Huq: The Conservative Case Against Banning Critical Race Theory

Good questioning conservative “snowflake” discomfort:

By the end of June, 29 Republican-led state legislatures had considered and nine had enacted laws to penalize schools or teachers teaching critical race theory(CRT). Whether or not such laws would stifle anything taught in public schools today is uncertain because existing legislative control over curricula is already extensive. But the war against CRT is spilling into new arenas: Florida’s anti-CRT law forces colleges to survey how “competing ideas and perspectives” are presented, threatening funding cuts if a university is “indoctrinating.”

A paradox lies at this largely conservative campaign against CRT. If you slice through the rhetoric, it rests on a view of free speech that the political right, until now, stridently and correctly rejected: That speech can and should be curtailed because it makes some people feel uncomfortable or threatened. As a result, perhaps the most powerful argument against CRT’s critics is located on the political right, particularly in a recent opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, one of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court.
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Consider first how varied and inconsistent the portrayals of CRT on offer are. The Republic Study Committee defines CRT as a belief in “racial essentialism.” In contrast, Ellie Krasne of the Heritage Foundation postulates that CRT is “rooted in Marxism,” and so defines race as “a social construct, enforced by those in power (white men).” Similarly, the Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo talks of CRT as “identity-based Marxism.” He detects it whenever terms such as “social justice” and “diversity and inclusion” are used, and so sees it “permeat[ing] the collective intelligence and decision-making process of American government” in advance of a socialist uprising.

Turn to the newly-minted laws, and one finds yet other, quite different depictions. Florida’s, for example, defines it as any “theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice.” Idaho’s characterizes CRT as teaching that treats people as “inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same … race.”

These definitions of CRT can’t be reconciled. None offer clear guiderails to what precisely it means to ban CRT—No more talk of race as an identity? No discussion of laws or institutions that create racial stratification? Taken literally, some of the definitions also extend absurdly far. Florida’s could prohibit Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economist Gary Becker’s work on discrimination, because Becker identifies market concentration and education (not “merely” prejudice) as causal predicates of discrimination.

Perhaps it’s a mistake to look for a stable definition of CRT threading together the case against it. For at the core of the case against CRT is instead the simple idea that people shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable about their advantages or others’ disadvantages. This is a version of the “belief in a just world” that psychologists long ago identified. But here it has a partisan edge: it is about appealing to people—especially those in “swing districts” targeted by Republicans in 2022—who feel unease in their present relative advantage, but find it costly to dissect such discomfort.

Both the Idaho and the Florida laws target suggestions that someone should be responsible for disadvantages now faced by Blacks and other minorities, beyond a narrowly defined coterie of ‘bad’ discriminators. Similarly, Krasne centrally objects to being made to feel that she is “an enemy of all that is good.” Rufo complains in a similar vein about people having to write “letters of apology”—since whites have nothing to feel culpable about. As one (white) letter writer to the Laconia Daily Sunplaintively said, the problem with CRT is that it surfaces the possibility of “systems and rules that work in my favor, benefiting me every day, month and year, that are not available to anyone else in America.” Indeed.

The case against CRT, in short, is not about a fixed set of ideas. It is about wanting to avoid certain feelings of discomfort or even shame. But the right has encountered this idea before—and seemed not to like it. Until recently, commentators on the political right have claimed that universities are captured by “leftist” students who “don’t think much” about free speech, or who “don’t want to be bothered anymore by ideas that offend them.” A “jargon of safety” in universities, complained commentator Megan McCardle, is then used to “silence” those who don’t agree.

Conservatives disparage arguments made by “snowflake” college students. But the case against CRT is made of the same stuff. As such, it is subject to the same response. Hence, in a recent opinion concerning off-campus student speech, Justice Alito explained why a student’s crude rant about being excluded from a cheerleading squad could not be punished in simple terms: “Speech cannot be suppressed just because it expresses thoughts or sentiments that others find upsetting.” This is indeed the law: The Supreme Court has not allowed the state to prohibit or punish speech because it riles up an audience since 1951.

The idea that audience discomfort provides a justification for censorship, that is, is at profound odds with our free speech tradition. The case against CRT shows why: Because it turns on how an audience feels, this argument for speech bans has an indefinite, elastic quality, one that accommodates an endlessly voracious appetite for censoriousness. One of the lessons of the CRT debate, indeed, is that offense can and is taken at indubitably true facts. In many educational contexts, this would mean that either side of a hot-button issue would have the right to shut the other down.

Ironically then, if there is a lesson to be learned from the war on CRT, it has nothing to do with how to talk about race—and everything with how the Trumpian revolution continues to devour the principles of American conservatism.

