Critical Race Theory and White Fragility
Imagine being so ashamed of your history you don't want it taught to your children.
They’re at it again. The liars, the denialists, the whiners… frothing at the mouth because of something called “Critical Race Theory”, misrepresenting it for something it is not, enacting legislation regarding the teaching of history… and the question is why? Why this freak out about history? And what does the current hubbub have to do with Denialism?
What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)?
For those of you who’s life intersects with the bubble of disinformation on the Right, you have surely heard about something called “Critical Race Theory” (CRT), frothingly referred to on Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity as “a theory which blames white people for everything wrong in America”.
Disregarding their reflexive defensiveness – why do white people assume CRT is critical of white people? – CRT is actually a reaction against traditional legal approaches to race.
CRT is not a diversity and inclusion “training” but a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship. Crenshaw—who coined the term “CRT”—notes that CRT is not a noun, but a verb. It cannot be confined to a static and narrow definition but is considered to be an evolving and malleable practice. It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers. CRT also recognizes that race intersects with other identities, including sexuality, gender identity, and others. CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.
CRT notes that pro-white racism is inherent in the laws and legal structure of the United States and that passing legislation meant to address this problem (such as the Civil Rights Act) did not, in fact, change the underlying problem of racial biases in our court system.
CRT says nothing about history. It’s about the legal system. It’s about the present, and how the legacy of our past informs and structures our present.
But it’s history which the Republicans want to control, and they are lying about what CRT is in order to pass education bills designed to lie about history:
What are white people… sorry, white conservatives so afraid of? Why this need to legislate a particular narrative of history, and what is the narrative of history Republicans now demand, by law, to be taught… and what are the narratives they are trying to suppress?
Most importantly: what does this mean if you’re Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American, other, to live in a historically racist country which is now legislating a particular historical viewpoint which happens to deny the existence of racism?
White (Western) Civilization – a recap.
Note: Given that this post is discussing Critical Race Theory as understood by conservatives, I will use “white people” when most traditional narratives would say “Europeans” or “The English” or “Western Civilization”. One redefining deserves another.
WORLD HISTORY AS UNDERSTOOD BY AMERICAN WHITE PEOPLE
About 10,000 BCE, as the ice ages receded, humanity spread across the globe, including the North and South American continents. Over the next millennia, civilizations formed, including Chinese, Egyptian, Indian, Japanese, others. And, of course, the civilization which most concerns us, that of the Tigris-Euphrates, that mélange of cultures which grew from the seeds of Ur and Babylon, spreading north and west, from the Akkadians to the Achaemenids, with, eventually, two strands of especial importance emerging:
1. The Judeo-Christian civilization: Monotheistic with an emphasis on personal (individual) salvation and responsibility for same
2. The Greco-Roman civilization: A secular template with an emphasis on rationality, the primacy of the individual, and the belief that the Universe can be understood and manipulated
Long story short: these two civilizations came together because the Romans killed a man whom one specific Jewish sect claimed to be God incarnate. In a process which took about 400 years, this sect destroyed the faith the Romans had in the Roman empire, built a counter-government to the Roman Senate, and proselytized itself across the known world. In time, the Roman empire toppled under the constant pressure and weight of this counter reality known as “Christianity”, with Christian Vandal after Christian Goth coming down to sack Rome a time or three.
This started the Dark Ages where the Catholic church, the only surviving authority with any legitimacy whatsoever, provided Europe with a cultural and religious hegemony, Christendom, which lasted from around 800 AD to 1,500 AD.
Starting around 1450, things shifted in Christian Europe and the pace of life accelerated: the printing press was invented, the Renaissance was kicked into high gear following the sacking of Constantinople in 1453, the Americas were discovered by Columbus in 1492, and, in 1517, Christendom was shattered by Luther and his Reformation. The subsequent discovery of science in an age of developing competitive nationalities gave white people the civilizational impulse and ability to reach out to the world in a manner impossible until then… and whites not only reached out, white people used their technical superiority to take over and control the world for a century or four (depending upon where in the world you lived) from a period roughly from 1500-1945.
The world grew richer. Society grew more complex. Things got better – literacy, life expectancy, technology, wealth, power, influence, hell, even art reached apexes previously unknown in history. For 450 years, white people strode from success to success, even our failures (keeping the N American continent under European control, for example) still being astonishing examples of the power and durability of Western… now commonly referred to as “Modern”, but really thought of as “white”… civilization. Yes, there were issues: the treatment of indigenous peoples, especially the Atlantic Slave Trade, was recognized as a failure of the early Modern period, but that was solved by Industrialization… another white people innovation which gave white people mastery over nature unknown in human history. No other civilization came close as a world changer, why, European capitalism even solved famine while European socialism solved health care (well, except in the US).
