Not CRT, but critical thinking about race

by John Quiggin on June 30, 2021

Over the fold a piece I wrote on the Critical Race Theory panic. I took my time and I think everything has been said by now, but readers might like to discuss it anyway. There’s an earlier version here

The latest round in the seemingly endless culture wars in the US, now rapidly spread to satellite states like Australia, concerns Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT has a lot in common with previous bogeys, including cultural Marxism, socialism, postmodernism and, on the left, neoliberalism. All of these terms refer to ideas that were influential, at least in some circles, in the 20th century. All have been used as generalized pejoratives, applied to just about anything the user doesn’t like.

But not all of these pejoratives are the same. While plenty of people know they should dislike cultural Marxism and postmodernism, few have any real idea what they are, beyond ‘things I don’t like’. While these terms referred to real intellectual movements, no one who was not deeply familiar with 20th century thought could infer their meaning from the label.

Indeed, despite the fundamental hostility of postmodernists to ‘grand narratives’ like Marxism, most users of these words as pejoratives think of them as synonymous. The same is true of neoliberalism, with extra confusion generated by the fact that, in terms of economic policy, ‘liberal’ has a meaning in the US that is more or less the opposite to its meaning elsewhere. Most of the time people who use these terms have no idea what they are talking about.

By contrast, although terms like ‘socialist’ are grossly overused, there is a general understanding that socialism is state intervention to control the economy. To those who object that this is an oversimplification of a complex idea, the best answer is that words mean what people use and understand them to mean. For that reason, it makes more sense to own the term and fight back, as the Democratic Socialists of America have done, than to engage in quibbles about whether, say, single-payer health insurance is really socialism. And,long before the emergence DSA, Forbes magazine proudly pronounced itself a ‘capitalist tool’, largely defanging the use of ‘capitalist’ as a loose pejorative.

Where does CRT fit into all this ? In its capitalized form, CRT is a body of academic literature arising out of critical legal realism in the 1970s and enmeshed in late 20th century controversies around the role of Theory (with a capital T) in the humanities. As well as making claims about systemic racism, CRT incorporated a large dose of the epistemological and ethical realism relativism that used to be fashionable on the left (it’s now much more prevalent on the right).

Outside the academic circles from which it emerged, hardly anyone has the expertise to mount a coherent critique of CRT, or, for that matter, a coherent defence.

By contrast, while few people understand the nuances of CRT, it’s pretty clear what the argument is about. Based on its actual use, and dropping the capitals, critical race theory means nothing more, or less, than criticism of the way American society has dealt with race, and, in particular, criticism that makes white people uncomfortable. This criticism is equally unwelcome whether it is stated in terms of ‘systemic racism’ or as the suggestion that many or most white Americans hold racist views (implicitly or explicitly)

On this view, responding to the debate over critical race theory depends on whether these ideas deserve an airing. If you believe, as the vast majority of US Republicans do, that the main problem with racism is ‘seeing discrimination where it does not exist’, it is obvious that critical discussion of race is only going to make matters worse

Conversely, if you believe that the country hasn’t gone far enough when it comes to giving black people equal rights with whites, this is an issue which urgently requites critical discussion. Failing to discuss critical race theory, in schools and elsewhere, amounts to ignoring issues that are central to all kinds of social conflict, in the US and many other countries.
The correct response to rightwing attacks on CRT is not to say that the critics don’t know what they are talking about. They know perfectly well what they are talking about, which is why they want to suppress it, and why they should be resisted head-on.

{ 116 comments }

1

Kenny Easwaran 06.30.21 at 2:55 am

“the epistemological and ethical realism that used to be fashionable on the left (it’s now much more prevalent on the right).”

Was that meant to be “anti-realism”? (I’m honestly not familiar enough with critical theory to know if it’s one of the more anti-realist or realist continental theories, but I do know that anti-realism used to be fashionable on the left and is recently more prevalent on the right, or at least was a few years ago.)

2

John Quiggin 06.30.21 at 3:33 am

Must have been an auto-correct error. I meant to type “relativism”, though anti-realism would also fit. Fixed now, I hope.

3

Martin Florén 06.30.21 at 4:59 am

I’m sorry, but defining socialism as ‘government intervention in the economy’ is just silly. That might be how some people use the term, but that definition would mean that any government is a socialist one. Same goes for defining CRT as simply being critical of how the US has dealt with race. At the very least, a definition of CRT has to take into account the focus on institutional rather than overt ideological racism and of concepts like internalisation. There is of course a lot of nuance that ought to be left out of a basic definition, but the definition employed here would make e.g. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X adherents of CRT.

Sloppiness in terms leads to sloppy reasoning, and it is also often used by intellectually dishonest thinkers arguing in bad faith. That’s why it ought to be avoided, and that’s why it ought to be called out. For example, when someone like Jordan Peterson talks about ‘post-modern marxism’ it means anything and everything – it’s just a short-hand for things he doesn’t like, and the term being so nonsensical means it’s easier for him to dodge criticism. Foucault called it “obscurantisme terroriste” (terrorism of obscurantism) – by using these nonsensical terms the opponent can always escape criticism by say that no, you misunderstood them because you lack in knowledge and insight.

CRT has become this blanket term for things the Right doesn’t like. It’s often used to, for example, imply that pointing out institutional racism is the same as inferring ideological racism. This muddying of the waters strategy is something that ought to be resisted – buying into the sloppy definitions means that a nuanced discussion is no longer possible, since we lose the intellectual tools necessary for analysing social phenomena.

4

nobody 06.30.21 at 7:55 am

I am skeptical that the CRT moral panic can be blunted by counter-arguing the academic meaning of critical race theory.

The American astroturf machine is only using CRT as branding to channel outrage sparked by various forms of toxic racial essentialism that have been allowed to spread, largely unchecked, under the guise of promoting equality. The moral panic is being driven by toxic racial essentialism and not by the branding the astroturf machine has applied to it. Attempting to counter the moral panic by pointing out that academic CRT is not necessarily associated with toxic racial essentialism is missing the point and gives the impression that those against the moral panic are being evasive.

Preventing the moral panic from spreading to those without deep conservative partisan affiliations will mean addressing the spread of toxic racial essentialist thinking.

Individuals are more than their skin color (or gender) and are not responsible for the crimes of their ancestors. This is something the woke brigade refuses to accept, and it is the ideas that stem from that refusal that are kindling the CRT moral panic.

5

nastywoman 06.30.21 at 7:59 am

‘The correct response to rightwing attacks on CRT is not to say that the critics don’t know what they are talking about. They know perfectly well what they are talking about, which is why they want to suppress it, and why they should be resisted head-on’.

YES!
ABSOLUTELY!!
and about:
‘Based on its actual use, and dropping the capitals, critical race theory means nothing more, or less, than criticism of the way American society has dealt with race, and, in particular, criticism that makes white people uncomfortable. This criticism is equally unwelcome whether it is stated in terms of ‘systemic racism’ or as the suggestion that many or most white Americans hold racist views (implicitly or explicitly)’

That’s why I once wrote on CT about my ‘White Privilege’ –
(to be Blond and Blue-Eyed) – and how GREAT it is to be Blond and Blue-Eyed and thusly NEVER be bothered by US -(or UK) police.

And so – don’t you guys think – that the fact – that US -(and UK) Right-Wing Racists prefer ‘Blond Norwegians’ to Brown -(or Black) ‘Non Norwegians’ explains ‘Critical Race Theory’ much better – than just some… ‘criticism of the way American society has dealt with race, and, in particular, criticism that makes white people uncomfortable’?

6

Tm 06.30.21 at 8:41 am

“The correct response to rightwing attacks on CRT is not to say that the critics don’t know what they are talking about. They know perfectly well what they are talking about”

Yes. The progressive response to the attacks on CRT has been weak and defensive. A frequent argument especially by educators is “but we don’t even teach CRT”. But you teach historical truth, don’t you? Because that is precisely what the right wing attacks are aimed at!

Here’s from the Florida State Board of Education (https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/education/2021/06/10/state-approves-strict-teaching-standards-opposing-critical-race-theory/7621918002/):
“The new guidelines seek to change how teachers approach U.S. history, civics and government lessons with an added emphasis on patriotism and the U.S. Constitution. The guidelines considered by the Board of Education say teachers “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence”.

Under these guidelines, taken literally, it would be clearly illegal to even mention the existence of slavery and segregation, to even mention that this “new nation” systematically violated those “universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence”. This is a really grave, totalitarian style attack on historical truth. Given that, the mostly weak and mealy-worded criticisms (as quoted in the article), as well as the imprecise press coverage, are extremely frustrating. Why not ask these history-deniers point blank whether they want to ban all teaching about slavery, or whether they want slavery to be portrayed as the fulfillment of “universal principles”?

7

RichardM 06.30.21 at 1:24 pm

Outside the academic circles from which it emerged, hardly anyone has the expertise to mount a coherent critique of CRT, or, for that matter, a coherent defence.

If talk of CRT is increasingly becoming an effective tactic for the global right, that seems likely to be related to the attitude that ideas presented in an academic context do not require plausibility, or coherency, to be above lay criticism.

8

Thomas Beale 06.30.21 at 1:25 pm

Based on its actual use, and dropping the capitals, critical race theory means nothing more, or less, than criticism of the way American society has dealt with race, and, in particular, criticism that makes white people uncomfortable.

That is not what it is generally reported to mean though, and there are certainly numerous examples of officially endorsed educational and corporate training programmes whose approach is clearly far more specific than just any ‘criticism’ or open critical approach to race relations in the US today.

The following specifics are often reported (as a casual observer, my visits to various websites e.g. in CA education system, corporate training providers do confirm them), and considered to constitute an ideology:

Race essentialism, meaning that innate characteristic of race is a primary determiner for one’s position in US society today; if you’re white, you’re automatically racist or at best, in passive agreement with a systemically racist society that benefits only whites; if you’re black, you’re automatically a victim of endemic racism.
The civil rights progress of the last 50 years as most people understand it is a chimera, and in fact blacks in the US are in a worse position than ever.
That much of Western culture is inherently racist and needs to be ‘decolonised’, now including maths and other STEM areas; as consequences of this thinking, even the idea of having to pass exams at all, having to think ‘precisely’, the need for right answers (say, in technical subjects) is racist etc.

These points appear to be based on deeper and factually incorrect ideas that racism and slavery are essentially white / European activities and that human beings and societies are perfectible (we just need the right re-training programme / ideology / new society).

There’s no doubt that there should be some ongoing critical process looking at race relations and other kinds of social inequity, but it needs to be grounded in reality, it needs to accept that progress is never instant, and that perfectly equal outcomes will never be achieved.

While there may be a variety of far / alt right person in the US who just rejects any such small-c critical process out of hand, I think many of the ‘Republicans’ that you point to (and many elsewhere on the political spectrum) just lose it when they hear about tings such as decolonising math, the cancelling of numerous scholars and teachers for merely expressing doubts about anti-racist teaching (e.g. Peter Rossi, to take a recent example) and the idea that if you’re white, you’re automatically racist.

This is what most critics of CRT that I can observe are criticising.

9

Gorgonzola Petrovna 06.30.21 at 2:17 pm

I’m of two minds on this one. On the one hand, I’m quite fond of the US of A, and it’s sad to observe what looks like a destruction of its social fabric.

But on the other hand, this very M.O. — amplifying past ethnic grievances and inciting ethnic animosity — has been applied so many times in so many countries (Ukraine, most recently), that this has a distinct taste of poetic justice. Good for the goose — good for the gander.

10

Kiwanda 06.30.21 at 3:45 pm

It both true that many of the state bills are bad: often they infringe on academic freedom, are unconstitutional, and promote a whitewashed view of history; and that many of the school practices under discussion are race essentializing, ahistorical, anti-semitic, and promote collective guilt. Contrary to the false dichotomy of the OP, it is possible to oppose the wokery rising in schools, and still think that slavery was bad; to oppose these bills, and still think that punctuality is not white supremacist. A thorough discussion is given here.

11

Stephen 06.30.21 at 4:10 pm

You write that CRT “means nothing more, or less, than criticism of the way American society has dealt with race”. Within the USA that may be partly so; there is obviously a great deal there to criticise. But in general, and particularly outside the USA, it seems to mean to some extent “You, being white, are guilty beyond redemption, and have a duty to give non-whites your money and appoint us to desirable positions for which we may not be the best qualified, on account of the sins of some of your contemporaries or your ancestors, or at least of those who lived at the same time as your ancestors”.

There is a recent article which you may think relevant, by Brendan O’Neill, formerly of Living Marxism and currently of Spiked Online:
https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/oxfam-s-strange-obsession-with-whiteness-

As for postmodernism, does this not come down to “This is the only objectively justified proposition”?

12

John Quiggin 06.30.21 at 8:14 pm

Stephen @11 I don’t think anything by Brendan O’Neill is likely to be of any value. His defense of Milosevic (in Spiked, not when he was still in the RCP) sums him up.

13

Harry 06.30.21 at 8:26 pm

I know this probably sounds — I dunno, weasely, or merely annoying, and if so probably annoying to everyone — but reading the Brendan O’Neil’ piece to which Stephen links made me think that there’s an equivocation in the use of “white”. When O’Neill uses the term himself, he (naturally, and fairly) is referring to the colour of people’s skins. (Well, you know, nobody has white skin, but whitish/pinkish, or something). The documents which he quotes seem to be using ‘white’ and ‘whiteness’ to mean something different from the colour of people’s skins, though something that often coincides with that. This isn’t my thing at all, but I seem to remember when I first came across the concept of whiteness in academic discourse (via Ignatiev, Roediger, etc) it definitely did not mean, and was not supposed to mean, ‘whiteness’ in the sense that O’Neill is using it (my evidence for this is that, in Ignatiev’s useage, the Irish were not white, but then became white, without any change of their skin colour). I’m not a fan of O’Neill at all, and entirely willing to believe that he would knowingly misrepresent an Oxfam document, but the mistake he is making (either deliberately or not) is probably made by a good number of people who go through trainings in which whiteness is disparaged in the ways he describes.

14

Slanted Answer 06.30.21 at 8:33 pm

“While plenty of people know they should dislike cultural Marxism and postmodernism, few have any real idea what they are, beyond ‘things I don’t like’. While these terms referred to real intellectual movements, no one who was not deeply familiar with 20th century thought could infer their meaning from the label

Is it true that “cultural Marxism” refers to a real intellectual movement? “Marxism” obviously does, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen “cultural Marxism” discussed (or even mentioned much) in mainstream political discourse/scholarship. The only place I’ve seen the term is in far-right propaganda, where it refers to some vague conspiracy where some nebulous, nefarious group is using political correctness and DEI efforts to undermine “traditional” values and bring about “white genocide.” Unlike other bogeymen who at least have some adherents, I’m not sure “cultural Marxism” actually does.

15

PatinIowa 06.30.21 at 8:42 pm

Every single training, class, discussion, whatever I’ve been to at my university that has had an adherent–however tangentally–of CRT has featured that adherent bending over backward to insist–explicitly–that they do not intend race essentialism. Every one. Most frequently the exact words are, “The purpose of this is not to make you feel guilty, or to say that all white people are racist. The purpose is to examine the way that race has influenced what goes on in–for example–how we recruit grad students and beginning faculty.”