Source: The Conservative Case Against Banning Critical Race Theory

Anti-Critical Race Theory Laws Are Un-American

Good joint commentary from a variety of perspectives:

What is the purpose of a liberal education? This is the question at the heart of a bitter debate that has been roiling the nation for months.

Schools, particularly at the kindergarten-to-12th-grade level, are responsible for helping turn students into well-informed and discerning citizens. At their best, our nation’s schools equip young minds to grapple with complexity and navigate our differences. At their worst, they resemble indoctrination factories.

In recent weeks, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho and Texas have all passed legislation that places significant restrictions on what can be taught in public school classrooms, and in some cases, public universities, too.

Tennessee House Bill SB 0623, for example, bans any teaching that could lead an individual to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” In addition to this vague proscription, it restricts teaching that leads to “division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people.”

Texas House Bill 3979 goes further, forbidding teaching that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States.” It also bars any classroom from requiring “an understanding of the 1619 Project” — The New York Times Magazine’s special issue devoted to a reframing of the nation’s founding — and hence prohibits assigning any part of it as required reading.

These initiatives have been marketed as “anti-critical race theory” laws. We, the authors of this essay, have wide ideological divergences on the explicit targets of this legislation. Some of us are deeply influenced by the academic discipline of critical race theory and its critique of racist structures and admire the 1619 Project. Some of us are skeptical of structural racist explanations and racial identity itself, and disagree with the mission and methodology of the 1619 Project. We span the ideological spectrum: a progressive, a moderate, a libertarian and a conservative.

It is because of these differences that we here join together, as we are united in one overarching concern: the danger posed by these laws to liberal education.

The laws differ in some respects but generally agree on blocking any teaching that would lead students to feel “discomfort, guilt or anguish” because of one’s race or ancestry, as well as restricting teaching that subsequent generations have any kind of historical responsibility for actions of previous generations. They attempt various carve outs for the “impartial teaching” of the history of oppression of groups. But it’s hard to see how these attempts are at all consistent with demands to avoid discomfort. These measures would, by way of comparison, make Germany’s uncompromising and successful approach to teaching about the Holocaust illegal, as part of its goal is to infuse them with some sense of the weight of the past, and (famously) lead many German students to feel “anguish” about their ancestry.

Indeed, the very act of learning history in a free and multiethnic society is inescapably fraught. Any accurate teaching of any country’s history could make some of its citizens feel uncomfortable (or even guilty) about the past. To deny this necessary consequence of education is, to quote W.E.B. Du Bois, to transform “history into propaganda.”

What’s more, these laws even make it difficult to teach U.S. history in a way that would reveal well-documented ways in which past policy decisions, like redlining, have contributed to present-day racial wealth gaps. An education of this sort would be negligent, creating ignorant citizens who are unable to understand, for instance, the case for reparations — or the case against them.

Because these laws often aim to protecting the feelings of hypothetical children, they are dangerously imprecise. State governments exercise a high degree of lawful control over K-12 curriculum. But broad, vague laws violate due process and fundamental fairness because they don’t give the teachers fair warning of what’s prohibited. For example, the Tennessee statute prohibits a public school from including in a course of instruction any “concept” that promotes “division between, or resentment of” a “creed.” Would a teacher be violating the law if they express the opinion that the creeds of Stalinism or Nazism were evil?

Other laws appear to potentially ban even expression as benign as support for affirmative action, but it’s far from clear. In fact, shortly after Texas passed its purported ban on critical race theory, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a list of words and concepts that help “identify critical race theory in the classroom.” The list included terms such as “social justice,” “colonialism” and “identity.” Applying these same standards to colleges or private institutions would be flatly unconstitutional.

These laws threaten the basic purpose of a historical education in a liberal democracy. But censorship is the wrong approach even to the concepts that are the intended targets of these laws.

Though some of us share the antipathy of the legislation’s authors toward some of these targets, and object to overreaches that leave many parents understandably anxious about the stewardship of their children’s education, we all reject the means by which these measures encode that antipathy into legislation.

A wiser response to problematic elements of what is being labeled critical race theory would be twofold: propose better curriculums and enforce existing civil rights laws. Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act both prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, and they are rooted in a considerable body of case law that provides administrators with far more concrete guidance on how to proceed. In fact, there is already an Education Department Office of Civil Rights complaint and federal lawsuit aimed at programs that allegedly attempt to place students or teachers into racial “affinity groups.”

The task of defending the fundamentally liberal democratic nature of the American project ultimately requires the confidence to meet challenges to that vision. Censoring such challenges is a concession to their power, not a defense.

Let’s not mince words about these laws. They are speech codes. They seek to change public education by banning the expression of ideas. Even if this censorship is legal in the narrow context of public primary and secondary education, it is antithetical to educating students in the culture of American free expression.

