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Tuesday, June 22, 2021


One of the anonymati asks for a simple explanation of Critical Race Theory in a thousand words or less! Well, fortunately, there is an excellent entry on the subject in Wikipedia which will save me a great many words. What is now called critical race theory has its distant origins in the work of the Frankfurt School. As I would have explained to my students if Columbia had agreed to let me teach the course I proposed, the work of the Frankfurt School was, among other things, an effort to unite the insights of Marx and Freud. At the same time, the failure of genuine socialist revolutions to materialize in the first half of the 20th century led many European scholars to try to understand the non-economic, bureaucratic or institutional or “structural” determinants of political developments in mature, or as we old unrepentant lefties used to say, late capitalism. They thought that what came to be called “economic determinism” could not adequately account for the world they saw developing around them.


As the work of European scholars made its way to America, notably in the work of W. E. B. DuBois (who studied for a while with Max Weber), it underwent a series of changes to take account of the effect of race in American history, economy, and politics – a subject about which Marx had little or nothing of any interest to say.


Marx himself had understood that the personal tastes, biases, interests, or desires of individual capitalists had very little to do with the overall shape of the development of capitalist economies, but he did not adequately appreciate the institutional or bureaucratic constraints that shaped economic developments.


Putting all this together in the American context led to the development of the notion of institutional racism, a concept absolutely essential to an understanding of American society which all Republicans and a great many Democrats find it impossible to grasp. As I spent many pages in my little book Autobiography of an Ex White Man discussing this subject, I will not repeat myself here.


All of this was imported into legal theory at a time of considerable ferment in that field by, among others, Derrick Bell, during the time that he was a professor of law at Harvard.


If you now go to the Wikipedia article, which can be found here, you should be able to get a pretty rich and complex understanding of the development of the field called Critical Race Theory.


Sonic said...

Seen so many people respond to this question lately, and this response has been the most helpful by far. I just needed to understand the history of this analysis a bit better.

Ahmed Fares said...

Jordan Peterson weighs in on the discussion.

Okay, so here’s her white privilege list, some of it, there’s like 50 things. ‘ I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.’ ‘If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.’ That’s actually a wealth thing, by the way. ‘I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.’ ‘I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.’ ‘I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.’ ‘When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.’ There’s 50 of those, I think, something like that.

Okay, is that white privilege, or is that, like majority privilege? Is the same true if you go to China, you’re Chinese, is the same true if you’re Chinese? Is it majority privilege, and if it’s majority privilege, isn’t that just part of living within your culture? So let’s say you live in your culture, you’re privileged in that culture, well obviously. That’s what the culture is for. That’s what it’s for. Why would you bother building the damn thing if it didn’t accrue benefits to you? Well, you might say one of the consequences is that it accrues fewer benefits to those who aren’t in the culture. Yeah, but you can’t immediately associate that with race. You can’t just do that. Say it’s white privilege. There’s many things it could be. Certainly could be wealth. And the intersectional people have already figured out there are many things it could be. So like, what the hell? Seriously, well, what’s going on?

Well, we let these pseudo-disciplines into the university because we’re stupid and guilty, seriously. And they have no methodological requirements and plenty of power and plenty of time to produce nonsensical research and produce like resentful activists and now we’re bearing the fruits of that. It’s not pretty, so white privilege.

So let’s say you live in your culture, you’re privileged in that culture, well obviously. That’s what the culture is for. That’s what it’s for. Why would you bother building the damn thing if it didn’t accrue benefits to you? Well, you might say one of the consequences is that it accrues fewer benefits to those who aren’t in the culture. Yeah, but you can’t immediately associate that with race. You can’t just do that. Say it’s white privilege.

source: The Social Justice Debate: Jordan Peterson on White Privilege

I think the above is from this 10-minute video:

White privilege isn't real - Jordan Peterson

s. wallerstein said...

China isn't much of an example. It's a dictatorship where minority peoples are actively persecuted and put in concentration camps.

The so-called "American dream", for what it's worth, has always promised equality of opportunities for all, regardless of race, creed, color or national origin. That is obviously not true in the case of African-Americans who suffer numerous forms of discrimination.

Another Anonymous said...

Once more into the breach.