It seems to me that the most pernicious misunderstanding is the one around the word, “critical.” In CRT, the word “criticism,” as in most of academia means analysis, rather than slagging.

To someone (like me) who had to explain over and over and over again that the literary criticism I did in my dissertation doesn’t reduce to “Here’s why Thomas More’s writing sucks,” the massive ignorance or astonishing bad faith of this feature if the rightwing moral panic about CRT the most irritating part of the whole thing.

If we properly analyse the place of race in US legal systems–remember, CRT started in law schools–we’ll find racism and its effects, which, in spite of what’s happened over the last century or so, persist. (Go look at your local jail, if you doubt this.)

Analysis leads to ethical and political obligations. And those are–in my mind–what has given this tactic its purchase. What follows is a huge overgeneralization, but I think it’s a start: comfortable people don’t like to be asked to work harder to get things right. They’ll warm to the idea that they’ve been doing things just fine all along and they don’t need to do any better.

16

oldster 06.30.21 at 9:42 pm

Harry @ 13:
“reading the Brendan O’Neil’ piece to which Stephen links made me think that there’s an equivocation in the use of “white””

That’s very plausible, but also a classic motte and bailey, no? You first claim that everyone who is “white” is complicit in this and that way; then when you get pushback from people whose skin falls within a range of pallid Pantone-shades, you retreat to saying that you meant “whiteness” in a recherché and arcane sense in which it’s not visible to the eye.

17

Pittsburgh Mike 06.30.21 at 10:34 pm

When people complain about CRT, they’re really complaining about the anti-racism courses of the type championed by Ibrahim Kendi and Robin DiAngelo.

A key feature of these courses, and I took mine as an employee of an F50 company, is that individual behavior doesn’t matter as much as your identity. Certain groups, pretty much whites, have privilege, and others, people of color, are oppressed. This is really what the courses I took teach.

One can recognize the terrible treatment of Blacks in this country, only starting to improve around 1965, without being comfortable being labeled as an oppressor who must follow a laundry list of mostly inconsistent rules when interacting with anyone of a different ethnic background.

That’s what people are unhappy with, and progressives are making a big mistake in answering these concerns by stating CRT doesn’t exist. Anti-racism training in schools and businesses most definitely does exist, people know it, and arguments to the contrary are both patronizing and foolish.

18

Harry 06.30.21 at 10:36 pm

oldster — yes, exactly! At least if you are sufficiently sophisticated. Like so many ideas in all areas when idea of whiteness moves from academics who are (reasonably) precise about what they’re doing with it into practical domains, misunderstanding abounds. I’d guess most of the people running the Oxfam trainings don’t really have this distinction clear in their heads. For sure the people running similar trainings locally to me don’t.

19

J-D 07.01.21 at 12:59 am

nobody’s comment is not an accurate account of what’s actually happening. The evidence to justify it isn’t there.

Thomas Beale’s comment is not an accurate account of what’s actually happening. The evidence to justify it isn’t there.

Stephen’s comment is not an accurate account of what’s actually happening. The evidence to justify it isn’t there.

PatinIowa’s comment is an accurate account of what’s actually happening, or mostly so. Thanks!

The documents which he [Brendan O’Neil] quotes seem to be using ‘white’ and ‘whiteness’ to mean something different from the colour of people’s skins …

Correct!

‘Whiteness’, the survey declared, is ‘the overarching preservation of power and domination for the benefit of white people’.

I get why people might feel that ‘whiteness’ is a poor choice of terminology, because of the confusion it might cause, but my challenge to anybody who thinks that is this: can you suggest a better (less confusing) name to give to ‘the overarching preservation of power and domination for the benefit of white people’?

Certain groups, pretty much whites, have privilege, and others, people of color, are oppressed. This is really what the courses I took teach.

Well, are you denying that?

20

J-D 07.01.21 at 1:15 am

From a comment by James Wimberley on John Quiggin’s blog:

The conscious me is all for equality and understanding. I’m far less confident about my subconscious. Perhaps I interrupt women more than men, or am surprised when a PhD turns out to be black. This sort of thing should not be cause for shame, as it’s universal, but it does call for work.

21

John Quiggin 07.01.21 at 2:26 am

Harry@18 Then there’s the general problem that all work-mandated training sucks.

22

Bob 07.01.21 at 2:38 am

For an informed, nuanced, evidence-based and balanced discussion of the issues raised in this thread, everyone should check out Kiwanda’s link to the FIRE article @10.

23

nastywoman 07.01.21 at 3:30 am

and as I haven’t gotten an answer to my question about Critical Race Theory – but I need such answer for… work –
Wouldn’t ‘Critical Race Theory’ work much… much? –
‘better’ – if the definition:

‘Critical race theory is an intellectual movement and a framework of legal analysis according to which (1) race is a culturally invented category used to oppress people of colour and (2) the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist…’

would be changed into:
‘Critical race theory is an intellectual movement and a framework of legal analysis according to which (1) race is a culturally invented category used to UPLIFT people of CERTAIN colours?

‘criticism of the way American society has dealt with race, and, in particular, criticism that makes white people uncomfortable’?

24

J-D 07.01.21 at 3:50 am

Then there’s the general problem that all work-mandated training sucks.

It is impossible to force people to learn things that they do not want to learn.

If you let this thought sink in fully, you have to ask ‘Why are schoolchildren forced to attend class?’, and that’s a much bigger issue than work-mandated training.

25

nastywoman 07.01.21 at 4:12 am

AND about ‘work-mandated training’ –
(@18+21)
we teach our students CRT through ‘basketball’ – meaning we are getting everybody together and then two basketball teams HAVE to be… may I say:
‘culturally invented’ –
and thusly EVERYBODY finds out – that it is a very bad idea –
‘to oppress people of colour’.

BE-cause you guys suddenly don’t want to have ‘Blue Eyed Blonds’ in y’alls team.

Right?

26

Kiwanda 07.01.21 at 4:38 am

PatinIowa:

Every single training, class, discussion, whatever I’ve been to at my university that has had an adherent–however tangentally–of CRT has featured that adherent bending over backward to insist–explicitly–that they do not intend race essentialism. Every one. Most frequently the exact words are, “The purpose of this is not to make you feel guilty, or to say that all white people are racist. The purpose is to examine the way that race has influenced what goes on in–for example–how we recruit grad students and beginning faculty.”

It’s great that your university avoids race essentialism. I take it that also it avoids some other extant training practices: biracial students aren’t labelled oppressors by instructors; students aren’t obliged to rank themselves according to power and privilege, or to apologize to other students for their privilege; there’s no instruction that all white people perpetuate systemic racism and are guilty of implicit racial bias; there’s no sorting of students by race; white students aren’t taught that they are inherently evil. The “conditional whiteness” of Jews is not discussed. There’s no usages of the term “white supremacist” that take it to include perfectionism, sense of urgency, quantity over quality, worship of the written word, the concept of merit, or the use of SAT scores. There are no claims that the Africans that came to America in 1619 were all slaves, that the American revolution was fought to preserve slavery, that police forces have their origins in slave patrols, that American capitalism derives from American slavery. Or even better, such things are discussed and debated. That’s great.

27

David Gastil 07.01.21 at 5:35 am

There’s a King of the Hill episode from about fifteen years ago where an egghead from the district arrives at Tom Landry Middle School, which he describes as a “powder keg of diversity” and starts a racial sensitivity workshop that he hopes to expand district wide (thus ensuring himself steady work). The result is to take a group of multiethnic kids who basically got along already and leave them confused, guilt ridden, and upset enough to turn the class carnival into some sort of miserable seminar on racial injustice until the kids rebel and have their carnival thus solving the race problem by ignoring it.

The episode is not great and like many of the weaker KotH episodes crosses the line from broadly parodying a social trend to constructing a strawman just to knock it down. The whiney liberal intellectual has to be venal and self-satisfied (and white) so that we immediately question his motives while the kids have to be fine the way they are so that his intervention will seem unnecessary. We are not shown any actual racism occurring in the present day nor are we shown an anti-racist who is actually sympathetic or has the kids’ interests at heart.

This episode was made long before anyone on the right was ranting about CRT and I don’t think it was written by a rabid conservative (the show was more typically guilty of “caring is stupid” Gen X nihilism), but it does a pretty good job of demonstrating what a lot of conservative and centrist pseudo intellectuals think the real problem is. They even have a point. Figures like Peggy Macintosh and Robin DiAngello really were/are unqualified, self-satisfied white liberals preaching a gospel of collective guilt and atonement. Their impact college curricula and the lucrative “sensitivity training” industry they’ve fostered is not necessarily a force for lasting good. Not that any of this has much to do with real CRT.

The problem is that sensitivity training and the quasi-academic literature that supports it, like many forms of pseudoscience, has done a much better job of selling itself to the general public than the serious scholarship has. There’s a genuine appeal (for white people) to the “white privilege” narrative that’s lacking from more nuanced understandings of white supremacy. At first the privilege discourse may seem like it puts a burden on white people, and it does, but like many faith systems it first burdens the soul with guilt, then makes itself indispensable as a tool to relieve that burden. So white people (at least those who are not “fragile”) can check their privilege by acknowledging that they have implicit bias they are not aware of and in so doing become morally superior to other white people who don’t “get it” and are therefore only marginally better than explicit racists. This approach is pernicious not because it is wrong, per se, but because it maintains a focus on the thoughts and feelings of (affluent) white people over the lived experiences of everyone else.

Yesterday I was unfortunate enough to eat breakfast a table away from one of those reasonable-sounding conservative “intellectuals” who considers himself a free thinker even as he repeats fad talking points. The woman with him replied occasionally but contributed nothing of her own. I doubt he noticed. Naturally, he got started on CRT and, after inaccurately defining it, immediately started on Robin DiAngello (who is not connected with CRT, but is an easy target), the faulty logic of privilege, the self-righteousness of politically correct liberals, and the “Kafka trap” of implicit bias. You can probably imagine the rest, but the point is that he was able to cobble together a reasonable-sounding and even apparently sophisticated rejection of anti-racist scholarship based on a limited sampling from the shallow end of the pool without ever having to acknowledge or address actual racism or the perspectives of anyone who is not white. That’s a problem.

Obviously the man is the sort of idiot who learns just enough about a controversial subject to justify not having to learn more, but then so are a lot of people. We can’t rely on the powers of self help seminars or liberal evangelizing to change the hearts and minds of white people who don’t actually want to be won over. Talk of “privilege” and “fragility” may work on insecure college students and even some of the office drones who have to hear it out, but when those converts try to explain it to people who self identify strongly as hard-working and principled, the result is likely to be vehement rejection.

If we are willing to overlook the evils that may or may not be lurking in our white audience’s soul and instead present them with actual histories of white supremacist institutions and individuals and how that has impacted actual people to the present day, it’s much harder to dismiss racism out of hand or treat anti-racism as an attack on white identity. Of course, this is what the actual CRT does (as I understand it), and is the reason that reactionaries would much rather talk about something else entirely.

28

John Quiggin 07.01.21 at 6:29 am

Slanted @14 Matt McManus gives a good explainer on cultural Marxism https://polyarchy.arcdigital.media/p/what-cultural-marxism-really-is

29

Robert Barnett 07.01.21 at 6:35 am

The problem with both CRT and crt is that neither is particularly prescriptive. If we were all to suddenly agree to completely engage in critical discussion on either or both critical legal realism and/or how much is enough to ensure equal rights among races, I’m not sure we’d gain any real ground. We know something isn’t working as it should, but CRT/crt actually does very little to get at what that something is and does virtually nothing to identify a path to any viable solutions to an ill-defined problem. It seems to only serve to move an already vague goal post.

30

John Quiggin 07.01.21 at 6:38 am

Kiwanda @10 As is usually the case with FIRE, I don’t see a lot to disagree with in the article you linked. Maybe you could point out where you think it is in disagreement with what I wrote.

There is a difference in purpose. I am advocating a particular response from the left, and criticising what I see as the current response, which is not what FIRE is about.

31

Michael Newsham 07.01.21 at 9:00 am

Slanted Answer@ 14 – The first time I came across the term ‘cultural marxism’ I clicked on the link expecting to have a nice conversation about Marcuse and Adorno and the Frankfurt School. Surprise!

32

Tm 07.01.21 at 10:20 am

Patiniwoa 15: “It seems to me that the most pernicious misunderstanding is the one around the word, “critical.” In CRT, the word “criticism,” as in most of academia means analysis, rather than slagging.”

Wait until the rightwing “defenders of Western civilization” brigade hear of Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” and discover that modernity has always been “mostmodernist”.

Funny observation: missives against “postmodernism” are almost always directed against modernity itself, veiled rejections of enlightenment, science and universalism.

33

Pittsburgh Mike 07.01.21 at 10:23 am

Certain groups, pretty much whites, have privilege, and others, people of color, are oppressed. This is really what the courses I took teach.

Well, are you denying that?

I’d make a few points:

1 — People of color is a ridiculous term. American born Blacks have a very different experience compared to an Indian immigrant, even though PoC supposedly applies to both. Indian immigrants to the US have a significantly higher average income than whites, which certainly doesn’t sound like oppression.

2 — Terms like oppression and privilege, applied to entire groups of people sharing nothing but skin color, strike many people as the very definition of racist thinking.

3 — Pragmatically, telling people that they’re part of an oppressive group because of their skin color, as opposed to any of their individual actions, convinces persuadable people to reject you and your political program.

34

Tm 07.01.21 at 10:25 am

17: “When people complain about CRT, they’re really complaining about the anti-racism courses of the type championed by Ibrahim Kendi and Robin DiAngelo.”

This claim requires some evidence that a significant share of the people complaining about CRT have ever taken any of these courses. Most people clearly haven’t – and neither have I, which is why I won’t comment on your characterization of the courses in question.

35

Tm 07.01.21 at 10:32 am

J-D 19: “nobody’s comment is not an accurate account of what’s actually happening. The evidence to justify it isn’t there.

Thomas Beale’s comment is not an accurate account of what’s actually happening. The evidence to justify it isn’t there.

Stephen’s comment is not an accurate account of what’s actually happening. The evidence to justify it isn’t there.”

Tough but fair ;-)

36

Tm 07.01.21 at 1:50 pm

JQ 30: The FIRE article contains a lot of the usual both sides are wrong why can’t we all get along nonsense, and it leaves out most of the troubling facts. An example, the article rejects the criticism of the Florida bill about “viewpoint diversity” in higher education. The quoted law text:

“The State Board of Education shall require each Florida College System institution to conduct an annual assessment of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at that institution. The state board shall select or create an objective, nonpartisan, and statistically valid survey to be used by each institution which considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented”

FIRE claims – and even links approvingly to Volokh – that this is completely innocuous, because it doesn’t say that individual professors have to reveal their political affiliation. But the State Board is a hyperpartisan, right wing institution and the legal text is vague enough to support a range of possibilities. Nowhere does it say explicitly that the survey must be voluntary and anonymous. Republican politicians have said explicitly that they plan to use survey results to cut funding of institutions they don’t like. More importantly, I suspect, the point of legislation like that is to create another opening for rightwingers to harass liberal professors by claiming that they do not sufficiently present their preferred viewpoints. Shrugging this off is not a credible response if you really care about academic freedom.

