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Critical Race Theory and related philosophies are stirring passionate controversy and debate. But what does the theory really mean? What does the Creator of mankind think of its central ideas? And when will humanity finally see an end to racial strife and inequality?
In September 2020, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order intended to reduce its influence. As of July 2021, 26 state legislatures had introduced bills seeking to limit its teaching or ban it from education outright. As the new school year begins for children across the United States, it remains a source of passionate and fiery speeches as parents storm local school-board meetings. And news programs on multiple channels feature policy wonks, activists, and ideologues debating whether their on-screen opponents even understand it.
How did Critical Race Theory, once considered an obscure philosophy confined to academic circles, become a household phrase and one of the most hotly debated topics in the U.S.?
While few had even heard of it until quite recently, Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been an influence on activists and “experts” for years. Many principles behind last year’s Black Lives Matter protests were largely informed by CRT. The “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” training and educational efforts spreading through major corporations, college campuses, and even primary schools are rooted in CRT concepts. Identity-based policies and the politics of “intersectionality” find natural common ground in CRT—in fact, the term “intersectionality” was coined by one of its leading scholars. The New York Times’ hotly debated 1619 Project, seeking to place slavery and racism at the very center and foundation of 400 years of American history, was profoundly influenced by CRT. And intensifying cries of “systemic racism” and “white privilege” reflect ideas at the heart of CRT.
So, is CRT the final answer to the racism of America’s past? Or is it simply a new racism that comes disguised as a solution to the old? And how does the theory fare when it is exposed to the light of truth from God’s eternal word (John 17:17)?
We will tackle those questions in this article. But first, it is important to recognize that while the U.S. is indeed a land of blessings for many, America still faces important racial issues in need of solutions.
The U.S. may be one of the freest and most democratic nations on earth, but startling differences emerge when its citizens’ life experiences are examined according to race. The U.S. Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances found that the median net worth of white families that year was $188,200, while the median net worth of black and Hispanic families was $24,100 and $36,100, respectively. Around 30 percent of white families received some sort of inheritance, while only 10 percent of black families and 7 percent of Hispanic families did so. And the percentage of young families owning homes also differed greatly among the races: 46 percent of white families, 17 percent of black families, and 28 percent of Hispanic families.
Beyond the world of finance, consider children and family life. The Institute for Family Studies estimates that more than 80 percent of Asian-American children lived with two married parents in 2018, as did more than 70 percent of white children. Just 55 percent of Hispanic children, and barely more than 30 percent of black children, lived in such families.
Crime rates differ dramatically for different races, as well. A January 2021 statistical brief released by the U.S. Department of Justice found that white Americans made up about 60 percent of the population but only 46 percent of the non-fatal violent crime arrests. However, while black Americans made up about 13 percent of the population, they made up a disproportionate 33 percent of those arrests.
Anyone with a sense of compassion should care about the differences in these outcomes. What causes such disparate results? A mistaken few might try to claim that some races are inherently “better” than others. That would be racism—treating a person’s race and the color of a person’s skin as the first and most important determinant of a person’s potential and ability—and racism is a lie and a sin. All human beings are made in the image of their Creator (Genesis 1:26–27), with equal capacity for a relationship with Him (Galatians 3:28) and the potential to become children of God—regardless of race, ethnicity, or sex. Skin color is not destiny.
Yet these statistics are not imaginary, and many individuals of different skin colors often do experience life in the U.S. very differently. Why? And what can be done?
Many of today’s “social justice” activists believe they have the answer: Critical Race Theory.
Early seeds of what we now call Critical Race Theory can be found in Critical Legal Theory, which itself grew out of the Marxist critical theory of the (in)famous Frankfurt School. In his book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, one of the founding intellectuals of the CRT movement, legal scholar Richard Delgado, notes several influences on the theory, including the work of Marxist Antonio Gramsci and Western-culture deconstructionist Jacques Derrida.