There will always be disagreement about any nation’s history. The United States is no exception. If history is to judge the United States as exceptional, it is because we welcome such contestation in our public spaces as part of our unfolding national ethos. It is a violation of this commonly shared vision of America as a nation of free, vigorous and open debate to resort to the apparatus of the government to shut it down.


State GOP lawmakers try to limit teaching about race, racism

Of note (and of course, the states are preserving existing indoctrination):

Teachers and professors in Idaho will be prevented from “indoctrinating” students on race. Oklahoma teachers will be prohibited from saying certain people are inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously. Tennessee schools will risk losing state aid if their lessons include particular concepts about race and racism.

Governors and legislatures in Republican-controlled states across the country are moving to define what race-related ideas can be taught in public schools and colleges, a reaction to the nation’s racial reckoning after last year’s police killing of George Floyd. The measures have been signed into law in at least three states and are being considered in many more.

Educators and education groups are concerned that the proposals will have a chilling effect in the classroom and that students could be given a whitewashed version of the nation’s history. Teachers are also worried about possible repercussions if a student or parent complains.

“Once we remove the option of teachers incorporating all parts of history, we’re basically silencing the voices of those who already feel oppressed,” said Lakeisha Patterson, a third-grade English and social studies teacher who lives in Houston and worries about a bill under consideration in Texas.

At least 16 states are considering or have signed into law bills that would limit the teaching of certain ideas linked to “critical race theory,” which seeks to reframe the narrative of American history. Its proponents argue that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people on the basis of race and that the country was founded on the theft of land and labor.

Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

The latest state to implement a law is Tennessee, where the governor this past week signed a bill to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools.

The legislative debate over that bill caused a stir earlier this month when a Republican lawmaker who supports it, state Rep. Justin Lafferty, wrongly declared that the Constitution’s original provision designating a slave as three-fifths of a person was adopted for “the purpose of ending slavery.” Historians largely agree that the compromise gave slaveholding states more political power.

Some other states have taken steps that fall short of legislative change.

After Utah’s Republican governor blocked a vote on a set of similar bills, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed a symbolic resolution recommending that the state review any curriculum that examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp wrote in a letter to state education board members that they should “take immediate steps to ensure that Critical Race Theory and its dangerous ideology do not take root in our state standards or curriculum.”

Montana’s attorney general issued a binding decision Thursday declaring that certain teachings violate the U.S. and state constitutions and that schools, local governments and public workplaces could lose state funding and be on the hook for damages stemming from lawsuits if they provide critical race theory training or activities.

The National Education Association and the National Council for the Social Studies oppose legislation to limit what ideas can be presented inside a classroom.

“It creates a very chilling atmosphere of distrust, educators not being able to be the professionals they are not only hired to be but are trained to be,” said Lawrence Paska, a former middle school social studies teacher in New York and executive director of the council.

Republicans have said concepts suggesting that people are inherently racist or that America was founded on racial oppression are divisive and have no place in the classroom.

Earlier this month, Republicans in the North Carolina House moved to prohibit teachers from promoting seven concepts that critically examine race and racism, including the belief that a person’s race or sex determines their moral character, that people bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex, and that they should feel guilty because of those two characteristics.

Rep. John Torbett, a Republican who leads North Carolina’s House education committee, said the legislation was intended to promote equality, not rewrite history.

“It ensures equity,” Torbett said during a hearing this month. “It ensures that all people in society are equitable. It has no mention of history.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum, was among those who helped popularize critical race theory in the 1970s and 1980s as a response to what she and others felt was a lack of progress following passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

She said Republicans are twisting the concept to inflame racial tensions and motivate their base of mostly white supporters.

“This is a 2022 strategy to weaponize white insecurity, to mobilize ideas that have been mobilized again and again throughout history, using a concept or set of ideas that they can convince people is the new boogeyman,” Crenshaw said.

The boundary between teaching ideas and promoting them has stirred concern among teachers and racial justice scholars.

Uncertainty about that boundary could cause teachers to avoid difficult conversations about American history, said Cheryl Harris, a UCLA Law School professor who teaches a course on critical race theory.

“For anybody who’s ever taught in a classroom, the idea is to get the conversation flowing, and you can’t do that if you’re preoccupied with which side of the line are you going to be on,” Harris said. “That is a chilling effect, and that is every bit as offensive to the First Amendment as a direct ban.”

Opponents of the North Carolina bill say it’s a solution in search of a problem. Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said the bill’s promoters could not point to any school in the state where students were being indoctrinated in certain racial concepts.

That’s just one reason the bill faces an uphill climb. The press secretary for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper said the governor believes instruction should be honest and accurate, and that students need to be taught to think critically.

