Thistlethwaite: See no evil — the real reasons for the rejection of Critical Race Theory
If you don’t acknowledge an evil exists, does it go away? Not hardly. In fact, it is likely to grow as evils are like mushrooms. They flourish best in the shadows, away from the light.
The nigh-on-to hysterical rejection of Critical Race Theory these days is an attempt to keep from shining a light on the ways in which systemic racism has often deformed our society and continues to do so.
Here’s the central issue: We will never make lasting change in eradicating racism unless and until the insidious ways it distorts even our best efforts to construct a more equal future are exposed. But perhaps that is one important reason for the knee-jerk rejections of Critical Race Theory. Keeping things as they are in terms of racial oppression may very well be the point.
Racism is action not just attitude.
Just before he was voted out of office, the former president issued an executive order in September 2020 excluding from federal contracts “Divisive Concepts,” “Race or Sex Stereotyping,” and “Race or Sex Scapegoating.” “Critical Race Theory” and “white privilege” were both singled out for rejection, as was the idea that “any race or ethnicity is inherently evil or racist.”
That latter statement is actually correct. The evils of racism are not inherent in any race or ethnicity. These evils are performative. Racism, as legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “Critical Race Theory,” notes that Critical Race Theory is not a noun, but a verb.
Racism is often mistakenly viewed as just personal prejudice. It goes well beyond that because racism is “both prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin color.” The social system advantages or disadvantages people according to race.
Critical Race Theory helps me
Another issue often overlooked by those who are doing everything they can to prevent people from being educated on Critical Race Theory is that it is self-critical.
I frequently employed Critical Race Theory in my book, “Women’s Bodies as Battlefield: Christian Theology and the Global War on Women” in order to check my own white privilege in writing about the ways in which diverse groups of women are subjected to violence, but often in very different ways. In researching and writing that book, I had to guard against painting all “women” with the same, white paintbrush even while making a case to prevent and deal with violence in their lives.
Critical Race Theory helps me see the evils of the way racism is performed in our society, and my own, as well as others, complicity in that, whether conscious or unconscious.
Follow the money
The sudden rejection of Critical Race Theory, even, in some places, making the teaching of it illegal, did not spring up like Athena from the head of Zeus. It is funded as a new wedge in the culture wars.
“Inside Higher Education” has just published a very thorough look at this issue in a guest column by Isaac Kamola of Trinity College entitled “Where Does the Bizarre Hysteria About ‘Critical Race Theory’ Come From? Follow the Money!”
There is a message churn produced by the “think tanks” and the political operations funded by mega-wealthy, conservative donors.
The last thing this complex of donors and their spokespeople want is for large numbers of Americans to start thinking critically about race. That might upset the whole system that delivers benefits to some at the expense of others.
See the evils
Would you like a short primer on Critical Race Theory? Fortunately, the American Bar Association has published one called “A Lesson on Critical Race Theory” with the hope that we can “imagine a more just nation.”
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.