Some advocates of CRT have responded to the exposure of its extremism with what can fairly be described as a program of disinformation. We are told that CRT is merely an abstruse legal theory of little interest to anyone outside the university, and certainly irrelevant to anything being taught to children; or that insofar as it does have influence outside the academy, it is concerned with nothing more than teaching about the history of racism; or that in any event it has nothing to do with the ideas peddled in bestsellers like Ibram X. Kendi’s or Robin DiAngelos’s . These claims are so easily refuted that it is hard not to see in them a cynical tactic of deliberate obfuscation.
Is CRT just an abstract legal theory?
Start with the first claim, about the nature and influence of CRT. Law professors Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic are not only critical race theorists themselves, but the authors of , a well-known primer on the subject. They write:
Although CRT began as a movement in the law, it has rapidly spread beyond that discipline. Today, many scholars in the field of education consider themselves critical race theorists who use CRT’s ideas to understand issues of school discipline and hierarchy, tracking, affirmative action, high-stakes testing, controversies over curriculum and history, bilingual and multilingual education, and alternative and charter schools. (p. 7)
They then go on to cite “political scientists,” “women’s studies professors,” “ethnic studies,” “American studies,” “philosophers,” “sociologists, theologians, and health care specialists” as among the scholars, professionals, and fields influenced by, and applying ideas drawn from, CRT (pp. 7-8). Similarly, law professor Angela Harris’s foreword to Delgado and Stefancic’s book notes that:
Critical race theory has exploded from a narrow sub-specialty of jurisprudence chiefly of interest to academic lawyers into a literature read in departments of education, cultural studies, English, sociology, comparative literature, political science, history, and anthropology around the country. (p. xvi)
Delgado and Stefancic also note that though CRT began as a movement in the law, the influences on its development extend well beyond that field, and include “radical feminism,” the Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, and the postmodernists Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida (p. 5). And they emphasize that “unlike some academic disciplines, critical race theory contains an activist dimension. It tries not only to understand our social situation but to change it” and indeed “transform it” (p. 8). They cite the push for “reconstructing the criminal justice system” and the “‘Black Lives Matter’ movement” as among the practical applications of ideas associated with CRT (p. 124).
Another representative CRT work is the anthology In their introduction to the volume, they note that the Critical Legal Studies movement “organized by a collection of neo-Marxist intellectuals, former New Left activists, ex-counter-culturalists” and the like “played a central role in the genesis of Critical Race Theory” (p. xvii). They write that:, edited by Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller, and Kendall Thomas.
By legitimizing the use of race as a theoretical fulcrum and focus in legal scholarship, so-called racialist accounts of racism and the law grounded the subsequent development of Critical Race Theory in much the same way that Marxism’s introduction of class structure and struggle into classical political economy grounded subsequent critiques of hierarchy and social power. (p. xxv)
And in another obvious echo of Marxism, they emphasize that CRT is an activist movement devoted to “liberation,” whose theorists “desire not merely to understand the vexed bond between law and racial power but to change it” (p. xiii).
Hence, when CRT’s critics portray it as far more than a mere academic legal theory and indeed as a wide-ranging revolutionary political program with Marxist and postmodernist influences, which has swept through academia and seeks radically to transform society through the educational and criminal justice systems, they are not manufacturing a bogeyman. They are simply repeating what CRT advocates themselves have explicitly said.
Is CRT merely about teaching history?
Again, another claim often made is that to the extent that CRT has any influence in schools and other contexts outside the university, it is concerned merely with teaching about the history of racism. When people uninformed about CRT hear this, they are likely to think that what it involves is teaching about slavery in the American south, Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan, and so on. But that is far from the truth. These are examples of what Delgado and Stefancic label “outright racism,” and as they emphasize, this is to be sharply distinguished from the far more subtle “white privilege” that CRT claims to identify and seeks to extirpate (p. 90).
This purported “white privilege” is so subtle that even if “outright racism” of the familiar sorts is entirely eliminated, white privilege would allegedly remain “intact” so that the “system of white over black/brown will remain virtually unchanged” and “we remain roughly as we were before” (p. 91). This unnoticed racism is nevertheless claimed to be “ordinary, not aberrational… the usual way society does business” (p. 8) and indeed is “pervasive, systemic, and deeply ingrained” to such an extent that “no white member of society seems quite so innocent” (p. 91). The purported “white privilege” of these members of society involves a “myriad of social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race” (p. 89). The hostility of whites against non-whites is claimed to manifest itself in “implicit bias” or negative attitudes that are so elusive that whites are unconscious of harboring them (p. 143-44), and in “microaggressions” or racist acts so subtle that whites are unaware they are committing them.
Racism is held by CRT to be so “embedded in our thought processes and social structures” that it is not only conservatism that CRT opposes, but liberalism too (p. 26-27). Like Marxism, CRT stakes out a position far to the left of traditional Democratic Party politics. In place of liberalism’s commitment to “color blindness and neutral principles of constitutional law,” CRT writers advocate “aggressive, color-conscious efforts to change the way things are” (ibid.). CRT calls for “programs that assure equality of results,” even if this conflicts with liberalism’s emphasis on the “moral and legal rights” of the individual (p. 29). One CRT proposal, report Delgado and Stefancic, would be to have “admissions officers discount, or penalize, the scores of candidates” of a “white, suburban” background because of their “white privilege” (p. 134). Some CRT writers even wonder whether “whites [should] be welcome in the movement and at its workshops and conferences” (p. 105). Indeed, a central theme of CRT is the malign influence of “whiteness” itself, a “quality pertaining to Euro-American or Caucasian people or traditions” (p. 186). “Critical White Studies,” Delgado and Stefancic tell us, is a subfield of CRT devoted to “the study of the white race,” which has “put whiteness under the lens” (p. 85).