The legislation also faces skepticism from the Republican leader of the state Senate, where it will be considered next.

“I don’t like making it illegal to teach a certain doctrine, as wrong as that doctrine may be, while saying the reason for that ban is freedom of thought,” Sen. Phil Berger said in a statement. “That strikes me as a contradiction.”

Source: State GOP lawmakers try to limit teaching about race, racism

The War on Critical Race Theory

Good long read (The Atlantic also, The GOP’s ‘Critical Race Theory’ Obsession)

According to the right, a specter is haunting the United States: the specter of critical race theory (CRT).

On the eve of losing the presidency, Donald Trump issued an executive order in September banning “diversity and race sensitivity training” in government agencies, including all government “spending related to any training on critical race theory.” He was prompted, apparently, by hearing an interview with conservative activist Christopher Rufo on Fox News characterizing “critical race theory programs in government” as “the cult of indoctrination.” (President Biden ended the ban as soon as he took office.) In March Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, introduced a bill seeking to ban the teaching of CRT in the military because—he charges without argument or evidence—it is “racist.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banned CRT from being covered in Florida’s public schools for “teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other.” Republican majority lawmakers in the state of Idaho prohibited the use of state funding for student “social justice” activities of any kind at public universities and threatened to withhold funding earmarked for “social justice programming and critical race theory.” Lawmakers in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Utah are following suit.

The exact targets of critical race theory’s critics vary wildly, but it is obvious that most critics simply do not know what they are talking about.

Similar attacks are afoot abroad. In Britain a government minister declared in October that the government was “unequivocally against” the concept, even though records show that the phrase “critical race theory” had never once been uttered in the House of Commons before that time. And a British government “Race Report,” commissioned by Boris Johnson in the wake of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, was just released amidst considerable controversy for its reductive definition of racial discrimination as nothing but the explicit invocation of skin color. For the French, criticism of a “decolonial” turn in the academy is being invoked to do the sort of political silencing that CRT has been advanced to do by conservatives in the United States and Britain. (Never mind that decolonialization—as a term, a politics, and a field of study—was around well before CRT.) President Emmanuel Macron and his ministers have castigated the importation of “certain social science theories” from “American universities” for leading to “the ethnicization of the social question,” and prominent intellectuals have denounced discussions of race. Philosopher Pierre-André Taguieff, whose earlier work tracked the history of anti-Semitism, indicts contemporary anti-racist critics of the French state as guilty of “anti-white racism.” An assistant attorney general in Australia insisted an anti-racism program should not be funded because “taxpayer funds” were being used “to promote critical race theory.”

The attacks have also made their way to my office doorstep, probably due to my small contribution to the body of scholarship to which “critical race theory” actually refers—scholarship that first emerged several decades ago, not in the last few years, as a critical response to what was then known as “critical legal studies.” When I picked up my mail a few weeks ago, I found a thick hand-addressed envelope with no return address; the contents included an eight-page-long screed denouncing CRT as “hateful fraud.” The documents are copies of resources prepared by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance Greater New York (CACAGNY), which filed an amicus brief in the failed Supreme Court case challenging what the group characterized as discrimination by Harvard University against Asian American applicants. The materials echo essays sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, which calls CRT “the new intolerance” and “the rejection of the underpinnings of Western civilization.” The materials suggest a more coordinated campaign than many seem to have realized; I am surely not the only one who received this package.

What do all these attacks add up to? The exact targets of CRT’s critics vary wildly, but it is obvious that most critics simply do not know what they are talking about. Instead, CRT functions for the right today primarily as an empty signifier for any talk of race and racism at all, a catch-all specter lumping together “multiculturalism,” “wokeism,” “anti-racism,” and “identity politics”—or indeed any suggestion that racial inequities in the United States are anything but fair outcomes, the result of choices made by equally positioned individuals in a free society. They are simply against any talk, discussion, mention, analysis, or intimation of race—except to say we shouldn’t talk about it.

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Among CRT’s critics little distinction is drawn, in particular, between the academic disciplines of critical race theory and critical race studies. Critical race theory refers to a body of legal scholarship developed in the 1970s and ’80s, largely out of Harvard Law School, by the likes of Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Patricia Williams, Mari Matsuda, and Charles Lawrence, III, among others. Though varied in their views, what unites the work of these scholars is a shared sense of the importance of attending explicitly to race in legal argument, given the perpetuation of racial and other hierarchies through the structure of colorblind law instituted after the Civil Rights Act of 1965. The framework has since been taken up, expanded, and applied more generally to social discourse and practice. As a jurisprudential and social theory it is open to critique and revision, even rejection with compelling counterargument—all notably absent from the current attacks.

