Within the last three years, ideas from writers, intellectuals, and academics about the remedy to structural, systemic, and institutional racism have come into the mainstream. Starting in 2019, when the 1619 project was first published, until now where intellectuals like Ibram X. Kendi are household names, these ideas have infiltrated the American zeitgeist. Ideas like Critical Race Theory (CRT) and antiracism have created a dichotomy between those who truly understand the pedagogy and content of these ideas and those who do not. Conservatives are largely attacking CRT based on false assumptions of what it actually is and its effects on education. Liberals mostly defend it on principles of free speech and social justice, metrics that are admirable but do not actually respond to any of the issues these ideas inherently bring. CRT and Antiracism is not just inconducive to any positive change but even counterproductive because it derails us from looking at the more modern cases in which black Americans have been robbed of their wealth and shifts the blame away from any of the important leaders of today.
Controversy has surrounded race conscious education for a long time. There are many parallels between the fear of indoctrination now and the communist fears of indoctrination during the 1930s which led to a strong reversion towards patriotism in education. In those times the government started mandating the pledge of allegiance, and today the government is trying to ban the teaching of racially charged ideas because of their supposed propensity to make Americans despise their own country. A strong distinction needs to be made in order to understand the wave of disapproval politicians have exhibited for these ideas entering education as six states currently have bills to ban critical race theory in K-12 education.
When defining CRT, it is important to outline what it is not, like for example culturally conscious education. Culturally conscious education emerged in the 90s and has stayed present since then but CRT and antiracism are not further branches of this but completely different trees. CRT is actually quite old, emerging out of the cooperation of legal analysts and scholars like Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others. CRT arose out of a legal framework aiming to deconstruct the racism that had made it inside the structure of our institutions. This was in contrast to the way most people thought about racism at that time, which was mostly on an individual level through bias and prejudice.
Republicans repudiate these ideas for promoting an idea of racially superior and inferior classes as well as promoting harmful race relations and have long held the stance of “race neutrality” or “color blindness.” They are far more likely to agree with stances favoring a colorblind or post-racial America like that showed in Justice Roberts’ dissent in Parents Involved saying that “The [only] way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Most recently many far-right Conservatives have gone even further trying to label CRT, antirasism, and curricula like the 1619 Project as Marxist and anticapitalist.
Critiques Like these are often poorly supported by any sort of factual information and do not focus on what CRT and antiracism actually are. The issue when analyzing a framework of belief, especially one that is being taught to school aged children should not focus on its end effect as long as the basis for pushing the end is generally truthful and well intended; two things that are highly debatable in this case. The main quarrel here, however, should be what exactly is being left out by this framework and who exactly is being challenged by these theories. Only by answering these questions can we be truly critical of a theory that itself aims to be critical of a system that it claims to be completely contaminated by white supremacy and capitalism yet is today widely supported by white capitalists.
Published in 2019 and developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the 1619 Project has been at the center of a controversy for its reframing of the American South and its legacy. From outlets like the Wall Street Journal to even World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) — the first outlets to even critique the project — all of them have accused the project of deliberately making a political view seem like factual journalism when a majority of facts contradict its own narrative.
Antiracism strikes the same nerve. Ibram X. Kendi takes the assumptions that the 1619 projects pushed even further, saying that not only did the capitalism of the South create black poverty and structural racism that remains in place until today, but capitalism and racism are instricibly linked. In an interview on Democracy Now!, he called them "conjoined twins" and said that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… [and] the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”
With a history like that, it is no wonder that Conservatives hold this as their anathema.The issue however is that this view of CRT and antiracism is incorrect; furthermore, this intense focus on slavery diverts a large part of the conversation from what has actually caused the biggest deflation of black wealth. One such cause is the Great Recession of 2008 under the Obama Administration, which decimated black wealth because of his incompitent housing policy according to an investigation by Jacobin Magazine.
As the WSWS said in their own timely critique of the 1619 project
“The methodology that underlies the 1619 Project is idealist [and] ...irrationalist. All of history is to be explained from the existence of a supra-historical emotional impulse. Slavery is viewed and analyzed not as a specific economically rooted form of the exploitation of labor, but, rather, as the manifestation of white racism.”
The biggest criticism from the WSWS is thus actually the strongest attack against CRT. Ibram X. Kendi, while creating his conception of antiracism that is based on CRT with an even stronger emphasis on anticapitalism, does not seem to be very antagonistic to capitalistic pressures in real life. From getting paid $20,000 from Fairfax Public Schools in Virginia to having Jack Dorsy donate $10 million dollars to his antiracist center at Boston University, Kendi seems to not just be working with the same capitalists he directly rails against but also profiting from it. The same can be said about Nikole Hannah-Jones and Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, who profit greatly off their work. Robin specifically is paid thousands to give talks at educational institutions and large companies for the sake of diversity and inclusion training.
The true divide is not between Republicans and Democrats but really between people who want to see an actual change and those who feel more comfortable keeping the status quo. The latter group prefers to perpetuate white guilt rather than actually talk about the recent actions and policies that brought us here. Republicans and Socialist have a lot of the same critiques albeit with a different desired income. The actual capitalist who took advantage of these economic structures to suppress the wealth of the lower class by squeezing the wealth out of important sectors, disproportionately affecting black Americans, are also the same ones who, along with Liberals, support CRT.
While in its conception CRT might have been thought of as being the measure to break down or expose these hegemonic structures of powers built on classism that disproportionately affects minorities, in its current and present version, it does nothing to ameliorate the problem.