Many of you have noticed that more people than ever are presenting the stock Critical Race Theory ideas. Do not be alarmed. This is correct. Critical Race Theory mainstreamed during the Black Lives Matter protests following a similar incident in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2015. The rapid mainstreaming of Critical Race Theory is actually a problem, but you don’t need to despair. Critical Race Theory is definitely mainstreaming more than ever now, but on the other hand, not only do more people know what it is now than in 2015 and before, more people than ever are also connecting the dots that something in it is leading not to healing but to harm. We have an opportunity to steal the motte and bomb the bailey, as it might be phrased, and hopefully get this conversation and our country back on track.
The present circumstances are volatile, and fighting for sense in mayhem like this is like trying to talk sense into a hurricane. This public rage, like all public rage, will not last forever. Thus, right now presents a valuable opportunity to educate ourselves and then others clearly about Critical Race Theory, including its role in the present outrage (some of it quite justified) and mayhem (utterly unjustifiable). We have a chance to learn how and why, while it points to important problems, Critical Race Theory is a bad way to deal with the real problems we are put face-to-face with now and to realize that there are better ways. To be clear, Critical Race Theory points to real problems, but it diagnoses them incorrectly and prescribes poisonous solutions that will only make the problems worse. And there are resources to do this now.
Many of us have seen the very compelling footage of one black man talking down another very angry one and instructing a younger black teenager to find a better way because what people are doing now isn’t working. I watched that video. I heard that man’s pain. I know he’s right. A better way to deal with whatever racism may be is needed, and having read a God-awful lot of it, I can tell you for certain, it isn’t to be found in Critical Race Theory. There are ways, but not that way. Finding that better way is now. The systems we’ve been using clearly aren’t working as well as they could. A different way is needed, for sure, and, equally surely, Critical Race Theory isn’t that way.
I’m not going to tell you we know for sure what the better way is, but we have some clear hints about what it looks like and what it doesn’t look like, and we can set to building it together. Our society, which is built upon liberalism, has the capacity to answer these problems and make good on the promises of a genuinely free society for every individual in it. It works. It has worked. It was working. It can work again, even if we have to use liberalism to make amendments to our society.
I’m also not going to tell you everything about Critical Race Theory is wrong. More or less everything it does, especially how it frames problems, is both wrong and poisonous, but it sees something that needs seeing. It says something that needs saying. We can hear, but that doesn’t mean we have to go along, like it’s the answer to our problems. It’s not, but one thing we should take from Critical Race Theory is the ever-reasonable request to listen more and better.
We need to reject Critical Race Theory not for its observations but for its analysis and its prescriptions. What we need to reject from Critical Race Theory is its poisonous view of the world, which is very cynical and paranoid and more importantly denies the individual “content of character” that we know moved racial mountains just 60 years ago. Centering group identity, making group identity inherently political, and dividing us up by group identity is the wrong way. We can do much better than this.
To understand, we need to understand Critical Race Theory. This theoretical, not evidenced, approach proceeds on a number of mostly bad assumptions. First, it insists racism is ordinary in society, sometimes also said to be permanent. If racism is ordinary and permanent, it cannot be fixed. How can such a Theory offer a solution, then? It can’t, and it wouldn’t want to because that would render it useless.
Second, Critical Race Theory accepts a thesis known as “interest convergence.” This idea comes from the forefather of Critical Race Theory, the late Derrick Bell of Harvard Law. Bell, for all his insights and contributions, was remarkably pessimistic and cynical, if not downright paranoid. His interest convergence thesis insists that white people only care about and help other races out of their own self-interest. If you’re white and feel moved by the appeals of Critical Race Theory or the real (and/or narrativized) circumstances we face and want to be an ally, then, you’re only doing it because it makes you a better white person, a “good white” who is ultimately the biggest part of the problem of systemic racism. How are we supposed to build a better world when people aren’t allowed to help?
