The Problems With Critical Race Theory

I have online subscriptions to a number of educational publications, and the topics of the articles posted have obviously changed over the last several years.  Matters related to Covid-19 and online instruction have certainly been more prominent, but there is one subject that has now become a focus—perhaps even an obsession— for a great many writers and editors:

Race.

Whether the discussions concern the race of students, administrators faculty, staff, or local communities, how to create classrooms and instruction that are more conducive to academic success for students of color, how to purge unconscious biases driven by race, how to help overcome trauma inflicted due to one’s race, understanding how race can be addressed in curriculum, learning to incorporate race into discussions of events both past and present, how school discipline is affected by race, and accepting that America is inherently unjust to people of certain races, every matter relating to education now circles back to one particular point:

Race.

It would be nice if more discussions about education—particularly ones regarding America’s disastrously underperforming public school systems—concerned themselves with improving teaching and learning.  However, apparently even the enforced ignorance that is typically the outcome of 13 years of public education is wholly attributable to the color of one’s skin, which must be quite a surprise to the millions of white students who graduate from our nation’s high schools every year as functional illiterates.

Of course, America’s infinite number of conversations surrounding race transcend the field of education.  Whether we are discussing housing, healthcare, immigration, business, entertainment, law enforcement, sports, the military, or a host of other matters, race dominants our national dialogue.  This singular focus is felt by many to be both warranted and overdue, and Critical Race Theory, also know by the acronym of CRT, now provides a rhetorical umbrella for those who insist that entrenched and active racism explains every disparity in American society today.

However, CRT also raises a question during this fraught and fragile moment in American history that somehow manages to be both simplistic and wildly complex: Presuming that we accept that some racism still exists in America—which is an indisputable fact—does it naturally follow that racism explains 100% of the problems afflicting both individuals and our nation as a whole?  Moreover, can we even address this question without the rancor and recriminations that always seem to result when the tenets of CRT are subjected to either criticism or analysis?

Those who raise doubts about the veracity of CRT—and the whole notion of systemic racism in America—often first point to the question of how large a role personal responsibility plays in determining one’s successes or failures.  Although waving the banner of self-determination and self-reliance seems a sensible alternative to blaming society for every life difficulty, it is not as effective a criticism as many imagine because it fails to address the innate unfairness of many lives—regardless of the color of one’s skin.

Personal responsibility is, no matter how much we might wish it to be otherwise, inextricably tied to personal opportunity, and this tends to confound all attempts at reasonable discussions regarding this issue. After all, one can be grotesquely irresponsible yet successful if every life opportunity is presented to you—Hunter Biden is a perfect example of this phenomenon—but those born in terrible circumstances or to terrible people often find that exercising all the personal responsibility in the world has clear limitations in terms of improving one’s life.  

Examples abound of those who triumphed despite adversity, and we need to hold individuals accountable in terms of doing their part as regards the hard work and determination necessary for success in any endeavor.  However, we must not conveniently forget that adversity will many times overwhelm even the most determined and arduous effort.  This plain fact speaks to the necessity of continued efforts by both government entities and private groups to provide mentorship and other support to those who need positive role models and encouragement in order to improve their lives.

Obviously, the playing field cannot ever be leveled to the extent some believe is possible because inborn intelligence and individual talents are simply not transferable skills.  Nonetheless, to allow any American to founder for reasons wholly beyond their control is unconscionable.  Therefore, extending a helping hand to those who have every reason to feel defeated by life is a responsibility that every America should gladly shoulder—no matter how they feel about CRT or its proponents.  Everyone should be able approach their lives and futures with joy and expectation.

However, the need to foster a sense of excitement and possibility in every American—a national joie de vivre that crosses all racial boundaries—pinpoints a second significant problem of CRT that is profoundly damaging to the dreams of our students of color, its substitution of fear and anger for hope and promise.

