By Monica Chen
In the summer of 1989, the leaders of Critical Race Theory held their fledgling movement’s first conference in Madison, Wis.
For the first time, it was made official the academics who were devoted to the CRT cause beyond the main founder, Derrick Bell. Bell was the first tenured black professor at Harvard Law School who had written the definitive CRT treatise, “Race, Racism and American Law,” published in 1970. He died in 2011.
The event has been painted ever since as the time when minority and women professors found strength by coming together. It was about “support and survival within the white male-dominated legal academy,” an admirer would write as late as 2012.
There were 20 professors in attendance, including Bell, Richard Delgado, Kimberle Crenshaw, Mari Matsuda, Patricia Williams, and Angela Harris, all of whom have been and are still teaching CRT in higher education.
But the CRT founders’ views on race show they are the opposite of being anti-racist:
Matsuda, for example, does not support removing quotas for Asian-American students at Harvard University. Crenshaw has jumped from topic to topic without following up for decades, but no one seems allowed to question her work. Bell once said, quoting an old black woman, “I lives to harass white folks.” But white people were the ones who opened doors to him all his life.
The truth is CRT is not about studying race or addressing problems in race relations at all. It is only about ensuring power for its proponents. One of the toxic characteristics of CRT is that it blocks genuine racial progress while it happens, and redirects that energy back to the founders.
What is Critical Race Theory? Here is how CRT founders and proponents, the self-described “race-crits,” define it:
“The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, setting, group and self-interest, and emotions and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”– “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic
That sounds vague and overly broad but the definition is accurate. The founders mean every word of what they say.
To put that definition in real world context, to hear what the founders really mean, there are three characteristics that I think need to be recognized, in fact are long overdue to be recognized, when it comes to CRT. They are:
1. CRT is about erasing and replacing the Civil Rights Movement.
2. Critical Race Theory actually hates race.
3. CRT is Fascist.
The founders of CRT are the biggest obstacle to true progress on racial harmony and justice in this country and have been for decades. The nationwide parents’ movement against CRT is just one part of what’s needed. Its place in universities has to end. It needs to be banned from workplaces. And its characteristics need to be identified and studied as a form of Fascism, so that it can be stopped in the future before it affects this country ever again.
1. Critical Race Theory is about erasing and replacing the Civil Rights Movement.
Despite the media’s efforts at painting the CRT founders as being on the side of or continuing the Civil Rights Movement, it’s obvious from Bell, Delgado and Stefancic’s writings that they are the exact opposite. Their work is about injecting cynicism and isolationism into people, keeping people separate, and giving the tools to racists to paint themselves as anti-racist, of course, by supporting CRT.
Take what Bell wrote about Brown v. Board of Education in “Race, Racism, and American Law,” as quoted in the National Black Law Review:
“(1) The difficulty in justifying official segregation and its implications of racial superiority after defeating, in World War II, forces that espoused super-race ideologies and resorted to racial genocide in their name; (2) the perceived need to compete with Communist powers for the friendship of emerging third world nations without the handicap of explaining official apartheid policies at home; (3) the refusal of more and more blacks, particularly those who had fought in the war, to return home to life under segregation; (4) the unacceptable restraints on full industrialization of the South imposed by rigid segregation laws; and (5) the perception by those in policy making positions that they could no longer afford to honor compromises of the past, in which poorer whites won segregation laws as an alternative to demands for social reform legislation and greater political power.”
In other words, there was no moral source for the Brown decision. There was no moral awakening that was dawning on American society at that point – probably as a result of the post-WWII prosperity. It came about solely for opportunism and expediency. A very cynical take that degrades a historic moment.
Anyone who hates what Brown accomplished can say that a black law professor said it wasn’t intended to be good to black people at all, thereby preserving their privilege and racism by passive-aggressively sneering at the landmark decision, with full support from Bell.
The author of the article also notes that Bell urged black people to continue seeking desegregation because black schools were behind academically. So Bell admitted that was the reality in 1970 in his book, but still would not actually support what the Civil Rights Movement accomplished.
Bell also degraded the significance of the Emancipation Proclamation, writing that it came about so the Union Army could recruit black people:
Actually, as a legal matter the proclamation freed no slaves, its terms having been carefully limited to those areas still under the control of the Confederacy, and us beyond the reach of federal law. Slaveholding territories which had sided with the Union were specifically excluded…. On the political front, the emancipation did open the way for the enlistment of blacks, and by war’s end, there were more than 200,000 blacks serving the Union Army.