CRT’s Marxist heritage often unmasks itself in its practitioners’ words and deeds. For instance, race historian Ibram X. Kendi claims in his best-selling book How to Be an Antiracist, “To love capitalism is to end up loving racism. To love racism is to end up loving capitalism. The conjoined twins are two sides of the same destructive body.” (See “What’s Behind the War on History?” in our July 2021 issue for more on the pervasive influence of Marxism in academia.)
Defenders of CRT often accuse its detractors of not understanding the theory. However, even one of the theory’s early leading scholars, law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, has stated—in the approving words of the American Bar Association—that CRT “cannot be confined to a static and narrow definition but is considered to be an evolving and malleable practice” (“A Lesson on Critical Race Theory,” AmericanBar.org, January 12, 2021).
Malleable or not, several principles and themes run throughout the work of Critical Race Theory scholars and others whose theories are related but are not strictly CRT:
Race: CRT sees race as a social construct for maintaining white dominance over non-white people. This dominance is not necessarily sought consciously, nor is it perpetuated exclusively by people who think of themselves as white. The role of race in CRT cannot be overstated—the theory turns race into the singular lens through which every other aspect of life is examined, measured, and critiqued. Race in CRT is the defining feature of individuals, determining whether or not they receive the benefits of the favored class or the oppression of the disfavored classes.
Unlike much of the Civil Rights Movement of the ’50s and ’60s, which sought to ground laws and relationships in an ideal of “colorblindness,” CRT seeks to ground everything in race and skin color.
Racism: Instead of the usual sense of “racism”—e.g., a belief in the superiority of one’s race or the inferiority of another—CRT redefines “racism” as existing inevitably in systems and social structures, not necessarily in people. Even if those systems (e.g., laws, hiring practices, economic policies) are designed to treat people of all races equally, they are considered racist under CRT unless all races achieve the same outcomes in all circumstances.
CRT calls its very specifically defined version of “racism” normal and pervasive in society and says that systems will by default perpetuate racism unless they actively fight against it.
Anti-racism: “Anti-racism” is defined by CRT as the act of striving against the “racism” of systems and institutions by working to transform or destroy them to create equity—understood to be equal results for all.
Since being “neutral” is considered impossible in CRT, one is considered either an active anti-racist or, by default, complicit in racism. As Kendi writes, “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.”
Whiteness: While definitions vary, many in CRT work define “whiteness” as the collection of cultural attitudes, values, characteristics, preferences, and societal structures that they believe help white people remain the dominant culture—even when non-white people believe in those values, as well. Many CRT advocates, like Dr. Kendi, teach that no cultural difference is actually “good” or “bad” and all are equally valid. (See “Inset: Cultural Relativism, ‘Whiteness,’ and Racism” at the bottom of this article.)
Using the above-described perspectives, proponents of Critical Race Theory claim they seek to create and maintain a world that, in Delgado’s words, no longer “merely affords everyone equality of opportunity” for all races, but instead “assures equality of results” for all races. Discarding practically the entire structure of Western civilization is considered a necessary price to pay. As Delgado, again, describes, “Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” CRT advocates see all such systems as “power structures” that must be targeted for radical transformation or even eradication.
Kendi has even proposed a U.S. “Department of Anti-Racism” with the power to evaluate “all local, state and federal public policies” and ensure they produce equal outcomes for all races, to “monitor public officials” to ensure that they express no racist ideas, and to wield “disciplinary tools” against public officials who refuse to comply with anti-racist directives (“Pass an Anti-Racist Constitutional Amendment,” Politico.com).
Put simply, the philosophies driving this movement seek to make race the single most important organizing factor in society and the measuring stick by which all efforts, systems, and values are judged. This ironically brings us right back to “old-fashioned” racism—a system in which people’s most important feature is their racial identity. It is, in a sense, a declaration of race über alles. Welcome to the new racism.