Third, Critical Race Theory believes that liberalism is a force that upholds racism. It allegedly does so by making “minoritized” races believe they’re more enfranchised than they actually are and thus unjustly disinterested in agitating for further radical change. We shouldn’t believe this or that we need radical change when liberal change is and has been working. Liberalism is an unparalleled means of resolving conflicts between citizens and ideas, and it, better than anything else, can resolve the conflicts of racism. That the societies that have called themselves liberal and have espoused liberal principles up until now have not done this perfectly or maybe even satisfactorily doesn’t mean that the method itself needs to be destroyed. They are, in fact, the least racist societies the world has ever seen. For all it’s imperfection, no other method has come close to doing as well as liberalism, and this is for good reasons (which are documented in the book Kindly Inquisitors, which everyone alive should read, twice).
Fourth, Critical Race Theory is actively disinterested in evidence and even reality, which it identifies through a gross (but academically established) reference to slavery that frames rigorous methodologies and civil society (really) as a part of the “master’s” toolkit, which will never dismantle oppression. Instead, it prefers to forward storytelling as a form of knowledge. It calls these, when activist in nature, “counterstories,” and they’re meant to disrupt and deconstruct the “dominant narratives,” which are believed to be white and thus white supremacist. (That’s insanely hyperbolic, but it’s also now standard belief across much of the left half of the political spectrum and a core belief of Critical Race Theory, from which it arose.) If we want to solve our real problems, though, we have to know what those real problems are, in reality. We know this, and we can do better than hot-takes and highly emotional stories. Highly interpretive takes that we know are intentionally biased will not work, and, of course, the people who will get hurt most by getting this wrong are the people Critical Race Theory pretends to speak for, especially black people. Being hostile to science, evidence, reason, and truth will not advance anyone’s interests very far, unless we just meant the short-term political interests of the Theory-masters pushing this garbage.
Instead, Critical Race Theory says that “real” knowledge resides in the lived experience of oppression, but only when this experience is interpreted through, you guessed it, Critical Race Theory. So, if the statistics don’t support the narrative spun by Critical Race Theory, the statistic were produced by a “white” method that wanted to keep black people down, even if all the researchers aren’t white (they might be “acting white,” or “seeking white approval,” or “white-adjacent”). Worse, if a black person speaks up and says something Critical Race Theory doesn’t agree with, then he’s a “race traitor, or “not politically Black,” or “not Black,” as Ta-Nehisi Coates said about Kanye West. In other words, Critical Race Theory believes that if you aren’t black according to how Critical Race Theory says you have to be black, then you’re not authentically black. There is no individual in Critical Race Theory. You are an emissary of your race, and you have to speak on its behalf the way Critical Race Theory says you have to. How is this supposed to help anybody except the grifters pushing it?
Let this sink in. Critical Race Theory explicitly urges an “identity-first” approach to race, where it defines what that political identity looks like and then demands conformity. This is captured in the famous injunction that it means something more and more important to be a “Black person” than a “person who happens to be black.” It puts identity first and programs what that means. Thus, Critical Race Theory holds up race as a core feature of one’s identity and then says you have to be that race to know what it is to be that race, and one’s politics must go from that place. But we know that increasing racial salience like this is divisive poison.
From that awful starting place, Critical Race Theory then teaches that one’s identity must be political. Critical Race Theory doesn’t allow or forward black voices. It only forwards those black voices that it considers authentic, meaning ones that speak into the dangerous politics Critical Race Theory advocates. So it radicalizes people on this and then blames “white society” or “white dominance” for being the real radicalizer. If you disagree, you’re just part of the problem. You need to “do better.” You need to “do the work.” You need to be an “antiracist.” Not an antiracist in reality, mind you, but an antiracist as Critical Race Theory defines it, which means, in the words of Robin DiAngelo, making a lifelong commitment to an ongoing process of self-reflection, self-criticism, and social activism on behalf of, not your own personal conscience or a better society, but Critical Race Theory. This makes Critical Race Theory a cult, not a social theory.