The “Critical Race Theory” book by Delgado and Stefancic amazingly takes Bell’s opinion on the Brown decision a step further. The authors suggest that lawyers who want to “reform” the law not listen to what their clients want but instead litigate for specific ideological results. From the book:
“Derrick Bell has pointed out a third structure that impedes reform, this time in law. To litigate a law-reform case, the lawyer needs a flesh-and-blood client. One might wish to establish the right of poor consumers to rescind a sales contract or to challenge the legal fiction that a school district is desegregated if the authorities have arranged that the makeup of certain schools is half black and half Chicano (as some of them did in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education).
Suppose, however, that the client and his or her community do not want the very same remedy that the lawyer does. The lawyer, who may represent a civil rights or public interest organization, may want a sweeping decree that names a new evil and declares it contrary to constitutional principles. He or she may be willing to gamble and risk all. The client, however, may want something different—better schools or more money for the ones in his or her neighborhood. … These conflicts, which are ubiquitous in law-reform situations, haunt the lawyer pursuing social change and seem inherent in our system of legal remedies. Which master should the lawyer serve?”
If Brown v. Board of Education happened now, the lawyer adherents of Critical Race Theory would insist that it fit their ideological framework instead of working for the client, whatever their needs might be at the time. The “flesh-and-blood client” is considered to be just a tool for CRT’s agenda. This is the opposite of how the law can be a force for good.
2. CRT actually hates race.
The book, “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, was published in 2001. From its first pages, it’s clear the book is an attack on basic forms of relating and working together between people, of all backgrounds.
Who was overthinking basic interactions this much in 2001, or ever?
The answer is no one. How much envy and hatred would a reader of this book have to have, to get angry and want to browbeat and control people in these small, instinctive interactions?
So first, in 2001, this book would have been poison to a normal, good person who was sincerely wondering about how to have better interactions with people of different races. This book was exactly for hateful people who want to know how to control good people.
Second, the world that CRT wants to build is a complete nightmare.
It’s not about race. This needs to be understood about CRT: Race is just the tool CRT uses. CRT actually hates race. (“Race-crits,” get it?)
It hates people who are secure in their race, and confident enough to go to a car dealership and negotiate, trusting their own mind and their own instincts about what is or is not a fair price for a car. CRT hates people being able to make their own calls, having their own instincts, and having relationships of their own with people of different races that fall outside of CRT’s ideology.
CRT hates people living and working freely from the core of who they are, intention leading to action in a straight line, merit being earned through work in a fair society instead of bowing to power. Race is just the one aspect of our identities that CRT chooses to focus on.
If CRT did not focus on race in its foundational writings, it could have easily focused on sexuality — which is where it has expanded into in recent years. It’s not about race. CRT is inhumane in every way.
In every way, CRT turns good intentions and a capacity to relate back on the people who have an instinct for them the most. Starting with the book by Delgado and Stefancic, it wants to build an oppressive world in which good people cannot live freely. That is not an exaggeration. Imagine if you went through a week with everyone in the scenarios in that introduction subscribing to CRT, with every interaction managed, confused, made opaque, and changed on a whim according to the CRT founders. It would be a new “1984.” The only people who would be treated well in a CRT world are the ones who subscribe to CRT — power redirected back to the founders.
This is the world that’s being pushed by people who want to adopt CRT training in workplaces and in schools right now. CRT is about power, not about race.
3. CRT is Fascist.
Not only does CRT actively work to dismantle the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, and not only does CRT look to disenfranchise good people in order to preserve power for a few, but it always makes sure to get in the way of real progress as it’s happening. It seems that every time there were positive changes in the world, Bell slammed his hand down in the middle of it. He stopped it with words and redirected the energy back to himself and CRT.
In 1992, Bell said to The New York Times that black Americans were more subjugated than at any other time since slavery. There was “a more effective, more sophisticated means of domination,” Bell said.
Really? In a year when black people thrived and led American culture, with Michael Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston, Michael Jordan at the height of their popularity?
