How this pernicious ideology rejects rational inquiry and objective truth.
On September 22, 2020, President Trump issued Executive Order 13950, “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” The order contained the kind of emotionally charged language about critical race theory that is seldom seen in these legalistic documents: “This ideology is rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors; and that racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as human beings and Americans.”
The order quoted from training materials being used by government agencies and from statements of the agencies themselves, such as this from the Treasury Department: “Virtually all White people, regardless of how ‘woke’ they are, contribute to racism.” The department, according to the order, “instructed small group leaders to encourage employees to avoid ‘narratives’ that Americans should ‘be more color-blind’ or ‘let people’s skills and personalities be what differentiates them.’” Trump’s order was revoked by President Biden on his first day in office.
By this time, however, the ideas that had prompted Trump’s concerns had already begun to disturb the lives of the American people who encountered them. In a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada on December 20, 2020, Gabrielle Clark, the mother of William Clark, a twelfth-grader in a Nevada charter school, complained about the school’s refusal to accept her son’s objection to what was being taught in a recently revised civics course. Ms. Clark, a widow, is black. Her son’s father, however, was white, and her son was light-skinned enough to be considered white.
In her complaint, Clark stated that a new curriculum at William’s school “inserted consciousness raising and conditioning exercises under the banner of ‘Intersectionality’ and ‘Critical Race Theory.’” “The lesson categorized certain racial and religious identities as inherently ‘oppressive,’ . . . and instructed pupils including William Clark who fell into these categories to accept the label ‘oppressor.’”
Despite Clark’s and her son’s objections to what he was being required to admit about himself and his racial heritage, the school insisted that he take this course and gave him a failing grade — imperiling his chances for college admission — because of his refusal to admit that he harbored the views that were being pressed upon the class.
The remarkable thing about the school’s attitude was its refusal to recognize a student’s objection to the characterization of his personal views. As we will see, this is an insignia of what is now called critical race theory (CRT), which for reasons outlined below will not — actually cannot — accept any white person’s view that he or she is not a racist or oppressor.
Bari Weiss is a former employee of the New York Times, a highly educated and successful writer, who resigned from the staff of the Times in July 2020, with a letter to the publisher complaining of the development within the paper’s staff of a “consensus” that “truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job it is to inform everyone else.” Although Weiss has never publicly identified the “orthodoxy” she described in the letter, it is clear from her actions later that it is the same “divisive concepts” identified by Trump in his executive order and described in Gabrielle Clark’s complaint.
Since then, Weiss has taken up the cause of showing how widespread and dangerous these ideas have become. In a memorandum to her mailing list on March 10 this year, Weiss described the predicament of affluent parents in Los Angeles who see their children being indoctrinated with ideas about critical race theory but don’t protest, for fear of being called racists themselves.
In its way, this is as extraordinary as Trump’s executive order and the refusal of William Clark’s school to accept his protest that he is not a racist. This Los Angeles parents’ group, Weiss wrote, “is one of many organizing quietly around the country to fight what it describes as an ideological movement that has taken over their schools. . . . They are all eager for their story to be told — but not a single one would let me use their name. They worry about losing their jobs or hurting their children if their opposition to this ideology were known.” Another said her son begged her not to talk to Weiss. “He wants to go to a great university, and he told me that one bad statement from me will ruin us. This is the United States of America. Are you freaking kidding me?”
In February 2021, Jodi Shaw, a white female employee of Smith College, resigned, accusing the school of creating a “racially hostile environment” for white people. The incident that produced this reaction occurred in 2018, when a black student was found eating her lunch in a room that was not supposed to be in use. The janitor and the security staff, both white, had advised her to leave and, according to all reports, had acted properly. They were dismissed by the school after the student’s complaint of racism. The school then began a series of initiatives that were intended to eliminate “systemic racism” on campus.
This was not the end of the matter. On March 22, 2021, an organization called “1776 Unites” also wrote a letter to Smith president Kathleen McCartney:
We, the undersigned, are writing as Black Americans to express our outrage at the treatment of the service workers of Smith College. . . . Before investigating the facts, Smith College assumed that every one of the people who prepare its food and clean its facilities was guilty of the vile sin of racism and forced them to publicly ‘cleanse’ themselves through a series of humiliating exercises in order to keep their jobs. Smith College offered no public apology to the falsely accused and merely doubled down on the shaming of its most vulnerable employees.”
