We were privy to some welcome confirmation this week that the backlash against Critical Race Theory (CRT) is real, organic, and threatening to the elite consensus around this set of ideas. That confirmation took the form of a cable-news chyron broadcast on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes: “The Right’s Fixation with Race.”
This textbook example of the left’s ego defending its increasingly ill-favored subconscious impulses by attributing them to their adversaries occurred during a segment in which NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny outlined the ways in which well-heeled interests are funding the effort to stop schools from teaching this philosophy. An NBC News report co-authored by Zadrozny backs up this claim and details the extent to which conservative political activists are financing the backlash against CRT. Complimenting this report, Media Matters for America identified a number of CRT critics who appeared recently on Fox News where they were billed only as “teacher” or “mother” when they were also conservative political activists.
All this contributes to the clearly welcome impression that the reaction against CRT is entirely inorganic. Mere “Astroturf,” in the parlance of liberals who tried to convince themselves the Tea Party was the artificial creation of the Koch Brothers and not something that would sweep them out of office in record numbers. Once again, we’re witnessing the left cope with discomfiting events by creating an alternate reality for themselves. And, hopefully, they’re getting the most out of it because it’s hard to imagine that a neutral observer would be swayed by this sort of manipulation.
The backlash against CRT is very real. The notion, for example, that the incensed parents who are descending on school-board meetings in droves have been bamboozled by the Heritage Foundation betrays an unfamiliarity with both how local politics is conducted and the attention parents pay to their children’s education. NBC is one of the first national outlets to even address what has rapidly become a national phenomenon: the outrage over a consensus forged behind closed doors during a once-in-a-century pandemic. On the local level, dispatch after dispatch after dispatch chronicles this organic phenomenon and the surprise with which it has taken supporters of a race-conscious curriculum.
And while we have no way to know if this backlash will have electoral consequences for Democrats on the federal level, municipal elections that hinged on this controversial curriculum have shown that it’s a loser for Democrats. For example, in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Southlake, the slate of candidates who campaigned against a plan not just to teach CRT but to create databases of alleged racial transgressions both in and outside school lost a May election by a resounding 70 to 30 percent of the vote.
It’s whistling past the electoral graveyard to wave this phenomenon off as a fabrication of malevolent right-wing think tanks. More insulting is the notion that it is the right that is somehow obsessed with race. At best, the right can be accused only of noticing that obsession among its opponents.
“Critical Race Theory” might seem like it sprang from nowhere only because we didn’t call it “Critical Race Theory” over the decade that it spent metastasizing into its current iteration. Long before that term was popularized outside of academic circles, American Civil Liberty Union volunteers were publicly lobbying the organization to abandon its “rigid stance” in favor of free-speech absolutism and to ditch the notion that “colorblind logic” could deliver true racial justice. Before it was CRT, it was the University of California system seeking to stigmatize “microaggressions,” including ideas like “America is the land of opportunity,” “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” and “gender plays no part in who we hire.” It would be years before Ibram X. Kendi codified these sentiments into a doctrine: “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination.”
We didn’t quite have the term for it yet when universities were establishing “safe spaces,” by which they meant racially segregated spaces. We still called it “intersectionality” when organizers such as the activists who formed “the Women’s March” accused their Jewish allies of upholding “white supremacy” because of the accidents of their births alone. And we still called it social justice when the universe of effete liberal opinion was absolutely sure that Associate Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh was guilty of rape only because of his presumed “white male superiority complex.”
It took the pandemic and its myriad disorientations for these ideas to transform into a program dedicated to race essentialism. But transform it did. It’s now a pedagogy, the “multifaceted and interdisciplinary field of critical whiteness studies, the study of white racial identities in the context of white supremacy, in education.” Under the guise that “children between the ages of 2 and 4 can start showing racial biases,” elementary school children are being taught that a person’s external features tell us all we need to know about their histories, personalities, behavior patterns, and, ultimately, their futures (by their instructors’ own admission). The Oregon Department of Education’s “Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction” tells educators to lower their standards under the assumption that minorities are incapable of understanding arithmetic. “Laurie Rubel, Brooklyn College Professor of Math Education, offered her words of wisdom on Twitter,” The Baltimore Sun’s M.K. Sprinkle observed, “writing that the 2+2=4 equation ‘reeks of white supremacist patriarchy.’”
It’s now best practices in the workplace and in government. Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights established courses to rid staffers of “internalized racial superiority” and help them through “processing white feelings.” One of the nation’s premier nuclear-research facilities, Sandia National Laboratories, forced its executives into reeducation sessions designed to identify the “roots of white male culture”—the symptoms of which manifest in ideas such as “rugged individualism” and “a can-do attitude,” or the virtues of “hard work” and “striving towards success.” And only last month, the Biden administration found itself on the wrong end of the Constitution when federal judges affirmed a lower-court injunction halting the disbursement of COVID-relief funds because they were being distributed in a racially discriminatory way. Of course, the bureaucrats who were directed to violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause did so with the best of intentions.
The idea that conservatives did anything more than notice this mania is laughable. The legislative efforts on the local level, some of which flirt with violating civic and constitutional propriety, deserve skepticism because this reckoning is entirely organic. Right-wing overreach threatens that emerging consensus. But Republicans should take heart in how Democrats are trying to convince themselves that none of this is real, and no serious person questions the validity of CRT’s sudden ubiquity. They’ll never see it coming.