Anti-CRT rhetoric: common confusions

From what I’ve seen, much evangelical anti-CRT rhetoric suffers from three basic confusions. Clarity on these points is prerequisite to fruitful dialogue.

The first confusion stems from different senses of the term ‘racism’—specifically, a conflation of ‘racism’ qua racist attitudes and ‘racism’ qua racist systems or institutions. The objection goes like this: “What do you mean America is systemically racist? I’m an American and *I’m* not racist—I hardly even know anyone who’s racist! So that can’t be right.” But this misses the point. Systemic or institutional racism isn’t about racist attitudes. (Past or present racist attitudes may be implicated in any number of ways. But that’s beside the point in discussions of systemic or institutional racism *as such*.)

A second confusion revolves around the difference between culpability and owing restitution, giving rise to concerns like: “What do you mean I owe restitution for past injustice?! I haven’t done anything wrong—I wasn’t even born yet!” But culpability and owing restitution aren’t identical or even inextricable. (Culpability is generally a sufficient condition for owing restitution of some kind; but it’s not a necessary condition.) In any case, the US government *is* culpable, and should pay, for grave injustices committed by the US government.

A third confusion involves the difference between CRT on one the hand and, on the other hand, uncontested historical and economic facts that often feature in discussions around CRT

For example: it’s just a fact that the US government created what we know as the white middle class via publicly subsidized programs that were, by law, unavailable to people of color—which engendered persisting disparities in wealth, opportunity, income, access to education, etc.

Whatever one thinks of CRT, these are facts. Yes, there’s room to debate the lingering effects of such policies and how best to proceed as a political community—questions around policing, taxes, zoning, school funding and so on. But the facts themselves are not open to question.

I’m convinced that a lot of what gets labeled as ‘CRT’ nowadays is just history that white people don’t like to talk about and don’t want their kids reading about in school. But that’s no way for a just society to proceed. We and our children must understand our history in order to be competent citizens who participate in shaping laws and public policies that give everyone their due.

Once these points are clarified, there’s room for more fruitful dialogue about questions that are legitimately contested (provided that one’s interlocutor is operating in good faith, of course—which isn’t always the case).

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