The problem with critical race theory


Marty Rochester

There is no better indicator of how far left and insane our political culture in America has gone than the growing pervasiveness of critical race theory (CRT), which claims that systemic racism is the signature, unchanging feature of American society.


Despite liberal denials, it is now found in our schools, the corporate sector, throughout government and elsewhere. This goes well beyond the ubiquitous inclusion, equity and diversity training sessions almost all of us have experienced in our workplaces in recent years. This represents a new, pernicious turn in race relations and society at large.


The traditional diversity training sessions assume that we may or may not be racists but that we need to be sensitized to why there is a moral imperative to cast a wider net when it comes to admission to select colleges and high school honors programs, jobs and other avenues to advancement. One can debate whether these sorts of exercises, insofar as they tend to promote race-based preferences and quotas, i.e., racial discrimination, are legitimate or not, but at least they do not start with the presumption that they are needed because all whites are racists.


In contrast, critical race theory profiles all whites as not merely privileged but inherently racist. Just read “How to Be an Anti-Racist” by Boston University professor Ibram Kendi. Kendi argues that if you maintain that you are not racist, you deserve to be equated with a white supremacist. Really? “White supremacist” used to refer to marginal figures such as Klansmen and Neo-Nazis. Its current, expanded definition may include even many Jewish Light readers.


Let’s consider just how silly this argument is. First, I thought we were not supposed to stereotype any group of people, whether engaging in profiling in an airport screening line or in any other situation. Do we make an exception for whiteness? Would we dare stereotype Blacks?


Second, even the most cursory examination of data would show that not all whites are privileged, much less racist. What happened to reliance on science, on empirical evidence? Whatever white privilege and racism exists in America has not prevented some people of color from becoming the richest, most highly educated ethnic group in the country. Are the Asians who succeed, based on merit-based testing, in getting 70% of the placements at New York City’s elite Stuyvesant High School, also racist, white supremacists?

Third, there seems to be a double standard at work. As New York Times columnist Ross Douthat put it in his July 3 column, Kendi has “a Manichaean vision … in which … all racial disparities [whether in regard to traffic stops, in-school suspensions or whatever] are the result of racism — and the measurement of any outcome short of perfect ‘equity’ may be a form of structural racism itself.”

If you watched the NBA Finals, you were hard pressed to see a single white, Asian or any non-Black on the floor for more than a minute or two. Did anyone claim this was racism in action? Suddenly “disparate outcomes” were OK.

I was compelled to write this column after I read a commentary in the July 8 Jewish Light by Henry Abramson, dean of Touro College in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was headlined “Banning Critical Race Theory Could Gut Teaching of Jewish History.”

I thought it went off the rails in suggesting that current efforts in several states to ban such teaching in K-12 are similar to authoritarian governments forbidding any teaching that could remind students of their country’s role in the Holocaust and other misdeeds.

Many of our local leaders were quick to denounce the comparison of COVID-19 restrictions with Nazi imposition of the Holocaust. Yet these same leaders have allowed comparisons to be made between restrictions on CRT teaching and restrictions on Holocaust teaching.

CRT education does not have the same moral standing as Holocaust education.

First, critics of CRT have no problem with teaching a full, honest, accurate account of American history, warts and all, including discussion of slavery, Jim Crow and other sins committed. What is objected to is providing inaccurate accounts of both our history and contemporary society. CRT is closely associated with the “1619 Project,” which has been promoted by The New York Times in our schools despite offering a slavery-centric, anti-capitalism curriculum that many leading historians have criticized as wildly distorted, false history. Read Peter Wood’s critique “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project.”

Second, CRT critics object to the obsession with race, including engaging young children in self-hating and hating others based on skin color. In teaching about the Holocaust, we typically do not profile all Germans as antisemitic. But in lessons about slavery and Jim Crow, CRT makes sweeping generalizations in characterizing all whites as racists. Instead of schools promoting integration, CRT promotes racial identity and differences.

Reflecting what has been witnessed in Rockwood and other school districts across St. Louis and nationwide, a parent of a New York City private school student summed up the concerns as follows: “Every class this year has had an obsessive focus on race and identity, ‘racist cop’ re-enactments in science, ‘decentering whiteness’ in art class, learning about white supremacy and sexuality in health class.” (Daniel Henninger, The Wall Street Journal, June 2)

Although American Federation of Teachers Union president Randi Weingarten has maintained that “critical race theory is not taught in elementary schools or high schools,” there is overwhelming evidence that, as stated in a July 8 Wall Street Journal editorial, “national teachers unions are adopting woke values and pressing them into K-12 curriculums across America” (“Randi Weingarten Rips CRT Critics,” The Nation, July 9). Indeed, the National Education Association has just endorsed CRT.

As I said at the start, the insanity of our current political culture is not limited to schools but is omnipresent. Peter Wood, head of the National Association of Scholars, has said that “the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chief of naval operations, and secretary of defense have all endorsed critical race theory” (NAS newsletter, Aug. 3).

Even our most establishment institutions are going nuts. Witness the Federal Reserve Board recently urging employees not to use “biased terms” such as “the Founding Fathers” (George Will, The Washington Post, July 21). Never mind that when I last checked, Jefferson and company were in fact the founders of the country and were all male.

Then again, the way things are going, maybe kids will soon learn that it was really Sally Hemings who wrote the Declaration of Independence.