Robert Siedlecki: Critical Race Theory – the resistance strikes back

Individuals, organizations, and legislatures are seeing CRT for the poison that it is; and they’re doing something about it.

Critical Race Theory is a pernicious left-wing ideology that has been gaining greater prominence of late in the United States. While initially confined to the university, Critical Race Theory in the past decade has begun to spread its tentacles into K-12 schools, the government, and corporations; leaving divisiveness and animosity in its wake.

What exactly is Critical Race Theory (CRT)? According to Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsey in their book Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity, CRT is the idea that “racism is present everywhere and always, and persistently works against people of color, who are aware of this, and for the benefit of white people, who tend not to be, as is their privilege.” According to CRT, literally everything in America—from the “truths” we believe to the structures present in our society—was “constructed” by the majority white population (the “oppressors”) to maintain its power over the minority population (the “oppressed”). Under this theory, all white people are condemned as “racists,” even if they oppose discrimination and support color-blind policies, because racism is structural. Pluckrose and Lindsey write: “[I]t is the social system and its inherent power dynamics that are seen as the causes of oppression, not necessarily willful individual agents. Thus, a society, social system, or institution can be seen as in some way oppressive without any individual involved with it needing to be shown to hold even a single oppressive view.”

CRT is so damaging because rather than helping Americans look beyond race and ethnicity—and judge people based on their character and competence—it teaches that race and ethnicity are the defining characteristics of a person. Individual autonomy and responsibility, and unifying appeals to universal human rights, are downplayed. Worse, CRT actively increases hostility between the races by demonizing the white population.  Indeed, in many CRT classes and trainings, white students or participants are told to identify themselves as oppressors and to apologize for the racism that has plagued America since its founding. A more destructive ideology for multi-racial and multi-ethnic America could not be found.

However, rather than sitting back and passively accepting the spread of CRT in our society, states, new organizations, parents, and teachers are fighting back. First, the states are acting to ban the teaching of CRT. On March 18, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida used his executive authority to ban the teaching of CRT in Florida public Schools. As DeSantis said: “Let me be clear: there is no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory. Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.” Other states have followed DeSantis’s lead by passing legislation that bans the teaching of CRT. On May 1, Idaho became the first state in the nation to legislatively ban CRT from being taught in public universities and K-12 schools. On May 3,. Arkansas banned state agencies from teaching CRT. On May 7, Oklahoma prohibited CRT from being taught in public K-12 schools. Similar bills have been passed by legislatures in Tennessee (banning CRT from being taught in public K-12 schools) and Iowa (banning the teaching of CRT in public universities, K-12 schools, and government agencies) that almost certainly will be signed by their states’ governors. Other states like Texas, Utah, Rhode Island, Missouri, and West Virginia are considering such legislation.

Second, new organizations have been created to specifically fight the scourge of CRT. For example, in January of this year, School House Rights – a project of the International Organization for the Family – was created to fight CRT indoctrination in K-12 schools. Significantly, School House Rights was the primary funder of the first-known court case challenging CRT in K-12 education (Clark v. Democracy Prep, Fed. Court of Nevada). At the charter school in question, students were told to list their various identities (race, sex, sexual identity, religion, etc.) and then to label each one as either an “oppressor” or “oppressed” class; they then were told to “undo and unlearn” their “beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that stem from oppression.” A bi-racial student who objected to this teaching and wanted to opt out of the class was forced to stay in it and was given a failing grade that jeopardized his ability to graduate from high school. While the case is still ongoing, an important victory has already been achieved as the school has agreed to remove the student’s failing grade and allow him to opt out of the class. School House Rights is currently investigating other potential cases that can be brought to challenge CRT.

Third, concerned parents and teachers are starting to fight back against this divisive ideology. After the left-wing school board in Southland, Texas, in 2020 voted to put CRT into the school curriculum and require educators to take CRT trainings, parents and concerned citizens organized to protect their kids and in a landslide victory last week elected candidates opposed to CRT to the school board (which they now control), city council, and mayor’s office. On April 13, Andrew Guttman, whose daughter attends the prestigious K-12 all-girls Brearley School in New York City (the daughters of Chelsea Clinton, Drew Barrymore, Tina Fey, among others, attend the school), sent a scathing letter to all school parents that went viral explaining why he would not be sending his daughter back to Brearley the following year due to the school’s obsession with promoting CRT. Guttman wrote:

“It cannot be stated clearly enough that Brearley’s obsession with race must stop… I cannot tolerate a school that not only judges my daughter by the color of her skin, but encourages and instructs her to prejudge others by theirs… I object to the charge of systemic racism in this country, and at our school… Brearley, by adopting critical race theory, is advocating the abhorrent viewpoint that Blacks should forever by regarded as helpless victims, and are incapable of success regardless of their skills, talents, and hard work. What Brearley is teaching our children is precisely the true and correct definition of racism… I object that Brearley is fostering a divisive community where families of different races, which until recently were part of the same community, are not segregated into two.”         

Significantly, Guttman said that parents must not be afraid of speaking up on this issue: “But as I am sure will come as no surprise to you, given the insidious cancel culture that has of late permeated our society, most parents are too fearful to speak up. But speak up you must. There is strength in numbers and I assure you, the numbers are there… For the sake of our community, our city, our country and most of all, our children, silence is no longer an option.”

Also on April 13, Paul Rossi, a teacher at the prestigious Grace Church School in New York City, wrote an open letter, that likewise gained national attention, entitled “I Refuse to Stand by while my Students are Indoctrinated: Children are afraid to challenge the repressive ideology that rules our school. That’s why I am.” In this letter he writes:

“[M]y school is asking me to embrace ‘anti-racism’ training and pedagogy that I believe is deeply harmful to them [my students] and to any person who seeks to nurture the virtues of curiosity, empathy, and understanding…My school, like so many others, induces students via shame and sophistry to identify primarily with their race before their individual faculties are fully formed. Students are pressured to conform their opinions to those broadly accepted with their race and gender and to minimize or dismiss individual experiences that don’t match those assumptions. The morally compromised status of ‘oppressor’ is assigned to one group of students based on their immutable characteristics. In the meantime, dependency, resentment and moral superiority are cultivated in students considered ‘oppressed’…In reality, all this reinforces the worst impulses we have as human beings: our tendency toward tribalism and sectarianism that a truly liberal education is meant to transcend.”

For thus speaking out, Rossi was suspended from his teaching duties at the school and prohibited from entering it; because of this treatment, Rossi decided not to return Grace Church School next year. There truly is a price to be paid for taking a stand, but taking a stand is what is demanded of us.

Let us hope that as more people become aware of Critical Race Theory, they will have the courage to speak up against this corrosive ideology and place it in the dustbin of history.

Robert Siedlecki

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