37

Harry 07.01.21 at 2:01 pm

“Then there’s the general problem that all work-mandated training sucks.”

Given that I use “what happened on your last PD day?” as a way to undermine claims by public school teachers that there is no waste in public schools, I feel kind of stupid that this hasn’t really occurred to me before! (To be clear, the question is normally greeted by laughter, but I only ask it of people I know well).

I’ll recount something recounted to me by a number of teachers in our district. Whole school Diversity, Equity and Inclusion trainings often really are whole school — including secretarial and janitorial staff. The teachers with Masters degrees, especially if they attended fancier colleges, already know all the privilege language, use it with facility, and welcome the idea, being purveyed by senior administrators or hired consultants with advanced degrees from Harvard/Stanford/wherever, that they are bearers of white privilege. A (rough) quote “it is a wonderful opportunity for those teachers to assert their class privilege and feel superior to the secretarial and janitorial staff, and their less well-qualified fellow teachers”.

Or another. This was from a working class teacher ed student. Again, a rough quote:

“Our TA just directly told us all that because we are white we can’t understand the lives of our students of color and that we will be failures as teachers. He’s Indian-American went to a private high school and graduated from Brown”.

One of the rules teacher ed students get taught, rightly, is that they should never complain about their students. They are taught this by people who complain, sometimes in print (no, I am not going to link, but there’s an AERA presidential address that does this), that their teacher ed students are mostly middle-class white women.

I deliberately didn’t mention that the teacher ed student thought the whole situation was kind of funny, because she’s Latina, and although she can pass, she has a last name that is, well, pretty unambiguously Hispanic. This is only the most ironic of many similar stories I’ve heard directly from students.

Whereas, when I talk to students in ROTC, whether white, Hispanic, or African-American, I hear totally different stories. But Teacher Ed programs don’t interact much with ROTC.

Worth reading this HBR study:
https://hbr.org/2016/07/why-diversity-programs-fail

38

PatinIowa 07.01.21 at 2:52 pm

Kiwanda at 18

I teach many of the classes in the Social Justice Major at my university. I advise the undergrads. (Who have taught me an enormous amount about their experiences, no matter how they identify.) I’ve looked at all the syllabi in our department and for the cross-lists. I’ve also fucked up, been corrected, and learned. I know for a fact that an old white dude can fuck up, discuss it with a (for example) multi-racial butch lesbian, and continue to be accepted, because it’s happened to me more than once.

You say, ” Or even better, such things are discussed and debated.” Yep, that’s what we’re going for.

Of course we don’t achieve perfection, but you’ve pretty much laid out our aspirations. If you want to cancel everything that’s not perfect–and make no mistake, the moral panic about CRT is an attempted cancellation–why don’t you start with people with the greatest economic and political power? How about the American Conservative Movement™ for a start?

From where I sit, most of the criticism of CRT do derives from ignorance on the part of the “innocent,” and bad faith on the part of rest.

You shouldn’t feel shame or guilt over it, but, post-modern relativist that I am, I’m very comfortable saying this: You’re wrong about what actually happens, and if your aim is justice, you’re applying your energy in the wrong direction.

“It’s great that your university avoids race essentialism. I take it that also it avoids some other extant training practices: biracial students aren’t labelled oppressors by instructors; students aren’t obliged to rank themselves according to power and privilege, or to apologize to other students for their privilege; there’s no instruction that all white people perpetuate systemic racism and are guilty of implicit racial bias; there’s no sorting of students by race; white students aren’t taught that they are inherently evil. The “conditional whiteness” of Jews is not discussed. There’s no usages of the term “white supremacist” that take it to include perfectionism, sense of urgency, quantity over quality, worship of the written word, the concept of merit, or the use of SAT scores. There are no claims that the Africans that came to America in 1619 were all slaves, that the American revolution was fought to preserve slavery, that police forces have their origins in slave patrols, that American capitalism derives from American slavery. Or even better, such things are discussed and debated. That’s great.”

39

PatinIowa 07.01.21 at 3:05 pm

J-D at 18 thanks.

I’m pretty sure my perceptions are accurate; it’s the wording I worry about.

40

Thomas Beale 07.01.21 at 3:31 pm

David Gastil @ 27
If we are willing to overlook the evils that may or may not be lurking in our white audience’s soul and instead present them with actual histories of white supremacist institutions and individuals and how that has impacted actual people to the present day, it’s much harder to dismiss racism out of hand or treat anti-racism as an attack on white identity. Of course, this is what the actual CRT does (as I understand it), and is the reason that reactionaries would much rather talk about something else entirely.

I think that subject is just called ‘history’.

I suspect outside of some rarefied group that discusses genuine CRT, CRT for everyone else is more or less the toxic ‘anti-racist’ ideology alluded to above (race essentialism, white supremacy, decolonisation etc). Possibly that’s unfair, like the misuses of the term socialism, but we are where we are. The debate of interest for most is nevertheless about the appropriateness of that ideology being inculcated in schools, corporate training etc. It’s pretty clear that many (probably most) of its critics are not secret racists, since they provide perfectly good substantive critique on its incoherence (Kendi for example can’t even define the term ‘racism’), ahistoricity, and how it treats racial victim groups as inferior.

For those for whom other peoples’ observations of reality are ‘not justified by the evidence’ I can only say that if you choose only the ‘evidence’ you happen to like, you’ll always feel like that but you won’t be making sense because you are in denial of the evidence you don’t like.

41

Trader Joe 07.01.21 at 3:41 pm

re: “whiteness” @13 and several other places: Does this make Barak Obama and Clarence Thomas (among other) white? I think they would both respectfully disagree though clearly both take great pains to defend the status quo of government while trying, each in their way, to create opportunity and equality for all regardless of race.

@33 “3 — Pragmatically, telling people that they’re part of an oppressive group because of their skin color, as opposed to any of their individual actions, convinces persuadable people to reject you and your political program.”

This I think hits the nail on the head. I think most white people generally “get” the notion that they have privledge and at least subconsiously harbor racist attitudes (intentionally or not). That said – being poked in the eye with it and being called an oppressor when legitimately you do your level best to be fair and respectful to all doesn’t really endear the vast middle to a cause.

Republicans are at least vocal about not liking being poked in the eye. Democrats seem to lack the realization that CRT means you too – as pious and race friendly as you might try to be.

I don’t doubt CRT has some worthy points – but just like when a Bible thumper tells me I’m a sinner and going to hell regardless of what I do doesn’t endear me to cracking the King James to get saved, I’m not inclined to waste a lot of time on CRT when I’ll still be painted racist no matter my particular actions (as flawed or golden as they may be).

42

Tm 07.01.21 at 4:06 pm

Kiwanda:
“There are no claims that the Africans that came to America in 1619 were all slaves”
“that the American revolution was fought to preserve slavery”
“that police forces have their origins in slave patrols”
“that American capitalism derives from American slavery”

This is an interesting assortment of shall we say cancellations of historical facts and concepts. Totally in line with the Florida guidelines against the teaching of unwelcome historical truth:

“may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence” (and don’t mention Jefferson’s slaves or you may be fired).

43

anon/portly 07.01.21 at 4:28 pm

Conversely, if you believe that the country hasn’t gone far enough when it comes to giving black people equal rights with whites, this is an issue which urgently requites critical discussion. Failing to discuss critical race theory, in schools and elsewhere, amounts to ignoring issues that are central to all kinds of social conflict, in the US and many other countries.


I think this is wrong.

Can Congress pass bills absent such a discussion? Of course they can. They can pass a police reform bill – eliminate qualified immunity, reduce union power, etc. – tomorrow. They can pass a housing reform bill. They can pass a voting reform bill.

Even more importantly (in my view), the Fed can shift policy in the “full employment” without any “critical discussion” of racial issues.

Also, I think JQ’s view is underlaid by an assumption that such a “critical discussion” is going to go the way JQ wants it to go, in some sense, but I think David Barnett’s comment 31 is more realistic:

We know something isn’t working as it should, but CRT/crt actually does very little to get at what that something is and does virtually nothing to identify a path to any viable solutions to an ill-defined problem.

44

SamChevre 07.01.21 at 4:41 pm

@Tm
This is an interesting assortment of shall we say cancellations of historical facts and concepts.
Well, yes, there are historical “facts” I’d like to cancel, at least as history–the Roman conquest of China in 500 BC, the spaceship that Archimedes sent to the moon, Boudica’s victory over the Greek army in AD 75…

I think, though, that @PatInIowa captures the central point of disagreement:

we’ll find racism and its effects, which, in spite of what’s happened over the last century or so, persist. (Go look at your local jail, if you doubt this.)

I’m distinctly uncertain that noting that my local OB ward has almost exclusively female patients, or that my local jail has mostly male prisoners, tells me anything about sexism.

Those are the starting points for opposing the popular version of anti-racism (whether that is best described a “CRT” or not I’ll leave to others.)

45

anon/portly 07.01.21 at 5:58 pm

Based on its actual use, and dropping the capitals, critical race theory means nothing more, or less, than criticism of the way American society has dealt with race, and, in particular, criticism that makes white people uncomfortable.

This might be more true if we changed the word “uncomfortable” to “comfortable.”

Consider PatinIowa’s comments 15 and 38. I would say crt trainings, or the inclusion of crt ideas in the curriculum, makes PatinIowa quite happy.

At my own institution, unlike at PatinIowa’s, the “critical” content of the race trainings has been very close to zero. More “rah rah,” really. While I think these trainings have made, at least at times, some number of my fellow employees angry or upset or uncomfortable, I think it has made a larger number of them happy and excited. (The largest group of all might be The Bored, of course).

So I see people who genuinely want to (and I believe to some extent do) make a difference, and these trainings are positive for them. These are mostly white people, and their comfort seems like the main point of the exercise.

(The possibility occurs to me that at times, the comfort of the white people who like these trainings could depend on the discomfort of other white people, but I’ve seen no evidence of that).

46

anon/portly 07.01.21 at 6:01 pm

Pardon me; in my comment 43 “David Barnett’s comment 31” should be Robert Barnett’s comment 29.

47

Stephen 07.01.21 at 6:22 pm

JQ@12: here, I fear, you are being too censorious. I cannot easily believe that if someone writes something on one topic with which I completely disagree – in this case, O’Neill on MIlosevic – I must therefore discount, without further examination, anything he says on anything else – in this case, the completely different matter of guilt attributed to whiteness. I don’t think that would be a very liberal attitude.

After all, to take a very much stronger example, Hitler was quite right in opposing tobacco smoking, though indescribably and evilly wrong on so many other matters.

If we discard everybody who has sometimes written things we disagree with, then there go, in my case, among so many others Joseph Needham, JBS Haldane, GK Chesterton, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, Tony Benn … where would you stop?

48

Stephen 07.01.21 at 6:36 pm

JD@19: Stephen’s comment is not an accurate account of what’s actually happening. The evidence to justify it isn’t there.

Well, for a small piece of evidence in a field I happen to know a little about, see
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/arts/music/blind-auditions-orchestras-race.html
and
https://slippedisc.com/2020/07/why-auditions-fail-and-the-times-is-so-wrong/

49

PatinIowa 07.01.21 at 7:12 pm

anon/portly at 45

The measure of a theory can sometimes be measured by the accuracy of its predictions.

The institutional level diversity trainings at my institution suck. They’re ham-handed, they’re risk-averse, and they’ve tried to do things on the cheap. They also have very little to do with critical race theory and nothing to do with curriculum. (You should see the sexual harassment trainings. They’re worse. Jeebus.)

So your prediction there is wrong.

As for crt ideas in the curriculum, well, here’s something from a book I assign. It’s not just a one-off, it’s discussed in detail. The writer has been cited several times in this thread. Anyone know who it is?

“Whenever someone classifies people of European descent as biologically, culturally, or behaviorally inferior, whenever someone says that White people are inferior as a group, someone is articulating a racist idea.”

So you’re right. I do approve of CRT and crt-adjacent material in the curriculum.

I tell my students all the time, any time you run your mouth without doing the reading … [I’ll leave the rest of that as an exercise for the reader.]

50

Peter Dorman 07.01.21 at 7:31 pm

Let’s step back a level and consider this CRT thing as an example of a longstanding problem that people on the left have had to deal with. Movements for social change and the writings that support or hope to guide them have their flaws. “Hard” socialists, for instance, were often dismissive of the political rights of those who opposed them, seeing socialism as the final and irreversible victory of the left (or their version of it). Vulgar Marxist readings of literature, film and the other arts was often crude and reductive. Much of the “Theory”-driven pronouncements emanating from cultural studies are impenetrably arcane, over the top subjectivist (there is no such thing as objectivity or truth, so we are free to portray the world any way we want) or both, and yes there is a lot to criticize in the current wave of anti-racist thinking.

What the right typically does is to put the excesses and irrationalities of the left in flashing neon lights (a dated metaphor) and then use them to encompass all left-inspired activism, values and research. This is what McCarthyism was about, and today it is happening with CRT. There’s plenty of dumb and even harmful stuff said and done in the name of anti-racism. So conservatives trumpet these examples ad nauseam, adding a dollop of fictitious ones to fill out the list. And then they equate these excesses with all teaching and discussion of racism, slavery and the like in order to advance their true goal, blunting movements for social justice.

I don’t know what an effective response would be. You can try to be nuanced and say, “Yeah, our side has done some stupid stuff, and we’ll try to clean up our act, but that doesn’t justify the wholesale suppression the other side is trying to impose.” That’s an honest reaction, but the whole point of conservative framing is to make it unhearable. And there will always be crazies on our side for them to cast their spotlights on.

51

PatinIowa 07.01.21 at 7:43 pm

The last paragraph of my previous post is more aggressive that I wanted to be. Apologies, esp. to anon/portly. You weren’t the main target of the jibe. It’s a measure of my clumsiness that it appears that ‘s the case.

Here’s a more sober, less defensive (I hope) reflection: a lot of the animus that’s being directed against critical race theory in particular, and teaching about social justice in general, is animus more properly directed against bad pedagogy. Nobody likes to be hectored, nobody likes to be condescended to, and nobody likes having their experiences of life denied.

Telling people what to think rarely works. Getting them to read, discuss, listen, and work through ideas without excessive pressure in an atmosphere of rigorously universal respect–imagine that!–doesn’t necessarily change minds. It does however, open them. The trouble is that it’s neither cheap, nor quick, nor something that large bureaucracies, like universities, are good at.

One difference is this: when someone is offended by clumsy teaching of conservative ideas, and there is plenty of that, they have relatively little chance of getting a well-funded national movement to take up their cause, and a compliant press to amplify their complaints.

