I am trying to understand Critical Race Theory, and it is not a simple matter.
Perhaps the easiest way to break down the idea comes from one of the primary originators, the legal scholar and civil rights activist Derrick Bell. He posited that racism in this country is not an aberration, but rather a fundamental part of our society.
The argument is that, given our history of slavery, Jim Crow and the long struggle for civil rights, racism permeates our policies and institutions. The theory goes that those racist policies promote the general welfare of the majority whites, while relegating blacks to second class citizenship.
CRT moved out of academic circles and into the mainstream following the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Boston University professor and activist Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Anti-racist, gained traction and has become a template for an updated interpretation of CRT.
According to Kendi, it is not enough to not be a racist; individuals, policies and institutions are either antiracist—working to identify racism and eradicate it—or they are racist. All actions are viewed through the prism of improving outcomes or contributing to racial inequality.
Kendi also turns the traditional view of the causes of racism on its head. “Instead of racist ideas leading to racist policies, I found racist policies lead to racist ideas,” he said.
Given our struggle with racism in this country, I try to be open to different observations and potential solutions toward improvement, but I am struggling with these ideas.
Grouping individuals, institutions and policies into one of two categories—racist or antiracist—suggests that every action has a racial component. I do not believe that is true, and it runs counter to my core belief that our country’s fundamental principles provide a framework for the goal of true equality.
Former HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson has criticized Kendi’s theory. Carson said it ignores other characteristics and motivations, while breaking down society into oppressors and the oppressed.
“This divisive ideology seeks to replace the traditional American value of equality of opportunity with a regime that assumes all white people are racist oppressors and labels all racial minorities as victims,” Carson wrote.
A secondary issue with CRT has less to do with the academic theory and pertains more to the culture wars. CRT has been weaponized. It is a catch-all for race-based grievances, whether they be from blacks complaining about inequities or whites complaining their school system is indoctrinating their children to hate their parents.
The CRT debate has arrived in West Virginia.
As our Jeff Jenkins reported, just last week, the Putnam County Commission gave unanimous approval to a resolution against Critical Race Theory and denial of any public funds toward its teaching. In Jefferson County, about 100 people rallied in opposition of CRT and a summer math program targeting black students.
For the record, West Virginia Public Schools do not teach Critical Race Theory.
I have spent considerable airtime over the years talking about race and searching for ways to better understand how we, as individuals and collectively, can progress beyond bigotry and suspicion. The answers are never easy. Just having the dialogue is risky.
CRT is a new challenge, and one where it is hard to know how to even have the conversation. But we have to keep trying.