Guest post: Critical Race Theory v Catholicism

Originally a comment by Tim Harris on Overdose of individualism.

I have just sent the following e-mail to Andrew Sullivan after his latest piece on the subject of race on his blog ‘The Dish’. He rightly takes issue with some horrid examples of what has happened in some schools, but…

Dear Mr Sullivan,

Well, this on Critical Race Theory was rather better than your ready inclusion of ‘systemic racism’ as one of the horrible, ambiguous un-Orwellian terms in your last piece, although I think that as usual you exaggerate things. I agree with much of what you say, particularly with respect to those examples from schools, but was — I am sorry — amused by your comparing these examples unfavourably to the things taught in Catholic Sunday schools. It does seem to me that if you don’t like the one kind of inculcation, you should at the very least find the other very dubious. They do not seem to me to be fundamentally different, though you seem to find the one better than the other since you believe that Christianity is about ‘love, compassion, sin, forgiveness, dignity, God, Heaven’ (I rather admire your positioning of ‘sin’, followed by that quick ‘forgiveness’) — or, rather, that children should be taught this so that they may be primed to accept the more unsavoury aspects of Christianity later on. My irreligiousness was prompted at a very young age as a result of being subjected to such platitudes in (Anglican) Sunday school, as well as by the sense one had that behind these nice, comforting, sentimental things were lurking absolute power, fear, and punishment, not to mention Hell, for children hear of Hell about the same time they hear of Heaven. I do not really see that Christianity, whether of the Catholic variety or not, particularly as presented to impressionable children, is superior, in terms of morality or truth, to the platitudes about race trotted out in the examples you provide.

But, regarding ‘systemic racism’, I would say that Macpherson’s original term, ‘institutional racism’, is better than ‘systemic racism’ since it makes it clear these are faults of actual and reasonably clearly defined institutions, whereas ‘systemic racism’ is vague, and so allows abuse. You speak of ‘The legacy of this country’s profound racism, the deep and abiding shame of its genocidal slavocracy, the atrocities, such as Tulsa, which have been white-washed, the appalling record of lynchings and beatings…’ You might add to this gerrymandering and other on-going attempts by the Republican Party, particularly since the election of Biden, to suppress the African-American vote, the long sentences handed out to African-Americans for trivial offences, the constitutional allowance (Article 13) that ‘slavery’ and ‘involuntary servitude’ is permitted in the case of those who ‘have been duly convicted’ of a crime (an Irish friend of mine who travelled in the States in the last century was appalled to see chain-gangs working on the roads in certain areas), the destruction of African-American neighbourhoods by routing freeways through them, etc, etc.

These are all clear examples of present institutional racism. If it were clearly recognised that these things are examples of institutional racism, and reforms were made, the wind would be taken out of the sails of those who propose such an all-encompassing account of racism that any reform seems impossible, and only race-war seems on the cards. It would also make for a juster society. But I do not find in your fulminations any recognition of this possibility — instead you merely lash out at those whom you consider your ideological enemies without coming up with any positive and pragmatic ways of overcoming the present situation.

Best wishes,

Tim Harris

Perhaps I should have added that making institutional reforms would also lead to less racist attitudes. It is not simply that institutions are racist because people are, but that institutional racism encourages overt racist attitudes in individuals.

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