July 16, 2021 - 4:21pm

Critical Race Theory, or CRT, has dominated headlines in the US for months. Unsurprisingly, it is a fiercely partisan issue. In the blue corner, there’s MSNBC host Joy Reid stating that opponents of CRT are “steeped in white nationalism” and therefore must be held in the highest contempt. In the red corner, Tucker Carlson calls CRT a “civilisation-ending poison” that will “hurt your children”.

These are admittedly the two extreme ends of the spectrum, but even beyond the primetime polemics, there is clear division. For most liberals, the so-called ‘threat’ of CRT, like cancel culture, is wildly overblown — a mostly trumped up fear by conservatives to excite their base. Meanwhile, conservatives, who are themselves divided over how to tackle the issue, fear that the teaching of CRT at schools is undermining American values and leading children astray.

As all sides of the debate have dug their feet in, new and refreshing takes have been few and far between. But there is one exception: writer, Malcom Kyeyune, who this week articulated a genuinely novel perspective on what CRT — and the activism against it — says about both American conservatism and society. Rather than viewing CRT as an ideological ‘battle of ideas’, Malcom suggests that we should understand it through a materialist lens:

Teaching kids ”wokeness”, or ”CRT”, or whatever we wish to call it is undeniably a case of these schools doing the job they are paid by the parents to do. If you get into Harvard by being woke – and today it seems that few even on the right would actually deny that you do – the schools that charge 50.000 dollars a year to help kids get into Harvard are going to make those kids woke. These brave parents standing up to the new crazy ideology invariably seem to be a fairly small minority; the rest of the parents just shrug and accept that if wokeness is what it’s going to take for the kids to remain in the elite, then wokeness is what it’s going to take..
- Malcom Kyeyune

Why elite parents support wokeness:

“Wokeness” in today’s America is arguably the primary sorting mechanism for the elite. Given that elite parents by and large want their own kids to remain inside the elite, a sorting mechanism has to have some accessible way of stacking the deck, where preparation and foreknowledge conspire to help some at the expense of the hoi polloi. Being able to ”cancel” people under various pretenses is not so much an anti-social bug in a system of elite selection; it is a necessary and vital feature; cancelling someone is the same as taking them out of the race.
- Malcom Kyeyune

CRT is a signal that American elites are increasingly desperate to hold on to their political and economic power, at any cost:

If one accepts Turchin’s thesis of elite overproduction as pointing to something real, and elite competition as one of the driving causes of political and social instability in the United States, then one should also acknowledge that the elites’ preferred solution to this crisis of overproduction is a haphazard, desperate, and widely unpopular turn toward centralisation and increased complexity at almost any cost. The benefits of that process will go to a smaller and smaller slice at the top end of American society — precisely the sort of people who happen to be in favour of things such as CRT, by the way — while the costs will be borne by everyone else.
- Malcom Kyeyune

Culture war issues are often dismissed as shallow distractions from real problems. However, the fight over CRT is useful in exposing the ways in which these conflicts often have a material base. Conservatives would do well to remember that a ‘battle of ideas’ isn’t always the best approach — and that, contrary to appearances, the behaviour of their political opponents is often much more coherent than it may seem.