52

Tm 07.01.21 at 9:57 pm

Sam 44: So talking in a history class about the African slaves brought to America in 1619, talking about the American founders’ position as slave holders and supporters of institutional slavery, about the institutional continuities between the slave patrols and the establishment of police forces, or the entanglement of early American capitalism with the slave economy – raising these issues is like talking about “the spaceship that Archimedes sent to the moon”?

This is exactly the point: these guys (Sam, Kiwanda, and others) are history deniers of the most disgusting sort. This is not some misunderstanding, some talking past each other of otherwise well-meaning, reasonable people. The whole point is to distort historical facts to the point of establishing an alternative reality, a parallel universe in which those of us who think slavery and racism are topics that young people need to learn about are the ones who have lost their minds and need to be brought to their senses. These guys have the nerve to show up here and try their gaslighting routine. This in a nutshell is what CRT-bashing is about: the rightwing movement engaging in systematic, organized gaslighting.

It’s all explicit, as explicit as in the history directive of the totalitarian-inspired Florida Board of Education that e-x-p-l-i-c-i-t-l-y declares illegal any factually truthful account of American slavery and segregation, of the decimation and expropriation of Native Americans, because American history “by definition” cannot be anything other than the glorious triumph of freedom and democracy.

53

J-D 07.01.21 at 11:32 pm

Certain groups, pretty much whites, have privilege, and others, people of color, are oppressed. This is really what the courses I took teach.

Well, are you denying that?

I’d make a few points:

1 — People of color is a ridiculous term. American born Blacks have a very different experience compared to an Indian immigrant, even though PoC supposedly applies to both. Indian immigrants to the US have a significantly higher average income than whites, which certainly doesn’t sound like oppression.

2 — Terms like oppression and privilege, applied to entire groups of people sharing nothing but skin color, strike many people as the very definition of racist thinking.

3 — Pragmatically, telling people that they’re part of an oppressive group because of their skin color, as opposed to any of their individual actions, convinces persuadable people to reject you and your political program.

The fact that the membership of a group is heterogeneous does not make a term for the group ridiculous. If terms could only be applied to groups that were perfectly homogeneous, then terms could not be applied to groups at all, and that is a suggestion which would be ridiculous. People who use the term ‘people of colour’ don’t (generally speaking) deny differences between the experiences of different sub-groups. If you can find examples of people who say that there are no significant differences between the experiences of American-born black people and the experiences of immigrants to America from India, you will surprise me. Using the term ‘people of colour’ does not deny the existence or the significance of those differences.
You may well be right that it strikes many people in the way you describe, but do you think (the opinions on this point of) those people are right? Do you defend the position that you have described? It can easily happen that somebody says ‘It strikes me that X’ when X is not in fact true; it can easily happen that many people say it, and X is still not in fact true.
If people react negatively to a statement, that’s not evidence that it’s false. People often react negatively to false statements; people often react negatively to true statements. For those who are concerned with whether the statements are true, the negative reactions reveal nothing one way or the other. Both people who are racist and people who are not racist can react negatively to being told they’re racist; the negative reactions don’t help to settle the factual question.

54

Kiwanda 07.02.21 at 12:09 am

John Quiggin:

As is usually the case with FIRE, I don’t see a lot to disagree with in the article you linked. Maybe you could point out where you think it is in disagreement with what I wrote.

You say that “critical race theory means nothing more, or less, than criticism of the way American society has dealt with race, and, in particular, criticism that makes white people uncomfortable,” and that “The correct response to rightwing attacks on CRT is not to say that the critics don’t know what they are talking about. They know perfectly well what they are talking about, which is why they want to suppress it, and why they should be resisted head-on.”

This disagrees with point 8 in the FIRE article, which includes “While there is some debate to be had over how widespread the phenomenon is, some students are being made to feel, in class, that their mere existence is problematic and requires an apology or explanation. These bills, wise or not, are intended to address this problem. If your argument against these bills is that they’re much ado about nothing, or a solution in search of a problem, I think you should look deeper and think more critically about what proponents of these laws are worried about.”

PatinIowa:

You shouldn’t feel shame or guilt over it, but, post-modern relativist that I am, I’m very comfortable saying this: You’re wrong about what actually happens, and if your aim is justice, you’re applying your energy in the wrong direction.

Again: it’s great that at your university, the relevant programs are reasonable, and even the old white dudes are forgiven their inevitable sins. However, I didn’t pull the examples I mentioned out of the air: if you follow the links I gave, you’ll find examples of the shaming, the guilting, the strange idea that “white supremacy” includes punctuality, etc. It may be that these are not widespread, but the idea that “merit is white supremacy” comes from a San Francisco school board member, and the “training” about all the other odd things considered to be “white supremacy” was required for all teaches in the New York City schools.

TM:

This is an interesting assortment of shall we say cancellations of historical facts and concepts. Totally in line with the Florida guidelines against the teaching of unwelcome historical truth:…

If you’re saying those are “historical facts”, well, no, they aren’t, and should not be taught as such. But, as I said, many of the state bills are bad: often they infringe on academic freedom, are unconstitutional, and promote a whitewashed view of history. The teaching of those idiotic “facts” should not be outlawed. The best course would be, for an advanced class, to consider for example the proposition that the American revolution was fought to preserve slavery, and try to get an idea of the evidence for it (even if there really isn’t any), and against it: to discuss and debate. As I said.

55

Kiwanda 07.02.21 at 12:12 am

J-D:

nobody’s comment is not an accurate account of what’s actually happening. The evidence to justify it isn’t there.

Thomas Beale’s comment is not an accurate account of what’s actually happening. The evidence to justify it isn’t there.

Stephen’s comment is not an accurate account of what’s actually happening. The evidence to justify it isn’t there.

PatinIowa’s comment is an accurate account of what’s actually happening, or mostly so. Thanks!

In the spirit of your closely reasoned, evidence-packed discussion, allow me to retort: no, you’re wrong.

56

J-D 07.02.21 at 12:15 am

Following up on my own thought–

>Then there’s the general problem that all work-mandated training sucks.

It is impossible to force people to learn things that they do not want to learn.

If you let this thought sink in fully, you have to ask ‘Why are schoolchildren forced to attend class?’, and that’s a much bigger issue than work-mandated training.

–for example, people who have no interest in learning any mathematics will not learn any mathematics (although anybody who does want to learn mathematics is capable of learning at least some mathematics, if adequately taught).

But that’s not evidence that what they teach in mathematics lessons is not correct!

Similarly, the fact the people regularly reject, ignore, or forget things they are told in work-mandated training is not evidence that the things they are being told are not correct.

57

Sebastian H 07.02.21 at 12:40 am

When an academic theory goes mainstream, there is always a question of how much the mainstream version can be attributed to/blamed on/credited to the academic version.

DiAngelo/Kendi/Okun (I’ll call them the ‘popularizers’) draw heavily on CRT thoughts/arguments/terminology. CRT itself is what I would call an academic pose more than anything else. The pose is that since civil rights based on race have not been fully vindicated in the US, there must be something wrong with the civil rights movement’s analysis of the problem. CRT attempts to fill that purported void through various tools (notably ‘whiteness’ analysis, ‘systemic racism’ analysis, intersectionality, and the use of standpoint epistemology [of usually undefined strength]). The specific outcome level analysis or policy prescriptions are not agreed on even in the field, so tight policing based on anything as strong as ‘agreed policy’ or even ‘agreed theory’ is futile. The popularizers are definitely working in the general pose of CRT.

I would tend to argue that the pose is wrong. The civil rights framework is broadly fine for analysis purposes and often superior to the CRT framework. Yes the project is definitely unfinished, but that is because the job is difficult, not because it is poorly understood. Specifically the civil rights framework absolutely understood systemic racism problems (it called it disparate impact) and absolutely is not shocked to find that facially neutral laws can have a disparate impact (see ‘disparate impact’). ‘Whiteness as Property’ (the CRT framework) is mostly a more accusatory sounding version of blackness as legal and social detriment or discrimination (the civil rights framework) and in areas where they differ, the civil rights framework is superior. (Eg when analyzing college admissions, trying to figure out why we should weight against Asian applicants is poorly served from figuring out what privilege of whiteness they are adopting by being great at the SAT or GPA races). While social detriment analysis can at least sort of look at the issue.

So that’s my thumbnail of the academic background. The social background is that the popularizers are the ones who are bringing all this to the general public. And frankly they are doing a poor job of maintaining the sharp distinctions that make stuff possible in the academic realm. They especially lean hard into the standpoint epistemology issue transforming it from ‘we should take additional care to include black voices in the discussion’ to a much stronger ‘opposition to blessed black voices (but not the ones who dissent from it) is racism’. Which is how we get things like the Shor firing for merely mentioning that peaceful demonstrations historically are more effective than violent ones, when some of the BLM activists were defending literal looting.

My general feel is that a big portion of people broadly on the left understand that the popularizers go to0 far, but there are systemic reasons (like being called a racist) to not speak up against them much in the kind of liberal captured institutions that make curriculum decisions all over the US. (See especially Okun giving her silly “White Supremacy” trainings all over New York state for teachers because she has been hired to do so by the NY Board of Education). The problem this causes is that if we won’t rein the popularizers in, a lot of people are going to get exposed to them. And that isn’t going to be pretty when they come into contact with non-academic people or with institutions that aren’t systemically averse to openly noticing that they are crap.

This of course can be grossly leveraged by bad actors in the conservative community. And yes, such bad actors are always looking for something. But this particular something resonates because the popularizers really are crap. So I would recommend to tighten up on the actual teaching of important race-inflected lessons by strongly limiting the ability of the popularizers to influence schools.

58

nastywoman 07.02.21 at 8:55 am

@51
‘Telling people what to think rarely works. Getting them to read, discuss, listen, and work through ideas without excessive pressure in an atmosphere of rigorously universal respect–imagine that!–doesn’t necessarily change minds. It does however, open them. The trouble is that it’s neither cheap, nor quick, nor something that large bureaucracies, like universities, are good at’.

That’s why there are some ‘International Nonprofits’ which try some different ‘approaches’… or shall we say ‘strategies’ – as perhaps y’all have noticed – that there is this… this ‘problem’ outside with more and more unpleasant ‘dudes’ -(and even some ‘chicks’) running around – not only holding up all kind of racist -(and anti Semitic) posters BUT also beating y’all up – if y’all happen to have brown or black skin –
or ‘slanted’ eyes –
or wearing a Kippah.

AND WE really NEED to help these people –
AND if conventional academic educational strategies don’t work – can’t you guys –
(instead of constantly talking ‘im Kreis’)
PLEASE?! –
come up with some… ‘alternatives’?
As WE really need some GOOD alternatives – which might work –
IN REALITY.

59

Saurs 07.02.21 at 9:09 am

Kudos to Tm@52

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J-D 07.02.21 at 10:07 am

When people complain about CRT, they’re really complaining about the anti-racism courses of the type championed by Ibrahim Kendi and Robin DiAngelo.

This claim requires some evidence that a significant share of the people complaining about CRT have ever taken any of these courses. Most people clearly haven’t – and neither have I, which is why I won’t comment on your characterization of the courses in question.

I haven’t taken any of those courses, either. I have, however, taken the minimal steps of checking the Wikipedia pages for Ibram X Kendi, his book How To Be An Antiracist, Robin DiAngelo, and her book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. The impression I got that way was substantially different from the impression given by comments here.

I am sure that Ibram X Kendi and Robin DiAngelo are fallible as all humans are and that some of what they’ve written and said isn’t right, but I don’t notice anybody here quoting things they’ve actually said or written in order to discuss what’s wrong with their actual statements.

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JOHN FORD 07.02.21 at 12:19 pm

New open thread? I don’t know where else to post these thoughts–not economics, not physics, not philosophy!:

What we experience as time is the universe expanding
a. The arrow of time = everything is moving away from us
b. Entropy everything is coming apart
The difference between subject and object is time
a. The arrow of time = subjective perception
b. Entropy = objective perception

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Thomas Beale 07.02.21 at 12:30 pm

JD @ 60
I am sure that Ibram X Kendi and Robin DiAngelo are fallible as all humans are and that some of what they’ve written and said isn’t right, but I don’t notice anybody here quoting things they’ve actually said or written in order to discuss what’s wrong with their actual statements.

Easy enough, and being lazy, stealing quotes from here.

The opposite of racist isn’t “not racist”. It is “anti-racist”.
Er, no it’s not. The opposite of ‘racist’ is indeed ‘not racist’. Anti-racist is a political stance against people / organisations deemed to be racist – a very specific stance that Kendi and others seek to define and control.

What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist.
Same error here. What you endorse as an ‘anti-racist’ could be anything, from maximal affirmative action to violent protest to defunding the police.

One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist.
One doesn’t have to be any sort of ‘anti-racist’ to think that some social problems are connected with policies; they might be connected with power relations too, but in the capitalist West, power structures are less racist than one might think, for the simple reason that corporate capitalism will exploit anyone, at any time, regardless of race or any other characteristic. There are also cultural problems rooted in groups of people, typically not races, but populations.

As with Kendi’s other black and white juxtapositions, this one doesn’t correspond to the complexity of reality.

One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist”.
There are numerous problems with this simplistic view, but the most obvious one is that ‘racial inequities’ are generally outcomes, for example over-representation of blacks in the US crime stats and justice system, or the (statistically small, but politically hot) problem of black deaths by white cops. Kendi assumes these problems are fundamentally caused by racism, and discounts poverty, history, culture, bad police training, the number of guns on the streets and so on – all things investigated by far more capable scientists, economists etc. He fundamentally misunderstands how complex social systems work over time and thinks there is a single cause explaining everything he doesn’t like.

The second sentence basically says: if you are only a non-racist, you’re basically a racist; the only way to be truly non-racist is to be actively anti-racist, according to my political anti-racist programme. Again… no. Mr Kendi may try his adolescent guilt-tripping on the credulous but it won’t work on anyone who actually thinks.

Assimilationist ideas are racist ideas. Assimilationists can position any racial group as the superior standard that another racial group should be measuring themselves against, the benchmark they should be trying to reach.
What he is trying to claim here, is that projects like standardised education (particularly in STEM) that aims to promote high standards in e.g. schools, science faculties, law schools etc by the usual means of well-defined syllabus, examinations, etc are really a forced programme of assimilation by whites of blacks who are made to look less capable, due to the grading schemes of those systems.

But merit-based education (or merit-based anything) isn’t about assimilation of any kind; it’s simply about teaching and verifying specific levels of knowledge. His ideas extend further to the claims that math is racist, having to pass SATs is racist and so on.

No need to go on. It’s an adolescent (single-cause) view of the world, full of slick-sounding slogans, and not a few linguistic sleights of hand aimed at emotional manipulation. It’s certainly not going to change the plight of all the poor black kids getting shot daily in Chicago and other cities, nor any other societal problem that is thought o unfairly affect US blacks.

Real societal problems are far more complex and multivariate than people like this imagine, and for that reason, their solutions are destined to fail.

