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YOU ARE NOT A RACIST TO CRITICIZE CRITICAL RACE THEORY.
Dismiss those pretending that if you don't like what's happening in our schools, you're a jingoistic moron who doesn't want kids to learn about racism.
Since a year ago, CRT-infused members of The Elect, traditionally overrepresented in the world of schools of education, have sought to take the opportunity furnished by our “racial reckoning” to turn American schools into academies of “antiracist” indoctrination.
And the backlash is on. One by one parents, teachers and even students are speaking out against the idea that the soul of education must be to battle the power that whites have over others.
Yes, that’s the watchcry. It’s why The Elect can make so little sense to the rest of us: they actually believe that the heart of all intellectual, moral, and artistic endeavor must be battling power differentials. They get this from Critical Race Theory. And what most alarms The Elect is that state legislatures are proposing to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools, Florida being the latest example.
One response to this backlash is that anyone who questions the takeover of schools by CRT is against schoolkids learning about racism, and wants schoolkids to have the adulatory view of the American story typical of the 1950s and before. A sarcastic tweet by a certain famous black figure employed by the New York Times who won a Pulitzer recently encapsulates this kind of view:
“Our children must learn that we are the greatest and freest country in the history of the world, and we will demonstrate this by barring educators from teaching things we do not like, and in the name of liberty, mandating government control of what ideas can be exchanged.”
So, whenever a body of lawmakers (or anyone else) is against their kids being taught not how, but what, to think, and call this "Critical Race Theory" just as many of its teachers do, that body of lawmakers is a nest of racists.
Let's break this down.
* * *
Elects commonly insist that critics of CRT would feel differently if they read actual foundational articles about it. But the issue is what is being done in CRT's name, not what some articles contained decades ago.
The early writings by people like Regina Austin, Richard Delgado, Kimberlé Crenshaw are simply hard-leftist legal analysis, proposing a revised conception of justice that takes oppression into account, including a collective sense of subordinate group identity. These are hardly calls to turn schools into Maoist re-education camps fostering star chambers and struggle sessions.
However, this, indeed, is what is happening to educational institutions across the country. Moreover, it is no tort to call it "CRT" in shorthand when:
1) these developments are descended from its teachings and
2) their architects openly bill themselves as following the tenets of CRT.
In language, terms evolve, and quickly -- witness, of late, how this has happened with cancel culture and even woke. To insist that “CRT” must properly refer only to the contents of obscure law review articles from decades ago is a debate team stunt, not serious engagement with a dynamic and distressing reality.
A useful document for parents in the new resistance just released by the Manhattan Institute may be useful for those who still bristle at the use of CRT to refer to … well, what it now means. One could be more precise:
"What we are interested in here might be termed “critical pedagogy.” “Critical pedagogy” names — without exhaustively defining — the host of concepts, terms, practices, and theories that have lately taken hold in many public and private schools. This term alludes to a connection to CRT — it might be thought of as critical race theory as applied to schooling — but also to “critical studies” and “critical theory,” a broader set of contemporary philosophical ideas that have been particularly influential in certain circles of the modern Left."
* * *
Now – are there some among critics of today’s CRT who just want us to stop talking about race at all? Are some of them the kind of white person who thinks racism of any note basically ended in the 1960s and that today we need to “stop stirring all of that stuff up”? Likely. But the evidence that this is the heart, the primum mobile, of resistance to "CRT" in our schools is comic book stuff.
Is anyone taken seriously actually proposing that students should learn nothing of slavery in school, or that students should never be taught that racism is anything but cross-burning and the N-word? Or, is it that a certain kind of person goes about ever hungry to accuse people of this aim, in order to fulfill their duty of identifying racism wherever they can find it?
In a dialogue premised on good faith, we can assume that when politicos and parents decry “Critical Race Theory,” what they refer to is the idea of oppression and white perfidy treated as the main meal of an entire school’s curriculum.
