the first tenured African-American professor of Law at Harvard University, and largely credited as the originator of Critical Race Theory. (Photo by Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images)
Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images

Analysis

What is Critical Race Theory? Breaking Down The Ideology That’s Hitting Schools Across The Country

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In a short period of time, Critical Race Theory (CRT) has quickly emerged as one of the most controversial topics in the United States. CRT has redefined the concept of “racism,” created contentious policies in military institutions, and turned staid school board meetings into war zones.

But what is Critical Race Theory? What does CRT teach? Who are the leading critical race theorists and popularizers? What do they hope to accomplish in the United States? Here are the facts you need to know.

What Is Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory is an ideology which holds that racism is not restricted to people’s attitudes or intentions; “structural racism” is deeply embedded into every aspect of American life. This “systemic racism” explains all disparities, or “inequities,” between racial groups. CRT’s advocates believe that concepts like natural rights, meritocracy, and impartial justice are lies that white Americans tell themselves to maintain their hold on power and keep minorities down. To fix this unjust system and create “equity,” the government needs to massively redistribute wealth, power, and influence.

The Origin Story

This ideology dates back to the end of the civil rights era when academics noticed that, despite laws ensuring equality of opportunity, white people and black people still had not attained equality of outcome. They assumed these disparities must stem from racism — but they had a problem: Polls show there is less real racism in society than ever before. Racist attitudes have plummeted to historic lows. The number of newlyweds in an interracial marriage increased by 567% between 1967 and 2015. Black economic and educational attainment have increased dramatically. Despite manifest progress on every front, CRT analysts teach that “racism is worse today than it was 50 years ago,” because disparities between racial categories have not been fully eradicated.

Critical Race Theory’s intellectual leaders say the movement began with a conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School on July 8, 1989. In a 2010 interview, Richard Delgado described the people at the conference (which he attended) as “a bunch of Marxists.” Some of the most influential CRT scholars include Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Alan Freeman, Angela Harris, Neil Gotanda, Mari Matsuda, Charles Lawrence, and Patricia Williams.

CRT Scholar Derrick Bell – Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images

They pioneered the theory that racism is not primarily about individual attitudes, but “structures” created and designed to oppress minorities. CRT teaches that race is a social construct, not a biological reality; since all people are alike, differences between groups should be explained by racism. While individual Americans may shun racist views, discrimination was deeply woven into U.S. laws and norms and continues to create unequal outcomes. Because whites have a vested interest in maintaining social dominance, racist laws only change when it also suits white interests, something CRT calls “interest convergence.”

Members of minority groups may see their status suddenly change based on how it serves white interests, something CRT labels “differential racialization.” Finally, every member of a minority group must become a “voice of color,” telling stories of how racial discrimination has affected them — and the majority’s job is to listen, believe, and obey.

CRT Takes On A New Meaning

In concrete terms, CRT is deeply anti-American, in the denotative sense of the word. “Racism is endemic to, rather than a deviation from, American norms,” wrote Crenshaw in 1989. As a result, “The normative stance of critical race theory is that massive social transformation is a necessary precondition of racial justice.” Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic wrote in their book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction that “racism is ordinary, not aberrational”; it’s “the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country.”

Critical Race Theory doesn’t simply reject America: It rejects all the pillars of Western, Judeo-Christian civilization. “Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order; including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law,” admit CRT pioneers Delgado and Stefancic. CRT ideologues, they continue, “are also highly suspicious of another liberal mainstay, namely, rights.”

One of the first things CRT throws out is nuance: Every difference in society is proof of deeply embedded prejudice. Ibram X. Kendi wrote in his 2016 book Stamped from the Beginning, “When you truly believe that the racial groups are equal, then you also believe that racial disparities must be the result of racial discrimination.” Yet “[w]e have a hard time recognizing that racial discrimination is the sole cause of racial disparities in this country and in the world at large.”

WASHINGTON, US - SEPTEMBER 26: American University professor Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, stands for a portrait at the School of International Service following a panel discussion on his new book How to Be an Antiracist in Washington, DC. Kendis discussion spoke on strategies to identify and overcome racism on September 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Michael A. McCoy/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Ibram X. Kendi – Michael A. McCoy/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

Following this logic to its natural conclusion, Kendi wrote in his 2019 bestseller How to be an Antiracist that racial discrimination is a moral and necessary step in America’s redemption:

[R]acial discrimination is not inherently racist. The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity [minority wealth], then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist. Someone reproducing inequity through permanently assisting an overrepresented racial group into wealth and power is entirely different than someone challenging that inequity by temporarily assisting an underrepresented racial group into relative wealth and power until equity is reached. 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.

This ignores personal choice, moral agency, and the importance of the decisions we make to guide our own destiny. In 1950, 83% of black families had a father present; by 2015, the black illegitimacy rate had risen to 77%.