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nastywoman 07.02.21 at 12:58 pm

and perhaps? –
if we just would tell everybody – that he or she will NOT get into HEAVEN –
(or any other ‘desirable and pleasant place’) –
IF he or she is NOT really nice to all these ‘browner’ -(or otherwise ‘other’) – people?

https://youtu.be/QAtSGgnurZs

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CJColucci 07.02.21 at 2:44 pm

“People of color” is a perfectly useful term despite the differences among the various peoples of color it comprehends because it focuses on ta common property — that large numbers of white folks don’t like any of them. “Non-White” might do the same job, except that it implies a normativity of Whiteness and a lack of something in the “non-white,” which it is simply good manners to avoid.

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Starry Gordon 07.02.21 at 6:59 pm

If you want to read bad things about DiAngelo’s work, you can consult Mr. Taibbi’s very recent article on Substack. Apparently he actually read at least part of the books. I can’t comment on his accuracy because I haven’t.

I think one problem about this farrago of issues is that we are trying to deal with what seem to be deeply underlying characteristics of humans, to wit, their tendency to gather in tribal groups. One can suppose a long period of evolution in which those who did not adhere tribally to one another ceased to survive. In the modern world, tribalism may not be rational but monkey mind, wolf mind, lizard mind do not care about reason, and they have the power and they know it. On the other hand we know that if we do not control or come to some terms with tribalism our world will be torn to pieces.

So, since reason and happy talk have failed, the goddess Popcult is stepping in. She moves slowly and crudely but ultimately with enormous force. All sorts of false prophets and prophecies may be spawned and cast away, but she will move. All us smart people may just have to get out of the way.

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J-D 07.02.21 at 10:36 pm

If we are willing to overlook the evils that may or may not be lurking in our white audience’s soul and instead present them with actual histories of white supremacist institutions and individuals and how that has impacted actual people to the present day, it’s much harder to dismiss racism out of hand or treat anti-racism as an attack on white identity. Of course, this is what the actual CRT does (as I understand it), and is the reason that reactionaries would much rather talk about something else entirely.

I think that subject is just called ‘history’.

If the people who criticise (what they describe as ) CRT support the idea that the teaching of American history should emphasise how slavery was important in the American colonies before independence, in the struggle for independence, and in the independent USA, and how its negative effects on African-Americans continue to the present, then there’s no problem; but if those people oppose that idea, then there is a problem. I think they oppose that idea rather than supporting it, but I’m open to being shown otherwise if anybody wants to make the attempt (if I’m wrong, I don’t want to remain wrong, I want to find out that I’m wrong).

I suspect outside of some rarefied group that discusses genuine CRT, CRT for everyone else is more or less the toxic ‘anti-racist’ ideology alluded to above (race essentialism, white supremacy, decolonisation etc). … The debate of interest for most is nevertheless about the appropriateness of that ideology being inculcated in schools, corporate training etc.

I’m not completely clear on what the ideology is that you refer to as having been alluded to earlier, but in any case the extent of the importance of a debate about a toxic ideology being inculcated in schools, corporate training, and so on depends on the extent to which it is really the case that that toxic ideology is actually being inculcated. I am confident that it would be possible to find individual examples of the inculcation of toxic ideology, but I am also confident that the extent of it is being grossly and perniciously exaggerated. Therefore I think there should be more interest in discussion of why this exaggeration is happening.

For those for whom other peoples’ observations of reality are ‘not justified by the evidence’ I can only say that if you choose only the ‘evidence’ you happen to like, you’ll always feel like that but you won’t be making sense because you are in denial of the evidence you don’t like.

In the most general sense, everything is evidence of something (or evidence for something or evidence that something), but that leaves open the question of what it is evidence for/of/that. Sometimes when somebody makes a statement, it is strong evidence that the statement is true; sometimes when somebody makes a statement, it is strong evidence of the person’s dishonesty; sometimes it’s neither of those, but evidence for some other conclusion. In my earlier comment, I did not assert that your observations are not evidence (of any kind); your observations are certainly evidence of some kind. What I did assert in my earlier comment was that the evidence was not there to justify the account you gave in your earlier comment. Telling me that you do have the evidence that would justify your account is not the same as actually producing that evidence.

Well, for a small piece of evidence in a field I happen to know a little about, see
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/arts/music/blind-auditions-orchestras-race.html
and
https://slippedisc.com/2020/07/why-auditions-fail-and-the-times-is-so-wrong/

That’s interesting evidence (of something), but it’s not evidence of what you alluded to in your earlier comment, namely, the (alleged) widespread inculcation of the view that white people ‘are guilty beyond redemption’.

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J-D 07.03.21 at 12:15 am

re: “whiteness” @13 and several other places: Does this make Barak Obama and Clarence Thomas (among other) white? I think they would both respectfully disagree though clearly both take great pains to defend the status quo of government while trying, each in their way, to create opportunity and equality for all regardless of race.

The Oxfam survey document mentioned by Harry defines ‘whiteness’ as ‘the overarching preservation of power and domination for the benefit of white people’. That definition doesn’t make Barack Obama and Clarence Thomas white. It does allow for the possibility that their actions, or some of them, contribute to the maintenance of whiteness (as defined), but not if (or to the extent that) they are contributing to the creation of opportunity and equality for all regardless of race.

I think most white people generally “get” the notion that they have privledge and at least subconsiously harbor racist attitudes (intentionally or not).

It’s not clear to me that most white people do get this notion, but much more importantly it’s clear that there are many white people (I wouldn’t be confident about saying ‘most’) who, whether or not they get the notion, object to mention being made of it.

That said – being poked in the eye with it and being called an oppressor when legitimately you do your level best to be fair and respectful to all doesn’t really endear the vast middle to a cause.

It’s one thing if people are mentioning this notion in such a careless way that it’s as if they were poking people in the eye; it’s a different thing if people are reacting to any mention of this notion, no matter how careful, as if they are being poked in the eye. It’s fairly likely that both those things are happening to some extent, but my suspicion is that there’s much more of the second than there is of the first, although I recognise that it would be difficult to test.

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John Quiggin 07.03.21 at 2:04 am

Stephen @47 I was merely picking one of the more egregious examples. I’ve read enough by O’Neill to know that anything he writes will be intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt. More broadly, the entire political history of the RCP, from ultra-left to propertarian to anti-anti-Trump, is characterized by both of these features. I haven’t got enough minutes left in my left to give them any more.

69

J-D 07.03.21 at 2:05 am

Conversely, if you believe that the country hasn’t gone far enough when it comes to giving black people equal rights with whites, this is an issue which urgently requites critical discussion. Failing to discuss critical race theory, in schools and elsewhere, amounts to ignoring issues that are central to all kinds of social conflict, in the US and many other countries.


I think this is wrong.

Can Congress pass bills absent such a discussion? Of course they can. They can pass a police reform bill – eliminate qualified immunity, reduce union power, etc. – tomorrow. They can pass a housing reform bill. They can pass a voting reform bill.

Even more importantly (in my view), the Fed can shift policy in the “full employment” without any “critical discussion” of racial issues.

The idea that people confronted by a social problem should not discuss it but simply wait passively for legislative or policy change to deal with it merits short shrift.

Legislative and policy change are technically possible in the absence of discussion, but the idea that discussion can have no effect on them also merits short shrift.

If people who are not themselves legislators or politicians are aware of a problem and desire legislative or policy change to deal with it, what else should they do but raise it for debate?

70

KT2 07.03.21 at 2:59 am

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley would be interested in this post at West Point re crt.

“Gen. Milley deserves no applause for his defense of critical race theory
“Out of line.

“Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley got way out of line Wednesday, scolding members of Congress while defending the inclusion of ultra-progressive racialist literature in military curricula.

“The moment, which took place during a congressional hearing, occurred after Republican lawmakers pressed the general on the extent to which members of the military are exposed to critical race theory. Republican Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida, a National Guard colonel and former Green Beret, asked specifically whether West Point cadets were really asked to attend a seminar on “white rage.”

Milley responded with an answer that was as self-righteous as it was emotional. Neither is appropriate for a man in his position.

“A lot of us have to get much smarter on whatever the theory is,” the nation’s highest-ranking military officer said. “But I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read.”

“He added, “… and I want to understand white rage. And I’m white, and I want to understand it. So, what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out.”

“That Milley apparently believes critical race theory will help him better understand the events of Jan. 6 is ridiculous — and revealing in its own right. Also, depending on how you interpret his remarks, Milley comes awfully close to endorsing the establishment of a Jan. 6 commission, which, if this was indeed his intent, is extremely inappropriate.

“The general added, “I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read ― I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin ― that doesn’t make me a communist.”

“This, by the way, is what we call a motte-and-bailey. …”
https://tbecketadams.substack.com/p/gen-mill

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John Quiggin 07.03.21 at 3:28 am

Thomas Beale @62 I’ve responded with a post on this

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nastywoman 07.03.21 at 4:14 am

@70
You forgot the worst part of the Idiotic Article from ‘Substick’:

‘And if you find yourself cheering what Milley did because he has the same politics as you, you are a bad American. In a sane world, the people applauding the general would be calling for his resignation for having strayed so far out of his lane. It’s one thing for Milley to say he wants, personally, to understand critical race theory. It’s another thing entirely for him to berate lawmakers merely for questioning whether members of the military are being indoctrinated with a philosophy that advocates self-hatred, hatred for their own country, and racial enmity’.

As I’m a really ‘GOOD’ American and that’s why I want to understand white rage –
too.
And I’m white, and I want to understand it. So, what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find that out.”

Can you tell US – KT2?

PLEASE?!

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a lurker 07.03.21 at 5:23 am

Kendi assumes these problems are fundamentally caused by racism, and discounts poverty, history, culture, bad police training, the number of guns on the streets and so on – all things investigated by far more capable scientists, economists etc. He fundamentally misunderstands how complex social systems work over time and thinks there is a single cause explaining everything he doesn’t like.

From my lived experience most if not all of “poverty, history, culture, bad police training, the number of guns on the streets and so on” is easily attributed to racism/white supremacy. Opposing that, analyzing and explaining the cause and the effects through an anti-racist — not just not being racist but calling it out when you see it — is where we are now. You don’t have to take part but get out of the way of those who do. And know that we see you.

Real societal problems are far more complex and multivariate than people like this imagine, and for that reason, their solutions are destined to fail.

And then we kick the ball into the long grass. I get the feeling OP doesn’t really want to address this and not because it’s “complex and multivariate.”

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J-D 07.03.21 at 9:16 am

I am sure that Ibram X Kendi and Robin DiAngelo are fallible as all humans are and that some of what they’ve written and said isn’t right, but I don’t notice anybody here quoting things they’ve actually said or written in order to discuss what’s wrong with their actual statements.

Easy enough, and being lazy, stealing quotes from here.

If every individual desisted, individually, from giving any kind of active support to racism, that could be an adequate response to the problem of racism. However for some people to desist, individually, from giving any kind of active support to racism while other people continue to support racism would not be an adequate response to the problem of racism. If some people want to deal with the problem of racism while others don’t, the people who want to deal with the probem will need to go beyond just individually desisting from supporting racism to some kind of more active opposition to it.

If you disagree with that, you can tell me why. If you agree, or largely agree, then I’ll go further and say that on my reading Ibram X Kendi, in the passage quoted, was trying to express, if not exactly the same position, then a similar and related one. If you disagree with that, you can tell me why. If you agree, you can still consistently say that Ibram X Kendi could have found a better way to express his position, but then, that’s true about nearly every time anybody expresses any position.

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Thomas Beale 07.03.21 at 12:54 pm

JD@66
If the people who criticise (what they describe as ) CRT support the idea that the teaching of American history should emphasise how slavery was important in the American colonies before independence, in the struggle for independence, and in the independent USA, and how its negative effects on African-Americans continue to the present, then there’s no problem; but if those people oppose that idea, then there is a problem. I think they oppose that idea rather than supporting it, but I’m open to being shown otherwise if anybody wants to make the attempt (if I’m wrong, I don’t want to remain wrong, I want to find out that I’m wrong).

Well history teaching should teach true historical states of affairs, enabling analysis of motivations of political and other events (as best as it is known). How important slavery was in the early colony seems to be a topic of debate – labour at that time was a mixture of indentured servants and slaves. The importance of slavery to the south (total economic dependence) was vastly different compared to the north (limited from the start, and outlawed by about 1800). It is a logical error to think that differing historical opinions on the importance of slavery in various times and places has anything to do with the understanding of slavery as an egregious institution throughout history. That is true regardless of whether the US had never had more than the original 20 slaves, or it had 4 million.

There is also no doubt about the existence of negative effects on that part of today’s society descending from slaves. However, 400 years after the shipping of those first slaves, after the abolition of slavery, after a civil war, segregation, the civil rights era, and the numerous programmes (AA etc) to improve the lot of black Americans, there is no simple characterisation of these effects, and indeed most people would argue that great progress has been made since 1960, including many blacks. So what exactly the negative consequences for blacks today are remains a topic of hot debate – yet you want to require adherence to one particular version of the story, else you are racist?

JD@74
If every individual desisted, individually, from giving any kind of active support to racism, that could be an adequate response to the problem of racism. However for some people to desist, individually, from giving any kind of active support to racism while other people continue to support racism would not be an adequate response to the problem of racism. If some people want to deal with the problem of racism while others don’t, the people who want to deal with the probem will need to go beyond just individually desisting from supporting racism to some kind of more active opposition to it.

This is a specific point of view – and it contains contestable assumptions. You classify people who are not racists and don’t support racism as ‘not wanting to deal with racism’ – but what you mean is: according to how you (or maybe Kendi) think it should be done. Many people have different ideas about how to reduce racism, mostly not based on race essentialism or irredeemable white supremacy. For the likes of Kendi these people are just as bad as active racists (are you seriously agreeing with that?). But that’s just his point of view because he needs to create guilt in order to co-opt as many as possible to his particular anti-racist programme. But his programme is based on numerous false assumptions and a weak understanding of reality. By his logic we’re all egregious exploiters of humanity except unless we’re working on the front lines of war zones with MSF or similar.

A lurker@73
From my lived experience most if not all of “poverty, history, culture, bad police training, the number of guns on the streets and so on” is easily attributed to racism/white supremacy. Opposing that, analyzing and explaining the cause and the effects through an anti-racist — not just not being racist but calling it out when you see it — is where we are now. You don’t have to take part but get out of the way of those who do. And know that we see you.

That is the perfect articulation of someone who believes him or herself to be in possession of the one inviolate true understanding of social inequality, and who also thinks his group of activists have an unchallengeable right to pursue their programme, no matter what it may be. Based on the idea that your own life tells you that every aspect of the world is down to racism? Do you want to defund the police? That hasn’t gone well. Do you think it’s appropriate to tell white kids at school they were born racists? That’s a) not true and b) obviously going to create serious discord in society. There are far better approaches to improving things, and it may be you who has to get out of the way.

