Imagine you own a small shop, perhaps something like a tailor shop where you have to assist each customer individually, and you find yourself in the situation where two people have entered at almost exactly the same time. One is white, and the other is black. You’re a sole proprietor, so you’re working alone. You are now faced with a decision: which of these two customers do you approach and help first?
Had you been confronted with this simple, everyday scenario a few months ago, you might not have thought much about it. You probably would have laughed and said it doesn’t matter; considering this a thought experiment would likely have seemed impertinent or even race-baiting. Maybe you still feel the same way now, but there’s also a good chance that you don’t. Though you may struggle to explain why, the thought of finding yourself in this perfectly ordinary situation may seem rather discomforting. There is a reason for this discomfort; you’re not just being paranoid.
The reason you’re uncomfortable is because a style of thought—indeed, an entire worldview—called Critical Race Theory has suddenly become mainstream. To be fair, this once-obscure way of thinking about the world has been in development for over 40 years, and has been seeping into our culture for the last decade in particular. In a sense, if you feel uncomfortable by the idea of being caught in the situation described here, it’s because you can feel the critical eye and fear its being turned on you. In a sense, you’re aware that the weight of your decision depends entirely on a factor completely outside of your control: whether or not one of the people who entered your shop, or someone who might end up a bystander to what happens next, has imbibed Critical Race Theory.
Critical Race Theory proceeds upon a number of core tenets, the first and most central of which is that racism is the ordinary state of affairs in our society. It is not aberrational, and therefore it is assumed to be present in all phenomena and interactions. The Critical Race Theorist’s job is to find it and “make its oppression visible” so that it might be “disrupted and dismantled.” This societal presupposition has been further distilled to a single operational question for those who accept the Critical Race Theory view of the world: “The question is not ‘did racism take place?’ but ‘how did racism manifest in this situation?’” as phrased by the now world-famous critical whiteness educator and bestselling author Robin DiAngelo.
That is, as you imagine yourself coming out from behind the counter to greet one or the other of these two customers—one white and one black—racism is present in your decision. If anyone involved accepts the tenets of Critical Race Theory, it will be that person’s job to identify your racism and make a stink of it (which might result, if you’re in certain American cities today, in your shop being vandalized, looted, and burned down in the coming nights). In some sense, everything in your life hinges upon you making the right decision in a situation that doesn’t allow for such a thing.
Why not? Consider your options.
If you choose the black person, say, racism is present in that situation. A Critical Race Theorist will ask how it manifested, try to find it, and will then call it out to disrupt and dismantle it. In this case, it is clear that you don’t trust the black person to be in your shop unattended while you help another customer, which is based in racist stereotypes and upholds racism. If you choose the black customer, you have chosen poorly.
If you choose the white person instead, though, racism is present in that situation. A Critical Race Theorist will ask how it manifested, try to find it, and will then call it out to disrupt and dismantle it. In this case, you clearly favor white people, who you view as first-class citizens over black people, who you see as second-class citizens, because you’re a racist. If you choose the white customer, you have chosen poorly.
Because Critical Race Theory begins with the assumption that racism is ordinary, present, and intolerable, there is no right choice in this plain, everyday circumstance. The only way to remedy this problem, to someone who accepts Critical Race Theory’s premises, is to find the racism embedded in the situation and then to call it out, so that it might be disrupted and dismantled. This is the world according to Critical Race Theory, and in such a world, you’re always wrong (and notice—your race never had to be assumed for these situations to play out to the inevitable conclusion of present racism: the conclusion was simply to be and was assumed from the outset).
A world that operates like this cannot be functional, and it certainly cannot achieve Critical Race Theory’s stated objective: to achieve “racial healing” by ending racism and making society more just and fair. If we want to achieve those goals, which I believe are possible, it begins by rejecting, not accepting and mainstreaming, Critical Race Theory.