Critical race theory (CRT) has blossomed into a substantial wedge issue in the United States, especially as it relates to teaching about race in the nation’s classrooms. Proponents of the theory contend that CRT is meant only to teach about America’s history while working to address the racial disparities that exist in the country today. Opponents of CRT claim it is intended to demonize white Americans while promoting a Marxist ideology based on critical theory. But what’s the truth?
The Danger of Critical Race Theory
Conservatives became alarmed when reports of certain types of “woke” teaching in classrooms started getting national attention. It seemed that every other day, another story of a teacher giving lessons designed to label students as “oppressors” and “oppressed” surfaced in right-leaning media. The backlash against this trend has become a key component of the debate over the matter.
During an interview on Fox Nation’s Tucker Carlson Today, author and scientist Charles Murray indicated that CRT presents a dire threat to American society. “Critical race theory and identity politics is a repudiation of the American creed,” he said.
Murray said the crisis the nation is experiencing under the Biden administration is far worse than those under Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “What we are looking at is an inflection point in American history that could very easily go the wrong way. And so, what we’ll be left with is a country that still has the name America,” he said.
“It’s still the world’s leading economic and at least military power and a very powerful economy. We aren’t going to be America anymore. We’re going to be just like other big powers, and our government is going to be run with the same kind of partiality toward your group over the other groups that has been the norm throughout human history.”
Later in the conversation, Murray argued that CRT goes against the values upon which America was founded. “I began to realize that what’s going on with critical race theory and identity politics is a repudiation of the American creed. It’s saying the founding ideals are wrong,” he insisted. “The American creed used to be a phrase in common use. It was based on the first paragraphs of the Declaration. All men are created equal. They are born with inalienable rights.”
Linguist and commentator John McWhorter, who happens to be on the left, has been a vocal critic of CRT. In a recent op-ed, he railed against the hard-left activist class, which he refers to as “The Elect,” and how these individuals use their platforms to label opponents of CRT as racists.
“Since a year ago, CRT-infused members of The Elect, traditionally overrepresented in the world of schools of education, have sought to take the opportunity furnished by our ‘racial reckoning’ to turn American schools into academies of ‘antiracist’ indoctrination,” he wrote.
He noted that the hard left is now reacting to the groups of parents pushing back against CRT teaching in schools by claiming these folks are seeking to preserve “the power that whites have over others.”
McWhorter pointed out:
“Yes, that’s the watchcry. It’s why The Elect can make so little sense to the rest of us: they actually believe that the heart of all intellectual, moral, and artistic endeavor must be battling power differentials. They get this from Critical Race Theory. And what most alarms The Elect is that state legislatures are proposing to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools, Florida being the latest example.”
Is the hullaballoo over CRT in classrooms warranted, or is it nothing more than the proverbial tempest in a teapot?
Critical Race Fearmongering?
Those who support the teaching of CRT in K-12 education and higher learning institutions contend that conservatives are overreacting to the issue. They claim that instructors are merely teaching about America’s troubled racial history and that the objective is not to cast white Americans as villains. Indeed, many high-profile leftist influencers have accused conservatives of wishing to whitewash history and leave out the more abhorrent elements of America’s past.
Vox’s Sean Illing published a piece in which he interviewed Jarvis R. Givens, a professor of education at Harvard University, about CRT and how history should be taught to young students.
“Conservatives have appropriated critical race theory as a convenient catchall to describe basically any serious attempt to teach the history of race and racism,” Illing wrote. “It’s now a prop in the never-ending culture war, where caricature and bad faith can muddy the waters. But the intensity of the debate speaks to a very real and difficult question: What’s the best and most productive way to teach the history of racism?”
During the interview, the author asked Jarvis how he uses the term “anti-racism,” which was popularized by author and CRT proponent Ibram X Kendi. “It’s about teaching the history of racial inequality and the history of racism, to understand that it’s about more than individual acts of racism,” Jarvis replied, continuing that:
“The idea is that students — and educators — should have a deep awareness of how racist ideas and practices have been fundamental in shaping our modern world. Students need to be able to have these discussions honestly so that new generations of students aren’t just aware of this history, but can also acknowledge and comprehend how our actions can disrupt those historical patterns or reinforce them.”
Others, like Jarvis, have a similar way of thinking.
It is also worth noting that members of the Texas legislature have, intentionally or unintentionally, given some credibility to the idea that opponents of CRT seek to erase certain parts of history. An early version of a bill attempted to prevent the teaching of lessons that are allegedly part of the theory. “In Texas’ upper chamber, lawmakers stripped a number of provisions including some that would have required students to learn the history of Native Americans and study the writings of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr.,” according to the Texarkana Gazette.
Texas state senators also removed a provision that would have required students to be taught the history of white supremacy and the myriad of ways it was immoral.
What’s the Truth?
When looking at the debate over critical race theory, it is not difficult to see that much of the issue arises from the reality that both sides are talking past one another, which leads to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. On the conservative side, many seem to be applying the CRT label to teachings that are not part of the theory but are still problematic. In addition, people seem to be having trouble discerning between CRT and “woke” ideology. While there can be some overlap, they are not always the same.
However, on the left, people are, intentionally and unintentionally, giving misleading claims about CRT. They claim that it is only concerned with teaching about history and racism in America. However, when you have teachers specifically categorizing students in “privileged” and “oppressive” classes based on skin color, it is impossible to deny that this is only about history.
Indeed, in the book “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction,” authors Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic wrote:
“But if racism is embedded in our thought processes and social structures as deeply as many crits [critics] believe, then the ‘ordinary business’ of society—the routines, practices, and institutions that we rely on to do the world’s work—will keep minorities in subordinate positions. Only aggressive, color-conscious efforts to change the way things are will do much to ameliorate misery.”
It seems clear that one could easily use the theory to push the notion that Americans should be placed into various categories and that society should make certain judgments about them. However, does this mean that the theory is destroying America? At this point, it is not possible to tell.
Read more from Jeff Charles.