Figures across the political aisle agree that out-of-wedlock births carry grave social consequences. As Barack Obama said, “[C]hildren who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves.” Libertarian economist Walter Williams explained:

According to statistics about fatherless homes, 90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes; 71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father figure; 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes; 71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes; and 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions have no father. Furthermore, fatherless boys and girls are twice as likely to drop out of high school and twice as likely to end up in jail.

Each one of these factors — lower educational attainment, crime, homelessness, gang membership — increases the likelihood of a family growing up, and ending up, in poverty. “If we have learned any policy lesson well over the past 25 years, it is that for children living in single-parent homes, the odds of living in poverty are great,” wrote current Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in 1996.

CRT simply ignores these complicating factors and blames every differential outcome on an ill-defined “systemic racism.” To justify their program of complete social transformation, CRT theorists claim that, on a subconscious level, unearned “white privilege” makes all Caucasians guilty and resentful. “Many critical race theorists and social scientists alike hold that racism is pervasive, systemic, and deeply ingrained. If we take this perspective, then no white member of society seems quite so innocent,” wrote Delgado and Stefancic. Syracuse University professor Barbara Applebaum — who says her “research is heavily informed by … critical race theory” — is clearer in her book Being White, Being Good: “[A]ll white people are racist or complicit by virtue of benefiting from privileges that are not something they can voluntarily renounce.” This has been codified into public school lesson plans: Teachers in Buffalo, New York, taught students that “all white people play a part in perpetuating systemic racism.”

A participant holds up a sign during a rally against "critical race theory" (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Virginia on June 12, 2021. - "Are you ready to take back our schools?" Republican activist Patti Menders shouted at a rally opposing anti-racism teaching that critics like her say trains white children to see themselves as "oppressors." "Yes!", answered in unison the hundreds of demonstrators gathered this weekend near Washington to fight against "critical race theory," the latest battleground of America's ongoing culture wars. The term "critical race theory" defines a strand of thought that appeared in American law schools in the late 1970s and which looks at racism as a system, enabled by laws and institutions, rather than at the level of individual prejudices. But critics use it as a catch-all phrase that attacks teachers' efforts to confront dark episodes in American history, including slavery and segregation, as well as to tackle racist stereotypes. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Parents protest Critical Race Theory – ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

The Implementation Of CRT

Although some media personalities deny that public K-12 schools teach Critical Race Theory, its concepts clearly permeate school curricula nationwide — much to CRT founders’ delight. “Although CRT began as a movement in the law, it has rapidly spread beyond that discipline. Today, many in the field of education consider themselves critical race theorists who use CRT’s ideas to understand issues of school discipline and hierarchy, tracking, controversies over curriculum and history, and IQ and achievement testing,” wrote Delgado and Stefanic — in 2001. Nine years later, Stefanic said, “Critical race theory is in some ways livelier in education right now than it is in law.” Aside from the concern over the content of CRT, another worry for parents is that Kendi believes it is racist to measure literacy: Instead of measuring people’s understanding of “abstract” things like “words” and “equations”:

What if we measured intellect by an individual’s desire to know? What if we measured intellect by how open an individual’s mind is to self-critique and new ideas?

What if our educational system focused on opening minds instead of filling minds and testing how full they are? 

Ignoring students’ knowledge of reading, writing, and arithmetic would certainly reduce the number of schools recognized as failures; it’s not clear that would benefit the struggling students, of any ethnic background, who are trapped inside them.

In fact, a pervasive sense of failure and hopelessness seems baked into Critical Race Theory. CRT’s founding father, Derrick Bell, believed that even if his followers succeed, they will fail. Bell wrote in his 1992 book, Faces at the Bottom of the Well:

Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary “peaks of progress,” short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard-to-accept fact that all history verifies.

Black people, Bell wrote, must acknowledge their “permanent subordinate status.” Then why expend the effort? Why even try? Because gaining power is the name of the game.

Some critical race theorists openly admit, amongst themselves, that they are more interested in power than in truth. Regina Austin — who now “pursues her interest in the overlapping burdens of race, gender, and class oppression” at the University of Pennsylvania Law School — wrote in 1995 that false conspiracy theories can help the cause. “Conspiracy rhetoric prompts behavior that tends to improve the lives of many blacks,” she wrote. “Conspiracy theories create solidarity and facilitate mass mobilization.” These theories are even better if they invoke “old confirmed enemies like the Ku Klux Klan and the United States government,” because they “put[] limits on the forgetting and forgiving.”

Ultimately, the Left hopes these conspiratorial canards will put them into a position to repeal America’s founding document and end the United States as we know it. CRT’s anti-Americanism earns it a welcome reception on the Left. As Osita Nwanevu wrote in The New Republic, because of “the structural defects and inequities progressives have long identified within the constitutional system … the American left should work toward abolishing the Constitution someday — either for a new document or a new democratic order without a written constitution.” (Emphasis in original.) With this grounding, you can understand why Barack Obama told public radio in 2001 that the U.S. Constitution “reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.”

Patriotic Americans might think that Critical Race Theory — with its circular reasoning, and ideological blinders — represents the fundamental flaw in American politics today.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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