Teaching black and brown students that they are hated, excluded, and at risk every moment of their lives is the most demotivating possible message to impart to children and adolescents who might already be trying to cope with family and neighborhood pathologies that will be impediments to life and career success.  

If you are taught that you are, from the moment of your birth, an outsider who will never be accepted on the inside, why should you even bother to try?  If every door is inherently closed, every gaze is filled with suspicion, and every pathway to advancement is blocked by a white supremacist nation that hates you, why not repay society with your own nihilistic rage that seeks only retribution for robbing you of a future?

Therefore, it is not unreasonable to ask whether the core principles of CRT translate into a form of catastrophic emotional child abuse when directed at young and impressionable minds.  

Childhood and adolescence is already tough enough for many American children of color who are struggling with broken homes, domestic and neighborhood violence, horrible schools, mental health problems, and bullying that has been turbocharged by technology.  To now teach that they are hated by a hateful country that hates to see them succeed is a prescription for lifelong despair that will rob those young people of any hope for a successful lives.  

To excuse this dismal messaging with a wave of they hand—blithely explaining that you are only telling the truth, as you see it, to America’s children of color—is to stupidly confuse cruelty with caring.  While you’re at it, why not just beat a puppy to death in front of their traumatized eyes so that the last remaining shred of happiness and hope in their young lives can torn from their innocent hearts?

Another major concern regarding the CRT approach to all matters of life is that it separates Americans rather than uniting us as one country to seek solutions.  

Individuals, families, communities, and nations thrive through partnership and trust, both of which are impossible you are taught that you are born without any hope of acceptance and support, and every white person in America is complicit in ruining your lives.  

The broad brush of the belief that white supremacy and white privilege act as as the major negative factors holding back every black life in America makes it impossible to approach white neighbors, classmates, employers, teachers, and colleagues as anything other than antagonists.  Any disagreement or misunderstanding—and life is full of these regardless of the color of your skin—is proof of unresolvable racial animus rather than the need for ongoing dialogue and tolerance.  To live a life convinced that you are alone among implacable enemies instead of being surrounding by potential friends and allies is the surest and shortest pathway to a life filled with paranoia and conflict.

In addition, this notion of a collective guilt dehumanizes people—regardless of the color of the skin—and turns individual prejudices into a broad and frightful hatred that justifies the worst sort of behaviors.  

Ironically, our greatest American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, spent his all-too-brief career pleading for Americans to be judged by the content of their character rather than the colors of our skins because he was a keen and insightful student of history who understood that bigotry flourishes when we see only the surface of one another.  Just as black Americans do not want to be trapped by any guilt by association, nor do white Americans believe it fair to insist that a shopkeeper in Wyoming is somehow culpable for the actions of a fool in New York City because both are white and benefit equally from so-called white privilege.

The idiocy and dangers of collective guilt are amply illustrated by the virulent anti-Semitism that now amazingly seems to live right alongside so many supposedly enlightened demands for racial justice.  Although many Jews—but not all—are white, so to speak, no group in history has likely suffered more persecution and degradation.  Concepts of whiteness and blackness have obvious limitations when it comes to parceling out blame and responsibility for the problems facing many black Americans, and the sad and scurrilous explanations provided by CRT actually make the search for understanding and solutions infinitely more difficult.

Should we as a nation acknowledge and address our history of slavery and racial injustices in order to more fully understand our country.  Yes, absolutely.  Should we use the knowledge we gain to, as stated in the preamble to The Constitution, create the “more perfect union” that we continually strive for and richly deserve to now have?  This would be a better idea than sowing suspicion, encouraging hatred, and insisting that partnership between Americans of all races is somehow not possible. 

Working as one nation rather than as the warring tribal units so many try to make us out to be, the citizens of this diverse, amazing, and still imperfect country can accomplish much and find the healing that we must not allow to elude us.  This is a time for thoughtful and respectful dialogue—not an angry and pointless dissolution.

Our new CRT should be simply this: Citizens Rebuilding Together.

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