Critical Race Theory

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

–Anatole France


So I read here that the April 8 meeting of the Loudoun County School Board was a reboot of “The House of Flying Daggers.” My caution to all is that for the sake of winning attention, folks often make too much out of too little. That seems to be the case in the matter of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Some parents see indoctrination, radical ideology and abuse of students.

Remember when we were at risk of invasion by caravans of illegal immigrants? Or when the Zika virus was going to kill everybody? When Obama was going to take away all the guns? When the left-wing Antifa sacked the Capitol?

By contrast, evidence of an actual pandemic that has killed over half a million Americans was pooh-poohed for weeks, and by many, still. Consider your sources, people.

Two key questions are: Just what is Critical Race Theory, and is it being taught in Loudoun County Public Schools? What follows is a short guide for the perplexed.

Critical Race Theory began as a movement in schools of law. Delving into that literature should make it clear that it is w-a-a-y over the heads of high school students, most lay persons and probably me as well. It is borderline ridiculous to imagine it being taught in any depth in our schools. That aside, I will try to explain it in a nutshell.

Contrary to some anguished reports, CRT is not about you, or about white people, so relax! Nobody is accusing you of anything. It’s about the waters in which we all swim. In these waters, racial disparities in income, wealth, employment, housing, and education have been well-documented.

The Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., used to run experiments where they sent white and black individuals, alike in all other respects, to apply for jobs. Clear differences in receptivity were recorded to the disadvantage of black applicants. By the same token, clear racial differences in wages are observed, after factoring out other likely causes of wage levels such as education, age, and educational credentials.

I did a radio interview years ago with Bill O’Reilly and made this point. He blurted out, “I don’t believe it!” That wasn’t an argument, Bill-O. We all know about that river in Egypt.

CRT is about how institutions, general patterns of behavior, the process of making law itself, result in racial disparities in wealth, income, wages, and other things that matter. This is what is meant by white supremacy. White privilege just refers to those holding the long end of the stick. CRT is not about ungenerous, ignorant opinions about black people held by some whites.

The goal of CRT is to get past the obvious, now bygone displays of racism — whites only drinking fountains — to deep roots in the law that lead to inferior economic status for African Americans. The crime is what’s legal, in race as in money.

Another hysterical claim is that by CRT, America (And you! Again!) is racist. That phraseology suggests a view of the U.S.A. as having no redeeming value. Everyone is deplorable. As a depiction of CRT, that is simply false — analogous to what the late Sen. Daniel Moynihan, in a different context, described as “Boob bait for Bubba.”

It is true that CRT aims to analyze racist institutions, which it sees as ubiquitous. The inescapable truth of that is reflected in what I noted above: There is simply no other reasonable explanation for the disadvantaged economic and social status of African Americans and other minorities in the U.S.

As the France quote at the top illustrates regarding wealth, a law can be blind on the surface to individual circumstances but still have implications for those subject to such circumstances. So too with race. Race-blind is not necessarily race-neutral. CRT aims to uncover the links between race-neutral law and racism-infected outcomes.

On the second question, is CRT being “taught?” When people say taught, they are worried about indoctrination. But a theory can be taught without students being told, “This is what you should believe.” One can learn about China without being converted to Confucianism.

The county has extensive educational materials on racism. Should students not be taught about racism? Does racism not exist? Shouldn’t minority students be afforded a learning environment free of juvenile, racially motivated distractions? Who in good faith could object?

There would be nothing wrong with teaching about CRT, though it would not be easy to do well. Without doubt, I could find objectionable elements in the LCPS anti-racist curricula. Just as surely, there have been episodes in classrooms that I would find unfortunate. But these same risks apply no less to not teaching about racism. Every offensive episode stemming from anti-racist education has been mirrored in abuse from the opposite direction, ever since school integration began.

CRT is nothing but an effort to analyze how racism functions, not in the form of inter-personal beefs, but through social forces. It would be nice for everyone, me included, to learn more about it. So like I said, we can all relax. There is no good reason to vulgarize a legitimate academic subject into a personalized rebuke of multitudes of white folks. Everything is not about you.

Max B. Sawicky is an economist and writer in Virginia. He retired from the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2017. He has worked at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. He is presently a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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