Is Critical Race Theory the Bomb Our Academic Left Hoped For?

Black silouete of a man standing against a teal blue explosion in the dark
Daniel Jensen on Unsplash, cropped by the author in GIMP

In previous posts, we introduced the explicitly stated crusade against the West launched by French postmodernists of the 1960s, surveyed a sliver of the movement’s historical development as it found “safe spaces” in university humanities departments, and sampled the search for a coherent social virus that would leap “from academics to activists to everyday people” We found that vital to the movement’s success is the dismantling of science and its provable truth claims — with the same motive as rival creationists and Trumpian conspiracy theorists — as a threat to doctrine. Perhaps more bizarre, we gauged this New Left’s hostility to reason, its demise as a passport to anything-goes. For all the condemnation of Eurocentric white male patriarchs, the academic left nonetheless promotes their French white male patriarch, Michel Foucault, and his notion that rationality is a coercive regime of oppression. Having massaged the creed — it took some 30 years — they found viral options. But what are they, and how would the academic left inject these into the social body?

Their routes to the public are obvious enough, but the vehicles employed to carry their cargo are stealthier. Their avenues include academic papers, books, media reference, interviews, and as expert authorities consulted by corporations and congressional policymakers. Academic publishing gets virtually zero public view, not only because of its sequestration within the Ivory Tower but because a hallmark of postmodernist writings is intentional obfuscation, steeped in buzzword vocabulary more impenetrable than the driest legal terms and conditions. There’s lots of “oppression”: anything they say it is; “problematics”: a hyper-vigilant crusade to invent offenses and new victims of power; “deessentializing”: essentialism is a notion that there is such a thing as human nature; and, of course, “dominance” in everything by everyone always except those defined as victims — some real, some not. What gets the most press are the interviews on PBS, NPR, MSNBC. What has the most impact is the steering of Congress with the latest “discoveries” from university postmodernists, all of which we’ll consider later.

One of the academic left’s delivery vehicles is the much-maligned and defended Critical Race Theory or CRT. As associate editor of Education Week, Stephen Sawchuk notes, “The core idea is that race is a social construct and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies… Critical race theory emerged out of postmodernist thought, which tends to be skeptical of the idea of universal values, objective knowledge, individual merit, Enlightenment rationalism, and liberalism — tenets that conservatives tend to hold dear.”

That prejudice can be institutionalized is reasonable enough, as exemplified by America’s old Jim Crow laws or the myriad of such laws in Israel against Palestinians today. That CRT emerged from postmodernism is also true. But didn’t liberals once hold universal values (for equality), objective knowledge (racism is real), individual merit (Susan B. Anthony, MLK), rationalism (the Holocaust really did happen, it’s not fake news), and — of all things — liberalism in high regard? How ironic that liberals would accuse conservatives of respecting liberalism.

As CRT proponents, Seattle University School of Law professor Richard Delgado and University of Alabama Law School professor Jean Stefancic claim in dismissing liberalism in their book Critical Race Theory, “Many liberals believe in color-blindness and neutral principles of constitutional law. They believe in equality, especially equal treatment for all persons, regardless of their different histories or current situations.”

Imagine that.

That classical liberal reason and its correctives are impotent is central to CRT. With the perfect certainty of Rush Limbaugh’s absolutism, CRT’s pioneer, the late Derrick Bell of Harvard Law School, said, “[P]rogress in American race relations is largely a mirage obscuring the fact that whites continue, consciously or unconsciously, to do all in their power to ensure their domination and maintain their control… Black people will never gain full equality in this country… This is a hard to accept fact that all history verifies.” For Bell, white people “introduced desegregation, not as a solution to black people’s problems, but to further their own interests…” That “critical race theorists frequently advocate Black Nationalism and segregation over universal human rights” shouldn’t be too shocking.

While Bell’s approach was steeped in the detrimental effects of power, he was more concerned with material systems like economic, legal, and political structures as “inherently racist.” But with postmodernism in the Tower, linguistic discourses and social interactions from which offenses could be found, real or imagined, rose to prominence with the uncovering of implicit bias (later debunked), micro-aggressions (as we await nano: 10e-9; pico: 10e-12; and femto: 10e-15 aggressions), hate speech, safe spaces, cultural appropriation, “whiteness,” and “situating experience as a source of knowledge.” Which means that perceptions become irrefutable facts, evidence for the grievance machine.