For purposes of this essay, the key element in the Smith episode is the failure of the college president to apologize publicly or privately to Jodi Shaw or the white service workers who lost their jobs without good reason. It reflects an uncompromising and unreasoning attitude that accompanies every example of how critical race theory is implemented. No quarter is given, as though no wrong was actually done. It’s as though the individuals involved are not of any importance — just the principle that “racial justice” be achieved. This is a characteristic of totalitarian ideas, and hostile to the concern for individuals that has always characterized classical liberal thinking in the United States.
Why This Is Different
What is happening in the U.S. today, however, is different from ordinary leftist bias. Even where the progressive Left is dominant, its members usually claim that open debate is a good thing. This is not the case with programs like critical race theory. There, as in the examples above, reason and compromise are abjured.
Where did this attitude come from?
It would not be surprising to find in this a link to Marxism, a belief system that does not depend on facts or evidence but asserts that capitalism is at the root of society’s evils, including racism. It’s likely that what we are seeing in the rise of critical race theory is a transmuted form of Marxism, characterized by the same rigidity of outlook but with an updated or modernized complaint about the society and social system it is attacking.
In Cynical Theories, a book on the rise of CRT, authors Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay lay the ultimate responsibility for the rigidity of CRT and related ideas at the door of an academic community that has become enthralled to a new philosophy called “postmodernism.”
A New Secular Religion Evolves
“Postmodernism first burst onto the intellectual scene in the late 1960s,” Pluckrose and Lindsay write, “and quickly became wildly fashionable among leftist and left-leaning academics.” In principle, it denied that truth was discoverable through reason and emphasized the importance of ideology. “The idea that we can come to know objective reality and that what we call ‘truth’ in some way corresponds to it were placed on the chopping block.”
This cynical view turned activist in the 1980s. Postmodernists tried to use this philosophy for “activism on behalf of women and LGBT and, in the United States, the Civil Rights movement . . . just as disillusionment with Marxism — until then, the main, longstanding leftist social-justice cause — was spreading through the political and cultural left. Given the catastrophic results of communism everywhere it had been put into practice, this disillusionment was well founded and radically altered the worldviews of leftist cultural elites.”
It is ironic that although American progressives have eschewed Marxism and its offshoots for well over a century, they should now have fallen in love with a successor to Marxism that is at least as radical and intractable. The difference is that critical race theory and related notions present themselves not as political theories but as purely social ideas.
Many things changed as postmodern theory turned to activism. Pluckrose and Lindsay write that
teaching became a political act. . . . In subjects ranging from gender studies to English literature, it is now perfectly acceptable to state a theoretical position and then use that lens to examine the material, without making any attempt to falsify one’s interpretation by including disconfirming evidence or alternative explanations. Now, scholars can openly declare themselves to be activists and teach activism in courses that require students to accept the ideological basis of Social Justice as true and produce work that supports it.
Obviously, where CRT is taught, it seals off all counterarguments and requires that whites accept the views of nonwhites about the realities of what nonwhites have experienced. No one, CRT proponents argue, who has not actually experienced racism as a black or brown person can claim not to be a racist, because no one who has not experienced racism can fully comprehend what it means.
This attitude inverts the truth, disrupts honest discussion between races, and denies any role for reason. In other words, the more a white person denounces racism and claims not to be a racist, the clearer it is, in critical race theory, that he or she is a racist. It should be obvious how this deceptive argument might be persuasive with young people in elementary school, high school, and even college who have not experienced much of the world and are taken in by this kind of argumentation from teachers or professors.
Wokeness and Reason
The denial of any role for reason or evidence appears to be at the very root of Marxism, postmodernism, CRT, and “wokeness.”
It is both stunning and appalling that critical race theory, a belief system that denies the values that have come down to us from the Enlightenment, can gain ground in 21st-century America. The pessimistic view is that societies, even those well-educated and culturally advanced, sometimes spin out of control over ideas that in retrospect seem lunatic. That happened in Germany in the last century. The support for unreason today in the academy, among university students, and in media such as the New York Times is a truly bad sign.
On the other hand, most Americans are not yet aware of what is happening among the elites and the threat it ultimately poses to democracy. When they realize what is being taught to their children, by large corporations to their staffs, or to the federal workforce, there could well be the kind of reaction that prompted Trump’s executive order. Until then, it remains a hope.
If approved, rule would funnel federal money to antiracist groups
The Biden administration this week proposed a rule that would encourage public schools to adopt radical, racially driven curricula in American history and civics classes.
The Department of Education on Monday proposed a rule that would prioritize federal funding for education groups that help schools develop and implement antiracist teaching standards. If the rule takes effect, the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education would increase grants to woke groups across the country.