Given the vast, civilization-altering designs of Critical Race Theory advocates, one might assume their confidence is based on solid data showing that application of the theory effectively produces good in the world when applied. But that assumption would be wrong. In fact, a growing collection of data indicates the opposite.
When University of London professor Eric Kaufmann asked individuals to read a paragraph of text by popular CRT advocate Ta-Nehisi Coates, he found that—based on reading that paragraph alone—the percentage of black readers who felt that they had power to control and direct the course of their lives dropped 15 points, from 83 to 68 percent (“The Social Construction of Racism in the United States,” Manhattan-Institute.org, April 7, 2021). Rather than empowering those individuals, the paragraph demoralized them.
Columbia University sociologist Musa al-Gharbi looked at two decades of training given by universities, corporations, and other institutions seeking to fight racism, and found that CRT-inspired anti-racist training often achieves the opposite of its intended goals—further marginalizing minority staff members, reinforcing biases instead of erasing them, demoralizing employees, and making them less productive (“Diversity-Related Training: What Is It Good For?,” HeterodoxAcademy.org, September 16, 2020).
John McWhorter, a linguist and interdisciplinary professor at Columbia University, has been outspoken against CRT. As a black man, McWhorter decries the “anti-racist” movement: “In supposing that Black people have no resilience, you are saying that Black people are unusually weak. You’re saying that we are lesser. You’re saying that we, because of the circumstances of American social history, cannot be treated as adults. And in the technical sense, that’s discriminatory” (NPR.org, July 20, 2020). At a Soho Forum debate, McWhorter in 2018 defended the proposition that “anti-racism” has become as harmful a force as racism itself. Indeed, scholars, intellectuals, artists, journalists, and others from diverse walks of life, races, and backgrounds have come together to form FAIR—the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism—to peacefully yet passionately push back against the growth of CRT and similar ideologies, which they see not as a “solution” to societal artifacts of old racism, but as little more than a new racism.
Credit where it is due: Critical Race Theory has inspired a large collection of diverse individuals of different worldviews and ethnicities to unify—against Critical Race Theory.
Yet there is a deeper, more fundamental flaw that plagues Critical Race Theory—a fatal flaw that guarantees it can only fail to provide positive outcomes for the society and peoples it is intended to serve.
Dexter Wakefield, writing in Tomorrow’s World soon after Barack Obama’s 2008 election to the U.S. presidency, put it simply, noting that “when we look at racism solely through the eyes of power and politics, we exclude God from our analysis” (“Racism in America: A Thing of the Past?,” January–February 2009).
He had it exactly right. As a human philosophy that seeks to address human power structures, human political tools, and human policymaking, while utterly ignoring the wisdom, insight, and commands of the Creator of humanity—and every race of humanity (Acts 17:26)—CRT scholars and activists cut themselves off from the only Source that truly understands the human condition!
God’s word does encourage sympathy for some of the concerns of CRT advocates, if not for their proposed solutions. For instance, Scripture serves as a rebuke to Americans who paint their “founding fathers” in only the most heroic light and refuse to acknowledge the more shameful parts of their nation’s history. The Almighty recorded not only ancient Israel’s successes and victories, but also its losses, immoral actions, and even periods of depravity. The divine record shows us not only David’s faith as he fought Goliath, but also the sordid tale of his adultery and murderous betrayal of a loyal friend—and the sad consequences his actions brought upon his nation. God is a “God of truth” (Deuteronomy 32:4), and truth demands accurate history, biased neither to the good nor the evil.
And those who care passionately about human suffering and the condition of their fellow man reflect their Creator’s own compassion and concern. God declares Himself protector and provider for the poor, disenfranchised, and needy, and He rewards those who care for them like He does (Psalm 12:5; 41:1–2; 113:5–8).
Yet how we act on that compassion and concern matters! And, when we compare the Bible—the mind of God in print—to the new racism fostered by CRT and its ideological cousins, the new theories fall appallingly short.
