5.3 | applying CRT
V | CRITICAL RACE THEORY
CRT is a perspective on race tied to the worldview of Critical Theory. Both CT and CRT are much more than theories. There is a distinct, activist component to Critical Theory and everything that springs from it. Those who espouse CRT emphasize that oppression is the common thread that weaves through American society and much of the Western world.
Critical Race Theory and Critical Theory both teach that the world is divided into groups: the oppressors and the oppressed. It implores its adherents to overthrow their oppressors, to liberate themselves and remake society. This is an absolute necessity.
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Ibram X. Kendi emphasizes this in the introduction of How to Be an Antiracist:
“But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “antiracist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.” (Kendi 2019, 9)
How to Be an Antiracist is a treatise on the activist nature of CT and CRT. Activist towards what? Kendi says that the roots of the problem are power and policies. That is what an antiracist believes. If we believe that the problem is rooted in people, in humanity, then we are by his definition a racist. To be an antiracist, one must not be just an activist. One must also subscribe to the worldview of Critical Theory and commit themselves to the lifelong work of fighting the racism that is everywhere, in everyone, all the time.
How do we fight the “isms” all around us? CRT offers another set of tools, DEI. Diversity. Equity. Inclusion.
Diversity: All forms of age, ethnicity, class, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, and sexual orientation, as well as religious status, gender expression, educational background, geographical location, income, marital status, parental status, and work experiences, must be embraced and celebrated – not just tolerated. Categories of difference are not always fixed but also can be fluid, individual rights to self-identification must be respected, and no one culture is intrinsically superior to another.
Equity: Whereas equality is a system in which each individual is offered the same opportunities regardless of circumstance, equity distributes resources based on needs. We live in a disproportionate society, and equity tries to correct its imbalance by creating more opportunities for people who have historically had less access. Equity means that we should strive not for equal opportunities but for equal outcomes for all people regardless of opportunity. The terms “equity” and “equality” may be used interchangeably by critical theorists, but equality is only equality if there are equal outcomes. This is why they use the term equity.
Inclusion: All individuals and groups should feel supported, respected and valued. Nothing that offends, might offend, or could be construed as being potentially offensive to any member of any marginalized group can be tolerated. Speech and expression must be controlled and restricted. Often those who are privileged or in the majority must be excluded to allow for those who are marginalized to create spaces free from oppressive influences. Thus, “inclusion” in CRT means restricted speech and sometimes physical exclusion of those who are oppressive, privileged or otherwise offensive to those who are marginalized. (1, 2, 3, 4)
How is DEI practically implemented? Remember cheese fries and salad?
Salad, as we know, is oppressive because of these constructs called calories, nutrition, cholesterol, fat and sugar. My truth, and the truth of many people who each cheese fries in the world, is that cheese fries are healthy because of how I feel when I eat them. Subjective truth.
Let’s say that we’re at a restaurant and they have cheese fries and salad. But this restaurant is fancy. They have famous food from all over the world. Some of the richest delicacies. Century eggs, balut, kale pache, mouse wine, surströmming and even casu marzu. Before you go look those things up, remember, there are people in the world who consider these delicacies. Just because you or I may not like something doesn’t mean that nobody likes it. People all over the world like all kinds of things.
This restaurant has a name: DEI. That’s because it practices diversity, equity and inclusion with how it builds the menu.
Casu marzu is a delicacy from the island of Sardinia. Considering American sensibilities and Western tastes, casu marzu might not be something that we want. That doesn't mean that it's bad. It's just something that we're not used to and something our tastes may not be suited towards. On Sardinia, casu marzu is like caviar. It’s something reserved only for the most special occasions.
To make casu marzu, cheese producers leave a slab of cheese out in the open, breaking the skin to allow flies to enter the cheese and lay eggs. Multiple flies may enter the cheese, filling the middle with thousands upon thousands of eggs. Then eggs then hatch, and the resulting maggots begin doing what they do best: eating and defecating. As the maggots work, the enzymes produced by their bodies rot and putrefy the inside of the cheese so that when it is opened for consumption, the inside is a gooey, sticky, gummy mass filled with countless live maggots.
You may find that gross, but it's a delicacy from another culture. “Fine,” you might say, “but I’m not going to eat it.” Sorry, that’s not your choice. That’s not how diversity works in CRT. Casu marzu might be the most marginalized food in the world. It’s illegal to buy or sell it. But it’s not illegal to make. We must eat casu marzu precisely because it is marginalized.