CRT functions for the right today primarily as a catch-all specter lumping together “multiculturalism,” “wokeism,” “anti-racism,” and “identity politics”—or indeed any suggestion that racial inequities in the United States are anything but fair outcomes.

Critical race studies, by contrast, encompass a broader, more loosely affiliated array of academic work. Some far more compelling than others, these accounts have been taken up, debated, and indeed sometimes dismissed in the expansive analysis of race and racism in and beyond the academy today. Very little holds all of these accounts together beyond taking race and racism as objects of analysis. Two radically divergent books, for example—Isabel Wilkerson’s latest bestseller, Caste, and Oliver Cromwell Cox’s classic, Caste, Class, and Race (1948)—share little in common, though both would be recognized as works in critical race studies.

In conservative accounts, the two authors most commonly cited as CRT’s principal exemplars are Ibram X. Kendi, who trained not in law but in African American Studies (he is CRT’s “New Age guru,” according to the Heritage Foundation), and Robin DiAngelo, a professor of education. Neither is a critical race theorist in the traditional legal sense, and Kendi’s popularizing of some work on race shares little with DiAngelo’s reductive account of what she calls “white fragility.” Other screeds also dismiss philosophers Angela Davis and Achille Mbembe as “scholar-activists” (as if there is something damning about the title). Of course, there is no evidence anywhere of either ever claiming anything resembling that “everyone and everything White is complicit” in racial oppression, or that “all unequal outcomes by race . . . is the result of racial oppression,” as the CACAGNY documents put it.

According to the CACAGNY screed, CRT claims that “you are only your race” and that “by your race alone you will be judged.” The theory of intersectionality—first elaborated by Crenshaw—belies the point, of course, arguing that race operates along with other key determinants of social positioning such as class, gender, disability, and so on. Nor do I know of any serious CRT scholar who would endorse the CACAGNY qualification that, in intersection “with other victimization categories” like gender, “race is always primary.” The point of intersectional analysis is that conditions and context dictate what the primary and exacerbating determinants of inequality and victimization are in specific circumstances. Indeed, one of Crenshaw’s seminal contributions to CRT scholarship specifically criticized the limitations of a “single-axis framework,” including those that focus on race to the exclusion of a supplementary “analysis of sexism.”

Another measure of the ideological dishonesty can be found in the cheapness of these screeds’ intellectual genealogies. According to CACAGNY, CRT simply substitutes “race struggle” for “class struggle” in the work of “such hate promoters as Marx, Lenin, Gramsci, Schmitt, Marcuse, Foucault, and Freire.” Apparently critics cannot be bothered to imagine sources other than white men. For them there was no Frederick Douglass, no W. E. B. Du Bois, no Zora Neale Hurston, Fannie Lou Hamer, or Frantz Fanon, no Aimé Césaire, Alain Locke, or Charles Hamilton Houston, no Stokely Carmichael, Charles Hamilton, or Audre Lorde—and on and on. Their list of progenitors is instead plainly meant to conjure “neo-Marxist” bogeymen, the association with Marxism or socialism the surefire means to parodic conservative dismissal. Needless to say, I have not seen any mention, let alone analysis, of the substantive body of literature on racial capitalism and racial neoliberalism.

The conservative attacks weaponize colorblindness in an effort to neoliberalize racism—to reduce it to a matter of personal beliefs, rather than structural injustice.

A small circle of conservative outlets appears to be responsible for the bulk of the messaging. One of them is City Journal, a voice of the Manhattan Institute long committed to defending and defining the conservative and anti-anti-racist values of the day. The Heritage Foundation, decades-long coordinator of attacks on progressive critical thought, provides the cement, insisting that CRT “seeks to undermine the foundations of American society”—implicitly admitting the racism at the country’s basis. The groups Campus Reform and Turning Point USA weaponize these criticisms to spy on faculty and students across the country they take to be too liberal for the national good. Freedom of expression is cancelled for all but those shouting their agreement with them. National Review gets in on the act by publishing a dismissive review of what they take to be the founding texts of whiteness studies—three decades after those texts were published. These are contemporary extensions of the practices conducted by David Horowitz’s Freedom Center over the last couple of decades; all that is new are the terms of indictment. The critics, NGOs and politicians alike, are mobilizing the very tactics for which they excoriate CRT.

City Journal has published a growing number of articles attacking CRT, many by Rufo—a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former director of the Center on Wealth and Poverty at the Discovery Institute, best known for its unstinting advocacy of intelligent design. Rufo pits a self-styled disenfranchised right against a supposedly out-of-control government set to impose dogma on the unsuspecting:

critical race theory . . . is an almost entirely government-created and government-sponsored ideology, developed in public and publicly-subsidized universities, formulated into policy by public bureaucracies, and transmitted to children in the public school system. The critical race theorists and their enablers at the New York Times and elsewhere want the right to enshrine their personal ideology as official state dogma. They prioritize the “freedom of the state” over the “freedom of the individual”—the prelude, whether deliberate or accidental, to any totalitarian system.

