As unlikely as it seems, a highly obscure academic theory known as Critical Race Theory has completely mainstreamed in society, and now everyone is discussing it. While Critical Race Theory has the noble goal of pointing out problems that can be hard to see and that maintain or constitute racism, it turns out to be a remarkably bad way of going about this. A little familiarity with the basic principles of Critical Race Theory and how they go wrong can help with this.
Readers should know this is a shortened version of a longer essay on the same topic that provides more detail and evidence. The full version is available here.
1) Critical Race Theory believes racism is present in every aspect of life, every relationship, and every interaction.
Critical Race Theory begins from the assumption that racism is an ordinary part of every aspect of life in our societies. This assumption leads people who take up Critical Race Theory to look for racism in everything until they find it.
In the workplace that adopts Critical Race Theory, this means that it’s only a matter of time until someone with that worldview finds out how your entire company and its culture is “racist.” At that point, they will cause a meltdown that forces everyone to take sides and demand a reorganization of the entire (now divided) office culture and management. In schools, it will mean teaching our children to think this way and always be looking for racism in every situation and interaction. In our personal relationships, it means that friends and even family members will eventually call each other out and reject one another.
2) Critical Race Theory makes it impossible to do the right thing.
Critical Race Theory is based on the idea of “interest convergence,” which says that racially privileged people only help racially oppressed people when it’s to their own advantage. It isn’t hard to see how paranoid and cynical this idea is, but it’s also horrible when you pause to consider some of its implications.
For example, when advocates of Critical Race Theory request (or demand) that people be anti-racist, interest convergence says they only did so to make themselves look good, protect themselves from criticism, or to avoid confronting their own racism. These are all considered just another form of racism. By giving people no way to do the right thing, Critical Race Theory becomes deeply manipulative and unable to be satisfied.
3) Critical Race Theory is against free societies.
Believe it or not, Critical Race Theory is not a liberal idea. It is, in fact, critical of liberal societies and against the idea of freedom to its core. For example, in free societies that protect free speech, people can say things that might be considered racist, which Critical Race Theory cannot tolerate. It therefore sees it as necessary to limit freedom of speech with hate speech laws.
Critical Race Theory also sees a free society as a way to structure and maintain inequities by convincing racial minorities not to want to do radical identity politics. It sees free societies and the ideals that make them work—individualism, freedom, peace—as a kind of tacit conspiracy theory that we all participate in to keep racial minorities down. Advocates of Critical Race Theory would prefer that we do not have free societies, would rather arrange society as they see fit, and will, if possible, make us all go along with their ideas.
4) There are no individuals in Critical Race Theory.
Under Critical Race Theory, races are categories that society invents and that we impose entirely through social assumptions (mostly stereotypes), and people are members of those racial categories whether they want to be or not. It argues that these groups have differentiated access to the opportunities and resources of society. While this bears some truth on average, it ignores individual variations that are obvious when considering examples of powerful, rich, and famous black people like Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Kanye West as well as poor white people.
Critical Race Theory forces people into these averages, though, and considers them primarily in terms of their group identity rather than their individual identity. Thus, in Critical Race Theory, the goal of ideally treating every person as an individual who is equal before the law and meant to be judged upon the contents of their character and merits of their work is considered a myth that keeps racial minorities down. They have to be treated as ambassadors of their racial group instead and stay on the Critical Race Theory script. That script forces everyone to do the Critical-Race identity politics assigned to their race.
5) Critical Race Theory thinks science is for white people.
Critical Race Theory is not particularly friendly to science, residing somewhere between generally disinterested in science and openly hostile to it (often depending upon the circumstances). This is because Critical Race Theory uses a “social construction” thesis that believes that the power and politics of cultural groups are built intrinsically into everything that culture produces.
