Asking critical questions about widely shared values always makes people uncomfortable, and understandably so. The opponents of CRT seize upon our critique of the ideology of colorblindness to charge that we are divisive—or, as Ted Cruz put it, that we are in fact racist. But colorblindness is an empty ideal that works to ensure confirmation of its own premises: If one is not permitted to see the social consequences of policies in terms of race, then the disparate racial effects of policies simply become invisible. Racialized police violence disappears when no racial statistics are kept on police interactions. Racial redlining looks like simple risk-based pricing if one doesn’t look at the racialized ZIP code results. The way to end racial subordination is to end it in fact, not to define it away.
In contrast to being racially divisive, the “critical” part of CRT holds that there is no objective and neutral idea of merit that could explain the distribution of wealth, power, and prestige in America. The unfairness extends to whites as well as to Blacks, and to all those whose place on the hierarchies of American life are supposedly legitimated by ways that “merit” is defined by the professional classes.
CRT is a powerful lens for understanding the racial dynamics of the current cultural situation. The campaign against CRT has spread so fast in large part because of how narrowly traditional civil rights approaches comprehended racial power. As the civil rights “revolution” of the 1960s was institutionalized in American cultural understanding, whites were taught to understand racism simplistically in terms of bad individuals who carry around racist ideas. The “redneck” Southern sheriff became the consensus villain for mainstream America.