By Peter Kirsanow MARCH 25, 2021
Critical race theory, or CRT, has occupied an increasingly prominent place in public discourse since President Trump issued Executive Order 13950, “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping,” which banned the federal government from using CRT in employee training.
During the general election, then-candidate Joe Biden described CRT as nothing more than teaching people to be cognizant of others’ feelings. One of President Biden’s first acts was to revoke Executive Order 13950 and replace it with Executive Order 13985, “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.”
But what is CRT? Many people think critical race theory is part of the civil rights movement, but this is incorrect. Most Americans of a certain age believe that Martin Luther King Jr.’s hope that his children would be judged “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” is what society should strive toward, and is the practical definition of not being racist.
CRT, and the many millions of millennials, Gen Z-ers, and current school children who have been steeped in its tenets, rejects colorblindness as both impossible and inequitable. The American Bar Association (ABA) explains that CRT is not a diversity and inclusion “training,” but a “practice” – not a noun, but a verb. The ABA continues: It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers.
CRT also recognizes that race intersects with other identities, including sexuality, gender identity, and others. CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.
This official description of CRT from the ABA is worth paying attention to for a few reasons. First off, if CRT isn’t merely training, but a practice, that means it isn’t confined to one day or even one aspect of life. It’s something you do over and over again so it becomes ingrained in your way of thinking and seeing the world.
Because it’s “evolving” and “malleable,” you can never say “these are the rules” or “we have a just social system.” You can never rest, because this practice and evolution entail constantly searching for new aspects of injustice. Thus, people who ascribe to CRT are fond of phrases such as, “We have not yet reached the mountaintop,” “The arc of history bends toward justice,” and so on.
“A racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers” implies that race is used by all white people (and only white people) to oppress all people of color. It doesn’t matter how many black CEOs, doctors, engineers, politicians, or celebrities there are. Nor does it matter that Asian students academically out-perform white students. Because whites are the single largest racial group in the country, under CRT they and anything that can be even remotely linked to white culture are considered oppressive to all non-white people.
The more “victim” categories a person falls into, the more oppressed he or she is by whites, particularly straight white men (even if the person never experiences disparate treatment). If you are a disabled black lesbian, you are oppressed because of your multiple and intersecting identities, according to CRT and closely related intersectionality theory.
Finally, the description of “the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class status on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation,” is referring to what we have come to know as “systemic racism.” Because the United States was primarily founded by and populated by whites, and because slavery and Jim Crow were due to whites, every system in the United States is tainted by racism to this day.
Whiteness as a Microaggression
Our economic system, school system, criminal justice system – all of them are fundamentally racist, concludes CRT. The proof offered in support of this proposition is that blacks and Hispanics have worse outcomes than whites, even when no proof of disparate treatment is offered. Nor is the fact that Asians do better across almost all these metrics than whites disprove that the systems are fundamentally racist.
“Whiteness” and “white privilege” are also important concepts in CRT. They’re linked to the concept of “racial caste” discussed above. The taxpayer-funded Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History asserts that “whiteness” is “at the core of understanding race in America” and “the standard by which all other groups are compared.”
The Smithsonian continues:
Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America’s history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal. Whiteness (and its accepted normality) also exist as everyday microaggressions toward people of color. Acts of microaggressions include verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults toward nonwhites.
Whether intentional or not, these attitudes communicate hostile, derogatory, or harmful messages.
Since white people in America hold most of the political, institutional, and economic power, they receive advantages that nonwhite groups do not. These benefits and advantages, or varying degrees, are known as white privilege. For many white people, this can be hard to hear, understand, or accept – but it is true. If you are white in America, you have benefited from the color of your skin.
CRT’s been gaining influence over the past several decades but has exploded since the George Floyd incident last summer. White supremacy is alleged to be everywhere. You may not have noticed it because it’s so integral to American society. Therefore, if you’re a white person, you must constantly examine yourself and your society for any vestiges of white supremacy. If you’re a person of color, you must reflect on how white supremacy has affected you.
‘Behaviors’ of White People
To give but one example, in August 2020 the University of Kentucky held trainings for student resident advisors (RAs). There was one training for “Black, Indigenous, Person of Color,” which was called the “Healing Space for Staff of Color,” while white RAs were expected to attend the “White Accountability Space.” RAs who were participating in the “White Accountability Space” were directed to review an attached document entitled “Common racist behaviors and attitudes of white people” prior to the session. The “behaviors and attitudes” in the document included:
- Believe that they have “earned” what they have, rather than acknowledge the extensive white privilege and unearned advantages they receive; believe that if people of color just worked harder . . .
- Not notice the daily indignities that people of color experience; deny them and rationalize them away with PLEs (perfectly logical explanations)
- Accept and feel safer around people of color who have assimilated and are “closer to white”
- Blame people of color for the barriers and challenges they experience; believe that if they “worked harder” they could “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”
- Dismiss and minimize frustrations of people of color and categorize the person raising issues as militant, angry, having an attitude, working their agenda, not a team player, playing the “race card” . . .
- Focus on their “good intent” as whites, rather than on the negative impact of their behavior;
- Focus on how much progress we have made, rather than on how much more needs to change
- “Walk on eggshells” and act more distant and formal with people of color
- Segregate themselves from people of color and rarely develop authentic relationships across race
- Dismiss the racist experiences of people of color with comments such as: “That happens to me too,” “You’re too sensitive,” “That happened because of ____,” “It has nothing to do with race!”
- Exaggerate the level of intimacy they have with individual people of color
- Fear that they will be seen and “found out” as a racist, having racial prejudice
- Focus on themselves as an individual (I’m not racist; I’m a good white), and refuse to acknowledge the cultural and institutional racism people of color experience daily
- Look to people of color for direction, education, and coaching on how to act and what not to do
- Compete with other whites to be “the good white”: the best ally, the one people of color let into their circle, etc.
In short, whites are “damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.”The University of Kentucky training wasn’t an isolated incident. There were similar trainings for white male employees of the Sandia National Laboratory, for employees of Seattle city government, and for teachers in the Buffalo Public Schools, to name but a few. They’re almost certainly taking place in your city government and public school system. They teach Americans to hate their country and each other.
No nation can long survive such inanity and divisiveness. The USSR’s Nikita Krushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, and Yuri Andropov are spinning in their graves, unable to believe that after all their efforts to undermine and divide Americans, we’re doing it much more successfully to ourselves.
Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney in Cleveland, Ohio anda member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
Categories: Free Speech Zone