Bell said in 1988 to The St. Petersburg Times: “Whites who lack wealth and power are sustained in their sense of racial superiority, and thus rendered more willing to accept their lesser share, by an unspoken but no less certain property right in their ‘whiteness.’ ”
Was he trying to make working class white people feel guilty? That was his contribution to racial discourse during a year in which the Rev. Jesse Jackson led a rally for auto workers in Wisconsin to protest Chrysler closing their plant.
And then there was the Harvard Law School student protest for Bell in 1990. (This event attracted attention in 2012 during former President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.) Bell was waging war against the law school yet again, for not having a black female tenured professor. This time, students joined his cause.
News coverage of the event at the time shows the same kind of protest happening then as what is happening on college campuses across the country right now. There was the same reaction from college administrators. And the students elevating Bell, who had done much to damage race relations at the school, as a sage — in order to protect their status as “Harvard Law students.”
To the general public looking on, the news segment showed an aggrieved-looking black professor who might have needed the students’ support. But in the context of what was going on at Harvard, and had gone on for two decades, this was rotten. By 1990, Harvard should have pivoted toward merit. The students insisted on keeping it mired in politics.
This was the forerunner to the violent, “woke” protests happening on college campuses now.
What was the saving grace of the Harvard Law protest in 1990 was Jesse Jackson became involved at the request of the students.
Harvard at first refused his offer to help. But Jackson went to Harvard anyway and held a rally that was attended by 300 students. The “moral character” of Harvard was on trial, Jackson said.
”The university that sits highest on the hill is obligated to set an example,” Jackson said, reported The New York Times. ”To say in 1990 that there is no African-American woman qualified for appointment to Harvard Law School is both an error and a gross insult to our intelligence. It is humiliating.”
In effect, Jackson neutralized Bell’s divisive actions for the public, incorporating the event into the perspective of the Civil Rights Movement and the national conversation. The general public knew how much racism there still was at universities in 1990. That was a reality. What was going on at Harvard was too insular for the public to understand or care at the time.
After this controversy, throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s, Bell’s influence waned. He still taught at universities. But his ability to cause a firestorm and make headlines was done. Bell became more and more unknown to the general public. Harvard’s academic reputation remained intact.
Bell and CRT have been divisive, self-serving, and all about breaking real progress in order to preserve privilege for the few.
This is a form of Fascism.
The fact is there never has been a real movement inside academia to push back against CRT. And CRT has been one of the biggest problems, if not the biggest problem in academia over the past half century. Even after Bell died in 2011, its rotten impact unfortunately remained. Too much damage had been done.
Economist Thomas Sowell, a long-time critic of Bell, gave his assessment of the man to Fox News host Sean Hannity in 2012. Sowell is senior fellow on Public Policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
In 1990, Sowell said, “He has also said that by ‘black,’ he does not mean skin color. He means those who are really black, not those who think white and look black. What he’s really saying is he wants ideological conformity… .”
“He’s an idealist, self-sacrificing and so on. I suppose one could have seen Hitler that way in his early days,” Sowell added.
“There is this ideological intolerance that Bell has,” Sowell said to Hannity in 2012. “He really has this totalitarian mindset. … You really have to understand Derrick Bell was put in an impossible position. He was hired as a full law professor at the Harvard Law School when he himself said that he did not have the kind of qualifications. … His option was to be a nobody among world-famous intellectuals or to go off on his own shtick and try to be important or significant in that way. He chose the low road.”
“(Bell) has turned his back on the ideal of a colorblind society. And he’s really for a ‘getting even’ society, a revenge society,” he added.
Without people like Sowell saying honestly what they think of Bell over the years, there would be no clarity on CRT at all.
Because the “revenge society” is exactly what has happened to this country in recent years, in no small part to people in power who insist on giving Bell and CRT status and legitimacy even while the public and American culture keep moving past it.
In 1990, CRT could have ended, Harvard students let it go on. In 2001, it could have ended then, but New York University printed Delgado’s book. In 2012 with Bell gone, Obama’s re-election and 2017 with Trump’s election, yet again, the public repeatedly said it had moved on but UNC Chapel Hill supporting Delgado and Stefancic and then NYU extended a hand.
Instead of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, CRT insists on “permanent racism.” Instead of President John F. Kennedy’s message of serving your country, it teaches people how to build entire careers out of tearing it down.
Nothing grows in the world CRT wants to build. In order for this country to move forward, CRT has to finally end.