The Problem is the Other CRT (Conservative Race Theory)

Denying systemic racism means blaming Black people for their status in America — and that’s far more offensive

Tim Wise

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Image: Louis Bavent, Flickr, used under Creative Commons license 2.0

To hear conservatives tell it, Critical Race Theory — their newfound buzz phrase for virtually any anti-racist analysis or argument — is fundamentally un-American, and even racist itself.

By suggesting that the country is systemically unjust, they argue, CRT is rooted in a rejection of the United States as a “good and great” nation. And by insisting upon the existence of white privilege as a social and economic reality, CRT is, they say, racist against white people.

But amid the uproar over anti-racist scholarship, equity trainings, and the movement for Black lives, one important thing has been overlooked.

Namely, the alternative to the analysis offered by Critical Race Theory is far more troubling, offensive and racist than anything being forwarded by the Crits themselves.

After all, if disparities in labor markets, education, housing, and the justice system are not the result of deeply embedded systemic racism — meaning the sedimentation of unequal opportunities resulting from a history of white racial domination and ongoing discrimination today — what’s left to explain them?

Frankly, there is only one possible answer: if the problem isn’t America, then it must be Black people.

But to suggest that there is something wrong with Black people as a group, something dysfunctional and pathological, is to forward a racist proposition by definition. So how exactly can the critics of CRT say it’s racist to suggest whites have privilege but acceptable to say Blacks are defective?

The former, after all, is a sociological assessment, while the latter is a characterological one. Situating white people within a sociological context of power and relative position is not a judgment upon them as human beings.

But placing Black people in a basket marked “inferior” in some way — whether biologically, as in the arguments of The Bell Curve (a book rejected by few conservatives and written by a very prominent one), or culturally — casts precisely such a judgment.

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Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)