The ideological dishonesty is almost too obvious. Bell, Crenshaw, and others would be surprised to hear it was the government that created CRT. And the irony of the accusation of individual freedoms being sacrificed to the state will not be lost on those noting the current undertaking by these vigorous conservative efforts to impose its ideology on the state. The truth is that the only high-level coordinated campaign attempting to “enshrine” a view of CRT “as state dogma” is a dismissive one. It is the French president who has echoed Heritage Foundation publications and webinars. It is the British prime minister who has authorized a Race Report committed to downplaying racism in society along with the history and legacy of slavery. And it is conservative state governors and politicians in the United States who are acting to legislate bans.

The attacks on CRT and CRS often center examples of egregious “anti-racist” practices, attributed usually to K–12 school classrooms or student groups on university campuses. As with Rufo, decontextualized quotes and positions are often lifted from academic publications; Dinesh D’Souza honed such practices to an art in the 1990s. While many, if not all, of the targeted claims are peripheral to much of CRS and all but missing from CRT, critics attribute their occurrence to the impact, influence, or implication of CRS commitments.

It is true that anti-racism today has been turned into something of an industry. But an honest critique of CRT would take issue with its actual assumptions, logic, and conclusions.

It is true that anti-racism today has been turned into something of an industry. But “diversity training,” “racial equity,” “systemic” and “institutional” racism, and indeed “anti-racism” itself are not the inventions of CRT; all but diversity training predate it. Like “diversity” over the past decade and “multiculturalism” before that, critical race theory is being made the bag now carrying the load long critical of racism. The foolishness sometimes said and done in its name—including some genuinely wince-worthy—is being used as a sledgehammer to bash any effort to discuss and remedy racial injustice. Attempts to turn these into a manual, largely by those looking to advance personal, professional, or pecuniary standing, are doomed to ridicule, which in turn unleashes the conservative caricatures.

Critics such as Thomas Sowell, taking CRT reductively to claim that racism alone disadvantages Black people, counter that education is a major enabling factor in Black advancement. On the face of it nothing objectionable there. But in blaming Black people for lesser educational attainment, they pay no attention to deep, structurally produced inequities in public school funding. They ignore historical lack of access translating into cross-generational disadvantage. They sideline racially disproportionate class differences enabling a greater proportion of wealthier white students to receive after school tutoring and not have to work to put themselves through college. The conceptual narrowing of “racism” in the British Race Report—limiting it to the beliefs of individuals—engages in the same sleight of hand.

An honest critique of CRT would take issue with its actual assumptions, logic, and conclusions, not blame it for policies, programs, and practices—or for that matter, attributed premises and principles—it had no hand in formulating or implementing. “CRT,” a Heritage webinar asserts, collapsing the good and the bad of CRS with CRT, is “leading to cancel culture.” Not only politicians but political fundraising campaigns are using these explicit terms to advance their cause. Controlling the narrative, rather than honest critical debate about the sources and remedies of racial injustice, is defining the agenda.

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What conclusions can we draw from these developments?

First, the coordinated conservative attack on CRT is largely meant to distract from the right’s own paucity of ideas. The strategy is to create a straw house to set aflame in order to draw attention away from not just its incapacity but its outright refusal to address issues of cumulative, especially racial, injustice. In a perverse misuse of Martin Luther King, Jr., colorblindness remains the touchstone of clearly uninformed conservative talking points on race. As critics such as Eduardo Bonilla-SilvaPatricia Williams, and myself, among many others, have long pointed out, colorblindness—the individualizing response to structural and systemic racial injustice par excellence—hides the underlying structural differences historical inequalities reproduce.

The strategy is to create a straw house to set aflame in order to draw attention away from the right’s outright refusal to address cumulative, especially racial, injustice.

Second, the conservative attack on CRT tries to rewrite history in its effort to neoliberalize racism: to reduce it to a matter of personal beliefs and interpersonal prejudice. (Even in this case, you will search in vain at The FederalistNational Review, Fox News, the Daily Caller, and Breitbart News for coverage of a recent story in which a group of white high school students “auctioned” their Black peers on Snapchat.) On this view, the structures of society bear no responsibility, only individuals. Racial inequities today are at worst the unfortunate side effect of a robust commitment to individual freedom, not the living legacy of centuries of racialized systems. The British Race Report shares with the 1776 Project this project of historical erasure. The problem is not the actual histories of slavery, racial subjugation, segregation, and inequity but, as historian David Olusoga observes, how those histories are represented, taught, and mobilized for contemporary ideological purposes. Hence the attack on work spelling out the historically produced social conditions establishing ongoing racist systems—especially the New York Times’s 1619 Project, which is explicitly dismissed as the product of CRT thinking.