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anon/portly 07.03.21 at 4:06 pm

77

anon/portly 07.03.21 at 4:19 pm

Matt Yglesias has a tweet today that is perhaps relevant:

https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/1411311932116774914

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Kiwanda 07.03.21 at 6:44 pm

J-D:

If the people who criticise (what they describe as ) CRT support the idea that the teaching of American history should emphasise how slavery was important in the American colonies before independence, in the struggle for independence, and in the independent USA, and how its negative effects on African-Americans continue to the present, then there’s no problem; but if those people oppose that idea, then there is a problem. I think they oppose that idea rather than supporting it, but I’m open to being shown otherwise if anybody wants to make the attempt (if I’m wrong, I don’t want to remain wrong, I want to find out that I’m wrong).

The people who criticize (practices that in K-12 education have between labeled as) CRT are not an undifferentiated mass. Many, such as everyone commenting here, I think, support the teaching of the historical concepts you mention. (Although for me, it would depend on what you mean by slavery being important in “the struggle for independence”.) And some, including I’d guess some of the legislators proposing various bills, do not support such teaching. People can oppose racism and not agree with every possible means proposed to fight it, including methods that are themselves, in their own way, racist. Not everyone who disagrees with you is arguing in bad faith, out of evil motives they may try to hide but that you are nonetheless are able to divine (hi TM!).

79

Stephen 07.03.21 at 6:54 pm

a lurker@73 “From my lived experience most if not all of “poverty, history, culture, bad police training, the number of guns on the streets and so on” is easily attributed to racism/white supremacy.”

Have you any idea how wonderfully inapplicable this is to countries outside the USA?

80

steven t johnson 07.03.21 at 8:09 pm

It would be gratifying to discuss the positive contributions of CRT, as distinct from civil rights law, but I’m not sure what they are. Just today I’ve given up on Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. There are stories from history and personal anecdotes first and second hand, retailed in an easy, affecting prose. These demonstrate powerfully that slavery and Jim Crow were even worse than you feared.

But equating caste in the US with Nazi Germany and India is insisted on, not demonstrated. The notion that anti-Semitism is the same as caste, that race is variable, that class is socioeconomic status, that caste can be accelerated (but not decelerated,) are odd and opaque and worst undefined ideas. The first pillar of caste is basically the notion that a providential God created the present order, which is also a pillar of religion and of conservatism, but not a pillar of some views of the world, which don’t exist in this book. Another pillar of caste, ideas of purity and pollution, plainly tie directly into sexual fears but this is left undiscussed. And so forth, so, not so on.

Another tack on this is to consider a fragment from the Florida law, that the US was founded on the principles of the Declaration of Independence. To me, it seems perfectly obvious the likely intent of the framers was to intimidate history honest about slavery. But it also seems perfectly obvious that this command should lead teachers, in Florida in particular, to discuss why it was the North where the slow working out of the revolution resulted in the expansion of manhood suffrage and the abolition of slavery, but not votes for Blacks. The general disdain of the Confederate Fathers for the Declaration of Independence is highlighted, inadvertently, I believe, but even so.

81

J-D 07.04.21 at 12:12 am

we’ll find racism and its effects, which, in spite of what’s happened over the last century or so, persist. (Go look at your local jail, if you doubt this.)

I’m distinctly uncertain that noting that my local OB ward has almost exclusively female patients, or that my local jail has mostly male prisoners, tells me anything about sexism.

I’m confident that it’s true that your local jail has mostly male prisoners, but I’d very much like to know what explanation you can offer for that fact that excludes sexism.

82

J-D 07.04.21 at 12:33 am

Thomas Beale, in this comment above responds to two of my preceding comments.

Further on the first point:
It is not the agenda of anti-CRT campaigners to ensure that the teaching of US history explores different analyses of the importance of slavery in the colonial period and different analyses of the continuing negative effects of slavery on contemporary African-Americans. What they want to do, if they can, is to eliminate all discussion of those topics from the teaching of US history or, failing that, to reduce it as much as they can. I have no objection to a US history curriculum which explores different positions on these debated historical topics; the anti-CRT campaigners do.

Further on the second point:
Thomas Beale places an interpretation on my words which is different from, and incompatible with, my own intentions. In other words, what Thomas Beale thinks I meant is not what I meant. This illustrates a point which I made at the end of the comment Thomas Beale was responding to:

you can still consistently say that Ibram X Kendi could have found a better way to express his position, but then, that’s true about nearly every time anybody expresses any position.

Thomas Beale’s response shows me that there must have been a better way to express my position, because the way I actually did express my position was not successful in conveying my meaning adequately to Thomas Beale. I hope that adding (to my previous remarks) what follows will help to convey my meaning more clearly, but hope is all I can do, I can’t be sure.

I affirm that racism is a problem which should be dealt with. If you dispute this, you can tell me why. If you agree about that, then I pose this question: is it a sufficient response to the problem of racism for those people who want it to be dealt with to eschew, as individuals, active support for it? I can’t figure how it could be, but if I’m missing something there then I hope somebody will show it to me.

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Thomas Beale 07.04.21 at 7:55 am

JD@82
It is not the agenda of anti-CRT campaigners to … What they want to do, if they can, is to eliminate all discussion of those topics from the teaching of US history or, failing that, to reduce it as much as they can. I have no objection to a US history curriculum which explores different positions on these debated historical topics; the anti-CRT campaigners do.

Well I wouldn’t agree with those specific anti-CRT ‘campaigners’ either (I assume you refer to some of these legislators). I doubt if most of them have a much better understanding of the issues than some of the CRT populists. These legislators are just one strand of general critique of CRT (in its various forms) and I would say not likely to be representative of well-grounded critique, which comes from other sources entirely.

you can still consistently say that Ibram X Kendi could have found a better way to express his position

I am not saying that. I think he articulates his ideas clearly enough. It’s just that his ideas are not very good.

I affirm that racism is a problem which should be dealt with. If you dispute this, you can tell me why. If you agree about that, then I pose this question: is it a sufficient response to the problem of racism for those people who want it to be dealt with to eschew, as individuals, active support for it? I can’t figure how it could be, but if I’m missing something there then I hope somebody will show it to me.

Well a priori, I’m pretty sure every decent person would affirm that racism is a problem that should be dealt with. But just consider for a moment the challenge of identifying what, among the problems in the world, is in fact ‘racism’?

I think most people would agree that there are (at least) two ‘problems’ everyone would like to address:

overt intentional racism, i.e. racist abuse, white supremacy literature etc;
societal inequalities where negative outcomes appears to be at odds with the racial make-up of society, e.g. the well-documented gaps in educational achievement, over-representation in violent crime figures etc, health outcomes etc.

The first one is addressed (I would say adequately) by law in most Western countries. Improvements are always possible of course, and to keep things simple, we’ll have to ignore the technically true objections to affirmative action for university entrance by e.g. Asian students in the US. We can mostly deal with this kind of racism because most people agree that that is what it is, although the waters are muddied by e.g. the question of deaths of unarmed black people by white cops. For some this is obvious racism because it feels like racism, whereas for others, there are better explanations, and statistically racism as the primary explanation is not well supported. It’s easy to find examples of black on white cop killings, black on black, white on white – indeed, race doesn’t figure as a good predictor in US police killings. It’s just that only the white on black incidents are reported, usually as if they were evidence of racism rather than anything else.

Then we have the second category. For people like Kendi, DiAngelo and Ta-Nehisi Coates, almost every case where blacks have worse outcomes is ‘racism’ – no effort is required to make any further diagnosis – because the cause of nearly everything is the white supremacist power structure of society.

But better explanations are available for e.g. poor educational outcome, e.g. a) a well-known cultural antipathy to school and study (that’s for white kids); b) lack of access to better quality schools for poorer kids, which disproportionately affects black kids relative to their overall representation in society; c) the well-documented phenomenon of fatherless families/kids in black America since the 60s. Now, some people will say: but all this is due to slavery / historical racism! Well, b) almost certainly is. But the actual racist law and attitudes that put black Americans in poorer parts of cities are mostly gone/illegal today, so now we are in the position of addressing a historical consequence. Any remedy that might work today is no longer a question of addressing racism as such, it’s a question of addressing the concrete results. C) is usually held to be a result of the introduction of the welfare state in the Johnson war on poverty era.

You don’t have to agree with specifics here; all I am showing is that the diagnosis of ‘racism’ is far from automatic or obvious (except where it really is prima faci), so all the imprecations laid by the CRT populists on the rest of us to ‘actively combat racism, and if you don’t, you’re complicit’ are on very shaky foundations. In summary: we would have to agree on what problems are racism first to even have a conversation about what behaviour constitutes ‘anti-racism’.

Many don’t believe racism to be the primary cause today of racial disparities in social outcomes; in that case, improving things for the affected people isn’t even mainly about racism today, it’s about other issues. Again, I cannot emphasise strongly enough, some / many of these issues are almost certainly historical consequences of slavery and racism, rather than contemporaneous consequences of current racism. When CRT populists say that social problems of black America are ’caused by racism’ they’re confusing historical racism with current racism. That is why many of their arguments don’t work.

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notGoodenough 07.04.21 at 10:49 am

It is interesting how many people are citing the words of Mr Christopher Rufo (formerly a research fellow at the Discovery Institute which, for those of us who appreciate irony, has been trying to force the ideologically motivated Intelligent Design into classrooms).

Just as a minor point, he seems to be a strong proponent of conflating (to use the distinction made in the OP) CRT and “crt” with “things I don’t like”:

“We have successfully frozen their brand—”critical race theory”—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category. The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’ We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”

I will admit, if an honest an open discussion about CRT or crt is what is needed and desired, I don’t think this is a particularly helpful approach. It would seem to me rather difficult to make an evaluation if someone is engaging in this way – in the same way it would be hard to discuss flaws in astrophysics if someone insists that it includes astrology and reiki healing. But this is just my perspective – other may disagree, of course.

However, simply because Mr Rufo is (dare I suggest?) potentially just a little ideologically motivated does not mean we should discount what he says out of hand – indeed, allegations should certainly be investigated. However, personally I would be tempted to be just a little sceptical of accepting things on his say-so without independently verifiable supporting evidence. But that is, of course, a purely personal opinion.

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J-D 07.05.21 at 12:08 am

Well I wouldn’t agree with those specific anti-CRT ‘campaigners’ either (I assume you refer to some of these legislators). I doubt if most of them have a much better understanding of the issues than some of the CRT populists. These legislators are just one strand of general critique of CRT (in its various forms) and I would say not likely to be representative of well-grounded critique, which comes from other sources entirely.

There’s a lot more poorly grounded critique around than there is well-grounded critique, and it’s having more impact. The disingenuous barrow-pushing and axe-grinding should be treated as the primary phenomenon, not a secondary one.

I am not saying that. I think he articulates his ideas clearly enough. It’s just that his ideas are not very good.

I get that you are confident that you understand his ideas. I am not.

Well a priori, I’m pretty sure every decent person would affirm that racism is a problem that should be dealt with.

I am not sure how many people genuinely agree that racism is a problem that should be dealt with and how many don’t. I’m not sure how it that could be checked.

However, for those people who do agree that racism is a problem that should be dealt with, offering positive suggestions about how this can be approached should be a much higher priority than attacking other people’s suggestions, even if those other suggestions do have faults.

The first one is addressed (I would say adequately) by law in most Western countries.

It’s not clear to me that most Western countries have laws against overt intentional racism, and it’s also not clear to me that those laws are an adequate response to the problem. If there’s evidence for this, I’d like to know what it is.

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SamChevre 07.05.21 at 12:25 pm

I’m confident that it’s true that your local jail has mostly male prisoners, but I’d very much like to know what explanation you can offer for that fact that excludes sexism.

Men are very very much less risk-averse, and more violent, than women. The distinction shows up in accident rates, types of substance abuse, and in crime rates and types (assault is much more male-dominated than shop-lifting.) Accounts from people transitioning in either direction, and comparing to other primates, make it almost certain that the difference is biological.

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steven t johnson 07.05.21 at 4:54 pm

Comparisons of humans to other primates, especially in regards to the differences in male and female behavior, should start with concealed ovulation and menopause in humans. Also, if the failure rate of conception in humans is as much higher as it seems to be, that means most natural selection takes place before birth. The moderate disparity in male and female average height and weight is quite unlike the difference in species where a dominant male keeps a harem. The competition with other males apparently acts as a driver for size in the males, much more than in the female. It’s not at all clear that any such comparisons tell us more than, people are different from other primates.

Is this a very contemporary exercise in CRT? Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money has declared that racism was a “key cause” of the American Revolution. (https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/07/how-racism-influenced-the-american-revolution) His authority is apparently the Washington Post (paywalled.) Now it’s never certain whether Loomis is shamelessly lying or merely grossly incompetent.

But, the revolution did not start with the battles of Lexington and Concord; the Fairfax Resolves supporting the revolution came months before Dunmore’s proclamation; there were more loyalists in the South where slavery was so much more extensive (the only competitor for number of loyalists sympathizers seems to have been New York City—already a great southern entrepot.)

Further it is not quite clear what weight their is to put on a rejected portion in the draft of the Declaration of Independence; it is typically obtuse of Loomis to confuse the Enlightenment with the country-Whig ideology that made up so much of revolutionary thinking; the Declaration of Independence was definitely not a favorite among the slavers, so it is not even clear how this is relevant; dismissing Jefferson’s role as ironic, while ignoring his key contribution to slaver ideology in the Kentucky resolution (and his friend/employee Madison’s Virginia Resolution) and to building West Point, school of treason, etc. lightly ignored with the word “ironic.” And, lastly, assuming the real democracy is like “us” as superior beings like Loomis think it is.

Again, is this collection of BS or idiocy or some unsavory combination thereof a real-life example of CRT outside legal journals. If it is, then I can only remind everyone of the obvious that stupidity doesn’t help. It’s not clear how any stuff like this helps.

And if it isn’t, what is CRT when it wanders outside the academy?

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nastywoman 07.05.21 at 9:48 pm

@87
– what is CRT when it wanders outside the academy?

telling people to be ‘NICE’ to each other even if the ‘others’ look or act a bit… different.
(and hoping that Idiots understand the… the ‘advice’?)

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Kiwanda 07.05.21 at 9:54 pm

Excerpts from How To Be an Antiracist:

Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximately equal footing….

…There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups…

…A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people. There is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups….

….That is how racist power can call affirmative action policies that succeed in reducing racial inequities “race conscious” and standardized tests that produce racial inequities “race neutral.” That is how they can blame the behavior of entire racial groups for the inequities between different racial groups and still say their ideas are “not racist.” But there is no such thing as a not-racist idea, only racist ideas and antiracist ideas….

…But if racial discrimination is defined as treating, considering, or making a distinction in favor or against an individual based on that person’s race, then racial discrimination is not inherently racist. The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist….

…The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination….

….An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences–that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group. Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities…

The plain justice of these ideas is obvious, as is their straightforward application. For example, 75% of the players in the NBA are black; since this is considerably out of proportion to their fraction of the population, it is a clearcut case of inequity to be remedied by anti-racist discrimination. The suicide rate for white people is more than double that of black people; such an inequity demands increases in spending on care for the mental health of white people. Applying Kendi’s principles in the obvious way to sex discrimination: the life expectancy of men in the US is five years less than that of women; this gross inequity should be promptly addressed by anti-sexist investment in men’s health, or alternatively, holding accountable the female lives contributing to inequity. Men kill themselves at 3.4 times the rate of women; clearly this inequity demands increased anti-sexist mental health spending for men. The inequities only grow upon thoughtful application of intersectionality: white men kill themselves at ten times the rate of black women.

