Critical Race Theory is the New Sharia Law (Part Two)

Conservatives probably know what it is and are pretending to be mad so that you will give them money.

Hello my babies. Thanks to Elisabeth, you now get the second part of this two-part series in a separate email. I hope you enjoy it. I will be out of town this week, so it is unlikely that you’ll see a Jackal from me on Monday, July 19th, but I’ll try to come up with something fun to read in the next couple weeks.


When we last left off, I was citing to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s description of Critical Race Theory (CRT), given that she is the person who invented the term. One of my most favorite aspects about Chris Rufo’s “examination” of CRT was how he came across the term in the first place:

Marooned at home, civil servants recorded and photographed their own anti-racism training sessions and sent the evidence to Rufo. Reading through these documents, and others, Rufo noticed that they tended to cite a small set of popular anti-racism books, by authors such as Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo. Rufo read the footnotes in those books, and found that they pointed to academic scholarship from the nineteen-nineties, by a group of legal scholars who referred to their work as critical race theory, in particular Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell. […] This inquiry, into the footnotes and citations in the documents he’d been sent, formed the basis for an idea that has organized cultural politics this spring: that the anti-racism seminars did not just represent a progressive view on race but that they were expressions of a distinct ideology—critical race theory—with radical roots. 

You read that right: Rufo first learned about CRT because he read books by Kendi and DiAngelo; checked their footnotes; saw “Critical Race Theory” spilled out across the pages; and then decided that he hated CRT.

Therefore, I think it’s helpful to examine the work of Kendi and DiAngelo; even though they are not Critical Race Theorists, their work is often associated with CRT. They (and others) are generally what I’d call “Pop-CRT.” Whereas the likes of Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, and Derrick Bell are pretty much your out-and-out Critical Race Theorists in the purist meaning of the term, Kendi and DiAngelo practice a version of CRT that is more easily digestible for the masses. Kendi himself only says that he has been “inspired” by CRT, but never explicitly says that he is a Theorist himself.

Kendi and DiAngelo are known for their focus on “whiteness” and how that itself has led to disparate outcomes in society. It is a thread that sort of binds the highly technical, legal elements of CRT to its Pop-CRT cousin. Kendi and DiAngelo’s work has influenced other writers and, in defense of the anti-CRT crowd, some if it really is being taught in elementary schools.

An often-cited example is the book “Not My Idea” by Anastasia Higginbotham, which is recommended to students eight and older. I’m sure there are some portions of the book that might make people cringe:

I think you can have a good-faith debate about whether or not it’s a good idea to teach this material to kids whose biggest decisions are their favorite type of breakfast cereal. In addition, prominent, left-of-center journalists have disagreed with Higginbotham’s methods publicly. But it’s important to note that (1) this is really not related to CRT and (2) it is highly unlikely a public school teacher in rural Nebraska is selecting this book to teach to her kiddos.

However, in the same way that “whiteness” connects Kendi, DiAngelo, and Higginbotham to CRT, it also sort of supports some of their ideas. One of CRT’s tenets is that race is a social construct, which is a fundamental, biological truth.1 And, if you read Higginbotham’s book to the end, it ends up teaching the kiddos that “whiteness” and racism wasn’t their idea, and they aren’t responsible for it:

Again, I think parents should have a say in whether or not their eight year-olds are exposed to this sort of stuff and if it’s even beneficial to them at such a young age. But as someone who grew up in New York, this framing about “whiteness” rings true to me. One of the best essays I have read in the past few years details how Italians “became” white, since Italian-American immigrants were discriminated against upon their arrival in America. Eventually, the Italian immigrants got “normal” white America to accept them, which shows us how malleable actual “whiteness” is at its core (and it’s fun to cite to here, since Rufo is Italian-American).


A lot of CRT also encourages us to re-examine the Enlightenment, which helped steer the Founders (and others) towards the principles of self-government. But that particular baby came with a lot of bathwater, namely “race science.” As Jamelle Bouie notes in his major piece on the subject, Enlightenment thinkers literally separated mankind into five “natural varieties,” with “caucasians” on the top and the other “mongrel” races on the bottom. Enlightenment philosophers such as Christopher Meiners2 and Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring both explicitly said that “whiteness” was a virtue, with Meiners arguing that Africans were closer to animals due to their thicker skulls, bigger teeth, and lack of moral virtue (shocker: the Nazis loved Meiners).

As Bouie points out, even some of the “good” racial theorists who arose during the Enlightenment, like Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (who rejected the idea that Africans were inferior to whites and opposed slavery), deemed the “white race” to be God’s ideal creation, as he posited that Adam and Eve were both white and “racial degeneration” led to the African, Asian, and Middle Eastern “races.”

This line of thought was highly influential in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, as it was a driving force behind colonialism and slavery. And while I obviously think that this is where Kendi and DiAngelo have made good points about “whiteness,” I also think that’s where a lot of their critics find some validity. One of the things that frustrates me about the “woke” movement and pro-CRT people is that they act as if nothing has gotten better since 1619, 1776, 1870, or 1964. Or they will argue that America is unique in its struggles with racial reconciliation. President Barack Obama actually said that the people who made such statements did a disservice to all of those who fought for Civil Rights throughout the 20th Century.


In the late Nineteenth Century as the rubber trade exploded, Belgium forced the inhabitants of the Congo to engage in slave labor to support the world’s growing demand for rubber. When those slaves disobeyed, white Belgian overlords would cut off the hands of the native Congolese:

To make up for the low production, troops began to use hands as currency – chopping them was a way of punishing workers who did not fulfill their quotas, and, at the same time, served to show that soldiers were doing their part in exerting pressure over the local population to ensure the fulfillment of these quotas.

