by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In 1976, two decades after Brown v. Board outlawed segregated schools, the critical race theorist Derrick Bell published an influential critique of the decision. Bell, a former civil rights attorney, did not object to the ruling in principle but rather to how courts were construing it: In the name of equal opportunity, schools had been ordered to achieve a racial balance that reflected the demographics of their surrounding district—even when doing so hurt black students. …
… Bell’s articles helped jumpstart the legal movement now called “critical race theory” (CRT), which has become the latest battleground in America’s culture war. Among conservatives, the term now functions as a synonym for pop “antiracism” and the diversity gurus associated with it, particularly Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo.
As red states consider laws banning critical race theory from public schools, critical race theorists have responded with one of two contradictory arguments: that CRT is an obscure academic theory that will never find its way into K-12 classrooms, or that it just means teaching about slavery and Jim Crow. …
… There are indeed some differences between critical race theory and the new racial orthodoxy. But there is also a direct link between them. The main premises of pop “antiracism”—all racial disparities are illegitimate, unconscious bias is everywhere, racist speech is violence—all stem from critical race theory, which is essentially a synthesis of Kendi and DiAngelo. Though neither figure is a critical race theorist, each has helped to popularize CRT’s underlying worldview, one in which structural and subconscious racism are intimately intertwined.
Kendi’s critique of standardized tests, for example, has clear roots in CRT’s argument that race-neutral policies perpetuate oppression. And DiAngelo’s work on “white fragility” owes a great debt to the critical racist theorist Charles Lawrence, who argued that whites supported race-neutral policies because of their unconscious biases.