Hatred is a feature of our shared humanity that few celebrate—unless they are haters. Sometimes hatred is based on misunderstandings. Other times hatred is driven by specific wrongdoings that, whether past or present, are vivid enough to animate our anger.
No matter their causes, hatred inevitably prompts actions and words that lead to more open wounds, more hurt feelings, and yet more hatred all around. Hatred also justifies cruelty. Those who are consumed with hate believe that their awful behavior—no matter how base or sadistic—is appropriate because their victims “deserve” the horrors being inflicted.
Therefore, we must, in order to create a saner and safer society, do all that we can to reduce the level of hatred in our daily lives. Loving thy neighbor is a start, but we also must push back against value systems that tend to ignorantly denigrate others. To love thy neighbor often requires that we understand them better, and this is impossible if we refuse to learn about those with lives different from our own.
Various methods to teach tolerance have been debated and implemented for many decades. However, the big question now facing our nation is whether Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its offshoots, which proposes that the American legal system and institutions of government and education are inherently racist, is a step forward in our quest to reduce hatred or a terrible wrong turn that will inflame it.
It might seem counterintuitive to presume that racial tensions can be reduced by teaching that racism is built into every part of American society and culture, but proponents of CRT believe that stubborn disparities in income, health status, educational attainment, and rates of arrest and incarceration can be best explained by systems of structural racism that are impervious to change through either education or affirmative action programs. If inequities persist, they are, so the theory goes, an inevitable outcome of institutionally-sanctioned hatred that must be rooted out in order for real progress to be made.
A reasonable person might, nonetheless, ask whether the underlying principle of Critical Race Theory—that hatred can be eliminated by insisting that America and Americans are irredeemably racist—works in a real world of real people with real feelings.
First off, if you teach a Black, Hispanic, or Asian child that every opportunity is, by design, closed to them—and every White person they meet is guaranteed to hate them, whether overtly or covertly—what kind of emotional and psychological damage are you inflicting on that child?
To begin your life by learning that you are surrounded by implacable enemies who are using the full power of every institution to crush your aspirations and endanger your life sounds like a pathway to the most profound hopelessness and anxiety imaginable. Moreover, it seems reasonable to expect that a great many young people will be left both demotivated and desperate, certain that their future prospects are dismal, which will affect their interest in education and employment going forward. Why even bother trying at all, many might begin to wonder, if the deck is stacked against you from the start?
It also seems plausible that many White people might be deeply insulted by the notion that, according to Critical Race Theory, the very color of their skin turns them into agents of oppression. Given that insisting that you are not a bigot is, according to the tenets of CRT, basically proof positive that you are, in fact, a bigot, a great many White Americans of good hearts and the best intentions could believe they are being unfairly maligned. How this kind of guilting the guiltless—although supposedly all White people are guilty—will result in a more just and equitable society is difficult to discern. Setting one group against another based on the colors of their skins seems the surest method to promote hatred—not to reduce it.
Frustrations about the persistence of hatred and injustice in some corners of America are understandable, but not all methods of addressing these problems are, to turn a phrase, created equal. If we want to reach the goal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and create “a nation where [we]will not be judged by the color of [our] skin, but by the content of [our] character”, we cannot presume that we are forever divided and defined by our melatonin—and we need to rethink how we are to best surmount the remnants of racism in our society.