Third, race has always been an attractive issue for conservatives to mobilize around. They know all too well how to use it to stoke white resentment while distracting from the depredations of conservative policies for all but the wealthy. Conservatives see their worldview under threat of being eroded; Tucker Carlson now openly alludes to the white nationalist “replacement” conspiracy theory, the fear of white people being diminished and displaced by Blacks, Latinos, and immigrants. “Whiteness,” James Baldwin wrote, is “a metaphor for power.” At a time when the power, privileges, and indeed numbers of the GOP base are under pressure, the conservative assault on CRT is only the latest effort to maintain white domination—economically, politically, and legally.

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There is no simple toolkit for the critical analysis of racism. Pointers and rules of thumb may help, but they are not and never will be a substitute for mass popular organizing to create a more just world.

CRT and more nuanced work in CRS offer an invaluable resource for this work. They take seriously what the conservative attack too readily looks away from. They try to account for what it is in our culture, in the social infrastructure and institutional shaping and the order to which they give rise, that reproduces the undeniable inequality, the lived violence and trauma, that people of color experience in the United States and Europe, however variously.

At a time when the power, privileges, and indeed numbers of the GOP base are under pressure, the conservative assault on CRT is only the latest effort to maintain white domination.

Conservative critics of CRT not only have no serious response to these tragic injustices; instead they belittle the very suggestion that they ought to have one. Willed away are the lives of those they would rather not admit are fellow citizens. Heritage calls instead for a narrative of upliftment and hope. Wiping the slate of history clean, they insist that formal equality under the law—never mind how recently or imperfectly realized—vitiates any claim of enduring injustice. Whatever the unfairness of the past, this thinking goes, individuals are now free to make of their lives what they will.

If we are to learn one thing from this highly orchestrated assault on CRT, it is that this alternative narrative is not a sincere expression of hope: it is a cynical ploy to keep power and privilege in the hands of those who have always held it. Meanwhile, the outcome remains what Marvin Gaye sang about a half century ago: “Brother, brother, brother, there are far too many of you dying.”

Source: The War on Critical Race Theory

Douglas Todd: ‘If I say I don’t see skin colour, am I racist?’ asks B.C. government agency

Personally, I find the debates over nomenclature less interesting than the substantive issues of discrimination and inequality. That being said, a reasonable billboard campaign, just as the Toronto one “where are you from” was:

Would you ask Doris Day that question?”

That’s how famed jazz singer Billie Holiday responds during a 1957 interview to a journalist who asks, “What it’s like to be a coloured woman?” The scene is in the new movie, The United States vs. Billie Holiday.

The acclaimed singer’s answer reflected the anti-racism approach of that era, which had civil rights leaders urging Americans to see beyond the skin colour of Blacks and other minorities — to treat them equally, like everyone else.

Source: Douglas Todd: ‘If I say I don’t see skin colour, am I racist?’ asks B.C. government agency

The Campaign to Cancel Wokeness: How the right is trying to censor critical race theory.

Worth reading:

It’s something of a truism, particularly on the right, that conservatives have claimed the mantle of free speech from an intolerant left that is afraid to engage with uncomfortable ideas. Every embarrassing example of woke overreach — each ill-considered school board decision or high-profile campus meltdown— fuels this perception.

Yet when it comes to outright government censorship, it is the right that’s on the offense. Critical race theory, the intellectual tradition undergirding concepts like white privilege and microaggressions, is often blamed for fomenting what critics call cancel culture. And so, around America and even overseas, people who don’t like cancel culture are on an ironic quest to cancel the promotion of critical race theory in public forums.

In September, Donald Trump’s Office of Management and Budget ordered federal agencies to “begin to identify all contracts or other agency spending related to any training on ‘critical race theory,’” which it described as “un-American propaganda.”

A month later, the conservative government in Britain declared some uses of critical race theory in education illegal. “We do not want teachers to teach their white pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt,” said the Tory equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch. “Any school which teaches these elements of critical race theory, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law.”

Some in France took up the fight as well. “French politicians, high-profile intellectuals and journalists are warning that progressive American ideas — specifically on race, gender, post-colonialism — are undermining their society,” Norimitsu Onishi reported in The New York Times. (This is quite a reversal from the days when American conservatives warned darkly about subversive French theory.)