Theoretically, hands should serve as a way of proving that those who did not comply with their work had been killed. And, indeed, it is estimated that up to 15 million people died during Leopold II’s rule, either due to the repression or the terrible living conditions imposed on the local population, with widespread disease and malnourishment.

Brussels, the capital of Belgium, was quite literally built - brick by brick - on the backs of slave labor. America is not unique.


We can have honest discussions about the value of showing eight year-olds pictures of limbless Africans to show them the origin and evil of “whiteness,” but that does not mean we have to swallow Rufo’s bullshit.

A hallmark of the anti-CRT movement is to (obviously) conflate everything associated with “woke” identity politics with CRT, but another tactic they’ve been using has been citing to individual education bills passed in the states. For example, this tweet (retweeted by Rufo), highlights what seems like a big problem:

The rub? The great liberal state of Georgia passed similar legislation in 2015, and neither bill eliminates testing and both direct each respective State to compare its results to other States.

There is an easy thread to follow here: Rufo did half thought-out research into a topic, went on the White Power Hour with Tucker Carlson, got the attention of a certain former President, and now CRT has become a major cause on the Right:

Rufo was home with his wife and two sons when he got a phone call from a 202 area code. The man on the other end, Rufo recalled, said, “ ‘Chris, this is Mark Meadows, chief of staff, reaching out on behalf of the President. He saw your segment on ‘Tucker’ last night, and he’s instructed me to take action.” Soon after, Rufo flew to Washington, D.C., to assist in drafting an executive order, issued by the White House in late September, that limited how contractors providing federal diversity seminars could talk about race. “This entire movement came from nothing,” Rufo wrote to me recently, as the conservative campaign against critical race theory consumed Twitter each morning and Fox News each night. But the truth is more specific than that. Really, it came from him.

I think there are fair criticisms of CRT, and even fairer criticisms of Kendi and DiAngelo, but the political motivations of the people criticizing CRT cannot be ignored. In fact, most of the complaints Rufo brings up (diversity training at the Treasury Department) are quickly debunked. As someone who was around when the Tea Party went from a small, one-day fundraiser for Ron Paul to a full-blown, psychotic movement, I can tell you that Republicans have an almost innate ability to formulate a narrative that will increase the engagement (and donations) of the GOP base, facts be damned.

Years ago, the GOP was fighting a culture war over things like Sharia Law and the Ground Zero Mosque, and it was largely successful because the GOP base thought the Democratic President of the United States was a secret Muslim. The anti-CRT movement is an extension of that culture war, but now the GOP is a little bit more comfortable wading into the fully anti-black waters of that war, to the point where GOP Senate candidates are actively criticizing Twitter for banning Holocaust-denying white supremacists.


I think the virtue of CRT is best exemplified in the tragic case of Breonna Taylor. She was shot and killed by police officers at around 12:40 A.M., after they had entered her apartment using a “no-knock warrant” they had acquired while pursuing a drug investigation. Taylor’s boyfriend thought the officers were intruders, and fired his gun at them. The officers returned fire and killed Taylor as she slept in her bed.

At a left-wing protest, you might hear someone say, “Arrest the murderers who killed Breonna Taylor.” But the problem here is that the individual cops who shot Breonna Taylor were never arrested and they were never charged. It doesn’t matter if those cops were racist, or if they hated every white person on the planet: What mattered in that moment was that they were shot at while carrying out an investigation (for which they had a warrant), and returned fire. The intent of each individual cop did not matter; the culprit is the system itself.

What does matter: No-knock warrants are utilized infinitely more against African-Americans than they are against white Americans. The laws justifying no-knock warrants do not say, “Use them against black Americans more, please.” But the facially neutral law has disparate outcomes for minorities and, in this instance, it led to the killing of a 26 year-old, innocent woman. “Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.

The death of Taylor is especially tragic, because it was carried out by the State; Taylor’s mother quite literally paid the salary of her daughter’s executioner and that should consume us with grief. And Taylor’s case is exactly what CRT is designed to analyze: Why do no-knock warrants lead to deadly outcomes for minorities?

After Taylor’s death, Kentucky passed a partial ban on no-knock warrants. South Carolina’s Supreme Court did the same afterwards. These sort of outcomes are what CRT is designed to achieve:

  • Analyze a facially neutral law that has disparate outcomes for minorities.

  • Change those laws.

CRT offers Americans a lens through which to analyze various laws and traditions in America, and while those lenses sometimes have filters of history or personal story, the overall goal of CRT is to improve legal outcomes for minorities, which is something that was uncontroversial up until Rufo got his hands on Kendi’s footnotes and went on Tucker Carlson.

The phrase a “more perfect Union” is one that has been used by the Founders, Abraham Lincoln, and President Obama, but at its core it supports the idea that America can always be improved. It’s a fundamentally American tenet that has a long history, which makes it quite easy to say that if you oppose CRT you are being anti-American.


Further reading on CRT:

  • Kendi responds to his critics.

  • David French and others (including those who oppose CRT!) push back on the anti-CRT bills being passed in GOP states.

  • Kevin Kruse has a great piece on how Republican governors citing to MLK are distorting what he actually said.

  • Criticism of CRT by Ross Douthat.

1

Obviously, there are minor biological differences that make black people more vulnerable to sickle-cell anemia and white people more likely to get cystic fibrosis, but outside of that extremely narrow (and irrelevant) carve-out, race is not biological.

2

Meiners actually did not like the Enlightenment all that much, but he is a contemporary with a lot of Enlightenment thinkers.