Lest you think I exaggerate, let me quote them on it:
CRT rests on several foundational pillars: First, racism is a relentless daily fact of life in American society, and the ideology of racism and white supremacy are ingrained in the political and legal structures so as to be nearly unrecognizable. Racism is a constant, not aberrant, occurrence in American society. “Because racism is an ingrained feature of our landscape, it appears ordinary and natural to persons in the culture.” Second, “as a form of oppositional scholarship, CRT challenges the experience of White European Americans as the normative standard” against which societal norms are measured. “CRT grounds its conceptual framework in the distinctive . . . experiences of people of color and racial oppression through the use of literary narrative knowledge and storytelling to challenge the existing social construction of race.” Third, CRT questions liberalism and the ability of a system of law built on it to create a just society. An interest convergence critique posits that white elites will tolerate or encourage racial advances for blacks only when such advances also promote white self-interest. Fourth, CRT seeks to expose the flaws in the color-blind view of everyday social relations and the administration of law by positing that ending discrimination and racism through legal means has not occurred because of the contradiction between a professed belief in equality and justice and a societal willingness to tolerate and accept racial inequality and inequity. (Source: Cummings, André Douglas Pond. “A Furious Kinship: Critical Race Theory and the Hip-Hop Nation,” in Delgado, Richard and Stefancic, Jean (eds). Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge, Third Edition. NYU Press. Kindle Edition, p. 108.)
This insanity seems like insanity because it is insanity, but it’s also perfectly comprehensible when you understand Critical Race Theory and its offshoot project, Intersectionality. In this worldview, identity is inherently political, and the only legitimate politics are the intensely aggressive identity politics that seek “liberation” from oppression in “all its forms” (except the ones it causes, of course). This is because Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality are Neo-Marxist radicalism like erupted in similar violence in the 1960s, when it at least made a little more sense. As Kimberlé Crenshaw, student of Derrick Bell, co-originator of Critical Race Theory, and creator of intersectionality, put it in her landmark 1991 paper, “Mapping the Margins,” intersectionality arose from the “margins” of Neo-Marxist black liberation activism and radical feminism. She doesn’t explicitly name these as Neo-Marxism, though they are, but a later Theorist (among many others), Alison Bailey explicitly does. That’s what Critical Race Theory is, though: Marx’s conflict theory bearing upon race. How is conflict theory supposed to bring reconciliation? It can’t.
Because of these things, Critical Race Theory doesn’t believe progress is possible, that it’s a myth (indeed, one created by white people to keep black people and people of other races down). But if an approach tells us progress is impossible, it by definition cannot lead us to progress. Why should we use it? Because it’s the only voice in the game? It’s not, but to the degree that it’s true, it’s because it destroyed every other voice by calling it a racist until it was silenced. Critical Race Theory is pessimistic, cynical, and paranoid to the core, and it teaches these as though they’re virtues, filling young black people especially with a belief that society is against them. This is utter poison. Learning to see problems is good; dwelling on them isn’t.
No. There are other ways, and we can talk about them and figure out how to make them work, once Critical Race Theory gets out of the way and stops calling everyone a racist for trying. We can go back to liberal approaches and improve them where they were weak.
The only thing stopping us from doing this is Critical Race Theory. Take “colorblindness” or “not seeing color,” for example. This isn’t perfect and admits one serious problem, but it mostly works. Making people see past race instead of focusing endlessly on race dissolves those tensions and allows navigating cross-racial difficulties. Critical Race Theory is utterly against colorblindness. It sees it as, you guessed it, a conspiracy by white people to keep black people and people of other races down. Part of this criticism is good: with it sometimes comes a real problem, racism-blindness—not seeing racism because we don’t see race. Part of this is just selfish: it’s meant to grab power for the activist. We don’t need Critical Race Theory to point out that we shouldn’t be racism-blind just because we’re striving to be colorblind. Any idiot can figure that out, and it doesn’t require a totalitarian ideology and crackpot social theory for decent people to navigate it.
Critical Race Theory is hopelessly pessimistic and sees racism as everywhere and multidimensional, unsolvable without tearing down the system entirely (and replacing it with what? Seriously, what? A totalitarian regime? What? It never says, but vaguely points to “liberation”). No wonder it doesn’t work. It doesn’t believe anything can work. Why are we using something that doesn’t even believe it can work while everywhere we look and see it implemented proves that it doesn’t work, neither in theory nor in practice?