For instance, consider the goal of “assur[ing] equality of results.” Ibram X. Kendi has written that, in practical terms, such a goal will require a virtually endless chain of racial discrimination throughout time: “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.”
God, however, is impartial in His dealings: “For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). He warned ancient Israel to avoid showing partiality not only to the wealthy, but also to the poor (Exodus 23:3; Leviticus 19:15). Rather than fight racism with more racism, the Almighty demands that we be unbiased and impartial, as He is. Those who show partiality “are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:9). “You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country,” the Eternal commands, “for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 24:22).
Also, the idea of cultural relativism, so crucial to CRT, is utterly foreign to the mind of God. He gave His people “statutes and righteous judgments” to create a culture objectively better and healthier than others—not to demean other peoples, but to be a light to them (Deuteronomy 4:5–8). For instance, God does not see having children out of wedlock and other chaotic alternatives to family-building as being “on the same level, as equals” with His own design of the family: two married parents raising children together. He knows His way is best, and He condemns leaders who let people suffer by refusing to teach that truth (Ezekiel 22:26)!
Finally, rather than making race and skin color the organizing property of society, the Almighty makes His righteousness that measure (Matthew 6:33). Giving us His laws and the life of His Son, Jesus Christ, to exemplify that measure, God promises that all who strive to live His way will receive His blessing, regardless of race, ethnicity, or nationality (Acts 10:35; Isaiah 56:2–6).
Advocates of Critical Race Theory—and other “anti-racist” concepts—do raise important issues. Many sincerely seek to address heartbreaking outcomes that should cause concern among anyone with compassion. And they expose a prideful theme of American “triumphalism,” which often deemphasizes the nation’s darker moments and fails to make uncomfortable connections between past misdeeds and current conditions. But those saving graces do not make up for CRT’s glaring errors, which risk damaging race relations instead of improving them, building bitterness and resentment instead of bridges and restoration.
And we must be frank—Jesus Christ plainly prophesied that, before His return, “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom” during a time He calls “the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:7–8). The Greek word translated “nation” here is ethnos, which provides the root for the English word “ethnicity” and includes in its broad meaning the various races and tribes of man. Sadly, the scourge of racism will ultimately grow worse before things get better.
The real solutions to the problems posed by past, present, and future racism will only come with the return of Jesus Christ. Until then, we must recognize that any “solutions” that ignore the vital truths revealed by our loving Creator are not solutions—and that embedded within them are the seeds of the next generation’s problems.
Until the great day of Christ’s return, the Bible holds out the same advice to governments and individuals: “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.… Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:8, 10). Any real solution to the scourge of racism must begin there.
One of the key principles of Critical Race Theory is cultural relativism—the idea that no culture is better or worse than another. Calling cultural relativism “the essence of cultural antiracism,” Ibram X. Kendi says, “To be antiracist is to see all cultures in all their differences as on the same level, as equals. When we see cultural difference, we are seeing cultural difference—nothing more, nothing less.”
This perspective lets CRT theorists disparage as unwanted “whiteness” any number of characteristics that have traditionally helped people of all races succeed, and then label as “racism” any suggestion that those characteristics are objectively beneficial.
This cultural relativism was given wide exposure in a 2020 infographic published briefly by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, listing several “aspects of white culture” that minority cultures had “internalized” because of the “institutional power” of white culture. The list included such characteristics as “the nuclear family,” “objective, linear rational thinking,” “plan[ning] for the future,” “delayed gratification,” and “hard work [as] the key to success.”
Thus, pointing to single motherhood or out-of-wedlock childbirth as an objective source of financial and social hardship is labeled as racism, and teaching that men and women should marry before having children (part of the “nuclear family”) is considered enabling racism.
After an uproar, the museum took down the infographic, explaining that it was not helping discussions about race as effectively as the staff had intended (Washington Post, July 17, 2020).