Criticizing Critical Race Theory
By Wayne Christiansen
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a federal issue. I mean that literally and legally, not metaphorically. If you’ve been paying attention, then you know CRT is dividing ethnic groups, business corporations, the military, schools, churches, and families. It has been a hot button topic in our nation for some time, and now criticizing CRT has risen to the level of being a federal offense. In a press release, dated October 4, 2021, the Office of the Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum for the FBI and others. The subject of the memorandum states:
Partnership among federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement to address threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.
As you can see, the totality of law-enforcement is being deployed to address “threats.” What are these threats? The vast majority of them relate to questions and concerns by parents about the CRT curriculum being taught at their children’s school. Now the FBI is classifying parents who oppose CRT as “domestic terrorists.” It would be difficult to exaggerate just how volatile the debate surrounding CRT has become.
If CRT was merely about raising awareness to legitimate instances of racism, as some assert, this wouldn’t even be a blip on anybody’s radar. Nor would CRT raise any eyebrows if it was only concerned to teach the good, the bad, and the ugly of American history as it relates to race and slavery, as others ignorantly or disingenuously say. A person can recognize and freely acknowledge that racism has and still does exist in our culture, and yet strenuously object to CRT, which goes far beyond being sensitive to discrimination.
To wrap our arms around CRT, let’s back up and begin with critical theory (CT) and its objective. In a recent Newsweek opinion piece Liz Wheeler summarized it well:
In 1937, Max Horkheimer of the Frankfurt School wrote a manifesto about “critical theory,” in which he claimed that when examining society, people cannot reason objectively. In classic Marxist fashion, critical theory divides everyone in society into classes of oppressed and oppressors, but posits that the so-called oppressed stand in the way of revolution when they adhere to the societal belief systems and cultural norms of the so-called oppressors. Therefore, the cultural institutions that stand in the way of the Marxist revolution must be destroyed… (Critical Race Theory is Repackaged Marxism, 6/14/21).
As the name CRT suggests, race is inserted into the middle of the CT paradigm. Just so I can’t be accused of criticizing a strawman, which I have no desire to do, let me begin by giving you the definition of CRT according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Critical race theory (CRT) is defined as an intellectual and social movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour. Critical race theorists hold that racism is inherent in the law and legal institutions of the United States insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.
According to this definition, CRT, like CT, includes the binary categories of oppressor and oppressed. And race is used intentionally by those in power to maintain their authority and perpetuate the exploitation of minorities, especially African Americans. The reason why we hear the constant drumbeat of “systemic racism” is because this racial injustice is not just associated with a few bad apples, it permeates all our institutions. What is required to eliminate this cultural racism? This white supremacy? A revolution. Many of us are hoping and praying it will not be a bloody revolution.
Another term that has entered our new vocabulary is “white privilege.” If you embrace CRT, then “white privilege” is part of the package. If you are oblivious to your white privilege, CRT proponent and feminist Peggy McIntosh explains why in her book White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:
I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.
By the way, just so there’s no misunderstanding, this “white privilege” also means that you are a white supremacist. This is not your father’s white supremacy that was limited to skinheads and members of the KKK. Now we have a new definition. According to Robin DiAngelo and Ozlem Sensoy in their book Is Everybody Really Equal?: “When we use the term White supremacy, we are not referring to extreme hate groups or ‘bad racist.’…We use the term to capture the all-encompassing dimensions of White privilege, dominance, and assumed superiority in main stream society” (p. 18). I’ve included a few quotes from the advocates of CRT, so you can see for yourself what they are declaring, and why they liberally refer to whites, who are blind to their white privilege, as racists and white supremacists. The definitions have evolved over time, and you may have had difficulty keeping up. I know I have.
While CRT can get technical, it is also simplified, so that even young grade school kids can be taught that America is made up of the oppressed and the oppressors, the good guys and the bad guys. Instinctively these impressionable children want to know how we can distinguish between the two groups. They are told that the answer is easy: just look at the color of one’s skin. When some of these students are traumatized and they go home crying, are we really surprised that their irate parents attend the next school board meeting demanding answers? They were under the impression that the school was teaching their kids reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared on “The View,” where one topic that came up was teaching CRT in schools. Her response was brilliant:
I’m not certain 7-year-olds need to learn it. I grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama. I couldn’t go to a movie theatre or to a restaurant with my parents. I went to segregated schools, until we moved to Denver. My parents never thought I was going to grow up in a world without prejudice, but they also told me ‘that’s somebody else’s problem, not yours, you’re going to overcome it, and you are going to be anything you want to be.’ And that’s the message that I think we ought to be sending to our kids.
One of the worries I have about the way we’re talking about race is that it either seems so big that somehow white people now have to feel guilty for everything that happened in the past. I don’t think that’s very productive. Or, black people have to feel disempowered by race. I would like black kids to be completely empowered, to know they are beautiful in their blackness, but in order to do that, I don’t think we have to make white kids feel bad for being white. So, somehow this is a conversation that has gone in the wrong direction.
This is, indeed, a conversation that has gone in the wrong direction. In fact, we seem to have reversed course. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” CRT is essentially telling us to do the opposite. This is racism, according to the old classical definition, that is ironically being taught in the name of anti-racism.
So, are we shocked that as parents (black and white) become aware of this divisive ideology they are rising up to protest? But as Christians we don’t want to just be reactionary, let us also be proactive and stress the basics of our worldview. All people are of equal worth and dignity, since they are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). The biblical division is not between races (strictly speaking there is only one race, since we are all descendants of Adam), rather it’s based on our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So one is either part of the domain of darkness or the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14). The ultimate issue is not the color of one’s skin, but one’s relationship with God and the content of their character. This is the issue that matters for time and eternity.