In a year already flooded with terms like ‘NFTs,’ ‘short-squeeze,’ and ‘social distancing’ among others, another curious term has entered the general discussion — Critical race theory (CRT). CRT entered mainstream discourse in earnest in the last months of the 2020 Presidential election cycle when a question was raised during a debate between the two candidates regarding the efforts by the Trump administration to end racial sensitivity training at federal agencies referencing white privilege and CRT.
Trump defended his position by pointing out the radical and revolutionary nature of the so-called ‘racial sensitivity' training, specifically CRT, and how it turns animosity inward toward the country and its people. Biden responded by calling him racist and insisting that it simply boils down to awareness, identity, and curbing prejudices. This moment closely reflects the stances that the right and left of the American political scene occupy in determining the role that CRT may play in the future societal consciousness. The right views it as an unmistakable threat to the fabric of society while the left makes assurances that it is an important worldview for racial understanding. It seems that both sides are not being completely honest.
Part of the difficulty in nailing down CRT is the politically charged quality imbued in the school of thought as it has entered mainstream discourse. It has been put forth in a time of immense polarization in the country. CRT has quickly stoked animosity from more conservative parents, especially as it pertains to the early education of children at public schools.
Those who oppose the teaching of CRT and related subject matter highlight its portrayal of the U.S. as a racist country and say that it creates a rather negative identity outlook, with those categorized as white labeled as the oppressor group and other races that have historically experienced marginalization as belonging to a victim group. In looking at the track record of race relations in U.S. history, those who advocate for CRT certainly have a point in identifying the obstacles and injustices experienced by racial minority groups. The history of the U.S. and West broadly, undoubtedly contains the subjugation and colonization of myriad racial groups, both within their territorial jurisdictions as well as in far-flung lands.
Both of these surface viewpoints may have digestible kernels for general outside observers in the interest of educational integrity, specifically in the early years of public education. Neither side, however, will concede the misgivings of the other side. This irreconcilable strife between proponents of both sides has resulted in the view that the other side is proposing the very system that will bring about societal catastrophe.
This effectively steel-mans CRT from both sides — it is either so powerful that it cannot be taught in schools, or so powerful that it must. Perhaps there is the possibility of approaching CRT itself through a critical lens.
CRT is far from a fool-proof set of ideas. For example, the problematization of whiteness as the overarching superstructure to be toppled amounts to leveling the playing field by exacting a post facto revenge on the broad category of people who share the same skin color as those who are accused of creating and maintaining the structure of oppression. This way, instead of focusing on alleviation for the oppressed, everyone suffers their pain point — namely, racism. The caveat in the theory stipulating whiteness itself as the root of power for the structure thus aims to keep the whole perspective sound and to insist that the idea is not itself racist.
This seems quite a poorly constructed approach to social interaction and organization. There is a certain impracticality and ironic insensitivity that lies in this aspect of CRT. One of the main concerns that parents have with teaching CRT in schools is that it might imbue a negative self-image in children. In any other theoretical framework, there would be an honest critique by the opponents of a major facet such as this one, while proponents would be tasked with a compelling defense. The zealous entrenchment of the opposing views, in this case, has frozen this process.
Further painting itself into a corner, CRT also places accepted scientific consensus on fields of study, including mathematics, into the white structure of oppression. Setting aside their rejection of logic and reasoning in the way it has been laid out in the West with origins in the Enlightenment, a critical approach to CRT may be the key to ironing out the theory and determining its potential merits. But with CRT’s disregard of established norms under the white structure of racism, the basis of good-faith dialogue is scrapped. As it stands now, both sides are staunchly positioned into opposing factions over a belief system.
Until CRT itself is worked through critically and the political baggage tossed aside, there is little that separates this debate from a debate over religion versus heresy.