And within the scope of “European” civilization, no culture was better at seeding the globe with its people and ideas as the British, as the continued success of its centers of settlement … including Canada, Australia, and the United States… prove even today.
Founded in 1776, the United States of America was based on the principles of equality under the law and democracy. Initially flawed, as the rules then didn’t allow women and minorities to vote, this was quickly made up for after the Civil War by the passages of various amendments, effectively making racism a thing of the past, except for the South. The US won the Civil War, reintegrated the Slaver states, and then REALLY got richer and more powerful, so that by 1914 the US was the wealthiest and most industrialized country in the globe. The US then won WW1, partied during the 20s, learned how to tighten belts in the Depression, so that when the world needed America during WW2, Americans were ready to re-establish the Arsenal of Democracy and, again, save Europe from itself.
Since then, a grateful world has enjoyed the rise of American culture such as movies and rock and roll, while the Pax Americana brought upon in the post-war period kept the peace and expanded world trade, excepting the constant battle against Communism. Europe shed its colonies, and world population boomed. The US won the battle against Communism sometime after Reagan was President, had to invade Kuwait, and then the US was attacked on 9/11.
… Sounds great, right? I mean, yeah - #Winning!
White people created rationality, whites created morality, whites created modernity, and it isn’t our fault that the rest of the world now wants to organize themselves in capitalist nation states (three more ideas invented by white people). So… what the hell is there to criticize? The world is a better place because of whites – just look at the GDP or Life Expectancy figures! It’s a fantastic 6,000-year run!
I can point to a kazillion history books with the above triumphant tone wove throughout the narrative, from Will and Ariel Durant to Kenneth Clarke to JM Roberts and on and on. It was taught in your school, this sense of civilization triumphalism, where you… if you were white or among those conquered by them… should be thankful to be a part of what is obviously the greatest capital-C Civilization the world has ever seen, one which has… with some missteps… done little but bring wealth and enlightenment for all the peoples of the Earth.
But… isn’t there always another side to the story?
World History for non-Westerners
My people lived here for time immemorial, worshipping Masau’u by giving him the correct offerings. Life was good, our stone masons building homes into the rock, our irrigation systems bringing water from the Colorado river to our farmers. Our children, happy.
Then, in my great-great-great-grandfather’s day, the white man came. First it seemed like both a miracle… for how could such men exist?... and a curse, for we could not compete for game against the white man’s guns. And still they came, a never-ending wave of men and horses, using their guns, their numbers to destroy our lives, take over our lands, using our sacred words in their mouths. First we prayed to Masau’u… then, our prayers unanswered, we cursed him… and then, our curses worn out, our lives shattered, we forgot Masau’u, a useless God only to be remembered by foolish old women.
The white man destroyed our government. They killed our Gods, forcing us to worship their own Gods… and that was easy, for their God was obviously far more powerful than poor, weak, Masau’u. They took our most valuable lands, imprisoning us in the valueless desert wastes, making sure we were well supplied with alcohol and other illicit substances. And, in the greatest indignity of all, by making gambling illegal in areas controlled by white men but not by us, they use us to supply their vices, forcing us to watch them… cater to them… as they squander the wealth stolen from my people in games of chance.
… and they dare demand we act grateful!
The details differ, but the impact, like that of the Pueblo above, was the same the globe over:
I’m stunned. The Mandate of Heaven, gone. China, no longer in the hands of the Chinese, our people addicted to the white man’s cursed opium, our new “Emperor” a puppet in the hands of the foreigners. 5,000 years of civilization coming to an end because of what some white people call ‘heroin’. Chinese forces, their will sapped, have no chance against British, French, American, so many other guns. And even the Japanese are beginning to stir…
In China, a coalition of European nations (and the USA) destroyed the government in two separate wars, effectively ending the 5,000-year Mandate of Heaven, all because white people wanted to sell Chinese people heroin.
Heroin was how white people introduced China to the modern world.
By addicting them.
Just pause… let that sink in… China was modernized because white people wanted to sell Chinese people heroin. And then, when they had enough, we teamed up and destroyed them.
Don’t believe me?
China, having had to reshape its entire civilization to meet the demands of its drug pushers, became “Communist”, taking as its organizing principle the ideas of a Prussian Jew who developed an economic theory based on his analysis of the conditions of the 1840s English working class, a man who spoke of Asia only with contempt. Now? Now China is “Capitalist”, an organizing principle first formulated by a Scottish philosopher who was commenting on his analysis of the conditions of the 1740s English mercantile classes. And nowhere in all this are the ideas of traditional China.
China did this because white people forced them to, because China literally had no choice but to throw out much of what made China, China, to save themselves from the addictions white people forced upon them. Goodbye Confucius, hello Adam Smith and Karl Marx!
Hey… Is selling heroin “Critical Race Theory”? Asking for a friend.
