The Lie at the Heart of Critical Race Theory
Among all the many lies in critical race theory, one stands out above the rest: that its main point is anything other than power.
Do not read that as cynicism on my part. Read the critical theorists’ (crits’) own works. It won’t take you long to see that power is its thumping heartbeat. It’s a neutral, almost term in their writings, at least on paper: They only want to equalize power between blacks and whites -- economic and political power, primarily. Don’t let their attempt at even-handedness fool you, though.
I do not mean that crits intend it as a lie. More likely even they are deceived, an error we can trace to the worldview they’ve adopted. CRT’s emphasis on power comes naturally, flowing straight from its Marxist and postmodern roots. naturally. Marxism is all about power and who has it. “The history of all hitherto existing societies,” wrote Karl Marx, “is the history of class struggles. … an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight,” in which the great problem is the “bourgeoisie” holding “the upper hand,” while the working people are oppressed.
Early critical theorists worried that the working classes weren’t rebelling as expected, so they twisted an already distorted worldview, and made the whites and heterosexuals the “oppressors” holding the upper hand, creating a new power struggle out of it.
Postmodernism likewise drives straight to issues of power, claiming that even language is a power game, that no person’s opinion can be objectively true, because no objective truth exists. So when we argue, “My position is true because of x, y, and z,” we’re not really angling toward truth, but toward power. If I disagree with Jacob, I’m not helping him toward truth by explaining my reasons, I’m “deligitimizing” him instead.
Power In Place of Truth
I said this “comes naturally,” and the word fits in more ways than one. Those who adopt a naturalistic view of reality tend to reject absolute truth. Lacking truth as the deciding factor, there remains only power as the deciding factor. It is one or the other: Either there is agreement that one is correct with respect to truth, or there is simply being in charge and saying so. One is either right, or one wins. Without real truth, there is only the power to decide.
This is how decisions must be made in a relativist world. It reveals a chilling connection between the world of legitimate government and the world of street violence. Both seek the same thing: not truth, but conquest. Critical race theory is more of the same.
Power at the Center of CRT
Whites have all the power, says CRT, or at least all the power that matters. They may share some of it with blacks, but only where there is “interest convergence,” as Derrick Bell one of the original crits, put it. Whites will grant blacks a share of the goods, but only if it does whites good.
CRT’s prime example: The famous desegregation victory in Brown v. Board of Education was supposedly a lot less about justice than about white America guarding its reputation before the rest of the world. They provide good evidence that this was a factor, which is fine, it does appear to be true; except from that evidence they conclude it was the only factor. Whites will do everything they can to keep blacks down, even if it means letting them rise up a little from time to time.
This is, to say the least, nothing like a real attempt at mutual understanding between the races. CRT isn’t about racial understanding. The white male who “checks his privilege” doesn’t do it to connect better with persons of colors; he does it to acknowledge shame over his power, and to disown and relinquish that power.
Distorted Analysis, Distorted Ethics
It’s about power, and that matters. Often I’ll hear, “I can’t agree with CRT’s prescribed solutions, but isn’t it a good analytical tool, at least?” No, even there it’s a lie. Sure, it’s an analytical tool, and undoubtedly very refined at that. It’s a tool that analyzes power relations between groups. If that’s what it called itself, all would be well. Instead it claims to be a tool for uncovering injustice, as if justice were only about power relations, and if it were also only about groups. Neither is true.
The focus on groups is very real, and directly attributable to CRT’s revolution-fomenting Marxist roots. A white person’s attitude toward blacks is irrelevant; it’s his membership in the group “white persons” that makes him racist. It’s his changing attitude toward blacks as a group that can begin to qualify him as “anti-racist”; his actual relationships with black persons is of no consequence. Because relationships aren’t what count. Only power.
CRT isn’t a solution to racism, and it doesn’t even try to be. Instead it’s a solution to group power imbalances, which crits have falsely made synonymous with racism.
Revolution and Demagoguery
Even for group imbalances, though, it’s no real solution, because crits openly speak of their “impatience” with incremental progress, and their willingness to seek solutions via revolution. The summer of 2020 showed how well that works. Calls for defunding the police had nothing to do with any real pattern of police injustice. No one has ever said a policeman cannot commit a crime in the course of doing his work. The claim, though, was that a pattern of anti-black police crime exists, which is false; and also that the justice system winks at police crime, which is also false.
False, yet an opportunity ripe for demagoguery, that is, for the abuse of power. And this is where no one, including blacks -- possibly even especially blacks -- should put up with a movement whose only purpose and only measure is power. The temptations are too great. If seekers of power are successful they will use that power. And if power is the principle they operate under, they will end up abusing that power. To focus on power alone is to point one’s path toward an evil outcome.
Power in Proper Perspective
Power matters. In proper balance it is a crucial component of justice, but by no means the only one. It’s an important factor in living a good life, as personal freedom is itself a matter of personal power, the power to do that which belongs in the sphere of individual freedom. But it’s one factor among many, also including virtue, aesthetics, human dignity, human relationships, and relationship with God.
Postmodernism and Marxism see all that through the lens of power. CRT has followed in their path. Focusing predominantly on power, it has pointed its path toward evil.
It is good to combat racism, but to combat it with evil can only have evil results. It is rotten in its roots. Don’t feed off its branches.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the recently released Too Good To Be False: How Jesus' Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.