Critical race theory

Critical  race theorists often  comment upon ithe underlying structures and biases of legal systems and arguments. In one famous paper, for instance, then-Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell argued that the famous Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Board of Education may not have been so much about high-minded legal principle but rather the perceived self-interest of white elites. Jim Crow had simply become too disruptive, and too much of an international embarrassment, to be countenanced any longer. “Racial justice — or its appearance — may, from time to time, be counted among the interests deemed important by the courts and by society’s policymakers,” he wrote.

One can quibble with several of these types of argument, and indeed, like any academic school of thought, theorists are routinely squabbling with one another about various points. There is no unanimous set of views, and at bottom, critical race theory is just another intellectual movement in the classic Enlightenment tradition — a bunch of professional scholars making arguments using reason and evidence, mainly in books and academic journals. Until recently it was quite obscure.

The conservative picture of “critical race theory” bears no resemblance whatsoever to reality. Much like “cancel culture,” which is now just a mindless catchphrase conservatives use to deflect blame for anything from trying to overthrow the government to stuffing a racehorse full of steroids, their version of “critical race theory” is a made-up bogeyman being used to whip up a screeching panic among the conservative base so as to suppress honest discussion about American history and racism.

The immediate context here is that the George Floyd protests have inspired many schools to reexamine their curricula, which are very often out of date or an outright whitewash of history. The study of Reconstruction in particular is still influenced by the baldly racist Dunning School, which libeled the brief post-Civil War multiracial democracy in the South as corrupt and tyrannical, hence justifying Jim Crow apartheid. In response, many school districts and universities have incorporated new scholarship, to take better account of the manifestly ongoing problem of racist injustice.

Importantly, little of this is about critical race theory per se, which is fairly arcane and more for graduate and law students (though there is a lot of overlap in topics, and some broader influence). We’re not talking about interrogating the legal theories and argumentative structure of Supreme Court decisions here, it’s mainly bog-standard history and elementary social science — stuff like Black Americans’ hugely disproportionate rate of incarceration and economic deprivation, the legacy of racist housing policy, how slavery and Jim Crow worked, and so on.

In response, Republican legislators have proposed sweeping attacks on free scholarship and inquiry.  (The Week 14 May 2021)

My comment: As a young man I stayed for a while in Washington DC.  Taking a bus one morning,  I sat at the back.  An African American lady in front of me turned round and told me , “Them seats are not for you.  They are for us black folk”.  To which I replied, “Thank you for the information, but I will sit exactly where I like.” ( to some applause from other passengers).  My introduction to the ridiculous apartheid of the time. Still, aspects of that mindset persist.

Supporters of Epicurus believe in equal rights for all human beings, whatever their color, language, education, income, place of origin and political opinions.

One Comment

  1. “Critical race theory,” the reemergence of media hype on UFOs, “cancel culture”–all buzzwords that require a definition before starting a conversation about underlying issues. That takes too much time so I just wait for someone I trust to explain terms to me. For example, a morning conversation with my science-teacher nephew today clarified what’s going on. His conclusion was much like yours–well-meaning movements are hijacked by conservatives to deflect actual discussions on real issues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.