Along these lines, during the last two years I represented a former professor at a public university in New Jersey. New Jersey has a policy titled The Policy Against Discrimination In The Workplace. By its title, one might think the Policy prohibits discriminatory conduct in the workplace, e.g., denying promotions based on race or disparate discipline based on race. But it does more than that. It is a speech code that mandates politically correct speech. So, the professor in question was accused of violating the Policy because s/he used the word “Negro” during a class, and several African-American students filed a complaint about the professor and the professor was charged with violating the Policy. The professor contacted me and I offered to represent the professor in both New Jersey state and federal court to argue that the Policy is unconstitutional, because it violates the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment. (In order to pursue this defense, since I am not licensed in New Jersey, I had to find a New Jersey attorney to sponsor me to appear pro hac vice in the New Jersey courts.)

As discipline, the professor was required to undergo “sensitivity training” where the professor was required to meet with a “sensitivity training” specialist, who required that the professor do certain readings and write essays about the professor’s reaction. The specialist was an African-American woman who did not have a degree in psychology or sociology – her degrees were in marketing. One of the essays was about white privilege, which claimed that all American are subconsciously discriminatory and have an inherent advantage over African-Americans by virtue of being white. The professor resented this judgment and resisted the conclusion, arguing that s/he had worked hard to get where s/he was and no one had handed her anything on a silver platter. This did not sit well the “sensitivity training” specialist. The professor wound up resigning.

I do not trivialize the horror of slavery in this country, not do I deny that its adverse effects on African-Americans has continued to have residual effects down through the generations, and that the residual effect has to be taken into consideration in some legal fashion, such as affirmative action. But I do not believe that I am racist. I make an earnest effort not to be racist, and if I have what I think may be a racist thought, I make an earnest effort to expunge it. Moreover, I do not believe I am alone in this. And the more the presumption is fostered that institutional racism infects every American, the more resentment is going to be generated among the many Americans who do not believe that they have unfairly benefited from the fact that they are white – that they did not have anything handed to them on a silver platter. And the more that the ideas of institutional racism and white privilege are advanced in this country, the more resentment is going to be engendered among whites who respond by saying that they have never owned slaves, and are not the descendants of slave owners, and have nothing to feel guilty about.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Wolff, you may appreciate the following chess analogy for CRT:

I cannot tell if the comment above quoted Jordan Peterson in order to counter your argument or to laugh at Jordan Peterson - hopefully the latter.

aaall said...

"That’s what it’s for. Why would you bother building the damn thing if it didn’t accrue benefits to you?"

Perhaps it was the bennies but JP seems unaware/unbothered by the role whips and nooses played in that accrual.

John Rapko said...

I have no strongly held nor well-researched views on so-called 'Critical Race Theory', but having read the professor's cited wikipedia entry, I note a few points: 1. Its focus is the law, and I can't see anything in it that couldn't be readily explicated out of an adaptation of Anatole France's famous wisecrack, to wit: 'it is equally forbidden for white and black folks to sleep under bridges'. 2. There is nothing whatsoever in it (at least that I can see) that inherits distinctive views of Karl Marx or central Marxists like Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, or Lukacs. Its central doctrines and theoretical commitments, as given in the article, could comfortably be held by a range of non-Marxist views: "Critical race theory sees racism as systemic and institutional, rather than just a collection of individual prejudices. It also views race as a socially constructed identity. The theory emphasizes how racism and disparate racial outcomes can be the result of complex, changing and often subtle social and institutional dynamics, rather than explicit and intentional prejudices by individuals." 3. As I recall, Horkheimer did say in a letter that the Frankfurt Institute's term 'critical theory' was a code word for something like 'Marxist cultural theory', but the actual philosophies and doctrines of Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse et alia were various and at most overlapping; and, for example, Adorno's views seem to owe a great deal more to Hegel, Kierkegaard, Luk√°cs, and Weber than to Marx. Further, the term 'critical theory' as it came to be use in English in the 1980's likewise was by no means plainly Marxist-derived, but rather was an eclectic and not obviously coherent mix of views and attitudes from the masters of suspicion (Marx, Nietzsche, Freud) plus their many heterodox followers, with a heavy dollop of deconstruction. The term 'critical' in 'Critical Race Theory' seems most immediately derived from this latter usage.