Critical Race Theory holds that an intrinsic property of whiteness is anti-Blackness. This anti-Blackness allegedly spills over to other “white-adjacent” races, which is everyone else (who isn’t using full-throated Critical Race Theory). We’ve seen thousands and thousands of people of many not-black races (not just white people) flagellating themselves over their “complicity” in systemic racism, beating themselves up and throwing each other under the bus. And I’m not talking about the rioters. Forget them for half a second, though much of their rage has been incensed by Critical Race Theory narratives. I mean journalists, activists, and scholars who are filling Twitter with how every race needs to bow to blacks, even other POC. Over the last two days, I’ve retweeted voices straight out of Theory, both black and whichever relevant race in each case, saying white people, Latinos, Arabs, Asians, and Jews are all complicit in or adjacent to whiteness and need to interrogate their anti-blackness.
Stop it. This cannot heal a hurting nation. This cannot help. The truth of the matter, not least because of its reliance on the interest-convergence thesis and belief in the ordinariness and permanence of racism, is that Critical Race Theory is a conspiracy theory about racism in society, but instead of a group of conspirators, it’s white people and everybody who likes civil society conspiring against the lunatic fringe who don’t (or do, really, but who wish to control it themselves). It’s impossible to heal our society if even a tithe of us believe this poison. Impossible. We can do better, and we have to do better.
Let’s pause to ask some hard questions and see what we can do with them. Critical Race Theory says we live in a system infected with racism. So, is there systemic racism? Maybe. Let’s have a conversation about it, but see if you can get Critical Race Theorists to nail down what they mean by “the system.” The system is our institutions, our culture, our laws, our knowledge, our ways of knowing, our ways of speaking, the history of the country, anything that isn’t equal (or equitable, really), having been built by white people, and so on. It’s everything and nothing at once. The system is, uselessly, effectively “everything that happens,” and solutions are just to rip it apart. Do better.
Let’s get more specific. Is there institutional racism? Maybe. But we try hard in liberal societies not to have it, and we honestly may have a lot less of it than inflammatory narratives make us believe. We live in a society that has lost its mind and, for a long minute before the rioting started, stood in unity that there’s a problem with racism that needs to go in our society. We live in a society where a woman in Central Park can say something racially unwise in one tense moment and lose her job, her dog, and much of her dignity over it. Being credibly called racist in our society today is the equivalent of getting hit with a sociocultural nuclear bomb. We live in an aggressively antiracist society, in the real sense of being against racism, especially on the institutional level—probably even more aggressively antiracist than it is anti-rape—and Critical Race Theorists know it, as they’ve halfway abandoned the fight about institutional racism completely except when a police incident like this occurs.
The hot topic in Critical Race Theory from 2004–2010 or so was “the new racism,” which is “cultural racism,” which is roughly “white culture not liking black culture.” This switch had to occur because most of the institutional battles and all of the “biological racism” battles had been completely won, save within the heads of some people you can’t do much about anyway. But come off it. If white people do like a lot of it, that’s cultural appropration. Forbidden. For other parts, we’re a shockingly multicultural society that is more or less perfectly content to let people have whatever culture they want, even though this barely works in reality (pluralism works better than multiculturalism).
That, of course, isn’t their point, though. Their point is that white culture doesn’t value black culture, like African American Vernacular English or various modicums of dress, music, and so on, in the same way as it values its own culture. It turns out, right or wrong, that humans tend to value not any particular culture over any other, but similarity of culture. This isn’t mysterious, and it’s probably one of the most deeply embedded traits our fundamentally tribal society evolved, so there is some friction that requires navigation and finding solutions. We already know a lot of these, as I’ll come to, and they work. Critical Race Theory doesn’t have them, though. Despite what we’re told by these Theorists, we’re actually more than just tolerant but positively excited about celebrating difference and diversity, and only Critical Race Theory tries to spell out why this is a problematic thing that shouldn’t be occurring. That’s because Critical Race Theory isn’t tolerant. It’s view of “tolerance” is repression of anything it doesn’t like while demanding complete tolerance not just for its charges but for its awful approaches and behaviors. As we can plainly see now, some Critical Race Theorists are trying to urge peace and talk about the systems. Good for them. Bad method, but good. Others are acting as undeniable totalitarians who aren’t interested in the least at solving problems. Just breaking things and hate.