Since modern science was predominantly produced by white, Western men, Critical Race Theory therefore views science as a white and Western “way of knowing.” Critical Race Theory therefore maintains that science encodes and perpetuates “white dominance” and thus isn’t really fitting for black people who inhabit a (political) culture of Blackness. This is obviously a horrible sentiment, and it is one that goes against one of the very first pillars of science: universality. Universality in science says that it doesn’t matter who does an experiment; the result will always be the same.
Critical Race Theory also sees science as political, and where it disagrees with Critical Race Theory, its politics are “white supremacy.” This is because science believes in objectivity, which Critical Race Theory also calls an oppressive myth. Advocates of Critical Race Theory insist that we must ask whose interests are served by science and then falsely asserts that white people’s interests are primarily served by science. This isn’t all just wrong (and genuinely racist!), it’s dangerous. Science is for everybody.
6) Critical Race Theory rejects all potential alternatives as forms of racism.
Critical Race Theory is completely against the common-sense idea that race becomes less socially relevant and racism is therefore diminished by not focusing on race all the time. Where liberalism spent centuries removing social significance from racial categories—toward an idea called colorblindness—Critical Race Theory puts it back, front and center.
It has attached an incredible amount of social significance to race and how it factors into every interaction. That means you have to find and focus upon the “hidden” racism in your workplace, your school, your society, your neighborhood, your books, your food, your music, your hobbies, your faith, your church, your community, your friends, your relationships, and yourself (and everything else too) all the time, according to Critical Race Theory.
This has the opposite of the putatively intended effect. Although it does cause people to see some legitimate racism that they would have otherwise missed, it makes all of our relationships and social systems extremely fragile and tense, ready to explode over the highly divisive issue.
7) Critical Race Theory tells people how to think, even if they are black.
It is impossible to disagree with Critical Race Theory, even if you are black. After the black superstar musician Kanye West donned a “Make America Great Again” hat and said he thinks for himself, the poet laureate of Critical Race Theory, Ta-Nehisi Coates, suggested West is no longer really black. The black musician Daryl Davis, who is most famous for talking hundreds of real white supremacists out of their Ku Klux Klan hoods, once tried to invite a conversation of this sort in 2019, and members of the nominally “antifascist” group “Antifa” called him a “white supremacist” for being willing to associate with the people to talk them out of their racism. These black men had to agree with Critical Race Theory—or else.
This is obviously much worse a problem for white people or others who are said to have “racial privilege.” There are more concepts in Critical Race Theory to deal specifically with how and why white people are racists for disagreeing with Critical Race Theory than perhaps any other idea. The point of all this scholarship is to make it racist to disagree with Critical Race Theory.
8) Critical Race Theory cannot be satisfied.
We have already seen how Critical Race Theory cannot be disagreed with, even by black people. We have also seen how it rejects all alternatives and how it believes any success that it has comes down to “interest convergence.” Because it rejects science, it cannot be falsified or proven wrong by evidence, and because it assumes racism is present and relevant to all situations and interactions, even the acceptance of Critical Race Theory must somehow also contain racism.
No matter what you do, the resulting situation must contain racism, and the Critical Race Theory activist’s job is to find it and hold you to account. Therefore, Critical Race Theory cannot be satisfied. It is, in this way, like a black hole. No matter how much you give to it, it cannot be filled and only gets stronger—and it will tear apart anything that gets too close to it.
9) That’s not all!
This is a grim but fair description of Critical Race Theory, and, what’s worse, it’s woefully incomplete. There are many other horrible ideas at the very core of Critical Race Theory that fall in this same mold that we do not have space to list here. All of these lead to increasing division, inflaming the problems they are meant to solve, and harming the people they’re meant to help most—while advancing the careers of the activists who advocate for Critical Race Theory.
Therefore, there are many good reasons that have nothing to do with real racism to reject most of what Critical Race Theory teaches. Good people have every reason to reject Critical Race Theory for better alternatives, and the main reason they don’t is because they don’t know what it is and see what what it offers kind of sounds right and sort of seems good. It simply is not a good way to deal with these problems, and we can do better.