Critical Race Theory: The right’s latest target in the culture wars

June 24, 2021
The undermining of Critical Race Theory is intended to promote the idea that anti-racist work is itself racist — against whites. Image: Pixabay

As the last months of former United States President Donald Trump’s administration drew to a close, he signed an executive order banning federal contractors from conducting racial sensitivity training seminars.

The White House memo — from the Office of Management and Budget — instructed federal agencies to identify any critical race theory and white privilege training within their departmental training plans.

Trump was largely hanging his ire on one of his last cultural enemies — the academic movement of civil rights scholars known as Critical Race Theory (CRT), along with diversity training and seminars and the New York Times’1619 Project”.

Published in August, 2019, the 100-page longform journalistic project places the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the centre of US history. The Trump administration contested this, launching the “1776 Project”, however over its 45 paltry pages, this piece of American exceptionalist fiction largely rings hollow.

The “1776 Project” makes the case that the US has been always been great and is marred with historical inaccuracies about figures ranging from George Washington to civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jnr, and issues ranging from the role of socialism in US politics to racism and identity politics.

It is the latest onslaught against "cultural Marxism" and its hidden intention to destroy US and Western civilisation.

Reportedly, more than 300 diversity and inclusion training sessions were cancelled as a result of the order and 11 states have voted for bills banning CRT in primary and secondary schools and/or universities. Anti-CRT bills have become law in eight states and are set to become law in another nine.

Backlash against Black Lives Matter

More than 120 civil rights organisations and their allies signed a letter condemning the executive order, alleging it violates the guarantees of free speech, equal protection and due process.

These bills and the bans are part of the backlash against the Black Lives Matter protest movement that rose up following the murder of George Floyd by police in May last year.

The anti-CRT bills also bear a striking resemblance to one another. African American Policy Forum research associate Vincent Wong said: "The reason the texts are so similar is that they are products of 'bill mills'."

The bills ban teachers from addressing concepts related to race and gender and prohibits teachers from making students "feel discomfort or guilt" because of their race or gender. But, the list of transgressions remains purposefully vague and general.

"But none of this is really about CRT," said James Ford, former North Carolina Teacher of the Year and executive director of the Center for Racial Equity. Ford told the Independent Media Institute’s Jeff Bryant that “in these calls to stop the teaching of CRT, there is no clarification of what CRT really is. There is no argumentative critique of the actual concept."

Ford sees the real purpose as "divisiveness" and said there can be "no nuance at all" in discussing "matters of religion and customs and the values of rugged individualism and free-market ideology".

Within months, this new iteration of the culture wars had made its way across the Atlantic and was picked up by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives. It then landed firmly in the lap of the Liberal Party’s network in Australia, reminiscent of the “Black Armband” critique of Australia’s history.

Critical Race Theory is an approach to legal scholarship that uses the premise of racial inequality and social constructionist conceptions of race and racism, to challenge the idea of the superficial, colour-blind nature of laws and jurisprudence, when it claims to be race-neutral in its practices.

The body of work emerged around the 1980s and is usually associated with US legal scholars like Derrick Bell and Richard Delgado. Most noteworthy to the scholarship is a critique of the Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education decision in 1954, which established that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Bell’s critique of the decision was that “the interests of Blacks in achieving racial equality will be accommodated only when it converges with the interests of Whites” — termed "interest convergence".

Anti-white racism and white fragility

One of the leaders of CRT, Professor Cheryl Harris said Trump’s ban and the undermining of CRT "is a ploy intended to gin up the idea that anti-racist work is itself racist — against whites."

CRT recognises that race is not biologically based, but socially constructed and socially significant, while acknowledging that racism is embedded within systems and institutions, such as the judiciary.

It recognises that racist incidents are not aberrations but displays of structural and systemic inequality, while also rejecting popular understandings of racism, such as the "few bad apples" theory of policing and the "colourblindness" of meritocracy.

It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalised racism perpetuate a racial caste system that delegates people of colour to a lower-tier standing. Its primary intervention is showing the shortcomings of formal legal, political, family, religious, economic and educational disciplinary practices and looks to see how race functions in legal outcomes.

CRT’s important analysis has insisted that racism be seen as structural and endemic in almost all areas of society.

It is not diversity or inclusion "training", but a practice of cross-examining the role of race and racism that emerged in the legal academy and spread into other fields.

It is not the diversity business whiplash of pandemic-era pandering that has turned itself into a pseudo-protest boom micro-economy, portrayed as a single-minded cult, with $5000 "Anti-Racist" dinner parties where varying degrees of vanity and self-delusion flow like white wine.

It is not Lockheed Martin top executives and a three-star general completing 16-hour Zoom courses to "unlearn their white male privilege", while simultaneously running one of the country’s largest aerospace defense contractors.

These scaremongers want people to see discussions of "white fragility" and "privilege" as CRT’s pinnacle and as the limits of its strengths.

They talk about "white fragility" being an issue of people being anxious to talk about race, however, what they fail to mention is that white fragility is violent, because when the psyche breaks it's explosive. It's a conversation that's shown itself time and again in the hands of white people as not being centered on alleviating social inequity.

Right-wing think tanks

Think tanks, such as the Charles Koch Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, Aequus Foundation — whose executive director, Larry Arnn chaired the 1776 Project — the Heritage Foundation, the State Policy Network — which connects Koch-funded think tanks such as the Cato Institute, Claremont Institute and Hoover Institution — have a long track record of fueling hostility towards academic freedom.

They have added fuel to the fire, which has affected local school boards and city councils across the country.

The Manhattan Institute has long contested that the public school system be funded by the government, but that education services be "the democratic norm" for the country and provided by private entities — which they call "educational pluralism".

The attacks on CRT are being led in large part by "anti-affirmative action" activists like Christopher Rufo — who rose through the conservative blogosphere to Fox News, James Lindsay — one of the authors behind the "Grievance studies affair" known as the Sokal Hoax a series of pseudoscientific academic articles designed to expose "poor science" in gender studies, race studies, cultural studies, and sociology.

Rufo’s comments on Twitter, cited in a Washington Post article on the ban on teaching CRT in schools, puts it in perspective.

“We have successfully frozen their brand — ‘critical race theory’ — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category,” tweeted Rufo.

“The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory’.”

The goal is to divorce CRT from its Black radical and intellectual tradition, and erase from history the scholars who merged a conception of racialised capitalism and economic philosophy with psychology among other humanities and sciences into the field.

New Jim Crow

Anti-CRT advocates want to replace the theory with race essentialism and conflate structures and agency with antagonism towards freedom and liberties.

Their motives become clearer when considering that six of the states with bills attacking “divisive topics” being taught in schools are also considering or enacting new "school choice" laws. If passed, these laws give parents vouchers so they can remove their children from public schools and send them to private schools at taxpayers’ expense.

As opposed to being an honest dialogue on education, the right is engaged in a ham-fisted attempt at making cheap political points. It intends to force its agenda, by attacking critical thinking and questioning norms, while simultaneously creating a strategy for pushing white families out of public schools while scapegoating public school teachers.

It is a 21st century-reimagining of American Apartheid schooling with an intersection of racism and the law akin to Jim Crow (American Apartheid) and an education system of Brown v Board of Education for a new generation of parents and children to endure.

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