Once Joe Biden became president, he undid Trump’s critical race theory ban, but lawmakers in several states have proposed their own prohibitions. An Arkansas legislator introduced a pair of bills, one banning the teaching of The Times’s 1619 Project curriculum, and the other nixing classes, events and activities that encourage “division between, resentment of, or social justice for” specific groups of people. “What is not appropriate is being able to theorize, use, specifically, critical race theory,” the bills’ sponsor told The Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Republicans in West Virginia and Oklahoma have introduced bills banning schools and, in West Virginia’s case, state contractors from promoting “divisive concepts,” including claims that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist.” A New Hampshire Republican also proposed a “divisive concepts” ban, saying in a hearing, “This bill addresses something called critical race theory.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a pioneering legal scholar who teaches at both U.C.L.A. and Columbia, has watched with alarm the attempts to suppress an entire intellectual movement. It was Crenshaw who came up with the name “critical race theory” when organizing a workshop in 1989. (She also coined the term “intersectionality.”) “The commitment to free speech seems to dissipate when the people who are being gagged are folks who are demanding racial justice,” she told me.

Many of the intellectual currents that would become critical race theory emerged in the 1970s out of disappointment with the incomplete work of the civil rights movement, and cohered among radical law professors in the 1980s.

The movement was ahead of its time; one of its central insights, that racism is structural rather than just a matter of interpersonal bigotry, is now conventional wisdom, at least on the left. It had concrete practical applications, leading, for example, to legal arguments that housing laws or employment criteria could be racist in practice even if they weren’t racist in intent.

Parts of the critical race theory tradition are in tension with liberalism, particularly when it comes to issues like free speech. Richard Delgado, a key figure in the movement, has argued that people should be able to sue those who utter racist slurs. Others have played a large role in crafting campus speech codes.

There’s plenty here for people committed to broad free speech protections to dispute. I’m persuaded by the essay Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote in the 1990s challenging the movement’s stance on the first amendment. “To remove the very formation of our identities from the messy realm of contestation and debate is an elemental, not incidental, truncation of the ideal of public discourse,” he wrote.

Disagreeing with certain ideas, however, is very different from anathematizing the collective work of a host of paradigm-shifting thinkers. Gates’s article was effective because he took the scholarly work he engaged with seriously. “The critical race theorists must be credited with helping to reinvigorate the debate about freedom of expression; even if not ultimately persuaded to join them, the civil libertarian will be much further along for having listened to their arguments and examples,” he wrote.

But the right, for all its chest-beating about the value of entertaining dangerous notions, is rarely interested in debating the tenets of critical race theory. It wants to eradicate them from public institutions.

“Critical race theory is a grave threat to the American way of life,” Christopher Rufo, director of the Center on Wealth and Poverty at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank once known for pushing an updated form of creationism in public schools, wrote in January.

Rufo’s been leading the conservative charge against critical race theory. Last year, during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, he called on Trump to issue an executive order abolishing “critical race theory trainings from the federal government.” The next day, he told me, the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, called him and asked for his help putting an order together.

Last month, Rufo announced a “new coalition of legal foundations and private attorneys that will wage relentless legal warfare against race theory in America’s institutions.” A number of House and Senate offices, he told me, are working on their own anti-critical race theory bills, though none are likely to go anywhere as long as Biden is president.

As Rufo sees it, critical race theory is a revolutionary program that replaces the Marxist categories of the bourgeois and the proletariat with racial groups, justifying discrimination against those deemed racial oppressors. His goal, ultimately, is to get the Supreme Court to rule that school and workplace trainings based on the doctrines of critical race theory violate the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This inversion, casting anti-racist activists as the real racists, is familiar to Ian Haney López, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in critical race theory. “There’s a rhetoric of reaction which seeks to claim that it’s defending these higher values, which, perversely, often are the very values it’s traducing,” he said. “Whether that’s ‘In the name of free speech we’re going to persecute, we’re going to launch investigations into particular forms of speech’ or — and I think this is equally perverse — ‘In the name of fighting racism, we’re going to launch investigations into those scholars who are most serious about studying the complex forms that racism takes.’”

Rufo insists there are no free speech implications to what he’s trying to do. “You have the freedom of speech as an individual, of course, but you don’t have the kind of entitlement to perpetuate that speech through public agencies,” he said.

This sounds, ironically, a lot like the arguments people on the left make about de-platforming right-wingers. To Crenshaw, attempts to ban critical race theory vindicate some of the movement’s skepticism about free speech orthodoxy, showing that there were never transcendent principles at play.

When people defend offensive speech, she said, they’re often really defending “the substance of what the speech is — because if it was really about free speech, then this censorship, people would be howling to the high heavens.” If it was really about free speech, they should be.