Against Wokeness

The Wealth and Poverty Review

President Trump recently issued an executive order prohibiting federal agencies from using “critical race theory” as part of their personnel-training programs. The president acted in response to my reporting exposing the use of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” training courses in federal agencies. These programs, based on a neo-Marxist ideology that originated in law schools a generation ago, purport to expose and correct “unconscious racial bias” and “white privilege” among their employees. Critical race theory treats “whiteness” as a moral blight and maligns all members of that racial group as complicit in oppression. Critical race theory now forms the basis of personnel-training programs around the country, from corporate America and universities to churches and nonprofits.

The racial narrative that underlies these initiatives poses a grave threat to the ideal of colorblind justice under the law enshrined in the American constitutional system. Yet, despite its growing reach and cultural influence, and its role in motivating the Black Lives Matter and Antifa-led riots over the last three months, critical race theory has gone largely unchallenged by conservative leaders. Many have been slow to oppose the radical demands of groups such as BLM, either out of fear of being labelled racists or because of ignorance about the ideological agenda of these groups. Instead, conservatives have continued to “fight the last war” against the familiar enemies of cultural relativism or tax-and-spend liberalism, not recognizing that a new, virulent form of radicalism now animates the American Left.

Under the dogma of critical race theory, the neo-Marxist Left now treats members of “oppressor” groups (whites, males, Christians, Jews, conservatives) as inherently guilty by virtue of their group membership; conversely, members of victim groups are considered morally innocent. By this logic, claims of victimization by members of victim groups necessarily must be believed, while members of oppressor groups are already guilty by virtue of their group membership. This formula eliminates any need for due process, since the mere perception of victimization constitutes proof of same.

One can trace a direct line from the critical race theory trainings in government, education, and universities to the recent violence and destruction in the streets of so many American cities. Many committed to the cultural Marxist narrative are now entrenched in vital American institutions. The recent riots have exposed the extent to which leaders in the Democratic Party have embraced the ideology of the woke Left. With such widespread penetration of that ideology, the crisis is unlikely to fade away.

The riots of the last three months could open the door to a radical transformation of our constitutional system, including an end to colorblind application of the rule of law — especially if the political coalition that has permitted, and even encouraged, violent protesters regains power at the national level. If leftists merely accuse others of racism, without these accusations being subject to scrutiny from conservative political leaders, they will retain their political momentum — and millions of Americans will continue to face the threat of accusation and cancellation.

Whether it comes to racism or any other sin, few Americans believe that all members of any group are inherently innocent while all those of another are inherently guilty. Adherents of critical race theory do believe this, though — and they’re aggressively teaching it. Our leaders must expose critical race theory as the destructive ideology that it is.

Christopher Rufo

Former Director, Center on Wealth & Poverty
Christopher Rufo is former director of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty. He has directed four documentaries for PBS, Netflix, and international television, including his latest film, America Lost, that tells the story of three "forgotten American cities.” Christopher is currently a contributing editor of City Journal, where he covers poverty, homelessness, addiction, crime, and other afflictions. Christopher is a magna cum laude graduate of Georgetown University, Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow, and has appeared on NPR, CNN, ABC, CBS, HLN, and FOX News.