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Religion & Liberty: Volume 34, Number 2

Institutionalizing the critical race revolution

    More and more, Americans are becoming cognizant of something called critical race theory and the growing role it is playing in their lives now that the Biden-Harris administration has elevated this approach to the status of official state ideology. CRT is hardly new, however, and has been building momentum for years, if not decades – wreaking havoc in schools, workplaces, and legislatures. To vastly simplify matters, CRT is the belief that racism in America is structural, institutional, and systemic; therefore, to extirpate it from our lives, we must radically alter all structures, institutions, even the American system itself through training programs and curricula that deconstruct our assumptions and thoughts. All racial disparities are evidence of this deeply embedded racism and compel the heavy-handed use of racial preferences. CRT rejects the traditional view that racism is an individual issue, one in which racist individuals can be prosecuted when they act upon their racism by using the statutes created after the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended state-enforced racism.

    What CRT is in practice was already on display in New York City three years ago, well before Joe Biden acceded to the presidency. One standard-bearer was Richard Carranza, the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. He is in charge of the largest public school system not just in the United States, but in the world. More than 1.1 million children are taught at the city’s 1,700-plus public schools. Carranza oversees an annual budget of $25 billion, which makes him extraordinarily powerful, and potentially dangerous. Having drunk deep of the witches’ brew of identity politics and CRT, he gets to use his position to impose his views on a staff of 135,000, including 75,000 educators and, of course, the most impressionable one-eighth of the Big Apple’s population.

    Carranza flexed his muscles in early 2019, when he ordered that principals, central office supervisors, and superintendents undergo mandatory training to root out the “white supremacy culture” and the “implicit bias” supposedly rampant in New York schools. With an almost religious zeal, Carranza said of the training programs:

    It’s good work. It’s hard work. And I would hope that anybody that feels that somehow that process is not beneficial to them, I would very respectfully say they are the ones that need to reflect even harder upon what they believe.

    Matt Gonzales, an outside adviser on Carranza’s school diversity task force and director of the advocacy group New York Appleseed, states the obvious when he says of the reeducation camps, “it requires discomfort.” That pain is supposed to be felt by the educators, and that is bad enough – but they are adults who can walk away and seek other employment. What the consciousness-raising struggle sessions aimed to do among the students is much worse. 

    In order to root out “white-supremacy culture,” teachers are drilled on stamping out “individualism,” “objectivity,” “perfectionism,” “either/or thinking,” a “sense of urgency,” and “worship of the written word.” The training programs for teachers, in other words, amount to an attempt to replace the hegemonic narrative of America and the West – capitalism, freedom, and democracy – with a counternarrative that sees reason, logic, truth, and objectivity as instruments to universalize patriarchal Western oppression.

    This is critical race theory, and postmodernist deconstruction has turned into a multimillion-dollar industry of outside consultants. Even worse, it is hurting children. As I wrote in the New York Post in 2019:

    Perfectionism and love of reading are human traits, as evidenced by the fact we have all perfected our way from the Stone Age and now read on hand-held tablets. All of these traits contribute to academic and lifetime success. Without striving for perfection, a person will accept shoddy work; love of reading will lead to learning; linear thinking makes a person try to work through contradictions.

    Carranza’s identity politics will not just waste scarce resources, and cause discomfort among educators, but it will seriously imperil the future chances of a generation of schoolchildren, many of whom already face difficult odds.

    Carranza personifies the damage that identity politics perpetrates on the nation day by day, and why it is so urgent that our citizens understand its nature – and force their policymakers to do something about it. The problem has metastasized, because this type of thinking was not confronted until late in the Trump Administration, when President Trump banned CRT trainings from federal workers and contractors. There are now Commissar Carranzas in every school district and every HR department at every company in America.

