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Three Myths About Critical Race Theory

by Dr. Neil Shenvi



Critical race theory or “CRT” is a contentious topic today, both in the church and in the broader culture. Some Christians view CRT as a harmless or even useful tool for understanding racial dynamics. Others see it as a pernicious, anti-Christian worldview rooted in Marxism.


To make matters more confusing, Christians on both sides of this issue often have a limited  understanding of CRT. They attempt to consult experts but find that the experts themselves are divided. Prof. X says that CRT is a conservative bogeyman, an attempt by the Right to shut down discussions of race. But Dr. Y says that CRT is nothing more than race Marxism, labeling people as “oppressed” or “oppressor” based solely on the color of their skin.


Which is it?


In this article, I’ll address three common myths about CRT to help Christians get their bearings and assess CRT accurately. 


“CRT is just a legal theory and/or is only taught in graduate school”


The idea that CRT is “just a legal theory” is both widespread and wildly false. While CRT did originate within law schools in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it rapidly migrated to other departments. Today, its co-founders not only affirm but boast that CRT has been disseminated throughout academia. In their seminal text CRT: An Introduction, prominent critical race theorists Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic write:


Although CRT began as a movement in the law, it has rapidly spread beyond that discipline. Today, many scholars in the field of education consider themselves critical race theorists. [ . . . ] Political scientists ponder voting strategies coined by critical race theorists, while women’s studies professors teach about intersectionality. [ . . . ] Ethnic studies sources often include a unit on critical race theory, and American studies departments teach material on critical white studies developed by CRT writers. Sociologists, theologians, and health care specialists use critical theory and its ideas. Philosophers incorporate critical race ideas in analyzing issues such as viewpoint discrimination and whether Western philosophy is inherently white in its orientation, values, and methods of reasoning. (pp. 7-8) 

But one need not read primary sources to know that CRT has transcended its legal origins. Amazon lists dozens of textbooks on the subject of CRT in education: Critical Race Theory in Education: A Scholar's Journey, Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education, Critical Race Theory in Mathematics Education, DisCrit―Disability Studies and Critical Race Theory in Education, etc.


Related to the claim that CRT is “just a legal theory” is the claim that CRT is an esoteric field “only taught in grad school.” This statement is, at best, misleading. A simple Google Scholar search turns up articles such as “Critical Race Theory in K–12 Praxis” or “Yes, Critical Race Theory Should Be Taught in Your School: Undoing Racism in K-12 Schooling and Classrooms through CRT.” While elementary school children will probably not be taught the conceptual foundations of critical race theory, they are certainly exposed to critical race praxis (i.e., the practical application of CRT within education). In the same way, while it may be technically true that “atomic theory isn’t taught in elementary school” it would be false to claim that “elementary school students aren’t taught about atoms.” 


In summary, anyone who claims that “CRT is just an abstruse legal theory only taught in graduate school” is either misinformed or, unfortunately, engaged in deliberate obfuscation.


“Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi aren’t doing CRT”


When people are asked to name prominent critical race theorists, they rarely mention legal scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw or Mari Matsuda. Instead, they name best-selling authors like Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, or Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be An Antiracist


In response to such criticism, I occasionally hear people claim that DiAngelo and Kendi are not actually critical race theorists. This impression is understandable, given that both authors have either minimized or denied their connection to CRT. For example, when asked in a CNN interview whether she was a critical race theorist, DiAngelo replied, “true critical race [sic] comes out of legal scholarship. And by that definition, I’m not a critical race theorist.” Yet the title of her own website is “Robin DiAngelo, PhD, Critical Racial and Social Justice Education”! 


Despite DiAngelo’s equivocation, it is undeniable that both authors are doing CRT even if they don’t personally identify as critical race theorists. Their writing is suffused with the core tenets of CRT: the ubiquity of racism, the idea of “whiteness as property,” the pernicious nature of colorblindness, the concept of intersectional oppression, etc.


In the end, what matters is not how a particular author self-identifies (which will apparently vary depending on their audience), but what they actually teach. And Kendi and DiAngelo, along with countless other popular authors like Layla Saad, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Ijeoma Oluo, teach the ideas of critical race theory.


“Everything critical race theorists teach is false”


Many people, including myself, have written about the many ways in which CRT is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity. However, it doesn’t follow that critical race theorists never make objectively true statements.


For example, critical race theorists affirm that race is a social construct, a truth to which every Christian ought to shout “Amen.” “Ethnicity,” “nation,” “tribe,” and “clan” are all biblical categories, but the 21st-century American buckets of “Black” and “White” and “Asian” are modern inventions.


Similarly, CRT anthologies often contain articles that are relatively benign, touching on topics like slave labor in Los Angeles’ high-end garment industry or the fact that SCOTUS Justice James Harlan, who wrote the dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, had a black half-brother. Christians should affirm that through general revelation and common grace, critical race theorists can do good scholarship on particular issues. What we should deny is that their basic, overall ideological framework regarding law, morality, and justice is compatible with Christianity. 


In the same way, Christians can affirm that, say, Mormon authors can produce helpful material on economics, or leadership, or parenting, while steadfastly denying that Mormonism is compatible with Christianity. 


Conclusion

In this article, I’ve attempted to dispel three popular myths about CRT. Unfortunately, it’s easy to become so emotionally invested in a particular narrative that we cling to it even when shown that it’s incorrect. Recognizing this all-too-human tendency, I recommend slowing down and listening to both sides of issues before forming an opinion (Prov. 18:17). Read primary sources. Weigh their arguments. Test everything against Scripture. Christians are called to be men and women committed to the truth. We demonstrate this commitment when we value accurate understanding over tribal loyalty.


 

Bio: Dr. Neil Shenvi is a homeschooling theoretical chemist who is on the Academic Advisory Council of CFBU. His book Critical Dilemma with Dr. Pat Sawyer explains the incompatibility of various critical social theories, including critical race theory and queer theory, with Christianity. 

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