In place of liberalism’s traditional emphasis on freedom of expression, some CRT writers call for “campus speech codes” and “tort remedies for racist speech” (p. 25), or even the “criminalization” of such speech (p. 125) – which, given the amorphous notions of “implicit bias” and “microaggressions,” could cover anything a CRT advocate finds objectionable. At the same time, in light of the systemic racism they claim afflicts criminal justice, CRT writers advocate lighter sentences or even “jury nullification” for offenses “such as shoplifting or possession of a small amount of drugs” (pp. 122-23). Delgado and Stefancic blandly note that one CRT writer proposes that “the values of hip-hop music and culture could serve as a basis for reconstructing the criminal justice system” (p. 124).
CRT also rejects “traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress” and instead “questions the very foundations of the liberal order” including ideas such as “equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism,” and “equal treatment for all persons, regardless of their different histories or current situations” (pp. 3 and 26). Accordingly, CRT holds that the change it advocates may have to be “convulsive and cataclysmic” rather than involving a “peaceful transition,” and “if so, critical theorists and activists will need to provide criminal defense for resistance movements and activists and to articulate theories and strategies for that resistance” (pp. 154-55).
This is just the tip of the iceberg, for according to the CRT notion of “intersectionality,” many individuals “experience multiple forms of oppression” involving not just race but “sex, class, national origin, and sexual orientation” (pp. 58-59). Hence the CRT analysis of and remedies for “systemic racism” must be applied to an analysis of and extirpation of these other alleged forms of oppression as well.
Here I have been quoting from just a single representative text, for purposes of illustration. As the reader of All One in Christ will discover, other CRT writers have other, even more extreme things to say. Whatever one thinks of these ideas, they give the lie to the claim that CRT is merely about teaching the history of racism. It is about promoting a sweeping, revolutionary social and political ideology that even many liberals and Democratic voters would find disturbing if they knew about it.
Kendi, DiAngelo, and CRT
The books by Kendi and DiAngelo mentioned above are by far the most influential works promoting the ideas of CRT. Yet some have claimed that their work has nothing to do with Critical Race Theory. This claim too is easily refuted. Kendi himself the influence of CRT on his work:
I’ve certainly been inspired by critical race theory and critical race theorists. The ways in which I’ve formulated definitions of racism and racist and anti-racism and anti-racist have not only been based on historical evidence, but also Kimberlé Crenshaw’s intersectional theory. She’s one of the founding and pioneering critical race theorists who in the late 1980s and early 1990s said, “You know what? Black women aren’t just facing racism, they’re not just facing sexism, they’re facing the intersection of racism and sexism.” It’s important for us to understand that and that’s foundational to my work.
To be sure, in another context, Kendi :
I admire critical race theory, but I don’t identify as a critical race theorist. I’m not a legal scholar. So I wasn’t trained on critical race theory. I’m a historian... I didn’t attend law school, which is where critical race theory is taught.
But there are two problems with this. First, what matters is whether Kendi is promoting ideas derived from CRT, not whether he is himself a “critical race theorist” in the narrow sense of a legal scholar of a certain kind. And again, he himself has admitted that his work is “inspired” by CRT, indeed that one brand of CRT is “foundational” to his work. Second, as we have seen, CRT writers like Harris, Delgado, and Stefancic admit that CRT is not confined to legal scholarship but has extended far into other parts of the academy, including history, Kendi’s field. So it is disingenuous for him to pretend that the fact that he didn’t go to law school shows that he can’t count as a critical race theorist. If you go just by the actual content of his books and compare it to what is said in works that everyone acknowledges to be works of CRT, it is obvious that he is a critical race theorist.
The same thing goes for DiAngelo. Her academic field is education rather than law, but Delgado and Stefancic themselves put special emphasis on education as a field on which CRT has had dramatic influence. So it would be quite silly to pretend that the fact that she, like Kendi, is not a law professor somehow suffices to show that she is not a critical race theorist. More importantly, she is manifestly a promoter of ideas drawn from CRT, whether or not one wants to classify her as a “critical race theorist” in some narrow sense. The central ideas of White Fragility are the CRT themes of “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” the analysis and critique of “whiteness,” and the insufficiently radical nature of liberalism. In her book Nice Racism, DiAngelo explicitly cites the prominent critical race theorists Kimberlé Crenshaw, Derrick Bell, and Cheryl Harris as among the influences on her work.
Some may nevertheless object that, even if it is admitted that Kendi and DiAngelo are promoters of CRT, it is inappropriate to put as much emphasis on their work as critics of CRT have, since their books are popularizations. But there are two problems with this objection. First, Kendi and DiAngelo are not mere popularizers, but academics in their own right. They can be presumed to know what they are talking about. Second, though some CRT adepts might wish that it was Derrick Bell’s or Kimberlé Crenshaw’s books rather than How to Be an Antiracist and White Fragility that became bestsellers, that is not what has happened. It is Kendi’s and DiAngelo’s books that have in fact had the widest readership and influence, and thus their presentation of CRT ideas that has molded public perception of the movement. It is only natural, then, for critics of CRT to give them a proportionate amount of attention in response.
As readers of my book All One in Christ will find, the content of CRT is even more disturbing than this brief summary indicates – and it is also riddled with blatant logical fallacies, crude social scientific errors, and assumptions and policy recommendations that are utterly contrary to the natural moral law and the Catholic faith. It is unsurprising that advocates of CRT would like to disguise its true nature, but also imperative that they not be allowed to do so.