For the past five decades, America's national conversation on race sought to fulfill the ideals set forth by Martin Luther King Jr., who drew from his ministry background to urge people to affirm their common humanity and stand against the racial injustices of their day.
The critical race theory movement, “a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism and power,” claims to be inspired by King but stands to challenge his ideals.
This past summer, the movement infiltrated educational institutions, corporate boardrooms and governmental agencies, often labeling its detractors as racists or espousing racist ideas.
Critical race theory has hijacked the national conversation on race, posing no legitimate solutions to address the current impasse on race relations in America.
This new “civil rights” movement claims among its most prominent adherents Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Following the killing of George Floyd, DiAngelo, American author and consultant, became a significant voice in the national conversation when her book White Fragility became a New York Times bestseller. In the book, DiAngelo seeks to diagnose why white people have difficulty addressing the topic of race.
While the book has some salient points, its reductionism of society as existing fundamentally as a power struggle between races raises far more problems than it addresses. Rather than affirming people’s common humanity, it places added social significance on the concept of race. She insists that white people participate in upholding racist institutions by merely being white.
She and other critical theorists redefine racism from something understood as an act perpetrated by an individual into something built into the culture of society and institutions.
She later claims that viewing yourself as an individual, “just human,” separate from your racial identity group, is an inherently white trait.
Rather than affirm the necessity of treating people as individuals, adherents of critical race theory, in opposition to King, believe that individuals must be viewed in light of their group identity.
DiAngelo imparts guilt and innocence on the basis of racial identity. She holds that white people are implacable racists and minorities are benevolent victims of oppression. In doing so, she minimizes the severity of racial discrimination perpetrated by minorities toward white people merely on the basis of race.
As Matthew J. Franck, Princeton University politics lecturer, aptly put it in his article, “Racism Is Real. But Is “Systemic Racism”? That Time I Was Published by Newsweek—For Two Hours,” this form of argumentation absolves genuine racists of guilt.
“If everyone in general but no one in particular is to blame, the few remaining actual racists among us are let off the hook,” he writes.
In his book Stamped From The Beginning, historian and author Kendi advocates for active racial discrimination through the use of quotas to counteract racial disparities. He expresses the belief that disparities originate solely from racial discrimination or inequality within society.
“When you truly believe that the racial groups are equal, then you also believe that racial disparities must be the result of racial discrimination,” he writes.
When accounting for such disparities, critical race theorists fail to consider the impact of behavioral patterns within people groups. If racism were the sole reason for the disparities occurring, then critical race theorists must hold that racism is somehow causing inner-city Blacks to commit interracial homicide at higher rates than any other racial group.
In his book How to Be an AntiRacist, Kendi advocates for racial discrimination.
“The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination,” writes Kendi. “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
For Kendi, the defining question isn’t whether discrimination is ethical but rather is it “creating equity” amongst identity groups, or put plainly, is it engineering by fiat his desired racial outcomes. This departs from King, who expressed the need for racial discrimination to cease and advocated for people to be judged on their merits.
If one were to argue that critical race theory is being misrepresented, Kimberlé Crenshaw, an early proponent of the movement, wrote in “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” that the statement “I am Black” is more important than the statement “I am a person who happens to be Black,” because the latter affirms universal humanity first and would be unproductive to the aims of identity politics.
This heavy-handed means of producing “equity” poses the most apparent problem in academia.
The viewing of one group as being underrepresented inevitably leads to the recognition of another group being overrepresented. One cannot account for the underrepresentation of Black people in academia without noting an overrepresentation of Jews and Asians. Critical race theorists can’t claim that all disparities are a product of racism without indicting the groups that are successful.
This form of discrimination leads to people viewing themselves as representatives of their race and not as students or academics first.
Those who espouse these views inadvertently perpetuate the subconscious discrimination they aim to prevent. Adherents of critical race theory present minorities as being infantile and lacking agency.
The sentiments held by critical race theorists are condescending toward the capabilities of minorities. This is seen when critical race theorists place the onus on white people to manage the complex factors that arise when discussing race.
“It is white people’s responsibility to be less fragile; people of color don’t need to twist themselves into knots trying to navigate us as painlessly as possible,” writes DiAngelo.
This makes it seem as though minorities are incapable of managing complex emotions. Minorities are seen as being so fragile that prodding them to examine the validity of their claims of being discriminated against is seen as unconscionable. Rather than viewing people of all ethnicities as being capable of reasoning beyond their emotions, Diangelo would rather patronize them.
Rather than accept the malignant nature of such ideologies, the nation should look to more uplifting alternatives.
One such alternative is the theory of enchantment, a framework that focuses on compassion to combat racial discrimination instead of political abstractions. Developed by writer Chloé Valdary, it accepts people’s differences while affirming their common humanity.
Critical race theorists’ attempts to reframe the conversation on race in America may be noble, but they serve to frustrate, not advance the causes of social justice. Their core assertions undermine the philosophy that has guided our nation in its march toward equality. If we want to move beyond this racial impasse, we must see each other not as races, but as people.