With its continuous and unending coverage in the news, it is hard to find an example of one person who has not heard about Critical Race Theory. And of course, with such a large amount of coverage, everyone seems to have an opinion on it. With those opinions under their belt, people begin to make claims that are either false, misleading, or, in some cases, outright lies. Those lies inevitably spread around the internet and influence other people to the point where they convince their leaders to act upon those lies. With the rise in laws banning CRT, it becomes increasingly obvious that these lies have spread far beyond their acceptable range, are self-destructive to the public, and serve only to whitewash history in the education system. It is high time that those who help spread those lies are held accountable for their dishonesty.
WHAT IS CRITICAL RACE THEORY?
Critical Race Theory is a multi-faceted and complex academic approach to law and racism in the United States. It came from a previous theory of legal analysis known as Critical Legal Studies, which argued that the law is never truly neutral and represents the interests of those who write the law. A decade later, the theory grew into Critical Race Theory.
CRT began in the 1980s, thanks to Harvard Professor Derrick Bell. With his article Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma (1980), Bell argued that the law’s divergent position with the integration goals could be more properly dealt with by focusing on improvements in education. The argument underlying this paper and many like it is that the law, its current form, maintains white supremacy by failing to adequately deal with disparities created by previous forms of oppression. Its self-proclaimed race neutrality does not, in the eyes of Critical Race Theory, prevent it from failing to address disparities in treatment and outcomes.
Since then, essays such as Whiteness As Property (2006) and Race, Reform and Retrenchment (1988) also explained this perspective related to racial identity and colorblindness respectively. As Professor Kimberle Crenshaw explains, Critical Race Theory “is a way of looking at law’s role platforming, facilitating, producing, and even insulating racial inequality in our country, ranging from health to wealth to segregation to policing.”
It is intended to observe systemic racism through a systemic and critical lens. It spans beyond personal prejudice, despite what some claim about how it views white prejudice. It is, at most, a standpoint theory that is meant to explain system racism.
But you wouldn’t know that by listening to its recent detractors.
BRING IN THE PROPAGANDISTS
The fight over Critical Race Theory has been a political game for Republican operatives from the very beginning. Activists like Christopher Rufo have worked tirelessly to amplify the idea that Critical Race Theory, a standpoint theory from the 1990s, is being spread rapidly through the workforce and schools. To support this claim, Rufo took leaked documents from multiple poorly-worded training seminars on anti-racism and released them to the public to create as much conflict and distrust as humanly possible.
Rufo did not merely leak information, however. Instead, he strived to reframe the information he was releasing so his audience would see it from his point of view. To do that, he needed a good way to describe his new enemy. To Rufo, CRT was more than just an academic theory that explained structural inequality. It was the enemy in the long-standing culture war dating back to the Obama administration. And he needed a way to describe that enemy while encompassing as much as he could within that label. Describing this need, Rufo explained his approach to the New Yorker, saying:
We’ve needed new language for these issues…Political correctness’ is a dated term and, more importantly, doesn’t apply anymore. It’s not that elites are enforcing a set of manners and cultural limits, they’re seeking to reengineer the foundation of human psychology and social institutions through the new politics of race, It’s much more invasive than mere ‘correctness,’ which is a mechanism of social control, but not the heart of what’s happening. The other frames are wrong, too: ‘cancel culture’ is a vacuous term and doesn’t translate into a political program; ‘woke’ is a good epithet, but it’s too broad, too terminal, too easily brushed aside. ‘Critical race theory’ is the perfect villain.”Christopher Rufo to Benjamin Wallace-Wells, The New Yorker.
And wouldn’t you know it? Rufo’s attempts to draw the attention of Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who had Rufo on his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, to discuss this newly established concern. During his short time on Carlson’s show, Rufo argued that CRT represented an existential threat to American politics and civil life and that the Trump administration should intervene to prevent its spread.
The end result was predictable as it was reprehensible. Within two days of Rufo’s comments, the Trump administration began its assault on anti-racist training. The Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russel Vought, released an order requiring all agencies to end anti-racist training. In his letter, Vought labeled said training as “un-American propaganda training sessions.”
The order further urged that agencies should root out any examples of CRT in their training, saying: ” in the meantime, all agencies are directed to begin to
identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on “critical race theory, white privilege, or any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests either (1) that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country or (2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil…”
This use of state power and the ability to influence government agencies to remove what is deemed harmful ideas is precisely the point. There is no attempt to adequately represent Critical Race Theory or explain its historical context. Instead, anti-CRT advocates are working to restrict the development of ideas that don’t fit a conservative mold. And considering the state of the current Republican party, it is not too surprising that this has devolved into a moral panic.
That is, after all, what Rufo wants.
Earlier this year, Rufo explained his intentions in detail, tweeting out what should have been the death of his credibility.
Rufo’s ultimate goal in opposing CRT is to turn it into a nebulous evil that can be used to label anything Republicans don’t approve of.
The purpose of this moral panic is to ensure that no matter what the intention or utility of an idea if Republicans don’t like it, they can put into a box of Critical Race Theory and discard it. More importantly, they can ban it. It is not surprising, considering that Rufo is a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute, a right-wing think tank despite his attempts to appeal to everyday Americans.
This political connection is necessary to understand the fight over this abstract legal theory. It can’t be abstracted away to some sort of illiberal theory that threatens free speech, as Tara Ella, has done. Nor can it be simply misconstrued as “supplantation of liberalism by the radical critical theory worldview.” Instead, it is important to consider the consequences of poorly-written bans on what amounts to a niche academic theory.
In Tennessee, the legislature banned Critical Race Theory from being taught in schools, prohibiting any material that causes discomfort or asserts privilege based on race. Other prohibited positions include any material that asserts meritocracy is racist or contributes to racism in America and that the state of America is racist.
The poorly defined nature of these laws was on full display just this week as the Williamson County chapter of Moms For Liberty (MFL) filed a complaint with the state, attempting to remove two books, one discussing Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington and an autobiography written about Ruby Bridges, who was the first black child to integrate into a New Orleans school.
The argument by MFL is that these two books depict examples of aggression by police and wrongly vilify Bull Connor, the infamous commissioner of public safety and segregationist in Birmingham, Alabama.
Despite all of these complaints targeting examples of historical fact, organizations like MFL will insist that they are defending their kids from the pain that comes with seeing such dark images and gritty history. For all intents and purposes, organizations like them are trying to tone down teaching on racism despite the clear importance of our nation’s racist past. So long as the panic over Critical Race Theory continues, attempts to disregard basic historical facts will remain a part of American life. Such an outcome is unacceptable.