Last week NY Times columnist Ross Douthat took a stab at separating out what it is that many Americans (left, right and center) object to about the current push for teaching Critical Race Theory in schools. The crux of the disagreement isn’t the idea of teaching students about the legacy of racism is schools. That’s something that most students already have in their curriculum and no one is suggesting it should be removed. It’s not even about the idea of teaching students about the concept of systemic racism (the idea that you can have racism perpetuated within institutions). As Douthat sees it, where many people draw the line is at some of the proposed theories that are packaged with this concept as solutions. Specifically, there are some illiberal theories of anti-racist education that are essentially piggy-backing on the push for more discussion of racism in schools.
What’s really inflaming today’s fights…is that the structural-racist diagnosis isn’t being offered on its own. Instead it’s yoked to two sweeping theories about how to fight the problem it describes.
First, there is a novel theory of moral education, according to which the best way to deal with systemic inequality is to confront its white beneficiaries with their privileges and encourage them to wrestle with their sins.
Second, there is a Manichaean vision of public policy, in which all policymaking is either racist or anti-racist, all racial disparities are the result of racism — and the measurement of any outcome short of perfect “equity” may be a form of structural racism itself.
The first idea is associated with Robin DiAngelo, the second with Ibram X. Kendi, and they converge in places like the work of Tema Okun, whose presentations train educators to see “white supremacy culture” at work in traditional measures of academic attainment.
When you actually look at theses theories on their own, they aren’t hard to object to. Even the NY Times managed to find plenty of dubious assertions and even anti-rationalism in the work of Robin DiAngelo and other anti-racist trainers. But very often these folks aren’t being treated with much skepticism, even when they say things that seem pretty far out there.
So you have people around the country showing up at school boards and objecting to some of this material under the rubric of CRT and then you have people on the left arguing strenuously that Kendi and DiAngelo aren’t critical race theorists and therefore the whole conversation is just conservative noise that should be ignored.
The progressive media’s ability to gaslight the issue doesn’t change the fact that the theories themselves are controversial and rightfully so. In his review of DiAngelo’s lates book, Nice Racism, Matt Taibbi offers one important reason why.
Nice Racism’s central message is that it’s a necessity to stop white people from seeing themselves as distinct people. “Insisting that each white person is different from every other white person,” DiAngelo writes, “enables us to distance ourselves from the actions of other white people.” She doesn’t see, or maybe she does, where this logic leads. If you tell people to abandon their individual identities and think of themselves as a group, they sooner or later will start to behave as a group. Short of something like selling anthrax spores or encouraging people to explore sexual feelings toward nine year-olds, is there a worse idea than suggesting — demanding — that people get in touch with their white identity?
If DiAngelo’s insistence that “I don’t feel guilty about racism,” reveling in scenes of making people experience and re-experience racial discomfort, and weird puffery in introducing herself by saying things like, “I am Robin and I am white” feel familiar, it’s because she’s hitting all the themes favored by Klansmen and identitarian loons of yore. Read a book like David Duke’s My Awakening (if you can stand it, you can find excerpts here) and you’ll encounter the same types of passages present in Nice Racism.
There’s the constant rejoicing in discomfiting people with clarity of racial insight (“Even though she taught biology… she became very uncomfortable equating differences in human races as compared with breeds of horses,” Duke notes), tirades against “We’re all just people” homilies (Duke decries “racial egalitarianism” while DiAngelo goes after individualism and universalism), and endless ruminations on various stereotypes (DiAngelo seems obsessed with black hair, while Duke’s giveaway line is about “prominent secondary sexual characteristics”).
There’s a big difference between, one the one hand, white progressive women downloading DiAngelo’s latest tome as part of a racial self-help fad and, on the other hand, teaching 8-year-olds that their racial identity is fundamental to who they are, and also cause for deep shame. The former is entertainment and mental stimulation for self-flagellating adults who can simply put the book down when they have had enough flirting with racial Gnosticism. The latter is a struggle session for kids who are unable to walk out and who don’t know enough to see things any other way.
The potential downside to encouraging children to focus on their racial identity (as opposed to their individual identity) seems self-evident. In fact, you have to wonder if the far-left wouldn’t be happy to see more racial tribalism which, after all, fits perfectly with their existing worldview.
The problem with DiAngelo (and Kendi) is that their teaching seems designed to amplify the problems they claim to want to solve. Whether the far left likes it or not, we are going to have a discussion about that before mandating it be taught in schools.
Sources: HotAir: The problem with Robin DiAngelo’s ‘Nice Racism’