Last week, on Tuesday, July 27, I was honored to be the leadoff panelist at the Orange County Board of Education community forum on Critical Race Theory and Ethnic Studies. I spoke on Critical Race Theory (CRT), which has been in academia for decades but has only recently come to the fore in the public consciousness due to progressive advocacy that CRT be taught in K-12. Concerned parents across the country have become acutely aware something is amiss with CRT, and Orange County was no exception. Prior to the panelist speeches, a highly diverse collection of concerned parents crossing race, gender, and political boundaries univocally expressed their deep concerns about the proposed California Ethnic Studies curriculum and the key underlying philosophy driving it: Critical Race Theory. They have good reason.
I think parents finally understand why so many of their children who go off to college full of hope leave those institutions with a disdain for America and our capitalist system. Parents fully expect their children will be exposed to opposing ideas and philosophies in college, confident they have instilled lasting values that will serve them as adults. For K-12 students, however, that is the job of the parent, not the school, and CRT is correctly viewed by parents as the inculcation of a specific worldview based on postmodern and neo-Marxist ideology. Despite the assertion of political pundits such as Donna Brazile, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, or the current White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, CRT is not simply teaching children about systemic racism throughout American history.
CRT has its roots in the early 20th Century thought of neo-Marxist Antonio Gramsci, founder of the Italian Communist Party. His desire was to spur on the stalled communism of 19th Century social revolutionists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels toward an overthrow of the “bourgeoisie” (ruling middle- and upper-class) by the proletariat (working-class). To accomplish this goal, societal norms and institutions, such as family, nation state, capitalism, and God, needed to be torn down, and this is where we begin to see the notion of group-based morality, with the idea that what is moral is what serves the interests of the “oppressed” or “marginalized.”
While European Marxism focused on class, a distinctly American brand of Marxism was brought to America in 1937 by scholars from the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany, known commonly as the Frankfurt School, who left Nazi Germany to escape the Third Reich. They eventually landed in New York where they setup shop at the Columbia University Teachers’ College. While most of the Frankfurt scholars returned to Germany after the defeat of the Nazis, Herbert Marcuse stayed behind and became one of the leading spokesmen of Critical Theory (on which CRT is based) during the massive upheavals of the 1960s and early 1970s caused by riots and violence associated with the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam movements. The focus shifted specifically to oppressed ethnic, racial, and gender groups.
In short, CRT argues that America’s legal, economic, and political systems are inextricably racist. It argues that racism advances only the interests of white elites materially and working-class whites mentally. CRT Chooses race-consciousness over the Enlightenment view of colorblindness as a societal norm. Since all whites benefit from an unearned advantage, race-consciousness remedies rectify this inherent injustice. CRT criticizes the civil-rights movement and the liberal ideology it promotes. The view is civil rights laws are limited to isolated discriminatory acts by individuals or businesses, when in fact discrimination continues to be both pervasive and systemic. CRT rejects the principle of equal opportunity, believing it to be a myth, and rejects conceptions of “merit” since only those in power determine what is equal or what has merit. Finally, CRT promotes equality of results instead of equality of opportunity.
CRT does provide some important critiques, but its prescriptions hardly accord with the ideals of traditional civil rights and is directly opposed to the vision of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as it rejects the Enlightenment values of classical liberalism with its notions of equal opportunity, individual liberty over group rights, and colorblindness under the law as reflected in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. Dr. Wyatt T. Walker, one of Dr. King’s closest friends and advisers, argues that CRT divides people into groups, explicitly pitting racial groups against each other, emphasizing differences instead of similarities, thus destroying the concept of the individual within the context of our shared humanity.
Whereas the hope that one day we would judge one another by the content of individual character, and not the color of our skin, CRT defines people by categories of race, placing people in either “oppressor” or “oppressed” power groups. In response to this, Dr. Wyatt asks, how can two people ever bind together in friendship if they are members of inherently opposed power groups? Why should an individual strive to succeed by merit if group dynamics make this impossible? How will we ever find peace among the races if can’t look at each other as individuals, person to person, based on actual facts and intentions? We simply cannot reconcile as a people if we allow ourselves to be judged by the ethnic, race, and gender essentialism of Marxist-style power groups, and thus we should reject CRT.
Indeed, America has had a long and horrific period of chattel slavery followed by Jim Crow and racial codes that persisted well into the 1960s and 70s. But these practices ended as more Americans understood the gross violations of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. As a black man, I have seen tremendous progress over my lifetime, and while I’m cognizant racism will always exist, simply because evil will always exist, the only systematic oppression I see currently is the failure of public-school systems across America to prepare black and brown children for future economic success. It is the greatest tragedy of our time. And what is abundantly clear is CRT does nothing to advance the basic mission of K-12 education, while doing much to detract from it.