What is critical race theory? Is it accurate? Is it a threat?

Critical race theory definitions vary but appear well represented by the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “Critical race theory, intellectual 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 colour. Critical race theorists hold that the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.”

Steve Piet

Steve Piet

This is consistent with the claims made in pro-critical-race-theory books I’ve read, e.g., “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson and “Democracy in Chains” by Nancy MacLean.

By this definition, Critical race theory is factually incorrect and a poor explanation of reality. Yet, it is a mistake to overcorrect and claim there is no racism because there is. But, let’s examine critical race theory.

Contrary to critical race theory, race is a biological reality, e.g., blood types, skin colors, and hair patterns vary. For example, racial differences are convincingly used by Robin Walker in “When We Ruled: The Ancient and Mediaeval history of Blank Civilisations” to show that key phases of ancient Egypt were dominated by Blacks, not lighter-skinned people as typically depicted in movies. There is no evidence that intelligence has racial differences; consider for example “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond. Race exists; racism is wrong.

The central critical race theory claim is that the United States is uniquely and systemically racist.

American racism is neither unique nor worse than elsewhere. History shows that racism, tribalism, “fear the other”-ism has been universal. Slavery and racism were present at the founding of the United States because they were universal. Native African Black people traded in slaves before Arabs arrived in Africa; Arab slave-trading pre-dated European slave trading. Slavery and racism have not been confined to Africa and Black people. I’m unaware of any part of the globe historically free from these horrors.

Rather than be uniquely bad, the U.S. and United Kingdom have led progress. For example, we fought a deadly and destructive civil war that ended slavery. How many other nations did that?

American racism exists; I’ve seen it even though I’m a white male. It must be more prevalent than I notice. But we have largely purged it from our laws and institutions. Racial differences in outcomes, e.g., unemployment, do not prove systemic racism — but I’ll need another column to address that claim.

Critical race theory is itself racist. By themselves, simple bans against teaching critical race theory are inadequate and possibly counterproductive because bans don’t defeat it. It must be defeated by logic, data and by treating people as individuals. We’ve made so much progress in moving from treating people as groups (races, biological genders, sexual orientation, sexual identity) to treating people as individuals. Why go backwards?

Steve Piet is a nuclear engineer who worked at Idaho National Laboratory for 31 years.

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