Remember, even though it’s called Critical Race Theory, it’s about much more than race. It is a toolbox to bring about critical justice. Diversity is one of the tools. There’s diversity of race, yes, but also gender diversity, sexuality diversity, culture, wealth, etc. Any “ism” that we see, in order to fix it, we must take the first step: practicing diversity.
Diversity in CRT doesn’t mean “embrace people’s differences.” That’s what we think it means. But CRT changes the meaning of the word diversity. How? Because in CRT, “It’s important to remember that diversity is less about what makes people different—their race, socioeconomic status, and so on—and more about understanding, accepting and valuing those differences.”(1) That may seem like a small distinction, but the “diversity” that we understand is different that the Critical Theory definition of diversity. It’s not just about people coming together from all backgrounds and walks of life and forming an understanding of differences. It’s not just about tolerating differences, or allowing differences. Diversity in CRT is about celebrating and valuing those differences. How can this be an issue? Keep reading.
With CRT, diversity doesn’t mean that all these different foods are available on the menu. It means that there is only a certain amount available of each one. A cheeseburger may be on the menu, but only 3 people can order it. Salad is on the menu, but only one person gets salad. It doesn’t matter if we have all of the supplies to make the food. What matters is that at any given time there is equal representation of the menu among the people eating in the restaurant. You may not eat casu marzu, or another food you may not particularly be hungry for, you’re a part of the problem. You may want a salad, and I may want cheese fries. Diversity says that once the quota of orders is met for a certain item, regardless of what our preferences or dietary restrictions are, you can’t order it.
I lead the staff at Elevate Life Church. This church has a set of beliefs in line with Scripture. We have a set of moral and behavioral values attached to those beliefs. At our church, we embrace people from all walks of life. Anyone at any point in their journey can be a part of our church, serve on teams, be baptized, dedicate their kids and participate in ministry. However, not everyone can work for our church. To work at our church, you have to follow Jesus, which means to be a Christian. CRT diversity says that it's not enough for me to embrace an atheist or Buddhist within the church. Diversity says that in order for my church not to be oppressive, I should hire people of all religious affiliations. You may say that doesn’t make sense, and you’d be right. But this is diversity in CRT. Scriptural values are critical to the function of a church. Forcing an organization whose values are critical to its function to value and embrace people who do not represent or agree with its values undermines the entire existence of that organization. This isn’t just about churches though. The doctrine of diversity will require any organization with a strong value system to do more than embrace people who may even be completely opposed to their values. Diversity says that organization should encourage the erosion of their values.
Let’s break it down further. Our personal values are important to each of us. So you may not be the pastor of a church, let’s say you are the conductor of an orchestra. In your mind, what is the goal of an orchestra? To play the best music they possibly can. So, many orchestras do blind auditions, which means that the conductor and leaders of an orchestra do not know the identity of the person playing the music. Blind auditions were implemented to increase diversity in orchestras. Over time, the data has shown that blind auditions have increased diversity in orchestras by a considerable amount. However, music critics have called for the end of blind auditions for orchestras for the sake of diversity (1).
Why? So that conductors can choose musicians on the basis of diversity, not the merit of their ability to play music. Should orchestras be more diverse? Absolutely. Should they choose worse musicians just because it may increase the diversity of the orchestra? CRT says yes. Because the function of the orchestra matters less than the diversity of the orchestra. Diversity in CRT says that an orchestra should embrace a lesser musician and lower their quality, so that diversity can happen. Embracing differences and seeking to have people from all backgrounds and walks of life is absolutely important. But is it the most important goal?
Diversity in CRT is not just about respecting and tolerating differences; it's about exalting and glorifying them. That means I should honor and praise those who don’t share my beliefs working on my team. If I embrace CRT’s version of diversity, I should eventually make sure that those who don’t share my virtues or values work with me every day. The best way to do this is to hire those who feel “oppressed” by my beliefs, values and lifestyle. I’m not just required to keep casu marzu on the menu. I’m not just required to order it. Diversity says I have to like it. And if I don’t like it for any reason, there’s something wrong with me. Why must I like it? So that I can practice equity and inclusion.
What is equity? Equity is not equal opportunities; equity is equal outcomes. Let’s look at an example.
The caloric content of cheese fries is different than the caloric content of a Caesar salad. That’s probably pretty obvious to you. If we’re at a restaurant, nothing on the menu will have the same amount of calories.
Practicing equity in our restaurant means that even though people ordered different things, all of these things will have the same amount of calories. I will obviously order a whole plate of cheese fries and you’ll order a salad, but somehow the calories in both of those will be the same. If you’re tracking with me, you’ll understand that the only way this is possible is by ensuring that everyone gets portions that total out to the same amount of calories. Let’s say 500 calories. One slice of pizza can have 500 calories in it. A whole salad may have 500 calories. Equity says that regardless of how much pizza you want, how big you are, and what your fitness goals are, you can only have 500 calories worth of pizza because everyone in this restaurant only gets 500 calories.
