Critical Race Theory has a Truth Problem
The dog is lying on the bed.
This is a simple statement. A proposition that may contain a truth claim. But how do we know? Most people, some of them might even be philosophers, would suggest that we can know the statement is true if the dog is indeed lying on the bed. [By the way she is. I just checked.] This uncomplicated exercise is what is called the correspondence theory of truth. Put simply this means that a propositional statement is true if the statement corresponds to reality, to the real world. Speaking more generally there are many ways in which a truth claim - a propositional statement about the reality of the world - can be evaluated depending on what kind of truth claim is made. But, again generally speaking, the means by which this evaluation takes place is through analytical reasoning. One looks at the statement, looks at reality and evaluates, based on the evidence, whether the statement is veracious or not. With a simple statement like the one above very little analysis and reductio needs to happen. But with statements like - There are only two genders - things get a little bit more complicated.
It is patently obvious that Critical Race Theory (CRT) has abandoned the correspondence theory of truth and have changed the rules of the epistemological game along with it. They have abandoned certainty, relativized and pluralized knowing, have emphasized language games and the power of language to shape the world, and they have devalued any and all universals, or metanarratives. Because of these things we could ask -- is CRT simply a branch of the postmodernism tree? The answer would be a resounding - yes, and no. As Pluckrose and Lindsay point out in chs 2 and 3 of their excellent book Cynical Theories CRT has taken postmodern principles and mutated them to become more actionable. If CRT is anything it is an activist way of viewing the world. Dissatisfied with what was thought to be white, male, privileged postmodern theories which were good on paper and in the classroom but not useful for changing anything in society, early CRT scholars took postmodern principles and sought to use them… with a couple of very dangerous twists. Pluckrose and Lindsay helpfully summarize two overarching values of postmodernism and their CRT applied twist.
The postmodern knowledge principle -- radical skepticism about whether objective knowledge or truth is obtainable and a commitment to cultural constructivism.
CRT applied twist -- identity and oppression based upon identity are treated as known features of objective reality.
The postmodern political principle -- a belief that society is formed of systems of power and hierarchies, which decide what can be known and how.
CRT applied twist -- these systems are basically those of the oppressor and the oppressed and they need to be dismantled. “[T]his is central to the advocacy of identity politics, whose politically actionable imperative is to dismantle this system in the name of Social Justice.”
The result of this, or growing alongside of the development of these principles, is that CRT became more about doing than being; more about ought than is. In fact CRT has no desire to demonstrate the is, the state of being; no desire for truth or objectivity - these things are necessary only if one submits to the present oppressive structures of society. At best an existential assumption is made, which could very easily be its mantra - “I experience oppression therefore I am… and so are dominance and oppression.” This became the philosophical rock upon which CRT is built. (cf Pluckrose and Lindsay)
This turn has led CRT to disparage the correspondence theory of truth and pursue its own path in a three-fold manner.
First, CRT makes truth and epistemology all about hegemonic power structures which are built into our society. Following postmodern scholars like Derrida and Foucault but with an overt emphasis on structural layers of oppression CRT believes that those in power - usually those who are heteronormative, male, cisgender, white - produce a narrative through which they rule the oppressed - everyone who is not them. Delgado and Stefanic in Critical Race Theory, one of the foundational tomes of CRT, state boldly, “For the critical race theorist, objective truth, like merit, does not exist, at least in social science and politics. In these realms, truth is a social construct created to suit the purposes of the dominant group.” Once again we see the oppressor / oppressed bifurcation of society applied to truth claims. Truth is nothing more than a will to power of the oppressive group. Thus, CRT has an incredulity toward metanarratives - literally big stories - stories that explain the big questions of life and lead to truth claims. As Robin DiAngelo identifies in her book White Fragility these metanarratives enforce power structures which oppress. “Whites produce and reinforce the dominant narratives of society -- individualism and meritocracy -- and use these narratives to explain the positions of other racial groups.” CRT, instead, prefers “little narratives” (cf Coppenger) which affirm each person's group identity and the truth which that group claims. There is no truth, there are simply truths.
Second, in abandoning objective truth CRT emphasizes relativism through standpoint epistemology. CRT scholars are at pains to assume that different groups have different lived experiences and thus they have different truths. This is standpoint epistemology. The idea that every person exists at a different intersection involving their lived experience and social location is not controversial. The conclusion that these things result in all people having different truths to share is brash, self-contradictory, and needs to be demonstrated. But it isn't. It is just assumed. Why? Because reason and objective appeal are seen as tools used by the white, male, heteronormative, wealthy, etc. hegemony to oppress. In short, part of the oppressive metanarrative of the West is the valuation of objectivity, reason, and demonstration... so standpoint epistemology it is! But there is a further problem. CRT suggests that the oppressed actually have a better understanding of truth than the oppressor and therefore society needs to default to the oppressed understanding of things. Why? No reason, and none are needed. This is the assumption about reality that CRT makes with no demonstration or qualification.
