Critical Race Theory: The divisive concept has gained a lot of attention over the last few months, and it was notably used as a marquee issue in Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Critical Race Theory
What is critical race theory? Well, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Critical race theory (CRT), is an intellectual and social movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of color.” In essence, it’s something that has evolved from an esoteric legal concept to a topic debated constantly on cable TV. Many on both sides of the aisle point to CRT as a major reason why Glenn Youngkin was able to stage a come-from-behind victory in Virginia, as the Republican candidate told statewide supporters that he would ban critical race theory on his first day in office as governor. In a new report released this week, free speech advocacy group PEN America argues that bans threaten First Amendment rights. “The group argues that bills banning critical race theory are veiled efforts to constrain discussion of US history,” Maureen Breslin reports for The Hill. “PEN America reported that 11 bills targeting the legal theory have been passed in nine states, while what it calls ‘educational gag orders’ are pending in many other states.” Here’s what both sides are saying about CRT:
On The Right
Right-leaning commentators don’t think CRT is a “phony” cultural issue. In fact, they believe it’s dividing the country—especially our children. Zooming out, they believe America’s history is at stake when it comes to this topic.
“America’s story is at stake in the fight over critical race theory” Editorial, Washington Examiner: “Just as Marxists pushed people to identify themselves primarily by class, critical race theorists want people to identify themselves primarily by race. … The fight over critical race theory is not a fight over whether America’s history of slavery or segregation should be taught in schools. Of course they should — the abolition of those deplorable institutions shows how far this nation has come. The fight over critical race theory is a fight over national identity. Is America a collection of distinct races, locked in a zero-sum fight for power and domination? Or is it a nation of immigrants striving to see past their differences and create communities where everyone can flourish together? … Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory over Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s gubernatorial election was the first battle in an effort to take that narrative back.”
“The Toll of Critical Race Theory on Our Children” Alveda King, Newsweek: “Both unity and victory have been undermined by critical race theory (CRT). This new approach to race actively divides our kids every day by leading them to believe that the color of their skin holds more importance than the content of their character. This is precisely the type of ideal that leaders in the civil rights movement fought against, yet here it is again … My uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., wouldn’t recognize this regressive version of the civil rights movement. … He preached a vision of the world which focused on character, not skin color. … That’s why it’s important for everyone who cares about our children to learn more about their own local school boards. Find out who’s running. Learn what they believe. … You can decide that direction by learning, and then by voting.”
“Virginia’s ‘Phony’ Culture War” William McGurn, The Wall Street Journal Opinion: “Funny thing about culture wars: No one ever seems to think the left launches them. … look at critical race theory. How much easier it is to treat those who express doubts as bigots and racists than engage on the merits. So pronounced is this reluctance to debate honestly that Mr. McAuliffe and the press pretended that because CRT isn’t taught in its most formal academic version, it’s not in the schools. Who’s the real culture warrior here, when any mom or dad can search the state’s education website and find many mentions of critical race theory … Virginia reminds us that progressives often shout ‘Culture War!’ to avoid debate. They don’t wish to debate because they sense, rightly, that the American people wouldn’t be with them if they knew all the facts. The message Virginia voters sent last Tuesday is that they are tired of it.”
On The Left
Left-leaning commentators think conservatives who rail against discussions on race guided by CRT but push for free speech on other topics are hypocrites. Some view CRT as a historical means to galvanize a base for elections, and another explains how he thinks Democrats can win the debate over CRT.
“‘Critical Race Theory’ Has Been a Winner For Decades” Zak Cheney-Rice, NY Mag: “If the Virginia race was meant to serve as a blueprint for upcoming Republican campaigns, it’s the same blueprint that has animated local political activity, especially among white parents, for decades, and regardless of partisan persuasion. The lesson that links the desegregation clashes of the 1950s and 1960s to the bussing battles of the 1970s and 1980s, and informs the more recent disputes over affordable housing and gentrification in regions from New York City to St. Louis, is that few issues galvanize white activism more consistently than anything that could undermine a cloistered educational experience for their kids. … The sanctity of white children’s education is a national precept. You can label its latest invocation a war against ‘critical race theory,’ or a savvy bid to weld moderates and reactionaries into a winning electoral coalition, but it’s been political dynamite for 70 years.”
“Democrats can win the debate over critical race theory. Here’s how.” Max Boot, The Washington Post Opinion: “Democrats should admit that, even as racism remains a pervasive problem, some efforts to combat it backfire if they exacerbate racial divisions or stigmatize White students. … But while acknowledging some conservative concerns as legitimate, Democrats also need to call out the GOP’s cynical and destructive use of the CRT issue. Just as an earlier generation of liberals protested all the lives Joseph McCarthy was destroying in the name of anti-communism, liberals today need to focus on the collateral damage that Republicans inflict in the name of fighting CRT: They are trying to ban books and fire educators. In short, they are practicing the very ‘cancel culture’ they decry. … Conservatives argue that CRT, with its focus on group identity, is un-American. But what’s more un-American than attempting to ban books and fire teachers for their views? That’s what happens in China.”
“How Not to Talk About Race” Patricia J. Williams, The Nation: “It’s ironic: 10 years ago, absolutist ‘free speech’ bullies like Rush Limbaugh fought endlessly to say whatever they damn well pleased, loudly and on the public airwaves. Now some of the very same blowhards are bullying legislatively to prevent words or concepts from being spoken or taught. At either extreme, it’s the same dangerous paradox: the manipulation of who can speak with unfettered impunity and who cannot. … We cannot legislate feelings about race into silence. Outlawing shame, guilt, and discomfort is not only silly and impossible; it positions race the same way blasphemy laws position speaking ill of God or the king. … the new anti–critical race theory laws ban whole categories of speech not yet spoken.”
Flag This: Critical Race Theory
As pointed out by William Saletan of Slate, a left-leaning outlet, an October CBS News survey showed that “62 percent of likely Virginia voters said ‘school curriculums on race and history’ were a major factor in their choice for governor.” More specifically, Saletan points to a “YouGov/Yahoo! News survey taken last month [in which] 79 percent of voters with annual incomes above $100,000 said they had heard of CRT, versus just 43 percent of those making under $50,000. Among those higher earners, 39 percent said that children shouldn’t be exposed to CRT in school, while 29 percent said they should.” His point: “For Youngkin, CRT was a useful way to attract Virginians who had supported Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election.” In separate polling coverage from Sydney Shea of the Washington Examiner, a right-leaning outlet, “Fifty-seven percent [of respondents] said parents should be concerned over those ideologies regarding how their children are taught in schools.” This was according to a Rasmussen survey, which also found that “Seventy-six percent are concerned public schools are teaching such ideologies.”
Flag Poll: Critical Race Theory
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