Biden signed an executive order “on advancing racial equity,” decrying “the unbearable human cost of systemic racism,” and saying that it was the policy of the administration “that the Federal Government should pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all.” This would require “a systemic approach to embedding fairness in decision-making processes.”
CRT is not a vague, non-threatening idea. It isn’t just “teaching history.” It’s a view of America that is thoroughly perverse.
This piece is adapted from an episode of Ben’s series, Debunked, available exclusively to Daily Wire Members.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.