Some may claim that these outcomes are not attributable solely to racism and/or sexism: no, per Kendi, racist (and by extension, sexist) policies are the cause of racial (and/or sexual) inequities. In particular, we cannot blame “the behavior of entire racial [or sexual] groups for the inequities between different racial [or sexual] groups”. We must apply racial (sexual) discrimination (of the non-racist (non-sexist) sort) to achieve equity, in these and in all cases.

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notGoodenough 07.06.21 at 12:33 am

“The suicide rate for white people is more than double that of black people; such an inequity demands increases in spending on care for the mental health of white people.”

I see no problem with this – improving mental care in general is probably a good thing.

Though I can’t help but note American Indian and Alaska Native suicide rates are higher than that for white people, yet apparently you don’t deem that to be worthy of concern.

How curious.

91

J-D 07.06.21 at 12:41 am

I’m confident that it’s true that your local jail has mostly male prisoners, but I’d very much like to know what explanation you can offer for that fact that excludes sexism.

Men are very very much less risk-averse, and more violent, than women. The distinction shows up in accident rates, types of substance abuse, and in crime rates and types (assault is much more male-dominated than shop-lifting.) Accounts from people transitioning in either direction, and comparing to other primates, make it almost certain that the difference is biological.

On the face of it, it’s most unlikely that genetically determined variations in sex hormone production are no part of the explanation. However, it’s also most unlikely that they are the whole explanation. I didn’t suggest (at least, I didn’t suggest intentionally) that sexism was the whole explanation, only that it couldn’t be excluded from the explanation.

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nastywoman 07.06.21 at 3:15 am

@89
‘We must apply racial (sexual) discrimination (of the non-racist (non-sexist) sort) to achieve equity, in these and in all cases’.

NO! –
We just must be a lot NICER to each other –
even if the ‘others’ look or act a bit… different.
(and if Idiots don’t understand and follow such ‘advice’ – we HAVE to MAKE them understand – like little kids in some Kindergarten – with the right ‘rules to behave’!

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J-D 07.06.21 at 3:44 am

The suicide rate for white people is more than double that of black people; such an inequity demands increases in spending on care for the mental health of white people.

I see no problem with this – improving mental care in general is probably a good thing.

Though I can’t help but note American Indian and Alaska Native suicide rates are higher than that for white people, yet apparently you don’t deem that to be worthy of concern.

I suspect that there is a strong case for improved mental health care in general, but it may not be the case that the best way to reduce suicide rates is to improve mental health care. For example, if there are a lot of suicides by white people feeling overburdened by guilt over their complicity in racism, that would suggest different remedial measures. I don’t think that explanation is particularly likely; but there are a lot of possible explanations for high suicide rates, and it’s not clear that a poor standard of mental health care is at the top of the list.

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Chris Bertram 07.06.21 at 5:57 am

Remarkable how much pushback takes the following form: “Faced with glaring racial inequalities, you might think that it is just obvious that society functions in a racist way that disadvantaged black people. But not so fast! My friends and I can think of all kinds of explanations off the top of their heads, some of which even blame blacks themselves! If blacks are culturally or congenitally feckless, it is a grotesque slur to say that me and my friends are supporting a racist society.”

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J-D 07.06.21 at 9:29 am

Remarkable …

How remarkable is it, though, once you think it through? If there’s going to be any kind of pushback, what’s the likeliest and most obvious and most predictable form for it to take?

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SamChevre 07.06.21 at 11:25 am

@J-D
I missed your point–I would agree that if men commit 10x the violent crimes women do, and are in jail at 10x the rate women are, it’s still impossible to exclude sexism. (I’d say focusing on sexism is not likely to be most of the explanation, but it’s certainly could still be part of the explanation–maybe sexism is part of the reason that violent crime is more harshly punished than non-violent crime.)

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J-D 07.06.21 at 12:13 pm

… I’d say focusing on sexism is not likely to be most of the explanation …

I do have some idea of the interest of questions about how much is explained by one factor and how much by another, but regardless of the proportions (if it’s meaningful to think in those terms, which isn’t 100% clear to me), it’s difficult or impossible to do anything about genetically determined variation in sex hormone production whereas it’s less difficult to do something about sexism. It seems to me that many of the people who want to emphasise the importance of genetically determined variation are happy to have an excuse not to do anything about sexism; and, for that matter, an excuse not to do anything about racism. If there is something that we can try to fix, it is probably worth trying to fix it, even if it won’t fix everything.

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Kiwanda 07.06.21 at 5:07 pm

Chris Bertram:

Remarkable how much pushback takes the following form:…

There is certainly such pushback, somewhere; can you point to some, specifically, that takes that form? There is pushback that is not of that form, to some ideologies that bill themselves as “anti-racist”. I take it that you are not interested in engaging with the latter, or believe it doesn’t exist.

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Thomas Beale 07.06.21 at 6:57 pm

Chris Bertram @ 92
Remarkable how much pushback takes the following form: “Faced with glaring racial inequalities, you might think that it is just obvious that society functions in a racist way that disadvantaged black people. But not so fast! My friends and I can think of all kinds of explanations off the top of their heads, some of which even blame blacks themselves! If blacks are culturally or congenitally feckless, it is a grotesque slur to say that me and my friends are supporting a racist society.”

It is amazing how often otherwise intelligent people confuse particular historical factors (e.g. slavery, partly predicated on racism) with current outcomes (e.g. racial disparity in educational outcome), and leap to the conclusion that the today’s outcomes are actively being caused today by such factors, rather than being the result of a complex series of causes and effects in the long run of history. So setting up programmes addressing the supposed original historical factor (e.g. true institutional racism, as a proxy for slavery) rather than the much later consequences isn’t going to work.

Even in if today’s society were perfectly non-racist in terms of its institutions, legislation and social attitudes, there would still be outcome disparities resulting from slavery, because the current state of the system (e.g. the disadvantaged living in relative poverty in poorly served areas of cities) is heavily related to previous states, even when the original causative factors are largely gone. Fixing the current disparities means properly understanding why they persist today, which means taking an honest look at today’s complex reality, not indulging in simplistic unifactorial ideological thinking.

The simple route is exactly like claiming that historical serfdom is the reason today why my family lives in a small council house in a bad part of town today, while other people own vast country estates. Are we going to start a programme against feudal exploitation to solve today’s disparate allocation of land and housing?

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Sebastian H 07.06.21 at 8:39 pm

“Faced with glaring racial inequalities, you might think that it is just obvious that society functions in a racist way that disadvantaged black people. But not so fast! My friends and I can think of all kinds of explanations off the top of their heads, some of which even blame blacks themselves!”

I’d love to see how this applies to enormous disparities in academic hiring of conservatives, but that is probably just worth bookmarking for a later day.

Back on topic, it would be nice to get a good understanding for why anyone here thinks CRT is better than traditional civil rights thinking on essentially any topic. It feels like on many issues they are functionally identical. But for all the topics where they differ, traditional civil rights thinking seems superior. “Systemic Racism” is just “disparate impact analysis” for about 90% of it. “Convergence of Interests” is just “civil rights are for everyone”. “Whiteness as Property” leads to the same analysis as “blackness as social and legal detriment” in 90% of cases, and in all the other ones it is weaker and unnecessarily accusatory. What does CRT do better (on the analysis side) that justifies it being so much nastier in practice?

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J-D 07.06.21 at 10:59 pm

… Even in if today’s society were perfectly non-racist …

We don’t live in a society which is perfectly non-racist, and there’s no serious prospect that we ever will, so discussion of what we might do in such a society, whatever abstract intellectual value it might have, is of no practical significance. It’s a dangerous kind of discussion to engage in when the context is one where there are significant groups of people actively opposed to treating racism as a problem in our society.

Dealing with the problem of racism isn’t enough by itself to deal with the problem of X (insert here the name of any social problem), but dealing with the problem of racism also won’t stop us from dealing with the problem of X. People who want to deal with the problem of racism aren’t trying to stop you from dealing with the problem of X. Promoting the idea of tension between dealing with the problem of racism and dealing with the problem of X is a way of obstructing both efforts to deal with the problem of racism and efforts to deal with the problem of X. If you want to deal with the problem of X and you observe people attempting to deal with the problem of racism, a good response would be to offer your support for their efforts and to solicit their support for your efforts.

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J-D 07.07.21 at 3:15 am

I’d love to see how this applies to enormous disparities in academic hiring of conservatives, but that is probably just worth bookmarking for a later day.

Since you mention the topic: it’s not clear whether there really are such disparities as you suggest; going beyond that, if there are any such disparities it’s not clear that they are a problem, an injustice, or otherwise meriting remedial action. (I make this observation with the recollection of previous discussion here of this or a closely related topic.)

Back on topic, it would be nice to get a good understanding for why anyone here thinks CRT is better than traditional civil rights thinking on essentially any topic.

It would be nice to get a good understanding of whether (and, if so, why) anybody here thinks that attacking CRT should be a higher priority than seeking practical applications of traditional civil rights thinking. If you think your way is better, then there’s nothing stopping you from going ahead your way. The attacks on CRT have been largely ginned up, disingenuously, by axe-grinding barrow-pushers who want to obstruct action to deal with the problem of racism (and otherwise to gain political advantage for their pernicious causes); that observation should make any decent person want to make sure there was a particularly strong reason before joining in.

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Thomas Beale 07.07.21 at 10:18 am

Sebastian H @ 99
Back on topic, it would be nice to get a good understanding for why anyone here thinks CRT is better than traditional civil rights thinking on essentially any topic. It feels like on many issues they are functionally identical. But for all the topics where they differ, traditional civil rights thinking seems superior. “Systemic Racism” is just “disparate impact analysis” for about 90% of it. “Convergence of Interests” is just “civil rights are for everyone”. “Whiteness as Property” leads to the same analysis as “blackness as social and legal detriment” in 90% of cases, and in all the other ones it is weaker and unnecessarily accusatory. What does CRT do better (on the analysis side) that justifies it being so much nastier in practice?

I agree with this. The contributions of people such as Glenn Loury on the topic are on this basis, and are much more penetrating and interesting than the CRT approach.

J-D @ 100
We don’t live in a society which is perfectly non-racist, and there’s no serious prospect that we ever will, so discussion of what we might do in such a society, whatever abstract intellectual value it might have, is of no practical significance. It’s a dangerous kind of discussion to engage in when the context is one where there are significant groups of people actively opposed to treating racism as a problem in our society.

I have to congratulate you on your efforts to avoid understanding a simple point.

Obviously no society will ever be 100% free of racism or any number of other human evils. The point I’m making is that unfair outcomes that result from much earlier periods of some particular evil may persist today, despite the original causative factor largely disappearing. We can observe outcomes today that have something to do with ancient empire building, war and slavery back to the year dot, in every country. But in terms of direct action, we have to deal with what is going on today, not what happened long ago.

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Z 07.07.21 at 10:53 am

I’d love to see how this applies to enormous disparities in academic hiring of conservatives, but that is probably just worth bookmarking for a later day.

Ethnic affiliation is a fixed characteristic which has no a priori obvious relation I can imagine with infant mortality rate, level of environmental harm you’ll be exposed to, average endowment of your school, qualification of your teachers, number and quality of educative opportunities nearby, rate of incarceration, average salary, violent death rate and life expectancy, yet in the US strong correlations are easily observed. Political affiliation is a highly mutable characteristic (as you yourself can attest, I believe) which has an a priori obvious relation with academic hiring: to be considered for hiring as an academic, you must have gone through years of very specific social practices. It is unremarkable that these years have a significant impact on political affiliations; and not surprising in the current American context that they have a huge one.

TL;DR When your president openly says what academic work is meaningless and dangerous for the society, it is not overtly surprising that people persisting with it are disproportionately against the president (I’m referring to my president here, not yours).

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MisterMr 07.07.21 at 3:20 pm

@Thomas Beale 102

“Obviously no society will ever be 100% free of racism”

Why?
I mean if you said ” no society will ever be 100% free of discrimination” or ” no society will ever be 100% free of hate for this or that outgroup”, I could have agreed, but “racism” in the usual sense isn’t really such a generic thing. It’s dubious that the kind of racism we know today existed before european colonialism (there were a lot of hates of course, but for example they might be based on religion rather than race).

It’s the same logic or “no society will ever be free of poverty and economic inequality”: a lot of people think that this is the case but I have no idea why, it seems to me people just normalize the world they live in and assume it will never chenge.

In some historical periods, people could reasonably assume that ” no society will ever be free of slavery”, and yet legal slavery is no more with us.

106

steven t johnson 07.07.21 at 5:34 pm

There is a newspaper that is widely circulated within congressional offices called The Hill, a political journal not called Politico. It seems to me that it is also widely regarded as serious, as in the people behind it have money and the people who have money regard it as a serious newspaper. Personally I don’t think it should be regarded as anything but symptomatic. But then I tend to regard the political class as basically sales managers for the owning class. So I suppose my suspicions would be deemed as a plus for The Hill.

At any rate, there is a link on the msn.com website to an article currently playing at The Hill. MSN as a mass media outlet endeavors to cover a wide range of acceptable opinions in its basic newsfeeds, as well as a wide range of tastes in features. This article (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/chinas-military-prepares-for-war-while-americas-military-goes-woke/ar-AALSA4C?li=BBnbfcL} says “Critical race theory (CRT) is an intellectual movement with a single core premise: U.S. legal institutions are inherently racist and designed to uphold a white supremacist social order that America’s Founding Fathers explicitly endorsed. ”

The questions are, isn’t this more or less correct in its summary? At least, in the vague, sort-of right way any index card note summary can be? To be fair, it’s not at all clear this is unfair to the first half of Wilkerson’s Caste book. And it’s definitely not unfair to the Washington Post, endorsed by Loomis, either.

And, is this more or less right in claiming legal institutions are a kind of conspiracy to support white supremacy? That the revolutionary leaders like Warren, Otis, the Adams, Hancock, Franklin, Paine aimed at white supremacy and said so? That the US Constitution is also explicitly about white supremacy, just like the Confederate Constitution?

And, is it true that any objections to such claims is racist oppression and white supremacy?

As suggested there is a certain vagueness about The Hill’s definition. It’s unclear whether the desire for white supremacy is simply the expression of the (genetic? as “in the DNA of Americans, which could only mean white America?) nature of white people. And, how can such evil minds be cured? How did the friends of CRT find their way to be exempt from the white supremacist flaw?

Wilkerson compares the bad minds of white people to a rotten timber and how people in an old house have to make repairs. It is usually instructive to take metaphors literally (that is their nature, after all.) If white people are rotten supports or weak foundations or whatever, isn’t the proper course of action to destroy the bad parts and replace them with good? Or even to destroy the house and move somewhere else, somewhere safe?