Another Anonymous said...

s. wasserstein,

China may not be a good example (but it is not as bad an example as you make it out to be – aske any non-Asian trying to do business in China. But this is beside the point which Ahmed was making. It does not have to be China – it can be any country which is substantially homogeneous in which members of the majority culture have an inherent advantage over anyone living in that country who is not a member of the majority culture. In a prior post, Ahmed pointed out to me that for thousands (actually hundreds) of years Muslims/Arabs and Jews lived together in harmony. But that is not the whole picture, because during those hundreds of years Jews – although fortunately not being interned in concentration camps or incinerated by the Muslim majority – they were second class citizens, referred to as dhimmis. Ahmed’s point – and a valid point - is that when in Rome your are expected to do as Romans do.

Now, granted, that may be fair enough for those who voluntarily move to Rome, but the ancestors of African-Americans did not come to America voluntarily. Which brings me to the video clip comparing the circumstance of African-Americans in America to a chess board, in which it may appear like they have a fair shot at winning the game, until you see the entire context, in which the player playing white has two bishops and a Queen in addition to the pieces being played by the black player. (The analogy sort of falters given that in chess, the fact that the black player is down a Queen and two bishops is because the black player had to have played pretty poorly in order to be in this position, but the circumstance in which African-American players find themselves has nothing to do with not knowing how to defend agaisnt the Queen’s gambit.) But the question that remains after seeing the full context of the chessboard, what is to be done in order to make the game more fair at this point in time. Should the white player volunteer to remove the Queen and extra bishops off the board? Alternatively, should the white player offer to give the black player a Queen and two bishops to even things up? But what if in order to give the black player a Queen and two bishops, the white player has to pay several trillion dollars (the estimated cost of Sen. Booker’s proposed reparations plan)? And what about the other ethnic group which has suffered at the hands of American imperialism, arguably as grievously as the African-American community – Native Americans, whose land was taken away from them. Is their plight to be ignored? How much money must be paid in order to even up history’s chessboard?

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein,

While African-Americans continue to suffer from discrimination, it is undeniable that the amount of overt discrimination has diminished greatly in recent decades. Legal segregation has ended; restrictive covenants in real estate are illegal; the military is integrated; African-Americans have been President and Secretary of State. This isn’t perfect, but neither is it 1950 let alone 1900.

That said, I think it’s also undeniable that African-Americans continue to suffer from past discrimination, and that is much harder to overcome. The wealth gap is an example. White parents usually have much more to give their kids by way of schooling, tutors, whatever is needed. And they also pass on wealth when they die. It doesn’t have to be millions to have a huge impact at the working class or middle class level. It may, for example give adult children enough to make the down payment on a house—which, in turn is a source of wealth for the those children and for their children in the future. Few African-Americans have been able even to begin this source financial security. The long list of causes for this has to include past discrimination by government agencies such as the FHA and the VA.

Another example is the difference in educational performance. Kids that are read to by their parents when young do better in school than those who weren’t. But it’s hard to blame parents, who weren’t read to either, nor were their parents—back to the time of slavery when they weren’t even permitted to learn to read.

If every form of racial discrimination ended today, the damage done in the past would continue for a long, long time.

Michael Llenos said...

The website link shows Gloria Ladson-Billings and William Tate expanded CRT to gender studies in 1995. I wonder if the name of the SEAL CRT program in the 1997 movie G.I. Jane had anything to do with the Critical Race Theory gender studies by people like William and Gloria in 1995? Was Seal CRT named after Critical Race Theory studies? SEAL CRT stands for SEAL Combined Reconnaissance Training. So far the U.S. Army has produced female Infantry, Airborne, Air Assault, Sappers, Rangers, and even a Green Beret, but the Navy has still yet to produce a single female Navy Seal. That is the kind of subject and research that CRT gender studies should look into...

Another Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

My apologies for misspelling your name above. After my comments about your relative I. Wallerstein, one would have thought I would be able to spell your name correctly.

s. wallerstein said...

That's quite all right. I'm used to it being misspelled and as for the pronunciation, by now when people ask how to pronounce it, I reply, "however you like".

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