When the US forced open Japanese borders in 1853, the Japanese quickly understood that the world had changed, and, of all the pre-1500 civilizations, were the only one to *openly* capitulate to Western styles peacefully, en masse, via the Meiji Restoration.
By 1890, Japan had many of the dressings of Western countries (a bicameral national government, universal education, a focus on science and industrialization) and by 1905 had successfully modernized enough to beat Russia (always a 2nd-rate European power until 1942) in a naval battle. Japan effectively accomplished what no other civilization had up to that point: They achieved autonomy from white people via mastery of white people’s science, industry, and means of organization and education.
But the price paid for this decision was, effectively, the loss of Japanese civilization itself.
Imagine subjugating 400,000,000 people because of a caffeine addiction (there is that word again), doing a slapdash job on forming any sort of national cohesion among your subjugated peoples, and then abandoning them because you went broke fighting the Germans in two World Wars.
Ladies & gentlemen let us give a round of applause to the British Empire!
The British come into India, home of hundreds of different traditions, and by 1856 had consolidated all of them into one unwieldy nation, under British control until 1948. Some of the more raucous regions break away (Pakistan, Bangladesh), but what we call “India” is now a mishmash of cultures brought together under the governmental traditions of its once-oppressors. It is, frankly, not a good situation for stability and is one of the more underappreciated global hotspots – India is, after all, a nuclear power.
THE ABOVE WERE THE LUCKY ONES
North and South America
Every single civilization existing in 1492 on both the North and South American continents was effectively destroyed by 1892, with much of the damage coming in one of history’s great pandemics: 90% of the people on both continents dying before 1600AD because of Eurasian diseases, the shattered survivors no match against the next 3 centuries of European conquest and slavery.
In North America, the Indian Nations were systemically hunted and hounded by 3 centuries of white settlers, until a sense of guilt overtook some of the settlers, inspiring them to give the natives worthless lands. And when the worthless lands turned out to be not so worthless, reneged on those ‘treaties’.
To put this in everyday terms: Whenever you see a Hispanic woman at a Catholic church, you are looking at a woman who has been so systemically cut off from her past that she now unabashedly worships the Gods of her conquerors.
White people shattered Africa so completely the continent is still expected to take centuries to recover. Tales of the Belgian Congo are horrific, our work in South Africa deplorable, extinctions of massive numbers of animals, the rest of the continent just plundered for resources, animals, and people. Just 400 years of horror visited upon this continent by Western, er, white civilization that it will take another 400 years to heal Africa.
If it can ever be done.
Aboriginal peoples in Australia. Amazonians in South America. The Incas. Uncountable tribes on the Asian steppes. Over and over again, the diversity of civilizations which existed in the world at 1500AD were snuffed out, so that, over centuries, billions of people were cut off from their traditions, their history, and their Gods.
By my count, starting from 1492
4 civilizations (Inca, Aztec, North American Nations, and Africa) were destroyed,
3 civilizations (Chinese, Japanese, Indian) were redefined as “nation states” as white people took over the globe
1 civilization (Islamic) was unable to counter white expansion but survived remarkably well as a social group, many elements taking to fundamentalism to survive as a cultural entity,
2 continents (North America, Australia) had their native peoples effectively wiped out and replaced with white settlers,
1 continent (South America) became a mélange of white and native cultures, with the white cultures dominating, and
1 continent, Africa, was so effectively damaged it may never heal.
So? The past was the past. What can we do about it?
Acknowledge that hundreds of millions, if not billions, of indigenous peoples had no say as they were forced to create the modern world. Acknowledge that great traditions of civilization were destroyed so we could have a singular global civilization. Acknowledge that our ancestors… the authors included… acted with complete rapacious abandon for 400 plus years, literally denuding entire continents of their human populations, replacing them with our own.
We’re not going to change the past, and the author will frankly admit he’s not interested in overthrowing the civilization which gave him Mozart and air conditioning. No… Western Civilization has its moments and lord knows it has survived tougher criticisms than this little blog, that is for sure.
But we should not lie about how the world got to where the world is.
We should not deny reality, nor should we deny our past. And these legislative actions made against indigenous voices, these laws being a purposeful attack on something no one reading these words has heard of one year ago today, Critical Race Theory, is a denial of reality.
And it’s being done by the conservative minority, the same people who killed 500,000 of their fellow citizens by lying about virology. But that’s another essay.
If I were a Hispanic or Black or any other non-white (Anglo white) person, I would be especially concerned. We have seen white people literally industrialize the slaughter of God’s Chosen People (it’s in the Bible!) for the sin of not being white enough. And if I were a non-white person in the United States of America, a country with a history of structural racism, of slavery, and of concentration camps, I would do anything I could do to deny power to the Republicans who are pushing this bullshit.