Systemic v individual

Let’s try yet again to tease out some of the polarities of Critical Race Theory versus The Approved Kind of Discussion of Racism.

Marisa Iati in the Post a couple of months ago:

Some lessons and anti-racism efforts, however, reflect foundational themes of critical race theory, particularly that racism in the United States is systemic.

So there’s one: racism as systemic, i.e. embedded in various systems and institutions, as opposed to being random and individual – just people with bad manners.

Critical race theory is an academic framework centered on the idea that racism is systemic, and not just demonstrated by individual people with prejudices. The theory holds that racial inequality is woven into legal systems and negatively affects people of color in their schools, doctors’ offices, the criminal justice system and countless other parts of life.

Ok so do we think that’s wrong? Do we think it’s factually mistaken?

If we do I have to ask why. Why would it be wrong? At what point did we complete the job of removing racism from all US systems? I must have missed the news that day.

Just off the top of my head I know that black women have much worse statistics in childbirth than white women do. Is it likely that systemic racism has nothing to do with that? Generations of poverty because employers and unions and landlords and realtors are riddled with systemic racism? Unequal access to healthcare because of the above plus systemic racism in the healthcare system (such as it is)? And I know that the prison stats are grotesquely out of whack – and even if you decide “Wull that’s because there are fewer white criminals” you can surely see that that can be for similar systemic reasons. Jobs, schools, housing, transportation – they’re all part of a system that was not what you’d call enlightened on the issue of racial equality.

Khiara Bridges, author of “Critical Race Theory: A Primer,” said traditional civil rights discourse maintained that racism would end when people stopped thinking about race. The dissenting scholars, she said, rejected that conclusion and believed race consciousness was necessary to overcoming racial stratification.

“I don’t see color” versus “Oh yes you do see color and we all need to talk about what happens because of that, so that we can FIX IT.”

“Critical race theory is an effort really to move beyond the focus on finding fault by impugning [should be “imputing”] racist motives, racist bias, racist prejudice, racist animus and hatred to individuals, and looking at the ways in which racial inequality is embedded in structures in ways of which we are very often unaware,” said Kendall Thomas, co-editor of “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement.”

Which means in a way that conservatives ought to like it, because it’s not about sniffing out individual racists; it’s impersonal. It also means those stupid “Give us lots of money to come to your dinner party and call you racist” scams are the very opposite of CRT.

Although the phrase “critical race theory” refers to an area of academic study, its common usage has diverged from its exact meaning. Conservative activists and politicians now use the term as a catchall phrase for nearly any examination of systemic racism in the present. Critical race theory is often portrayed as the basis of race-conscious policies, diversity trainings, and education about racism, regardless of how much the academic concept actually affects those efforts.

The Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank, recently attributed a range of events to critical race theory: property destruction and violence during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, efforts to fire a Yale University professor amid a Halloween costume controversy, two White actresses stating that they would not play mixed-race characters, and the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17. They reasoned that critical race theory makes race the primary lens through which people see the world and reimagines the United States as divided by factions that are pitted against each other.

Christopher Rufo, a prominent opponent of critical race theory, in March acknowledged intentionally using the term to describe a range of race-related topics and conjure a negative association.

Hat tip to Jesse Singal for asking about that today.

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