To commemorate this year’s Black History Month, the University of Dallas Cowan-Blakely Memorial Library set up an exhibit featuring significant figures of the civil rights movement as well as books discussing the topic of race. Several of these books deal–directly or indirectly–with critical race theory (CRT).
This branch of critical theory challenges society for being dominated by racist power structures. CRT should be rejected as a destructive rather than constructive force in our society because it is simplistic, divides people, and silences the speech of opponents.
CRT views Western society as so thoroughly “white” that people of color do not realize how oppressed they are. According to CRT, racism is a systemic reality because white people have societal power in America and other Western nations. Laws, policies, institutions, etc. are systemically racist because they promote the interests of white people and oppress people of color.
CRT’s approach to racism as a systemic reality flips the traditional understanding of racism. Typically, people have understood racism to be an individual mindset viewing one race as superior to others, a mindset that leads to racist actions and policies such as segregation.
CRT reverses this understanding: racist policies cause racist ideas. The people in power have created a racist system to serve their own interests, and this system fosters racist ideas among those under it.
As Ibram X. Kendi argues in his book, How to Be an Antiracist, this understanding of racism creates a new binary into which people fall: racist or anti-racist. It is not enough to treat people of all races equally, for racism is a systemic reality. Either one is anti-racist―actively working to change the racist power structure and undo the racist policies that perpetuate that system―or one is racist.
Even denying that the system is racist is a form of racism because it perpetuates the racist system. Thus, CRT subtly creates a new binary: there is no middle ground between racism and active anti-racism.
However, blaming the entire system for injustice is too simplistic an approach. No real society ever embodies perfect justice, so condemning an entire society as unjust prevents constructive change. A better approach is to point out specific laws, policies, etc. that are unjust and then have a discussion about what can and should be done.
Another central idea of CRT is intersectionality, which holds that racial oppression can intersect with other forms of oppression, including oppression based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. Power in society is wielded not only by whites to oppress people of color, it is also held by male, straight and cisgender people at the expense of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and gender-nonconforming people.
CRT aims to liberate these oppressed people by waking them up to the reality of the system that oppresses them so that they may undo the existing power structure and policies. Those who oppose or do not go along with this reconstruction―even if they are members of the oppressed groups―are lumped in with the oppressors.
In this way, CRT sets people into two opposed camps: those who are complicit in the oppressive system and those who are actively working to uproot it. Everyone is either sexist or anti-sexist, homophobic or anti-homophobic, transphobic or anti-transphobic and racist or anti-racist.
This new binary is destructive rather than constructive. It divides people by placing the blame for society’s ills on one group. Moreover, it silences that group because those termed racists, sexists, etc. cannot contribute anything to the discussion.
Instead, one should recognize that people can be opposed to injustice without thinking that the entire system must be undone. The greatest advances in forming a more just society will be achieved not by dividing people but by uniting them and allowing them to speak freely about issues of race, sex, etc.
The ideas of CRT have very apparent practical effects. As UD students are well aware, ideas have consequences. As British-American author Andrew Sullivan wrote in an article for New York magazine, “if elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large.”
Society and culture, including business, education and journalism, are already experiencing the effects of CRT. Obvious examples include CRT’s influence on groups such as Black Lives Matter, which calls for policies as extreme as defunding the police, or on legislation such as California’s recent law requiring companies headquartered in the state to hire board members from underrepresented communities.
A prime example of the effects of CRT is the phenomenon of “cancel culture.” Under CRT, anyone or anything that is not sufficiently anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-transphobic, etc. must be “canceled.”
Cancel culture is unpredictable and destructive: it only recognizes injustice, so today’s social justice heroes quickly become tomorrow’s targets through some previously unknown bias.
CRT and its effects should be rejected because they promote division and destruction while stifling free discussion. Rather than a relentless pursuit and eradication of anything or anyone that directly, indirectly, consciously or unconsciously promotes injustice, our society should focus on fostering unity and open discussion about these sensitive topics.
We should recommit to our institutions, in particular the freedom of speech and the press, which have carried us so far already in the pursuit of justice. Above all, as Christians, we ought to promote an awareness of the fundamental dignity of the human person as created in the image and likeness of God. Only by remaining firmly rooted in our intellectual and faith traditions can we build towards a future of greater peace and justice.