Third, CRT takes to “linguistic bulldozing” in order to defend its position. (Coppenger) Since CRT holds to an extreme form of relativism and since they have abandoned the need for demonstration of truth claims they resort to “disagreement-discourse.” We see this in many ways - by labelling people ‘phobic’ just because they disagree with a certain CRT stance, usually toward gender or sexuality; by calling objections to CRT ‘hate speech’; by calling for “safe spaces” where disagreement with their perspective cannot happen; by telling people who are viewed as oppressors to “stay in their lane” and keep quiet; by changing the meanings of words to suit the bias of CRT and their social justice categories (changing the meaning of racism for example); and on and on we could go. CRT has simply seized the language in order to avoid accountability. (Coppenger) CRT scholars keep moving the goalposts, so to speak, or changing the rules of the game, to use a different metaphor, in order to suit their action plan for whatever CRT issue is closest to their heart.
So what can a Christian do about this? Very little really. Sad to say. Two reasons for this answer: one is more general the other specific to the Christian faith. First, words matter and meaning matters and truth matters. The CRT attempts to hijack all of these things and elevate truths over truth or to load whatever words or concepts they desire with whatever they desire in order to push their agenda prevents honest and open dialogue on pretty much any topic. To engage in true change dialogue, real, open, back and forth dialogue must happen. But CRT does not allow this. As Coppenger acutely observes they have simply identified the disparaged and turned the tables, giving value to the disparaged and then disparaging the disparagers, regardless of the merits of their case. CRT leaves only one side with the ability to speak. (cf Strachan) There is simply no way forward when this takes place. Want evidence of where this leads? Take a look at the state of American politics right now. Everyone is angry at each other with no discourse, and thus no way forward.
Second, the worldview of CRT is so fundamentally different from the Christian worldview that they barely even touch each other. Ask the big questions of life regarding identity, priorities, moral value, teleology, justice, truth, knowledge, etc. and the two perspectives yield vastly divergent answers. So it is difficult to find a place to even start a conversation. Shenvi and Sawyer’s conclusion is clear and direct,
Contemporary critical theory and Christianity conflict not merely with respect to a few minor details, but with respect to basic questions of epistemology, identity, morality and authority. To the extent that we accept and embrace fully the core principles of contemporary critical theory, we will have to abandon Christianity and vice versa.
But this does not mean conversations cannot be had with CRT. It will be frustrating and you will be accused of many things, some of which you probably have never heard or before, but there are a few areas of CRT that can and must be probed. (I am indebted to the work of Shenvi and Sawyer as well as Strachan here.)
A person who seeks justice, which is the obsession of CRT, must be willing to seek objective truth. There is no justice without objective truth. Specifically without a source for truth, the triune God revealed in Scripture, there is no possibility of truth and therefore justice. The pursuit of justice demands a perfect law against which to hold the violator. A law such as this demands a perfect law-giver. Just judgments of any kind demand a perfect judge without whom all judgments, including those of CRT, are simply power plays to increase hegemony. Without God, then, how is justice possible?
A person who seeks to destroy power structures and systemic racism, which is another obsession of CRT, is making a value statement, a statement of morality about the way things are. Yet a denial of objective truth and the source of that truth is also a denial that morals and values exist by which we can make any sort of judgments at all. Multiple truths from multiple perspectives yield multiple moralities and justices. Who's to say that CRT is correct and the KKK are not? Without an objective standard these kinds of decisions cannot be made. CRT opposes certain things and embraces certain other things - why? How can they be so absolute, so committed to a certain value system, given their stance on truth and objectivity? Morality requires a moral code. A moral code requires a standard. Without God how is any moral judgment made?
A person who desires a society free of power structures and filled with justice and equity, which seems to be the goal of CRT, must be willing to admit that this cannot be found in anything human beings are capable of accomplishing. Human history reveals that human beings are not able to create anything close to a utopian society because sin is the problem of the human race, not simply injustice, racism (properly defined), oppression, etc. The problem is that the heart is wicked and deceitful above all things and that no one seeks the good. (cf Romans 3) No amount of virtue signaling done by the social justice warrior or the CRT scholar can change that. In fact CRT is filled with arrogance and sinful pride. Claiming to be the only way to societal salvation they have succumbed to the Pharisaical problem - they are righteous in their own eyes and they look down on everyone else. (Shenvi and Sawyer) All that CRT desires, in the end, is to replace one power structure with another - that which suits them and their worldview. The solution to the problem of sin, then, cannot be found within the sinful human heart. We need salvation and the transformation wrought by our union with Christ by faith in his sacrificial death and resurrection by the Father. The only hope for any individual, for any group, for any society, is that they are freed from sin through the gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria