What is Critical Race Theory and why does it make white conservatives uncomfortable?

Nii Ntreh April 29, 2021
Critical Race Theory has been embraced my many of America's top universities, much to the fear of political conservatives. Photo Credit: Columbia Spectator/ Jamie Danies

In conservative United States media these days, apart from the usual partisan opposition to what liberals and progressives embody in the Democratic Party, there is also an encouraging skepticism of Critical Race Theory (CRT) as the next vicious liberal that will undo America.

The theory has been mentioned on Fox News a lot of times in the last few months, and particularly on the network’s most highly-rated show, the eponymously named Tucker Carlson Tonight, CRT has been criticized as part of a suspected agenda of white replacement – the reactionary conclusion that liberals and progressives are out to make white people either become the minority ethnic group or be subsumed by overwhelming minorities.

In the latter months of his bumpy presidency, Donald Trump singled out CRT as a liberal agenda that meant to divide the United States. He at times called it racist as well. The obsession with the subject is not just in the US because in the United Kingdom too, the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson has moved to mitigate what it believes would be harmful repercussions of the studies.

While Connecticut and California have passed bills embracing certain aspects of CRT to be taught in schools, other states such as Idaho are looking to ban CRT in schools. The division over where you can and cannot learn CRT over the next few years is bound to be very political. But what is Critical Race Theory?

CRT is better understood as a lens with which to look at the world rather than a field of studies or a defined subject area. CRT assumes that American social and political life, or the social and political life of western society in general, are rooted in suppositions that also gave birth to racial consciousness. By this, CRT proponents such as Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell opine that western society is necessarily white supremacist, in the sense that western society was structured out of the humanity of those who shared whiteness. The structures these people of whiteness built were meant to perpetuate their kind and defend their ways.

The introduction of other peoples, most especially Black people into white society, even for over half a millennium has been marred by the fact that the defense of western civilization would not allow its way of life to be turned upside down by non-white people. CRT theorists imagine that turning western civilization upside down does not constitute the destruction of Euro-American life. Rather, what they mean by turning western civilization on its head is to critically address how that civilization was built on the maxim of the goodness of whiteness and the badness of others.

As such, post-classical European history from the Renaissance right up to the consensus that has shaped the world since 1945, comes under critical scrutiny. This is a period of more than 500 years that CRT advocates believe whiteness was designed, built and weaponized. Although conservatives usually blame liberals for Critical Race Theory, it helps to understand classical liberalism and even neoliberalism are not spared by CRT.

There are a few CRT teachers who may be Marxists but the thought itself is not Marxist. If anything at all, other critical social and economic theories such as Marxism, post-structuralism and post-modernism are thought to be ineffectual to the agenda. CRT is about power relations and it is an interrogation of western civilization and/or whiteness and all that proceeded from it.

CRT has been brewed by mostly Black American scholars for over 40 years although some proponents have been Asian and Hispanic.

From this, it is quite clear the discomfort CRT brings to white conservatives and even some liberals and progressives. Ordinarily, Americans debate taxation, gay and civil rights, crime, military spending, budget deficits and the likes. There is no will or imagination to question western civilization itself and put whiteness on the stand.

The necessary conditions demanded by race theorists which include intersectionality, the suspension of western-originated rationalization and the compulsory centering of minority racial narratives also threaten the individual rights-based society founded according to European Enlightenment principles.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: April 29, 2021


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