John McWhorter: Ignore the left's gaslighting, it's not racist to criticize Critical Race Theory

If you’ve followed this story at all then you know that there is a serious backlash to the spread of Critical Race Theory (CRT) into public and private schools around the country. And, not surprisingly, there is now a media backlash to that backlash which is arguing a couple of things. First it suggests that what parents and many conservatives are calling CRT isn’t actually CRT as understood by scholars. Marc Lamont Hill and Nikole Hannah Jones have both made that argument. For instance:


And the second (very predictable) argument is that opponents of CRT are really just racists who want to prevent students from learning about slavery or Jim Crow. The Washington Post published a piece last month which concluded, “Objections to CRT are an emotional defense against unwanted change, not an intellectual disagreement. Conservatives were never debating the facts.” In other words, there’s no point in talking to these racists because they don’t care about facts.

Yesterday John McWhorter wrote a compelling response to the media backlash against the backlash. His overall advice: Ignore the attacks and distractions and keep objecting to CRT. First he deals with the claim that what is being called CRT isn’t really CRT:

Elects commonly insist that critics of CRT would feel differently if they read actual foundational articles about it. But the issue is what is being done in CRT’s name, not what some articles contained decades ago.

The early writings by people like Regina Austin, Richard Delgado, Kimberlé Crenshaw are simply hard-leftist legal analysis, proposing a revised conception of justice that takes oppression into account, including a collective sense of subordinate group identity. These are hardly calls to turn schools into Maoist re-education camps fostering star chambers and struggle sessions…

In language, terms evolve, and quickly — witness, of late, how this has happened with cancel culture and even woke. To insist that “CRT” must properly refer only to the contents of obscure law review articles from decades ago is a debate team stunt, not serious engagement with a dynamic and distressing reality.


This really is a debate team stunt. In the case of Nikole Hannah-Jones above, it’s an attempt to limit the discussion to those who will define CRT in a way she would approve, effectively sidetracking the discussion about what is actually happening in schools that parents are objecting to. Next he deals with the other claim, i.e. that those objecting are really just trying to prevent kids from hearing anything about racism in schools:

The issue here is not whether schoolkids should learn about racism. A certain kind of person loves to stand and breezily say that there are swarms of people out there who don’t want kids to know about racism – and they say this with admirable oppositional poise but not a shred of evidence.

Rather, what most of us (as opposed to the Establishment in schools of education) think, and are correct about, is this:

1. Young children should not be taught if white to be guilty and if black to feel a) oppressed and b) wary of white kids around them (and if South Asian to be very, very confused …).

2. Young children should not be taught that the American story is mainly (note I write mainly rather than only, but mainly is just as awful here) one of oppression and racism. Not because it’s unpleasant and because sinister characters want to “hide” it, but because it’s dumb.

As he goes on to say, it’s one thing to teach kids about our real and sometimes ugly history. It’s another to teach kids that this is the only story we have or the only way to analyze everything in our history.


McWhorter wraps up with two points that summarize these ideas. First, he writes, you don’t have to read Kimberlé Crenshaw or accept the idea that if you’re not talking about what she was 30 years ago your complaints aren’t valid. Things have changed. That change has happened rapidly in the past 6 years or so and CRT works as a label until we have a better one.

Second, there’s a lot of middle ground between teaching students nothing about slavery and Jim Crow and embracing CRT and Ibram Kendi-style anti-racism. In fact, nearly all students are already taught about slavery and Jim Crow. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, but CRT, which one supporter recently admitted was akin to “demonizing white people for being born,” is not an appropriate correction.

And that brings me to the final point about all of this which is that all the evidence that something is very wrong with what is being pushed into our schools is out there but, for the most part, the media refuses to engage. For instance, that line I quoted above from a private school headmaster about demonizing white people is on tape. There’s no doubt about him saying it. And yet, the NY Times ran a story about the topic and omitted that quote. Instead, here’s how the article framed it:

Mr. Rossi’s note…raised valid concerns about the squelching of free thought. But he also took the dubious step of publicizing part of a secretly taped conversation he had with the school’s headmaster, George Davison, in which he goaded his boss, as if he were a prosecutor grilling a witness, into acknowledging that the new programming demonized white students.


So a headmaster admits on tape that CRT has gone way too far and the Times reports the real story is that he was goaded him into it? They won’t even include the quote, much less the audio so people can judge for themselves. They are just happy to play gatekeeper on this explosive statement. That’s the kind of coverage this issue mostly gets. The evidence is there but no one seems eager to really look at it or to have anyone else look at it.

Finally, since I’m criticizing the Times, let me also give them some sincere credit. They published probably the single best piece yet written about anti-racism trainers including Robin DiAngelo. That piece was full of stunning revelations about what these people believe and where they are coming from. And yet, it didn’t seem to get picked up or talked about except by people like me.

If you want to see what parents are objecting to when they object to CRT, all you have to do is read this piece in the NY Times. It’s all there: the hostility to reason and individualism, to science and objectivity (and ultimately the enlightenment), to capitalism and of course to meritocracy. It’s not that hard to find the problem at the root of this ideology if you are willing to look, but with a few notable exceptions it seems the media is doing its best to obscure rather than elucidate.

To sum this all up, John McWhorter is right. Don’t fall for the media-led gaslighting on this. It’s too important to ignore.


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David Strom 6:00 PM | February 27, 2024