In other words, the issue here is not whether schoolkids should learn about racism. A certain kind of person loves to stand and breezily say that there are swarms of people out there who don't want kids to know about racism – and they say this with admirable oppositional poise but not a shred of evidence.
Rather, what most of us (as opposed to the Establishment in schools of education) think, and are correct about, is this:
1. Young children should not be taught if white to be guilty and if black to feel a) oppressed and b) wary of white kids around them (and if South Asian to be very, very confused …).
2. Young children should not be taught that the American story is mainly (note I write mainly rather than only, but mainly is just as awful here) one of oppression and racism. Not because it’s unpleasant and because sinister characters want to “hide” it, but because it’s dumb.
It is willfully blind to the complexity inherent to history, not to mention reality itself. Just as resonant a case could be made that America is founded on sexism, or classism – and the cases would be equally simplistic propaganda.
Finished my pandemic project of War and Peace, I’m now plowing through one more, Edwin Burrows and Mike Wallace’s magisterial history of New York City, Gotham. It dedicatedly covers the endless injustices against black people here, including how deeply ensconced this city was in the slave trade. However, the roiling panorama of this 1200-page book (which even at that length only gets to 1898!) makes it clear that any notion that the story was “all about” oppressing black people is simply whack. It would be the conclusion of someone with a single hobbyhorse, disinclined to curiosity or reflection.
3. While there is room for the above ideas to be presented to children as some among many – maybe; I’m bending over backwards here – this kind of thought should certainly not be the fulcrum of a school’s entire curriculum, as has been reported at schools like Dalton and others in New York.
The above assertions are not those of someone who thinks slavery and racism should be hidden away from young minds. The assertions are simply human. I highly suspect all but a sliver of Americans agree with them. It is quite natural that these assertions will, in our times, be termed as opposition to “CRT.” The term’s meaning has morphed. That’s not wrong – it’s ordinary.
* * *
There is type who, understanding the above points but viscerally devoted to smoking out the evil operators who want to keep racism secret out of “fragility,” insists that the modern version of CRT is not actually being foisted upon students anywhere – or at least, not enough to matter.
Well, there are crystal clear reports of the takeover of this ideology at several schools in the New York area these days – I am aware of seven at this writing. Then, there are reports of school boards actively considering ideas like these nationwide. Then there is a source that I admit needs to be processed so that it can be aired officially, that we could call “Glenn Loury and John McWhorter’s inboxes” – a good 15 messages we get from concerned parents and teachers every single week (now since last summer) about this ideology permeating schools nationwide. The organization FAIR will also attest to the sheer volume of cases of this kind. As do the contents of the message sections of certain Substack newsletters.
Still just a bunch of anecdotes? Okay, let’s try this. If there were this volume of reports of exactly this kind – the same combination of media and independent testimony – of cop killings of black men, it would treated with no hesitation as evidence of a national scourge. It would treated that way if the corpus consisted of about a quarter of the volume of the one I refer to. Anyone who claimed that this body of reportage and testimony qualified as mere “anecdote,” and that there could be no verdict until the data were all in and subjected to years’ worth of statistical analysis (over which the experts would then fight for another decade then yielding no real conclusion …), would be dismissed as a pariah within milliseconds.
I do love, for the record, the ones who claim people like me are making this up because it isn't happening in their school district – just imagine: "There's no problem between black men and the cops. Nobody has gotten killed like Philando Castile or Tamir Rice where I live!" It would be Do Not Pass Go for that person before they even hit Enter.
Okay – but that means that requiring a comprehensive survey of schools’ curricula nationwide, including the journalistic shoe leather that study would require, before decrying a painfully obvious nationwide trend in educational administration is, again, a stunt, from people who simply savor the idea that America’s true founding was when Africans were brought here in chains because it tastes good to them, or because they don’t want to get called a racist on Twitter for denying it.
Good for them. 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.
The urgent thing is to stand up against this rule of terror by people sincere yet misled, brandishing the mighty tool of calling us names on social media if we displease them.
A mature society cannot operate in this way.