Given that postmodernism rejects shared meaning, knowledge, and universals, it might seem the certainties of shared experience within identity groups would be an odd orthodoxy. But as noted last time, postmodern thinking “should not be accorded predictive value in relation to reality, but [have] strategic value.” Enter professor Kimberlé Crenshaw of both UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School in her explicit linking of postmodernist practice to politics in her 1991 paper, “Mapping the Margins.” Crenshaw is an advocate for “identity politics over liberal universalism, which had sought to remove the social significance of identity categories and treat people equally regardless of identity. Identity politics restores the social significance of identity categories in order to valorize them as sources of empowerment…” Her paper gave birth to a more complex expansion of bigotry through her concept of “intersectionality,” which means a single identity (not individual) can house multiple targets for bigots. E.g., a black female lesbian could suffer bias cubed. Not rocket science, as New Right radio has long made jokes about the “powers of diversity” garnered by just this example. Although, the likes of Alex Jones would add physically handicapped to the description in keeping with the disabled as favorite foils for Trump at his rallies. But Crenshaw opens the terrain to so many more victims and the leverage conferred by authoritarian political correctness in its seeking of contrition, resignations, and remuneration. Imagine all the combinations of victimhood when “race, sex, class, sexuality, gender identity, religion, immigration status, physical ability, mental health, and body size… exact skin tone, body shape, and abstruse gender identities and sexualities, which number in the hundreds” are employed. Even the permutations of 100 categories produce 9.3e157 intersections. That’s 9.3, followed by 157 zeros. Crenshaw’s on to something. Intersectionality could produce victim categories for PhD dissertations until the Age of Stars expires in 100 trillion years.

But more than inventing victims is staking their ground. As Crenshaw writes, “We can all recognize the distinction between the claims ‘I am Black’ and the claim ‘I am a person who happens to be Black.’ ‘I am Black’ takes the socially imposed identity and empowers it as an anchor of subjectivity. ‘I am Black’ becomes not simply a statement of resistance but also a positive discourse of self-identification, intimately linked to celebratory statements like the Black nationalist ‘Black is beautiful.’ ‘I am a person who happens to be Black,’ on the other hand, achieves self-identification by straining for a certain universality (in effect, ‘I am first a person’) and for a concomitant dismissal of the imposed category (‘Black’) as contingent, circumstantial, nondeterminate.”

Crenshaw takes us from postmodernism’s embrace of the subjective in order to make everything relative, uncharacterizable, and unknowable to heroic and concrete subjectivity as a new “objectivity” that provides liberating certainty of identity with its thirst for segregation in opposition to others. And how dare any black would dismiss an imposed category by whites. Blacks should not see themselves as human beings first as Enlightenment liberalism does, but prioritize the very thing the Klan prioritized when they hanged blacks from trees for… For what? For being black, brown, or having just slightly more melanin in their skin due to an African ancestor generations ago. Like celebrations of Christian Nationalists from Trump’s apostates on the New Right, Crenshaw lauds Black Nationalists on the left. Do we hear the “blood and soil” songs of 1930s Germany? So much for Martin Luther King Jr’s 1968 Lincoln Memorial “I Have a Dream” speech. Where he said, “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” Where the “new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.” Crenshaw, Bell, Delgado, and Stefancic were not moved.

CRT is a stealthy vehicle because it advertises itself as anti-racist. Far from seeking to resolve racism, theorists seek to inflame it with divisive, destructive tribalism that our New Right adopted from the left with updated Great Replacement Theory. (Sound familiar?) Thus, proving that bad ideas can belong to anybody. Postmodernism’s goal of dismantling the West is enhanced through increased racial strife thanks to CRT scholars pushing racist propaganda under the protection of academic freedom.

But is radical CRT sufficient? Are there other theories more likely to satisfy postmodern academics?

Next time.

References:

Paragraph 1: “from academics…”, Pluckrose and Lindsay. p.46

Paragraph 3: italics added

Paragraph 5: Delgado and Stefancic, p. 26

Paragraph 7: “[P]rogress…”, Derrick A. Bell, And We Are Not Saved, p. 159, italics added. “Black people will never…”, Bell, “Racial Realism,” Connecticut Law Review 24, no. 2 (1992), italics added. “introduced desegregation…”, Pluckrose and Lindsay, p. 116. That “critical race…”, Ibid., p. 116, in reference to Mark Stern and Khuram Hussain, “On the Charter Question: Black Marxism and Black Nationalism,” Race and Ethnicity in Education 18, no, 1 (2014).

Paragraph 8: “situating experience…”, Pluckrose and Lindsay, p. 117

Paragraph 9: “should not be…”, Ibid., p.39. Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politcs, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991): p. 1224n9. “identity politics over…”, Pluckrose and Lindsay, p. 124. “race, sex…”, Ibid., p. 128

Paragraph 10: “We can…”, Crenshaw, p. 1297

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Physicist / artist / author writes about science & religion, art & culture, philosophy & politics with an edge. On Medium, Goodreads and TheFatherTrilogy.com

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Brett Alan Williams

Physicist / artist / author writes about science & religion, art & culture, philosophy & politics with an edge. On Medium, Goodreads and TheFatherTrilogy.com