Why Critical Race Theory now?

Bob Moses, the civil rights leader, died a few days ago. He led voter registration drives in Mississippi during the 1960s and later founded the Algebra Project to teach math to Black students in rural areas and inner cities.

Moses didn’t believe math is racist. He believed that math literacy “is the tool to elevate the young into the first class economically.”

How did the civil rights movement devolve from Bob Moses’ vision to that of Critical Race Theory (CRT)? CRT has been kicking around in the academy since at least the early 1980s, albeit in more interesting and sophisticated forms than its present incarnation. Why has it just now taken center stage in the quest for Black advancement?

The most obvious answers are frustration and anger. Frustration at the fact that doing the things, such as mastering math, that will “elevate young Blacks into the first class economically” has proven very difficult. Anger that Blacks, to a disproportionate extent, aren’t moving into that class.

In its present form, CRT is, in essence, two things — a theory and a demand. The theory is that Whites are to blame for Blacks not succeeding to the same extent as Whites. The demand is that Blacks be rewarded as if they have succeeded to that extent.

It’s easy to understand the psychology of CRT’s theory and demand. But as a strategy for advancement, CRT seems badly misguided even on its own premise. America isn’t likely to accept the demonization of a majority (or a plurality) of its population, and it certainly won’t if the premise that Whites overwhelmingly are racist is true.

American isn’t a racist country. Americans overwhelmingly oppose discrimination based on race. Many are even willing to confer some benefits and privileges on Blacks based on race, and some benefits/privileges have been conferred on that basis. But not to the extent the CRT movement demands.

By calling on well-off Whites to stop having their kids apply to top schools so that Blacks and Latinos can fully populate the student bodies at these institutions, Dallas Justice Now has reduced CRT to absurdity. There are limits to how much absurdity even White leftists can accept. Those limits are being sorely tested thanks to CRT.

The other obvious problem with CRT as a strategy is that by blaming Whites for all that ails Black communities and by dismissing time-honored standards as racist, it gives up the quest for advancement through the means by which Americans of all races and national origins, including a great many Blacks, have succeeded.

To take just one example, it concedes defeat in Bob Moses’ quest to promote math literacy. Math is written off as “White” or racist, along with punctuality, responsible parenting, and so forth.

There is a sense, though, in which the move to CRT isn’t just a lashing out in anger and frustration. The move can be viewed as strategic, if short-sighted.

As a strategy, CRT has the advantage of changing the conversation about race in America. Blacks may feel defensive about their lack of success as a group, comparatively speaking. CRT enables them to play offense, not defense.

Every word conservatives (and a few sensible liberals) expend defending America against charges of systemic racism and White supremacy is a word not devoted to discussing the disproportionate degree to which Blacks commit violent crime, drop out of school early, or fail to maintain a strong family structure. It’s better for Black scholars and pseudo-scholars to be arguing about why American colonists rebelled against Great Britain or whether 1619 is the defining moment in American history than to be talking about Black-on-Black crime in America’s cities or the extent to which Black teenagers give birth out of wedlock.

This advantage doesn’t offset the strategic disadvantages of demonizing White America and of throwing in the towel on achieving equality through the usual methods. CRT seems like a Hail Mary — a longshot gamble that America will accept the view that it is inherently evil, that racism explains everything, and that all standards that Blacks disproportionately don’t meet must be abandoned.

The Hail Mary is a play football teams call when they are truly desperate. The answer to my question “why Critical Race Theory now?” may be desperation.

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