So, I’m not saying that Critical Race Theory isn’t pointing at real problems that exist. It is. I am saying it is terrible at interpreting them, worse at prescribing solutions (it gets these perfectly backwards), and excellent at inflaming interracial hate that can’t solve problems. And don’t pretend that people aren’t willing to try to solve these problems. Damn near everybody is willing. People of many races bend over backwards to try to solve them. We even humiliate ourselves at the demand of Critical Race Theory to do it.
Critical Race Theory demands everyone else help and then won’t let anyone else help, or it busts their chops and tries to ruin their lives for trying to help and helping wrong. We are a nation full of people of all races who want to help, who want racism to be wholly a thing of a past, but Critical Race Theory won’t let them. Everything anyone outside of the cult does is wrong. Critical Race Theory says we have to focus on race all the time, and then it’s always done wrong, with constantly shifting rules and endless demands for apologies. If you sign on to their program, the best you can expect to hear is how awful you are for trying the first time you do something off the intentionally impossible script it writes for everybody.
What do I mean by intentionally impossible? This, a thousand things just like this, straight out of the Critical Race Theory playbook: If you see race, it’s because you’re a racist; if you don’t, it’s because you’re privileged enough to ignore it and are therefore a racist. In the end, you’re going to get wrecked for how problematic your allyship is (it can’t be done right), for being a “good white.” And people care so much about racism they continually sign up for this, mainstream this, become an ally, and endlessly pledge to do better, like some kind of victim of an abusive marriage. Eventually, they fail, get called racist, and get destroyed for it, and then still pledge to “do better.” Why? Because if you reject Critical Race Theory, you must have done so because of your racism. Critical Race Theory is abusive; there’s no other way to put it.
This is no way to solve a problem. Critical Race Theory is not the only poison in our society that perpetuates racism, not by miles, but it’s among the worst, not least because it positions itself as the only cure (like Wormtongue whispering noxious poison to the broken-down Theoden in Lord of the Rings). There are others. Rejecting Critical Race Theory isn’t racism; it isn’t silencing black voices; and it isn’t denying the “realities” of racism. It’s the opposite of all of these. It’s rejecting bad Theory so we have a chance to learn the real realities and lift up the voices of individual people, not just those on script. Rejecting Critical Race Theory is fighting racism; it’s disempowering those who silence all voices they disagree with, no matter what their race.
We can do better than Critical Race Theory. We can do better than a sloppy “theoretical” approach that’s really about pushing divisive grievance politics into our society, one that treats people as props for the narrow politics that primarily, if not solely, benefit the elite grifters who know the Theory. Critical Race Theory advances them at everyone else’s expense. And we already know a lot of how to tackle these problems better than Critical Race Theory can. We already know how to be liberals, apply liberalism, judge by the content of character rather than anything to do with identity or color of skin. And we already know that liberal approaches are open to reform and improvement of the societies that employ them.
Sure, we need to listen better. When a black man, or anyone else, says “I can’t breathe,” people need to listen. When people say there are problems, we need to listen. We need to listen; we need to investigate; and we need to use the best methods available to understand and fix the problem. But we also need to see past race, not focus on it. We need to work together, talk together, adopt shared goals, hold shared vision, find shared identities. For those of us in a hurting America, we are all American. We all have a stake in this system and what it can provide, and we’ll all lose if we let these Critical Race Theory wannabe dictators tear it down or take over.
These approaches work. Working together, talking together, sharing goals together, sharing a common vision, finding common ground and common identities. We know they work. So, we should throw out the little tyrants who, with their academic theories, educational influence, and journalistic and political bully-pulpits, are going to tell our country that white people are the cause of everything bad and that black people they have to stay on script if they want to be black. We’re going to reject these race-baiting jerks and reject them just like they reject any honest attempt to help or understand. They are the problem, and their Theory is the problem. We can and will do better.