Critical Race Theory
Also Known As: The Topic We'll Be Talking About into 2022
Critical Race Theory
I’m talking about this right now because Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley defended the US Army teaching Critical Race Theory on Wednesday as a reaction to questions from the GOP.
I think General Milley made a couple of good points, and some amazingly bad ones. Watch the whole video:
This particularly stuck out to me;
“I've read Mao Zedong. I've read Karl Marx. I've read Lenin. That doesn't make me a communist. So what is wrong with understanding, having some situational understanding about the country from which we are here to defend?"
He’s right, of course, the military isn’t, and shouldn’t be, comprised of unthinking jarheads. It’s important for military men and women to have familiarity with all kinds of ideas. It’s a competitive edge to speak multiple languages, it’s an edge to know how people think, it’s an edge to know their customs. But I think this misses the forest for the trees.
There’s nothing wrong with having situational understanding of America. But there’s a difference between reading Marx as a concept, and teaching the tenets of communism as a truth. There’s a difference between understanding Critical Race Theory as a concept, and teaching it as a legitimate frame of reference.
And more than that, while there’s nothing wrong with developing a situational understanding of America, I don’t understand why it would be necessary for the US Army to require it. I talked about competitive edges earlier… What competitive edge is gained against which possible combatant by teaching a theory that ostensibly looks at the legal justifications of (primarily) American laws?
While we’re at it, on the topic of “white rage”. Projection, thy name is progressive bumperstickers. General Milley specifically referenced the people that rioted on January 6th. Did he miss the year going up to that? I don’t know how you look at 2020 in its entirety, and then 2021 up to January 6th, and come away with the impression that “White Rage” is the cause du vivre for the American military in 2021. You can want to understand it, General, but what’s your goal in teaching it?
I also think that taking offense at the notion that the military is experiencing a “woke” problem after the last couple of recruitment ads they’ve put out requires more than a little navel gazing. Faint into your couch in private General, and spare me.
Regardless, it’s as good a time as any to talk about CRT. Let’s ask a few questions;
What is Critical Race Theory in The Most Acceptable Terms?
Even the CRT literature printed in recent years heavily cite the works of Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell. And while I still have issues with the works of Crenshaw and Bell, their theory was more based in reality and less reliant on dogma than subsequent iterations of CRT, and they had legitimate points. To boil the theory down as I understand it; Because many of (particularly) America’s laws, rules and traditions were written by people who were racist, white supremacy lives on between the margins, and so we should look at those laws, rules and traditions to see if they have racial connotations, and correct those connotations where possible.
Crenshaw and Bell’s versions of critical race theory did not necessarily say that racial outcomes were per se the result of white supremacy, but the framework biased the assumption towards that outcome.
To take an extreme and obvious example, it’s fairly uncontroversial to state that black men tend to be hard done by in their relationships with the justice system. They’re more likely to be stopped by police, more likely to be arrested if stopped, more likely to be charged if arrested, more likely to be convicted if charged, and more likely to receive a harsher sentence if convicted than a white man exhibiting the same behavior.
There’s probably some work to be done there.
But to take another extreme and obvious example: Black men do disproportionately commit violent crime. There are reasons for that outside the pure lens of race, I tend to think that it’s mostly attributable to poverty, but they do. This isn’t a result of biases on the parts of participants… We aren’t talking about situations like drug use, where officers have a certain amount of discretion (real or assumed) in enforcement. A certain amount of murders happen, in instances where the perpetrator is known, the perpetrator is disproportionately black. And as a result of that: Black men are disproportionately in jail for murder.
Critical Race Theory would ask us to look at that through a racial lens and assume that because there was a racially disproportionate outcome, laws and systems surrounding the enforcement of murder laws are probably racist, and we should look at changing them to correct for racial biases. Both opponents and proponents of critical race theory would say that’s ridiculous, but for different reasons. Opponents would say that’s ridiculous, and we need laws against murder. Proponents would probably say the same (but not all), and the ones that did would probably also say that’s not what critical race theory would require. This is where things get a little bit shapey. See, CRT absolutely would look at murder incarceration statistics like I’ve laid out, but reasonable CRT proponents would quickly move on because while CRT biases the user towards assuming a racial bias, that’s not a suicide pact, and whether murder laws are racist or not, they probably need to exist. If this were as far as CRT went, I think people should be able to spend as much time as they want pondering the racism of laws, and some times they’ll even come up with legitimate points; The penalty disparities for Crack and Powder Cocaine is a relatively well known problem that has persisted for years.
What is Critical Race Theory in Current Practise?
It depends on who you ask. One thing that most of the proponents and opponents of CRT have in common is that they’ve never read a thing about it, and so you have a topic where the label carries a vastly different connotation depending on who is using it.
