National Socialism, Maoism and Marxism-Leninism all have one thing in common: they boil down human experience to one aspect, such as race or class, and diminish the struggles and achievements of much of humanity.
In some respects, as an approach to understanding history, CRT has a certain credibility. Ibram X. Kendi’s retelling of American history in Stamped from the Beginning is lucid, well-crafted and internally consistent in its description of racism as both a motivating force and by-product of the American tale. He uses it to rationalise and support his claim that African Americans have failed to attain the fruits of American life in the same way as whites — higher education, corporate leadership, home ownership and intergenerational wealth — but suggests this is due almost entirely to racist policies embedded in American institutions and law.
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It certainly does not serve any country’s history to ignore such things; they are fundamental strands of the national tapestry. But CRT and its adherents present an all too one-sided view. Its founding father, legal scholar Derrick Bell, even claimed African Americans had not made progress since Abolition, obliterating the enormous contributions — in politics, arts, culture and elsewhere — made by African Americans in the face of widespread discrimination.
CRT takes an opposite approach to many black leaders — Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois — who sought not to lower standards, but to raise them. Indeed, Black Americans made significant progress in terms of incomes and skills in the 1940s to the 1960s, before many of the most heinous forms of racism were abolished. Relying on whites to achieve an anti-racist enlightenment has never been a good strategy, in any era.
But rather than draw inspiration from this, today’s racial activists decry the habits often associated with success as reflections of “whiteness”. Some even denounce habits such as punctuality, rationality and hard work as reflective of “racism” and “white privilege”. Mathematics and science have also been dismissed for being reflective of “racism” and “white privilege”. Yet as African American economist Glenn Loury has observed, CRT wipes out agency by downgrading “western” concepts and “impedes the acquisition of traits that are valued in the marketplace and are essential for human development.”
CRT also gives short shrift to many other histories. Most working-class Americans, particularly outside the American South, had little contact with black workers. Their struggles were not against African Americans but against the white factory owners who controlled capital. Working-class Americans or Brits of the last century do not fit easily into the role of oppressors, nor have they enjoyed the economic benefits CRT imputes to them by dint of racial privilege.
Also cast into what Trotsky famously called “the dustbin of history” are the family stories of most Americans, Canadians and Australians — most of whom came to supply cheap labour. Engels writes about the Irish being “demoralised by dirt and poverty”, living in the worst slums of Victorian England.1 Whether in the United States or in Britain, Irish migrants were oppressed by their fellow whites. Although many Left-wing historians now downplay this repression, it was only in the middle of 20th Century that being Irish Catholic disappeared as a disqualification for the highest office, through the election of John F. Kennedy.
Other newcomers, such as Italians, also faced discrimination and prejudice. But few faced more strenuous opposition than Asian immigrants, who were banned from immigrating or even owning land. During World War II, the US Government actually shipped Japanese Americans off to concentration camps, albeit not for extermination but to address the racist paranoia of their mostly white neighbours — a crime not perpetrated against white German Americans.
Today, Asian-Americans and groups like Hindus in the UK generally outperform whites in school and incomes — despite a history of discrimination against them, even after leaving harsher discrimination in East Africa. Instead of embracing this history, many advocates of CRT see this success as an affront. Although clearly “people of colour,” Asians have transcended “whiteness” by dint of hard work and educational achievement.
As a result, at Harvard, the birthplace of CRT, Asians now face official discrimination, much as Jews did in the last century. In the same vein, when violence is inflicted on Asians, advocates of CRT even suggest that it is somehow the product of white nationalism. Meanwhile, some racial theorists, like Robin DiAngelo, accuse Asians of being “white adjacent”, non-whites who succeed to copping Anglo attitudes.
But perhaps no group has been more forgotten in the broad assault on “whiteness” than the Jews. CRT, notes David Suissa, publisher of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, forces people of whatever background to allow themselves to be defined by their peculiar “systemic ethos”. This means that Jews are whites like any other, despite millennia of persecution in virtually every country where they have settled. Their right to a separate identity is denied; their unique history, obliterated.
However successful they may be today, it took centuries — including a 365-year exile — for Jews to become full citizens of the British Empire. In America, where their rights were guaranteed by the Constitution, they still struggled against fierce WASP opposition, seeking to block their ascent into the highest echelons of business, professions, media, culture and politics. Given their history, Jews often identified with black communities, and the oppressed in general, and were particularly early and disproportionate backers of African American equality.
It is strange, then, that while CRT advocates seek to obliterate three thousand years of unique history, much of the Jewish Establishment — including the Anti-Defamation League — has been slow to distance themselves from Black Lives Matter, even after riots led to desecrations of synagogues. They even embraced BLM allies like Al Sharpton, a Brooklyn preacher with a history of leading anti-Jewish protests.