We all have different bodies, tastes, fitness goals and desires. We may have ordered pizza because it was a cheat day. Or a cheeseburger because, hey, it’s a free country. Wait, hang on. Don’t forget diversity. Diversity says you may not actually get to decide what you order. The individual experience of you deciding what you want on a menu and how much you’re going to pay is irrelevant. Diversity says you don’t choose your food. Equity says that everyone gets the same amount of calories. What matters is making sure every table has an equal caloric outcome.
In the real world, equity is not two people getting paid the same wage to do the same job. Equity is everyone getting paid the same, even if they don’t want a job. It doesn’t matter whether they had the opportunity to apply for a job. Their work ethic is inconsequential. It is irrelevant whether they ever took advantage of any opportunity presented to them. What matters is that we ensure that they have the same outcome as the person who does have the job.
Here's the problem with equity. Equal outcomes means that standards don’t matter. Do we want equty when it comes to who becomes a brain surgeon, pilot or teacher? Should every NFL team get to win the Super Bowl every year? If you found out you had cancer today, would you want to find the best doctor that you could find? Of course you would. To be the best, a person has to be able to exceed a certain standard. Equity is only possible if we stop caring about competence. Only the most competent surgeons, pilots, teachers and NFL players should be able to call themselves the best. I once heard this saying: “what do you call a doctor who graduated at the bottom of his class?” “doctor.” In the world of equity, everyone graduates and there’s probably no such thing as the bottom of the class. Equality matters, giving people the access to opportunities is important. But the pursuit of equity is the is the road to perdition.
Another way to say equity is this: intentional discrimination to ensure equal outcomes for all groups.
Critical theorists consistently state that discrimination is a good thing. As long as we are discriminating against the oppressor class. In How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi states:
“The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist...The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” (Kendi 2019, 19)
The last letter in our restaurant name stands for inclusion.
Here’s how it works in our restaurant. At every restaurant in the world there are items that are frequently ordered, and items that are not frequently ordered. Inclusion says that the items who are less frequently ordered should actually be given to customers more, regardless of their demand. Diversity, equity and inclusion are not sequential, they are all meant to take place at the same time. So let’s put them together. Earlier when we discussed diversity, I mentioned that there are only a certain amount of each item on the menu that can be ordered. Inclusion determines the amount of each item. So there’s three burgers available, one salad and ten orders of casu marzu. Why? Because inclusion says the items that are not in demand should be more prevalent than items that are. And then equity ensures that all of the portions are equal to 500 calories and a person can get no more and no less.
How does inclusion work outside of our imaginary DEI restaurant? Inclusion tells us that if we are in an oppressor class, we must be excluded from the decision-making process. Inclusion says nothing that is offensive or could potentially offend someone who is oppressed can be tolerated.
To practice inclusion, CRT says that we must regulate free speech and, in some cases, free will. The free speech and free will of the oppressor must be regulated to reduce oppression. Again, this is why intersectionality matters. So, we can understand our position in society and whether or not we are considered worthy of inclusion. Who gets to decide who is included? The person whose intersectionality gives them the most layers of oppression.
In the doctrine of inclusion, if you are white, you are not allowed to speak on the topic of race.
If you are cisgender and heterosexual, what you have to say about gender and sexuality doesn’t matter.
If you are a Christian, you are removed from the conversation about religion and morality in culture.
The goal of inclusion is to create safe spaces for expression for those groups who are oppressed. The primary way that we can create those spaces is by not allowing the oppressor groups to participate. At the very least, their speech and expression will be limited. This should happen regardless of a person’s experiences, intentions or understanding because our individual experiences do not matter. Only the groups we belong to, by birth or by choice. In CRT, your group is your identity. The way to remake and reform society is through the lifelong practice of DEI. This has become so prevalent on the campus of American universities that schools like MIT and the University of Chicago have taken faculty votes defending freedom of speech and expression. At MIT specifically, 98 faculty voted to allow free speech, while 52 voted against it. (1) Johnathan Turley, an attorney and legal commentator has said that “the greatest threat to free speech today is the growing support for censorship and speech codes in the mainstream of political and academic thought.” In the world of CRT and inclusion, speech must be controlled as a defense or response to the harm caused by someone classified as an “oppressor.”
How do CT and CRT stack up next to each other? We can use the same worldview questions to see how CT has influenced CRT.
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