School districts in recent months have increased their efforts to weave critical race theory—the idea that America’s political and economic systems are inherently racist—into K-12 curriculum standards. The Education Department’s proposal signals the Biden administration’s support for this trend.
The rule would allocate federal funding for education contractors who work to “improve” K-12 curriculum by promoting “racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically responsive teaching and learning practices.” The rule would also require the Education Department to encourage social studies curricula that teach students about “systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history.”
The Education Department claims that the coronavirus pandemic and “ongoing national reckoning with systemic racism” make changes to the education system necessary. The proposal cites the New York Times‘s 1619 Project and antiracist scholar Ibram X. Kendi’s criticisms of American education.
“Schools across the country are working to incorporate antiracist practices into teaching and learning,” the proposal reads. “It is critical that the teaching of American history and civics creates learning experiences that validate and reflect the diversity, identities, histories, contributions, and experiences of all students.”
The proposal will undergo a month-long notice-and-comment period, during which interested parties can submit questions on the rule to the department. The department must respond to each individual comment prior to releasing a final draft of the rule, which can take months or even years depending on the number of comments received.
Christopher Rufo, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow who has documented the antiracist push in schools and federal institutions, told the Washington Free Beacon that this decision shows the Biden administration’s true colors.
“President Biden is structuring the Department of Education’s programs to incentivize critical race theory in America’s public schools,” Rufo said. “Biden campaigned as a moderate, but this decision would bring a radical and unpopular ideology into the classroom. The federal government should reject the principles of race essentialism, collective guilt, and neo-segregation, not encourage them in the public education system.”
The Biden administration’s move follows national trends to weave anti-American ideology into public schools. The Illinois State Board of Education in February approved a set of learning standards that asks teachers to “mitigate” behaviors that stem from “Eurocentrism” and “unearned privilege.”
California has considered adopting standards that teach kids to “resist” Christianity and other elements of the “Eurocentric neocolonial condition.” And the North Carolina State Board of Education in February adopted a new set of K-12 history curriculum that teaches high schoolers to “compare how some groups in American society have benefited from economic policies while other groups have been systematically denied the same benefits.”
Americans are now trained to see racism everywhere, even where it doesn't exist.
One high school in Oregon postponed a vote last week on whether to change its mascot from the Trojan to the Evergreens over concerns the imagery of lush timber was racist.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School, named after the prominent black activist and journalist who documented lynching in the post-Civil War era, was considering a mascot change to adopt a symbol more representative of its connection to the community. Board members complained, however, that evergreen trees would conjure up imagery invoking the brutal execution of African-Americans.
“I think everyone comes with blind spots and I think that might’ve been a really big blind spot,” said Director Michelle DePass at the school board meeting.
The episode is emblematic of how the country has come to see race, viewing minorities deemed oppressed by the woke left as fragile special-interest groups that Americans must hold a religious commitment to buttress in the moral righteousness of “antiracism.” Everywhere, Americans are explicitly reminded of the racial inequities among minority groups as evidence of their inherent racism and the nation’s irredeemably racist past — and present.
Starting at an early age, Americans are barraged with statistics and anecdotes, about everything from income to health status, that are always broken down by race to highlight disparities that victimize minorities and define their destiny as one determined by racist circumstance over personal responsibility. This ideology of abject victimhood taught in classrooms, newsrooms, and boardrooms after being bred for an entire generation on left-wing university campuses has now produced a nation dangerously constrained by a toxic obsession with race.
Under this doctrine, anything and everything must be vetted by 21st-century standards of cultural acceptance to root out the poisonous racism. This obsession, however, is the root of American demise. A nation primed to think only about race will only think about race.
Americans are now trained to see racism in everything, even where it doesn’t exist. Trees are racist. Hiking is racist. Your cereal box is racist. Your depictions of Santa Claus and Jesus are racist. Claiming otherwise to any of it is also racist.
Minorities are trained to see themselves as hopelessly oppressed and facing endless aggressions at every turn. Every slightest impolite infraction can earn the morally indignant condemnation as racist, wrecking the perpetrator as a villain responsible for deep personal trauma. The so-called trauma, however, is merely a preconception inculcated by years of woke indoctrination.
None of this is to say racism doesn’t exist. Americans can and should recognize there are racial tensions that need to be addressed. The radical obsession with defining every aspect of the modern culture through the exhaustive lens of “antiracism,” however, has only led tensions to new heights while deceiving millions of well-meaning Americans who are terrified of the racist label and roping them into the effort. And “antiracism,” weaponized by the political left to pursue political ends through intimidation of their opponents, has stifled debate, driven division, and merely created a different kind of racism.
