Can the Left Defend Critical Race Theory? Or Merely Oppose Its Critics?
A national panic mostly from conservatives over critical race theory — erupting perhaps in a state legislature, university or school board meeting near you — triggers spirited counterpunches from its left-progressive defenders.
But are they defending CRT, I have to ask, or merely attacking its opponents?
I’m talking about myself, among others. Since the mid-1990s I occasionally have discussed and debated its pluses and minuses with lawyers, professors who know what CRT really is. Before it became a straw man for conservatives, activists, pundits and politicians to knock down, it was a pretty narrow field of intellectual study for law school students and professionals.
But in the wake of the social justice movements kicked up by George Floyd’s murder, it has provided something to the political right that their efforts to demonize President Joe Biden have not: A vague yet menacing issue that they can use to scare white folks in particular into voting Republican — and, they hope, help the Grand Old Party retake control of Congress.
“This is the Tea Party to the 10th power,” Donald Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon told Politico in an interview. “And a lot of these people aren’t Trump voters.”
CRT, in short, is an academic framework for looking at racism as systems, not an individual flaw. Contrary to the panic about a need to ban it from public schools, it actually is taught almost entirely in law schools. As one scholar is said to have told a parent who suspected it was being taught to her child, “Congratulations! I didn’t know your child was already in law school.”
But is it enough, I have to ask myself, that I push back against this tide with something so humble as facts?
With that, I wonder whether I am sounding like the sort of CRT critic that Damon Linker, senior correspondent for The Week and author of books on the intersection of faith and politics, described in an essay headlined, “The left is anti-anti-Critical Race Theory.”
Many of the left’s most intelligent writers, he argues, are reacting to the anti-CRT movement with loud opposition to its conservative opponents without bringing up their own reservations about the excesses of the pro-CRT movement.
The “anti-anti-CRT,” as he somewhat awkwardly calls them, are making a mistake as big as “the folly” of Republicans who became “anti-anti-Trump in order to avoid calling out the obscenity of the man himself.”