Guest post: A few basic principles

Originally a comment by Nullius in Verba on Not merely the product of individual bias in reply to my request for more background.

People like DiAngelo and Kendi are not aberrations or perversions of CRT. They’re extensions of a framework that traces right back to Derrick Bell at CRT’s beginning. I’ll try to sketch some of the essentials. Theorists really do only have a few basic principles and rhetorical moves. Once you familiarize yourself with them, it’s like a perversely easy game.

I suppose the first thing to note would be that CRT’s philosophical lineage is critical theory. I mean, it’s in the name, but it’s very easy to read it as the critical in “critical thinking” rather than in “critical theory”. As such, it inherits all the good and ill from its progenitor. Per the wiki entry on Derrick Bell, whose work informed CRT’s genesis, “Bell and other legal scholars began using the phrase ‘critical race theory’ (CRT) in the 1970s as a takeoff on ‘critical legal theory’, a branch of legal scholarship that challenges the validity of concepts such as rationality, objective truth, and judicial neutrality. Critical legal theory was itself a takeoff on critical theory, a philosophical framework with roots in Marxist thought.” It is important not to gloss over the concepts against which CLT, and by inheritance CRT, is set in opposition. CLT critiques the very concept of rationality—not whether anyone ever achieves perfect rationality, but whether the concept per se is problematic. That is, it advances the notion that rationality is not and should not be part of legal intentionality. Similarly, it opposes the ideas that objective truth should be a relevant concept in law and that the judiciary should strive for neutrality.

Critical race theory opposes even more ideas most of us would consider fundamental. According to early theorist Richard Delgado, CRT has no truck with “equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” To clarify, he means that the ideas that the law should treat people equally, that it is possible to use reason as a legal tool, that rational inquiry is to be preferred over emotional response, and that constitutional law should be neutral are all problematic and in need of radical deconstruction. Opposition to equal treatment generates the CRT rejection of individualism and rights-based solutions to, well, anything.

I guess I shouldn’t let Marx off the hook here, either. CRT and, to the best of my understanding, the rest of the critical theories, inherit the idea of false consciousness (derived) from Marxist theory. This is the idea that citizens exist in a state of delusion. The proles can’t see that they are oppressed; the bourgeoisie can’t see that they are oppressors. Marx theorized that a subset of the proletariat would “awaken” to their oppression and spontaneously organize a revolution against their overlords. Applied to racism, the idea yields minorities who cannot see that they are oppressed and whites who cannot see that they are oppressors.

So when we see someone say, “Objectivity itself is the reification of white male thought,” that is directly derivable from early CLT/CRT critiques of objective truth and rationality. What society constructs as objectivity is a creation of white males and is patterned after that which white males value. The only reason that you might think that objective truth exists or matters is therefore white colonialization of your consciousness. You’ve internalized your oppression and exist in a state of false consciousness.

When Kendi says that it’s impossible for a white person to be not-racist, he’s drawing on Bell’s own notion of interest convergence. That is, white people only do things that converge with their interests. Since it is in white people’s interest to maintain their dominance over other races, those interests and associated activities are perforce racist. When Kendi supports removing anti-discrimination language from a state constitution or says that what we need is an unaccountable ministry of diversity (NewSpeak: MiniDiv), he’s merely continuing the assault on the notion of equal treatment before the law.

When DiAngelo goes on about white fragility, that’s again false consciousness and opposition to rationality. On the CRT view, reasoning and rationality that reach conclusions other than those approved by CRT support the status quo. Supporting the status quo is equivalent to supporting racist structures of dominance and oppression. Therefore, all such reason is automatically rejected. This is not a bug. It’s a feature. White people are “fragile” because their false consciousness renders them so, reacting unfavorably to being labeled racist. They respond with argument, because reason and rationality are tools of white supremacy. They become upset, hurt, and angry because their dominance is partly supported by their inability to see their own dominance; undermining that support causes emotional instability.

Like, it’s not difficult to take the basic tenets and go places we really, really shouldn’t, and to do so entirely validly.

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