    Diversity seminars such as the one Carranza forces on his staff are not contradictory by happenstance. The designers of these struggle sessions understand that children need to read and write, and thus need to appreciate the written word; they know that objectivity is essential to solving quadratic equations; they are aware that individualism incentivizes hard work. They know the achievement gap in education that they say they are trying to fix is a serious problem. Their objective is not the children (who are just collateral damage, the eggs broken on the way to making the social-engineering omelet), and they understand that they are not offering a better pedagogy. What they want to do is destroy the liberal, free-enterprise system that best offers protection for man’s natural rights. Whether one believes these rights come from God or nature does not matter; what matters is that our rights are under attack. The seminar designers do not hide their intentions, and they justify the complete systemic overhaul they seek on the claim that racism is deeply ingrained in America’s very social framework. They attempt to intimidate and shame their critics into joining the fight against “white supremacy.” 

    They are slightly less forthcoming about what they want to replace capitalism and democracy with. Not many outside the circles of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez come out and say, “We are rooting out individualism, objectivity, and perfectionism from the classroom, because we want to introduce socialism.” But the mask slips often enough, and they have moments of candor. What they want is socialism – a large, Kantian, Hegelian, and Marxist state that will force people to behave in ways the social engineers have defined as good. This goes against the grain of the American system – a “system” that proponents of these ideologies denounce as racist and in need of an overhaul.

    Seminars such as the ones Carranza required are the product of critical race theory, the smorgasbord of half-baked ideas at the center of identity politics that Americans are now having to reckon with in the age of Biden. Critical race theory is the mutant child of critical theory and owes its birth to a workshop held in a convent, of all places, outside of Madison, Wisconsin, in 1989. “Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step by step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law,” wrote Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic in their primer on the subject. Unless we do something drastic, “something inherent in the nature of our capitalist system [that] ineluctably produces poverty and class segregation … will continue to create and chew up victims.” Economically, “[t]he free enterprise system, which is built on the idea of winners and losers, will continue to produce new ones every day.” 

    In this way, the victimization and oppressor–oppressed narratives become handy justifications for ever-growing government intervention and the consequent diminution of our rights. Equality, the core principle of the Declaration of Independence and the central notion of the American way of life, is dropped in exchange for its functional opposite, which critical theorists call “equity.” Equity requires unequal treatment by the schools, corporations, even the law. Whereas equality is understood to mean equality of opportunity, equity focuses on equality of outcome, which requires the redistribution of resources to those deemed to have a victim status – whatever their real socioeconomic status may be. “If I had a poor white male student and I had a middle-class black boy, I would actually put my equitable strategies and interventions into that middle-class black boy because over the course of his lifetime he will have less access and less opportunities than that poor white boy. That’s what racial equity is,” training consultant Darnisa Amante said at one of Carranza’s workshops. One of the top critical theorists, Iris Marion Young, succinctly described the new dogma when she wrote that, in America, “racism, as well as other group oppressions … condition the lives of most or all [b]lacks, Latinos, Asians, American Indians and Semitic peoples.” That demands “different treatment for oppressed and disadvantaged groups. To promote social justice, I argue, social policy should sometimes accord special treatment to groups.”

    This bizarre ideology – which aims to profoundly transform America – has, sadly, become our new state religion. “Equity” has become the byword of the new administration. In his very first act as president, Joe Biden signed an extensive executive order that puts equity – again, unequal treatment by government – on steroids. In mid-March, the administration’s Department of Education posted a new proposed rule saying that it would give priority in grants to history and civics programs that followed the dictums of CRT. We now have a situation not unlike our neighbor to the south. Mexico’s old Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) emerged after the Mexican Revolution (1915-1920) as the ruling party in what became, for a century, a one-party state. Many critics puzzled about how an entity could at the same time be revolutionizing and institutional. Under Biden, our state ideology aims at completely overhauling the state. It cries out “a million Carranzas now!”

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    Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is the author of the new book, The Plot to Change America: How Identity Politics is Dividing the Land of the Free. He is a widely experienced international correspondent, commentator, and editor who has reported from Asia, Europe, and Latin America. He served in the George W. Bush administration in the Securities and Exchange Commission and the State Department.