In modern America, Jewish leaders would rather adopt the politically acceptable focus on white nationalists as their biggest threat. But that doesn’t change the fact that despite several bloody incidents perpetrated by individual white nationalists, a significant proportion of recent attacks on Jews came from African Americans, criminals, the mentally ill or by Palestinian activists. Neo-Nazis are not thick on the ground in Brooklyn or the Fairfax district of Los Angeles where recent acts of violence have occurred.
Meanwhile, CRT, as Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik has noted, represents an increasingly secular America: “a strange form of moral Puritanism without faith, and therefore without forgiveness.” Its functionaries on campuses and in the street often embrace their dogma like the sometimes hysterical Chinese Red Guards, who demonised their own country’s rich history to create a totally new one. Mao would certainly have understood such things as dismantling “the systems of hegemonic power” and introducing compulsory “anti-racism training” throughout education, business, and government.
The authoritarian nature of the movement is not hard to spot. Ibram X. Kendi has called for an Orwellian federal Department of Anti-racism with extra-constitutional power to abolish any law deemed insufficiently “anti-racist”, He identifies racism and capitalism as “conjoined twins”: both will have to collapse before racism can be eradicated. Of course, this is hard to reconcile with the lack of racial harmony in China and other socialist countries, much less the vast fortunes Kendi and BLM receive from the oligarchy.
The good news is that CRT’s racialist agenda may not become a permanent fixture. The vast majority of Americans — including millennials and minorities — do not, for example, favour defunding the police. Most American voters — by wide margins — reject the notion of teaching Critical Race Theory in schools, even though the effort is adopted by the billionaire class as well as corporate HR departments, most Democratic politicians, the White House and the powerful teachers’ unions.
Equally promising is the growing alarm among liberals —including TV host Bill Maher and journalist Andrew Sullivan — whose devotion to the ideal of colour-blindness is dismissed by CRT adherents as a “fantasy”. Similarly, former Clinton advisor Bill Galston has pointed out that CRT is a “doctrine” that rejects the Enlightenment, “tacitly requires deconstructing the American order and rebuilding it on an entirely different foundation”. In other words, it is not a project likely to be enacted democratically.
Perhaps nothing more reflects the “on-the-street” reality, as opposed to Twitter, than the growing tendency towards intermarriage and interracial dating — not only in the US, but in Canada, Australia and the UK. Inter-racial dating in America is up 40% since 2003, according to the Census, while interracial marriage has soared from 3% in 1967 to roughly one in six now.
There is, of course, more work to be done. African-American incomes — as well as those of Pakistanis and West Indians in the UK — have not kept pace. And there are still racial imbalances in imprisonment, confrontations with law enforcement and worse health effects, particularly during the pandemic.
But whatever is needed to help African Americans will only gain political support if it focuses on alleviating the economic and health challenges of all races. The key to addressing our racial divides, notes Richard Parsons, former President of Citigroup, lies not with pushing racial distinctions but promoting economic growth and opportunity. There will never be “unity”, he suggests, until people “feel it in their pockets”. The goal should be to do whatever it takes to address poverty and distress, whether in the south Chicago ghetto, Appalachia or the British Midlands.
Whether they realise it or not, CRT and its backers appear to be undermining this goal. In the last decade, the percentage of Americans who consider relations between black and white communities as “poor” has almost doubled, to near 60%. Certainly, policies of “reverse discrimination” seem likely to stir resentment. People don’t like to be forced to beg forgiveness and make recompense for the sins of their fathers, especially when they have no reason to believe their fathers , most of whom immigrated well after the Civil War, have done nothing wrong. Indeed, it’s hardly surprising that the anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish far-Right — including the neo-Nazi National Socialist Club, Proud Boys and Aryan Nations Arizona — has targeted anti-CRT protests as a way build support.
Despite the persistence of these racists, there’s still a reason that non-whites continue to move to Britain and its colonial offspring. After all, these places offer important legal protections not common in the developing world. China’s autocratic Xi Jinping may offer “the Chinese dream”, but the number of immigrants from China living in the United States more than doubled between 2000 and 2018, reaching nearly 2.5 million, with many others heading to Canada and Australia. There is little such movement to China — where the foreign population is barely one in a thousand —or most other Asian countries.2
In the end, our shared historical legacy — so different than China — represents the essential basis upon which we can expand and improve our multi-national societies. It does little good to demolish the historical bonds we, as citizens, feel, even as we recognise that our greatest heroes — whether its America’s Founding Fathers, Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt or Martin Luther King — were in some ways flawed.
The solution to the racial crisis in the West requires not separating people by race but by finding common grounds upon which to create a successful, diverse and coherent society. Without “awareness” of our history, its differing tangents and permutations, we, as classicist Michael Grant once noted, will be “blindfolded in our efforts to grapple with our future”. Communities that don’t fit a certain label — whether they are Jewish or Asian — will continue to find their histories obscured. And more important, we will steal from ourselves and our children the common sense of past needed to forge more perfect unions.