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J-D 07.07.21 at 11:13 pm

The point I’m making is that unfair outcomes that result from much earlier periods of some particular evil may persist today, despite the original causative factor largely disappearing.

Whatever other factors have largely disappeared from modern societies, racism has not, and it’s racism which is under discussion here, so the disappearance of other factors is irrelevant.

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J-D 07.07.21 at 11:18 pm

It’s dubious that the kind of racism we know today existed before european colonialism (there were a lot of hates of course, but for example they might be based on religion rather than race).

https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691125985/the-invention-of-racism-in-classical-antiquity

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Kiwanda 07.07.21 at 11:32 pm

notGoodenough:

It is interesting how many people are citing the words of Mr Christopher Rufo…

Who here has been citing his words? Does he make any legitimate points, or is he just a poisoned well?

notGoodenough:

….Though I can’t help but note American Indian and Alaska Native suicide rates are higher than that for white people, yet apparently you don’t deem that to be worthy of concern.

How curious.

It’s curious that you appear to take those Kendi-ist policy prescriptions at face value.

110

David Gastil 07.08.21 at 6:07 am

A couple thoughts:

Race is a social construct with no objective biological basis. Sex is an objective biological state that has been associated with various subjective social constructs (genders) at various times. Racism does not work like sexism and cannot be compared directly without significant unpacking.

Racism always works in one direction. It takes culturally ascribed characteristics (stereotypes) and asserts that they are biological facts or otherwise “essential” to the character of a group thus attempting to reify and and intrench a mutuable social construct as immutable social fact.

Sexism is a different beast entirely as it can work in two directions. It can take essentially biological differences and ascribe them social meaning (ie only biological females can become pregnant, therefor girls should be taught to fear sex more than boys) or it can take social constructs related to contemporary gender norms/power dynamics and assert they are biological facts of sex (as Freud did with “hysteria,” “penis envy,” etc.). In many cases where male and female life experiences are markedly divergent (such as prison populations) it is not entirely clear which direction sexism is operating in or in some cases whether it is operating at all (biology and sociology are both contested fields). Many “differences” that were once thought to be biological are now understood to be social, and a lot of hay has been made over those people who fit ambiguously between the two sexes, but “male” and “female” will always be meaningful biological categories. That simply cannot be said for the various races, which are at best poorly defined even in the minds of racists.

People who deliberately conflate sex discrimination with race discrimination may be making a simple category error, but it is not an innocent one. Historically, the biologism of race and sex have been linked through a shared process of infantilization and myths of inferiority and “natural” subservience.

Patriarchal societies observed that women tended to be smaller and (arguably) less aggressive then men, but also more precious to a society because they controlled the means of reproduction (the “one rooster, many hens” school of family planning). This objective reality, subjectively (and selectively) interpreted, becomes the basis for the myth of a childlike “weaker sex” that must be both protected and controlled for the good of society with all the discrimination that “naturally” entails. Sexism may well be the original prejudice in human society (the first “other”) and it is still the most widespread and deeply rooted. People who believe wholeheartedly in gender equality often have a weakness for a certain strain of romantic chivalry and it is accepted by almost everyone (barring some weird Butlerian types) that men and women are, in fact, different.

Thus we get a situation where biologistic arguments are much more acceptable and much less obviously absurd when applied to sex than to race. With that comes a long history of people wishing to express or defend something obviously racist by first analogizing it with something that is only ambiguously sexist. If it is simple biology for more men to be in prison (begging the question), why can’t biology be the explanation for racial disparities in crime as well? (the eugenics perspective) If we reject that argument (as we must — race has no place in biology), then what about the “soft” race essentialism of blaming black culture? That, of course, would imply a clear difference between the rate of general criminal behavior between races, which would be readily observable. In fact, the racial disparities between prison populations cannot be explained either by culture or crime rate. Surveys of the black and white populations don’t show marked differences in attitudes toward crime or self-professed criminality. The differential outcomes are unambiguously the result of differences in criminal enforcement and, especially, sentencing between communities. In a word: racism.

Contrast that with differences between the sexes and we see distinctions between men and women at every stage from attitudes toward crime to the types of crime they are likely to commit. They may well be arrested and sentenced in ways that are selective or biased (and there is some evidence that they are) but we can also clearly see that men and women are heterogeneous in their “cultures” of crime that various races simply are not. It’s a bad analogy and those who propagate it should be viewed with suspicion.

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Gorgonzola Petrovna 07.08.21 at 7:21 am

@106 “Or even to destroy the house and move somewhere else, somewhere safe?”

Why bother destroying? Just move, let them and their fellow travelers rot in peace. As Jesus in the Bible (and Satan in Master and Margarita) says: “according to your faith let it be done to you”.

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Stephen 07.08.21 at 8:06 am

steven t johnson@106: you quote with some approval “Critical race theory (CRT) is an intellectual movement with a single core premise: U.S. legal institutions are inherently racist and designed to uphold a white supremacist social order that America’s Founding Fathers explicitly endorsed.”

If that were so, could we not reasonably conclude that CRT is yet another example of the peculiar nature of Americans, with little or no application to the rest of the world?

The basic assumption has a long pedigree. To quote that high Tory Anglican Samuel Johnson, bitter opponent of slavery, on the then revolted colonies: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of negroes?” Has that paradox ever been resolved?

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notGoodenough 07.08.21 at 9:35 am

Kiwanda @ 109

“Who here has been citing his words? Does he make any legitimate points, or is he just a poisoned well?”

If you remember, the point being made in the OP was that there appears to be deliberate conflation between CRT, and crt, and “things I don’t like” – I thought it useful to note that Mr Rufo appears to be one of the people creating that conflation intentionally in service to his goals. My point was (as I said) that if you do in fact wish to discuss “what CRT is doing to society”, bolting on anything you don’t like and calling it CRT (regardless of whether or not it is part of CRT) seems to be somewhat problematic.

However, given that two of the examples (in point 8 of the FIRE article) that you and others have cited come from Mr Rufo (which accounts for fully a third of the examples in that article in total), I don’t think it entirely unreasonable to take a little time to examine his positions to gain some insight as to what degree of independently verifiable evidence would be reasonable to expect and how much is provided.

One consequence of this examination is that I have no idea whether he makes any legitimate points or not (particularly as I am not a US-ian, and therefore have little opportunity or ability to determine this through personal investigation). One of the issues I have had is that as far as I can tell (though admittedly I’ve not exhaustively read everything he’s published) a lot of what he says is not verifiable with respect to other sources. For example, he will frequently say something like “documents show X”, then (if we are lucky), at most he will upload some slides which he claims come from a whistleblower and he claims show X. While I appreciate that “whistleblower” implies a necessity for caution (I wish to be clear I am not demanding people break their anonymity), the problem then is that I am frequently left in a situation where I either accept Mr Rufo’s narrative based on only his word or I do not – and given the facts I am reluctant to take his word by itself. Again, I do not insist he is incorrect – I simply do not accept that he is correct, as (in the specific cases I’ve examined) I do not think he has met burden of proof with respect to his assertions.

In short, “does he make any legitimate points, or is he just a poisoned well?” is a very good question – perhaps it is one which should have been asked before major networks, publications, and political parties started promulgating his narrative and using it as sufficient evidence to warrant their proposed actions?

” It’s curious that you appear to take those Kendi-ist policy prescriptions at face value.”

It is curious you think that I appear to take the Kendi-ist policy prescriptions at face value, rather than a) pointing out that not everything of the supposed Kendi-ist policies you suggest seem problematic prima facie and b) noting the flawed foundations from which you were making them.

For example, you state “men kill themselves at 3.4 times the rate of women; clearly this inequity demands increased anti-sexist mental health spending for men.”

It should be caveated that more research is needed, but if I correctly understand the data also suggests women are far more likely to entertain suicidal thoughts, suffer from depression, suffer from comorbidity, and to attempt suicide than men. This would seem rather a significant point to overlook given that the argument relates to mental health spending (always supposing, of course, that the aim is to improve mental health).

Because, had you stated something like “rates of completed suicide amongst men and attempted suicide amongst women are concerning and problematic – this suggests there is a systematic issue with respect to mental health in society; we should look to increase mental health spending and start critically examining the ways in which society impacts people’s mental health (and why mental health issues are sometimes expressed differently amongst different demographics) to understand this topic better, ideally with a goal of addressing root causes” I would find that a pretty reasonable opening statement (Kendi-ist or not). Indeed, I imagine many feminists would likely find much to agree with, and would likely concur that there are indeed some problems with the way our society is constructed which does indeed place mental health burdens on people (both male and female) unnecessarily.

The problem is that instead of examining the system and the outcomes, you selected one one very small phenomenon within the broader topic (ignoring any discussion of the system) in order to make that talking point. Consequently, what this mainly shows is that if you consider a single and limited measurable metric only without respect to the system leading to it, selecting the wrong metric will likely lead to erroneous conclusions (or, to put it more succinctly, garbage in garbage out). And, as far as I can tell, the selected foundation for this talking point (i.e. that men have higher rates of completed suicide, therefore are more in need of mental health support) came from you.

To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge, in general both CRT academics and CRT populists claim they are interested in looking at the systems behind discrimination (whether they do or not, and to what degree they are successful, is another topic I won’t presume to comment on due to my lack of relevant expertise). However, your selected talking points plainly didn’t look at the system generating the claimed inequities – consequently, as an attempt to highlight deficiencies with Kendi, it would seem a bit flawed and potentially veers into the territory of reductio ad absurdum.

Or, to offer you a metaphor, consider when creationists attempt to parody evolutionary biology by writing things like “as a scientific experts, clearly we can confidently state that random variations are responsible for the diversity of life – consequently we can assume that if a hurricane passes through a junkyard the probability of a car being assembled is very high.”. The problem here is not the talking point per se – arguably random variations are indeed responsible for the diversity of life – but that it is being misunderstood (random variations are then naturally selected against) because the system (natural selection) is being ignored.

Moreover, with respect to the specific text you quote here, even when making the “Kendi-ist” talking points you do, I don’t see that all of it is completely unreasonable (though my understanding is that you would expect people to). For example, when you say “the suicide rate for white people is more than double that of black people; such an inequity demands increases in spending on care for the mental health of white people”, I’m not entirely sure what is supposed to be so exceptionally wrong about this idea in itself? If there is a higher rate of suicide amongst a certain demographic, and it is not unreasonable to think that a higher rate of mental health care spending would alleviate it, why would that be a problematic approach? As far as I can tell, to make this equivalent to Kendi’s talking points, you would have to say something like “we should spend with respect to mental health care in such a way that the rates of mental health issues amongst all demographics reach as close to parity (with respect to the lowest value) as possible to reduce inequity”. The most immediate flaw I saw was that you apparently ignored another demographic in your analysis, which could potentially lead to the policy you propose increasing inequity rather than reducing it (yet another example of you not considering the system at work but only one very specific outcome). And while I certainly lack the expertise to comment on whether targeted spending in mental health is indeed sensible (at a minimum we would need to examine the systematic issues which lead to mental health issues in the first place to determine if this specific approach is likely to lead to positive, neutral, or negative outcomes – something you appear to have little interest in doing), I’m afraid I don’t see what is so immediately and obviously objectionable that I should recoil in fear and horror at the idea while screaming about how wrong it is. So, while this is clearly supposed to be something which causes me to say “gosh, how utterly absurd – anyone making this sort of argument is ridiculous”, I’m afraid this particular statement didn’t – and that would seem to undermine some of your premise a bit. Of course, if you can demonstrate why this idea (that mental health spending intended to prevent suicide should be targeted towards demographics with higher rates of suicide) is so very flawed, I would be interested to hear it (and, if I found it sufficiently compelling, would change my mind from being neutral to opposition – as, it would seem, was your intention).

Concluding remarks

As it happens, I certainly take issue with some of what Kendi appears to have said (bearing in mind that I must rely on the quotes people are giving here, as I’ve not read his work myself). But if your intention was to highlight reasonable criticisms of Kendi, then your approach would seem to be far from ideal as it arguably gave more insight into your world view than it did anyone else’s, which would seem to be of limited use (and, respectfully, is of limited interest to me). Indeed, if one wishes to have a sensible discussion regarding CRT, or Antiracism, or Intersectionality, or any of these sorts of topics, I don’t think your comment was particularly helpful in facilitating matters.

But this does the lead to a question – if someone attempts to use another person’s talking points in this way, and then exhibits some flaws in both the attempt and some of their foundational assumptions, would it be reasonable to lower the degree of confidence one has that that someone is acting entirely in good faith and is using valid and sound arguments?

I would not presume to answer that question (no doubt different people would come to different conclusions), but I would suggest that it might be something you wish to consider – assessments of people with respect to their behaviour tends to be iterative, after all.

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notGoodenough 07.08.21 at 10:53 am

(A typographical correction regarding my previous comment – please read “veers into the territory of misusing reductio ad absurdum”)

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MisterMr 07.08.21 at 11:57 am

@J-D 108

Thanks for the link. It seems interesting, but I cant tell if I would agree or not just from the info on Amazon, and the book sorta implies that there is a common belief that “racism” as we know it is a modern concept and tries to dispel this idea. so Id say that my opinion (that racism is a modern thing) is not out of the pale.

If we take antisemitism as an example, is it racism or religious discrimination? In my view initially it was religious discrimination, later it was rationalised as racism. What about anti-muslim prejudice today? We see it as racism but we could see it as religious discrimination too.

The point is that “races” dont actually exist, they are cultural constructs, as religions or other types of groupings are, so I donìt think that racism per se can be considered as something natural, although it is a subgroup of the suspicion/hatred of the outgroup feeling, that presumably is something natural.

But the reasons the border between group and outgroup are placed in a particular place tday are cultural, economic etc., they are not natural boundaries.

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Thomas Beale 07.08.21 at 12:22 pm

MisterMr @ 105
“Obviously no society will ever be 100% free of racism”

Why?

Human nature. There will always be individuals who will give in to base human instincts to treat other kinds of people, just as there will always be war and economic exploitation.

It’s the same logic or “no society will ever be free of poverty and economic inequality”: a lot of people think that this is the case but I have no idea why, it seems to me people just normalize the world they live in and assume it will never chenge.

Not really; those are societal outcomes, not human attitudes. However, they will never be totally erased either due to innate and circumstantial differences between individuals in a society (regardless of race) – particularly starting point in life. At least, not with out a truly totalitarian government.

J-D @ 107
Whatever other factors have largely disappeared from modern societies, racism has not, and it’s racism which is under discussion here, so the disappearance of other factors is irrelevant.

Racism in the form it existed in say 1800 in the Southern US has largely disappeared from the contemporary US; most of what was acceptable then is now completely illegal, and after many generations, social attitudes are far better today. Slavery is gone, Jim Crow is gone, equal civil rights have been obtained. Major battles have been won – most by 1975. Great progress has been made. The disappearance of the many concrete manifestations of slavery and racism is entirely relevant. And whatever racism exists today is vastly different from its historical form (in the US). If this were not the case, there would be no black success today – no Oprah Winfrey, no Tiger Woods, no Barak Obama, no black Americans working as professors in universities or running police departments.

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