Critical Race Conundrum
Critical Race Theory has been taught in our universities and law schools for years, but it is now coming to corporate seminars and training sessions to transform diversity, equity and inclusion in corporate culture. When he was president, Donald Trump banned these training sessions from government agencies through an executive order describing such training as racist and un-American. President Biden did not waste any time rescinding Trump’s order by his own executive order on the day of his inauguration.
But Critical Race Theory is seeping into all levels of America, including your kids’ high schools and middle schools. Even here in Hill Country Texas, our local school district made board trustees attend two days of diversity training that included discussions of white privilege and Critical Race Theory and created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee along with a dedicated web page. Thank goodness my grandkids are being home schooled.
But following Sun-Tzu’s advice to “know thy enemy,” I felt I needed to understand more directly what Critical Race Theory (CRT) meant. So, I read Critical Race Theory, an Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. There were a lot of books to choose from but this one was highly rated.
Critical Race Theory originated in law schools during the seventies and eighties, so it is a relatively recent theory. CRT is, itself, an outgrowth of Critical Theory that was developed by the so-called Frankfurt School in Germany during the 1930s drawing on the ideas of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Critical Theory divides the world into oppressors and oppressed. The oppressors are the capitalists and the oppressed are the workers. Critical Race Theory looks at the world as similarly divided but between racist white oppressors and the oppressed people of color, especially blacks. Critical Theory is based on class while Critical Race Theory is based on race or identity.
As the authors state, CRT “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of constitutional law.” These are, of course, the very foundations of what makes America America. So, President Trump might actually be correct about something. Critical Race Theory is un-American.
CRT rejects the color-blind goal of Martin Luther King, Jr. saying that laws and rules that apply equally to all people “can remedy only the most blatant forms of discrimination.” And that may be true, because our efforts to eliminate discrimination and to create a color-blind society through Constitutional amendments (such as the XIII and XIV Amendments), Supreme Court decisions (such as Brown vs. The board of Education, that integrated schools) and through legislation (such as Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act) has reduced or eliminated the most blatant and overt discrimination.
But if we have greatly reduced overt discrimination and made great progress in reducing racism (while conceding that there is still more to do), why is there so much protest and anger convulsing the streets of American cities and towns? There are, of course, the murders of blacks by white racists such as jogger Ahmaud Arbery and the unjustified killing of black people by cops such as the murder of George Floyd that enflame the passions of the protestors. But statistics show that blacks kill more whites than vice versa, and Harvard professor Roland Fryer found no evidence of bias in police shootings.
As lamentable as these incidents are, and despite frenzied coverage by mass media, they are statistically relatively rare. But the authors are not interested in facts or statistics. Remember, they do not believe in legal reasoning or rationalism, they prefer narratives and storytelling. They believe that storytelling can help people see into the minds of black people better than facts.
Because it is in the minds of black people that racism is found. They see racism all around them. The authors admit this. They start off their book by comparing the daily insults and rude behavior that we all encounter from both the white and the black perspectives. If the clerk in a store is rude, the white person just shrugs their shoulder and thinks “the clerk is a jerk.” The black person, however, believes the clerk is racist and is being rude because they are black.
The authors record how blacks feel that they are being watched whenever they go into a store because retailers are suspicious of blacks and think they are likely shoplifters. This may seem like a small thing, but I have seen this recounted in numerous articles and interviews and it really seems important to many blacks. But I have a different perspective. While going to college in Ann Arbor I worked at Campus Corner, a beer, wine and liquor store that was the last outlet between the campus and Michigan Stadium. Above the checkout counter there was a little room with one-way mirrors where we watched for shoplifters (and we caught quite a few). Potential shoplifters were easy to spot. Most shoplifters are always looking around to see if they are being observed before they swipe something (the good ones don’t do this). When blacks go into a retail store, they look around to see if they are being observed, and they are. But they are not being watched because they are black, they are being watched because they are acting like shoplifters.
If black people believe that the microaggressions and offensive behavior they encounter when interacting with white people are due to the fact that they are black, as opposed to casual indifference or general rudeness, they would be justified in believing the actions were caused by racism. They believe that they can see into the minds of white people, and because race is so important to them, they believe that it is equally important to white people. And that may have been true for many white people in the past. But I believe that there has been real change and that it is much less so now.
Delgado and Stefancic attempt to address many of the very real problems that afflict the black community as well as other communities of color: the wealth gap, the incarceration rate, the health gap and many others. But to assign white racism as the single root cause of all these problems is not only illogical, given the complexity of human beings, it will also lead to policy solutions that do not address the true range of the underlying causes of such problems and, thus, do not ameliorate the condition. The persistence of these inequities, arising from policies that do not address the underlying causes, will continue to be blamed on white racism and further divide the nation.
When I read the book, I was struck by how often the authors wrote “imagine” this or “suppose” that. This is storytelling. They employ the hypothetical because they lack the empirical. They focus on externalities like white racism and the lack of government programs, rather than looking at other potential factors, such as black culture.
Charles Murray pointed out in his book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, that poor whites suffer from many of the same problems as blacks and other minorities; poor education and dropping out of school, single parenthood, petty crime and drug and alcohol addiction. Wikipedia reports that, “Children growing up in female-headed families with no spouse present have a poverty rate over four times that of children in married-couple families.” Only around 31% of black children are born to married couples while 72% of white children are born to married couples according to the Child Trends research organization. Delgado and Stefancic assert that black poverty is different than other types of poverty and studiously avoid citing the predominance of single-parent families as a contributing factor.
Delgado and Stefancic close out their text with a bit more storytelling about what the future of America will be like. They appear to put their faith in the fact that around the middle of the twenty-first century whites will no longer be the majority ethnicity in America and that fact will allow people of color access to political and economic power. They do not address the issue that Hispanics will be largest minority and that they, along with the rapidly growing Asian community, may have different experiences and different goals than blacks.
The authors imagine (again) that if Critical Race Theory was adopted as the new civil rights orthodoxy that free speech would be curtailed in order to eliminate hate speech, immigrants would no longer assimilate American culture or learn the English language, color-blindness would be replaced with race -conscious measures to guarantee equal outcomes, reparations would be paid not only blacks as former slaves but also to native Americans, Puerto Ricans and Chicanos. CRT will not resolve racial tensions in America, it is designed to enhance them.
The authors are not very precise about the economics implied by Critical Race Theory, the book is after all a text for law students, but it is clear that they envision some form of race-based equality of outcomes that could only be enforced by a tyrannical socialist government. A future envisioned by CRT would not be the American Dream nor would it be Dr. King’s dream. It would be more like a nightmare.