What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is hard to pin down because it’s platform has been used by many different people in many different movements. As the name suggests it is a theory about race, primarily, but has been used to advance the causes of feminism, the LGBTQ+ community, the disabled, the aged, and in fat studies (yes, that is a thing). So what is it about CRT that appeals to this broad range of people?
Fundamentally, CRT sees everything in our society, and I mean everything, as a power struggle. Our society has been founded on inequity, on ‘class’ struggle, on oppressors oppressing the oppressed on account of privilege of all kinds - whiteness, able bodiedness, being skinny, heteronormativity, cisgender or whatever your cause may be. The more of these privileges you possess, the greater your oppression. Conversely, the more of these you lack the more oppressed you are.
Owen Strachan defines CRT thus:
The system of thought… which asserts that hidden racism is pervasive throughout society, all whites are racist, blacks (and other minorities) are not racist because they lack the power to be so, and one’s racial group determines one’s core identity; CRT’s “solution” to the problem of racism is (A) to deconstruct white power and (B) to redistribute power to minorities.
Insert ‘fat’ for “black” and ‘skinny’ for “white” and ‘ableism’ for “racism” and you have the use of CRT by fat studies. Insert ‘women’ for “black” and ‘men’ for “white” and ‘misogyny’ for “racism” and you have the feminist use of CRT. And so on and so forth.
Khiara Bridges, a CRT advocate and scholar summarizes the salient features of CRT in more detail. CRT is the... (Italics mine)
Recognition that race is not biologically real but is socially constructed and socially significant. It recognizes that science (as demonstrated in the Human Genome Project) refutes the idea of biological racial differences. According to scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, race is the product of social thought and is not connected to biological reality.
Acknowledgement that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicate racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.
Rejection of popular understandings about racism, such as arguments that confine racism to a few “bad apples.” CRT recognizes that racism is codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy. CRT rejects claims of meritocracy or “colorblindness.” CRT recognizes that it is the systemic nature of racism that bears primary responsibility for reproducing racial inequality.
Recognition of the relevance of people’s everyday lives to scholarship. This includes embracing the lived experiences of people of color, including those preserved through storytelling, and rejecting deficit-informed research that excludes the epistemologies of people of color.
While I agree with her first point, the middle two of Bridges' summary are very dangerous and highly questionable. The central idea Bridges puts forth is simple. Let Ibrihim Kendi, a central figure of CRT scholarship, identify it:
Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices. (Italics mine)
Put simply, CRT believes that you are either oppressor or oppressed. There is no middle ground. This means that if you are white, you are a racist; not because you individually are a racist but because you are part of the oppressive class in our society and because of your participation in it you uphold that racist system which makes you a racist. You are racist by association. In addition, you will always be a racist and you can never not be a racist. Racism has been radically redefined by CRT. Note the following from https://www.dismantlingracism.org/racism-defined.html (Italics mine; This is a CRT website. Be very careful with its definitions)
Racism = race prejudice + social and institutional power
Racism = a system of advantage based on race
Racism = a system of oppression based on race
Racism = a white supremacy system
The best you can hope for as a white person, according to Kendi, is to become an antiracist. An antiracist is someone who seeks to tear down the power structures in society that oppress people of color. This means that every white person is a racist but they can become antiracist as they work against the white privilege, the white supremacy from which they have benefited in our society. It is a complete personal and social revolution against powers and systems. (cf Strachan)
Thus, the broad Social Justice Movement (SJM), including Black Lives Matter and other groups, seek to advance the rights of the oppressed through the removal of the systems of inequality and discrimination that hold their group down by all means necessary. This is why we saw cities burn this summer and heard the call to defund the policy after the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. It did not matter if the individual officers were racist or not, that was never the issue for BLM. The issue is that the police, the legal system, and the laws are oppressive of black people. They are the “institutional policies and practices” of our society that “carry out systematic discrimination” against people of color. It is also why many people of color responded with vitriol to the phrase “All Lives Matter.” In the minds of CRT and SJM that kind of phrase is invoked by the oppressor trying to make light of the plight of the oppressed in order to solidify their oppression. “All Lives Matter” was, to them, a reinforcement of white supremacy in an attempt to make light of what happened to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
John McWhorter, an atheist, criticizes CRT for its “catechism” remarking that none of it makes sense; it translates into “nothing whatsoever.” It is worth quoting his summary at length in order to see the central tenets of CRT and their illogical nature and self-contradictions. (John McWhorter: John McWhorter: The Neoracists (persuasion.community)
When black people say you have insulted them, apologize with profound sincerity and guilt. But don’t put black people in a position where you expect them to forgive you. They have dealt with too much to be expected to.
Black people are a conglomeration of disparate individuals. “Black culture” is code for “pathological, primitive ghetto people.” But don’t expect black people to assimilate to “white” social norms because black people have a culture of their own.
Silence about racism is violence. But elevate the voices of the oppressed over your own.
You must strive eternally to understand the experiences of black people. But you can never understand what it is to be black, and if you think you do you’re a racist.
Show interest in multiculturalism. But do not culturally appropriate. What is not your culture is not for you, and you may not try it or do it. But—if you aren’t nevertheless interested in it, you are a racist.
Support black people in creating their own spaces and stay out of them. But seek to have black friends. If you don’t have any, you’re a racist. And if you claim any, they’d better be good friends—in their private spaces, you aren’t allowed in.
When whites move away from black neighborhoods, it’s white flight. But when whites move into black neighborhoods, it’s gentrification, even when they pay black residents generously for their houses.
If you’re white and only date white people, you’re a racist. But if you’re white and date a black person you are, if only deep down, exotifying an “other.”
Black people cannot be held accountable for everything every black person does. But all whites must acknowledge their personal complicity in the perfidy throughout history of “whiteness.”
Black students must be admitted to schools via adjusted grade and test score standards to ensure a representative number of them and foster a diversity of views in classrooms. But it is racist to assume a black student was admitted to a school via racial preferences, and racist to expect them to represent the “diverse” view in classroom discussions.
McWhorter’s conclusion is telling,
I suspect that deep down, most know that none of this catechism makes any sense. Less obvious is that it was not even composed with logic in mind. The self-contradiction of these tenets is crucial, in revealing that Third Wave Antiracism is not a philosophy but a religion.
As another religion CRT is deeply incompatible with Christianity. There are some general thoughts with which we can agree - that race is a social construct and that institutional power is problematic, as two of the most obvious - but the vast majority of its worldview is anti-Christian. We will explore how in the next number of blogs.
Soli Deo Gloria