And the further you get away from the source material, the worse you get, even current literature on Critical Race theory that extensively quotes the works of Crenshaw and Bell is understood to be a poor reflection of the original theories. Ibram Kendi’s “How To Be An Anti-Racist” and Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” are great examples. These aren’t serious, critically thinking people, they’re dwarves standing in the shadows of giants, trying to make bank.
Which leads to a slew of related problems: The left is calling all kinds of things that aren’t traditional CRT “CRT”, and using CRT as a justification for all kinds of bad behavior. The right sees that bad behavior and pushes back against it, lumping traditional CRT in with current CRT, and a laundry list of racial hot topics.
On the conservative side, this is actually very easy to track: We were seeing things come out of academia that were unacceptable, and Christoper Rufo weaponized CRT as a pushback against it. Almost all the chatter today is the result of one man’s work, and that’s kind of Amazing. The New Yorker did a piece on it, and I think they’re pretty fair about it. Read the whole thing, but Rufo said it very clearly;
“We’ve needed new language for these issues,” Rufo told me, when I first wrote to him, late in May. “ ‘Political correctness’ is a dated term and, more importantly, doesn’t apply anymore. It’s not that elites are enforcing a set of manners and cultural limits, they’re seeking to reengineer the foundation of human psychology and social institutions through the new politics of race, It’s much more invasive than mere ‘correctness,’ which is a mechanism of social control, but not the heart of what’s happening. The other frames are wrong, too: ‘cancel culture’ is a vacuous term and doesn’t translate into a political program; ‘woke’ is a good epithet, but it’s too broad, too terminal, too easily brushed aside. ‘Critical race theory’ is the perfect villain,” Rufo wrote.
He thought that the phrase was a better description of what conservatives were opposing, but it also seemed like a promising political weapon. “Its connotations are all negative to most middle-class Americans, including racial minorities, who see the world as ‘creative’ rather than ‘critical,’ ‘individual’ rather than ‘racial,’ ‘practical’ rather than ‘theoretical.’ Strung together, the phrase ‘critical race theory’ connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American.” Most perfect of all, Rufo continued, critical race theory is not “an externally applied pejorative.” Instead, “it’s the label the critical race theorists chose themselves.”
And that leads me to the progressive side: They do call it CRT. They’re backpedalling desperately away from it because Rufo is right, but it’s not hard to find examples of horrible behavior being done in the name of CRT. Progressives are saying that the things we’re seeing aren’t CRT, that there aren’t any examples of CRT in K-12 education, that it’s entirely university level work.
I don’t know whether they’re informed, ignorant, or gaslighting. I mean that, ridiculous as it may seem, any of that is possible.
It’s possible that they’re informed, that they understand CRT the way that Crenshaw and Bell envisioned it, that they don’t see the similarities in the actions of 2021 educators or the writings of Kendi and DiAngelo, and they want to draw stark differences between them. If that’s the case: Welcome to the struggle! If we’re arguing over semantics and you’re really against the same things we are: Put your money where your mouth is. Help us stamp out the excesses of stupid, petty activist posing as educators, and take back your label.
It’s also possible that they just don’t know what they’re talking about. Similar to coffee shop feminism, these people were fed a narrative that sounded good, conformed to their biases, and didn’t resemble reality. These people are well meaning, but wrong, and if shown proof that excesses are happening, should only need to be given a little bit of time to think and digest before making a more informed decision.
Finally, it’s possible that they’re gaslighting. That they know very well what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it, that they really want to teach K-12 children about race using oppressor/oppressed paradigms, and they’re using CRT as cover. With absolutely no respect meant: Fuck ‘em.
The response is the same: Don’t get bogged down in semantic arguments about what you call it: focus on what they’re doing and deal with the effects. If they’re hung up on semantics: find a common cause, if they don’t know what they’re talking about: show them, and if they’re true believers: resist them until they’re marginal.
Where Does This Go?
My take on it is that the effect will be similar to the Obama Administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter: It overreached, it required things that are illegal, students will sue, they will win, and on a long enough scale the process will correct itself. The difference here is that the administration didn’t require CRT; Individuals within academic halls of power took it upon themselves to shoehorn in some horribly toxic theories and because there’s no single originating point, curtailing that isn’t as simple as rescinding the guidance of a letter… So the fight is going to be longer, harder, and in the trenches. Governments are starting to legislate against CRT, and those laws are a real mixed bag. I’m leery of the government legislating on what can be in a textbook, but if academia isn’t going to regulate itself, and the teachers can’t find ways to teach about racism without resorting to some of the absolute garbage we’re seeing coming out of classes, I don’t see an alternative.