In the mid-1960s, when colleges began admitting black students who didn’t meet the standards applied to white ones, some observers presciently warned that the students admitted based on race preferences would carry a stigma. To my knowledge, however, no one one was prescient enough to realize that, in response, Blacks would try to stigmatize Whites — including those granting them the benefit of preferential treatment and those suffering the burdens — or that this effort would give rise to a radical, anti-White intellectual movement.
And who could have predicted that a substantial number of Whites would accept the stigma, along with the tenets of that radical movement?
Things are almost always “predictable” in hindsight. It makes sense, especially in the context of the Black Power movement of the 1960s, that black students who struggled to meet the academic expectations of colleges they weren’t well qualified to attend would come to resent those colleges and the white students who outperformed them. It makes sense that they would see anti-Black racism as responsible for their classroom struggles.
It makes sense that these base resentments would give rise to an intellectual movement — superstructure, as Marxists might say — that validated the notion that anti-Black racism is responsible for the disproportionate failure of Blacks to meet objective standards. This now seems all the more predictable, given that African-American studies departments had been created, in part to accommodate the growing number of Black students.
These departments provided a home for a new movement known as Critical Race Theory. Fringe professors at law schools also got into the act, providing intellectual fire power and plenty of fancy jargon.
Developments off-campus also fueled the resentments that underlie Critical Race Theory. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was intended to create a roughly level playing field for members of all races. Its sponsors expected that the Act would spur major economic gains for Blacks, and it did for many.
However, after a decade or two it was clear that the Civil Rights Act had not washed away racial disparities in key outcomes. The black underclass continued to exist, its ranks dominated increasingly by those whose behavior was not conducive to success.
Disappointment with the outcomes produced by vastly increased opportunities for Blacks in the economy had the same effect as disappointment with the outcomes of vastly increased opportunities — and, indeed, preferential treatment — in colleges. It reinforced the key, deeply pessimistic tenets of Critical Race Theory that (1) anti-Black racism inheres in the DNA of America, (2) race is destiny, (3) objectivity, neutrality, meritocracy and color-blindness are tools with which Whites oppress Blacks. (For a detailed discussion of the pessimism of Critical Race Theory, see this article by John Murawski for RealClearInvestigations.)
What’s difficult to understand, even in hindsight, is the seeming acceptance of aspects of Critical Race Theory by many white Americans. It’s tempting to fall back on the old adage, “nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people” — or at least the intelligence of white liberals.
White students who were rejected by more prestigious colleges because of their race; who attended classes with under-credentialed Blacks admitted thanks to their race; and who saw their colleges expanding Black Studies departments, hiring diversity deans, and imposing speech codes demanded by Blacks, somehow bought the idea not only that America is racist, but that their colleges are too. White students who studied diligently, eschewed criminal behavior, and avoided hard drugs somehow concluded that they owe their limited early successes to “white privilege” and that Blacks who didn’t do these things can justifiably blame their lack of success on anti-Black racism.
However, we don’t really know the degree to which non-Black America subscribes to the anti-White propaganda of the Critical Race Theory movement. We don’t know how far non-Black America can be pushed by the race hustlers to abandon standards and wallow in guilt.
If we knew these things, we could predict with considerable confidence whether America has a bright future or a bleak one.