The debate over voter ID requirements included in the recent Republican-passed Georgia voting bill provides a perfect illustration of today’s racism infecting woke corporatists and the Democratic Party, which claim — in the name of antiracism of course — that mandated identification requirements for ballot access are too difficult for minorities to comply with.
And then there’s affirmative action and the push for reparations, endorsed by the Democratic Party, which claims minorities aren’t capable of achieving of the American dream without white saviors and billions in special assistance.
Race relations under the mandated lens of antiracism aren’t getting any better. On that, nearly all Americans agree. According to Gallup, in 2008, the year Americans elected their first black president, 70 percent of white adults and 61 percent of black adults said race relations were either “very” or “somewhat good.” Only 46 percent of white adults and 36 percent of black adults said the same in 2020.
If last year’s radical acceleration of antiracism in the culture war has taught us nothing else, it’s that the colorblind approach was likely the right one. The opposite has shown to be an aggressive form of racism featuring the bigotry of low expectations cloaked in the moral righteousness of social justice.
In the aftermath of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases one element is the most perplexing. The President and his Attorney General are claiming, or insinuating that both victims were gentle and peaceful black persons, and the use of deadly force by the policemen in both cases was unjustified and essentially racially motivated. This judgment is blatantly counterfactual. More importantly, it is also destructively retrogressive. Just as the ideologically fueled racism of the twentieth century was ultimately defeated in Europe and beyond, the unsustainability of exploiting racial hatred in the United States for nefarious political objectives is losing its appeal for the vast majority of the people, both blacks and non-blacks, who share the American dream of universal liberty, internal and external peace, stability and prosperity for themselves and their families.
Honesty ensures clairvoyance. It is also always beneficial to be aware of the facts of a matter before decisions are made about what needs to be done to address effectively a given situation. Then again, if elected representatives and their handpicked ideological soulmates distort or pervert reality, they are betraying the fundamentals of their political legitimacy. Continue reading
The sighs of relief from the left are almost audible. Racism lives! The hate is out there!
It would be unfitting to throw a party for the occasion of hateful comments from Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy, but some liberal journalists are probably tempted. “I’m trying to wring some grim humor out of the news, but I’m getting my racists all mixed up,” quipped Robin Abcarian of the Los Angeles Times. “Believe it or not,” wrote Mary Curtis in the Washington Post, “something good might arise from the racist swamp of recent news cycles.” It’s all right, Ms. Curtis. You may proceed with your heel clicks. We all know that multiple high-profile racists in a 2-week period make for high times for liberals.
Liberals need racist foes to vanquish. Most of the time they have to resort to finding them where they obviously aren’t there. Ross Douthat could print his mother’s best cookie recipes, and his New York Times readers would still lambast him as a bigot. (Perhaps we would learn that snickerdoodles are a well-known symbol of oppression in certain sub-cultures.) Paul Ryan can hardly order a sandwich without liberal pundits combing through in search of the racist “coding” that they know to be hidden within all Republican rhetoric. Continue reading
by Juan Williams
Have you heard the news?
Condoleezza Rice lacks “moral authority.” She fails to meet the standards of “exemplary citizenship” and she does not have what it takes to “inspire” graduating college seniors.
That crazy thinking comes from the New Brunswick Faculty Council of Rutgers University. They voted last week to ask university leadership to cancel Rice’s invitation to be this year’s Commencement Speaker and receive an honorary degree.
Yes, apparently the first African-American woman to serve as National Security Adviser and the nation’s Secretary of State doesn’t have what it takes to be honored by Rutgers. Continue reading
On WMAL’s “Mornings on the Mall” radio program (105.9 FM) in Washington, D.C., on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, George Mason University professor Walter E. Williams discussed civil rights and progress.
WALTER WILLIAMS: I think that something that’s not spoken of very much is that black Americans have made the greatest gains over some of the highest hurdles in the shortest span of time than any racial group in the history of this world. Why do I say this? Well, if you just add up the income that black Americans earn and thought of us as a separate nation, we would be the 16th or 17th richest nation on the face of this earth. There are a few black Americans who are among some of the world’s richest people. It was a black American in the form of Colin Powell who was the head of the world’s mightiest military. Some black Americans are the world’s most famous personalities. Now, in 1865, neither a slave nor a slave owner would have believed that such progress was possible in just a little bit over a century. And, as such, it speaks to the intestinal fortitude of a people and, just as importantly, it speaks to the greatness of a nation in which these kind of gains are possible.