I answered 5 BIG Questions for Campus Reform: “because you’re sending a message to them that somehow in our society they start out less equal, that somehow in our society they don’t have a fair shot, that somehow in our society hard work and dedication is not going to pay off because there’s this systemically racist system that is putting them down…. Their fate in life is to be oppressed. I think that’s about as bad as you can get.”
I recently was interviewed by Angela Morabito, former Education Dept. Press Secretary under Betsy Devos and now a Higher Education Fellow and Spokeswoman for Campus Reform.
The interview was part of Campus Reform’s “5 Big Questions” series, and the questions posed to me were about Critical Race Theory.
As reported by Campus Reform, 5 Big Questions for Prof. William Jacobson, founder of Legal Insurrection:
Cornell Law Professor William Jacobson spoke with Campus Reform about how Critical Race Theory affects students and what he believes should be done to stop it. He says that Critical Race Theory “sets up perpetual racial conflict” by teaching children that their outcome in life is determined not by hard work and merit, but by the color of their skin.
Jacobson, also the founder of Legal Insurrection, has taken a special interest in Critical Race Theory as it relates to young students. He says that viewing the world in terms of the oppressors and the oppressed sends “such a negative message to send to students that that is their fate in life.”
“Their fate in life is to be oppressed, I think that’s about as bad as you can get,” Jacobson says.
Jacobson studied at Harvard Law while a small group of his classmates were laying the groundwork for Critical Legal Studies, a discipline which has now branched off into Critical Race Theory. He says he did not foresee this set of ideas transforming from a legal theory to a mainstream philosophy that appears in K-12 education and the corporate world.
He asserts that Critical Race Theory took root in higher education thanks to small groups of activists.
“Once you have an activist group of students and faculty,” Jacobson says, “they are the ones who get on the student government, they are the ones who push forward the faculty proposals, and most importantly, they are the ones who end up doing the hiring.” By hiring like-minded people, college faculty can create an environment in which Critical Race Theory goes unchallenged.
Now that the organized effort to push Critical Race Theory has expanded far off campus. Jacobson categorizes its supporters in three groups: “You have the true believers, you have the industry built up around this, and then you have people for whom I think it’s just a power play, and I think that’s probably where the unions fit in.”
Jacobson has mapped out the future for Critical Race Theory if it is allowed to gain momentum in classrooms.
“The end game for this is continued racial strife,” he says. “And that, I think, is a dead end for our society.”
(AUTO-GENERATED, MAY CONTAIN TRANSCRIPTION ERRORS. TIME STAMPS ARE APPROXIMATE.)
Angela Morabito, Higher Education Fellow and Spokeswoman for Campus Reform (00:00):
Today Professor William Jacobson is here with me to answer five big questions about critical race theory. Professor Jacobson teaches at Cornell law School and is also the founder of Legal Instruction. Professor Jacobson, thank you for being here.
William A. Jacobson, Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and President of the Legal Insurrection Foundation (00:14):
Great. Thanks for having me.
So recently you called Critical Race Theory a societal dead end. Can you unpack that a little bit for us? What does that mean?
Well, what that means is the most sensitive issue in our history as a nation is the issue of race. And we’ve obviously made tremendous, tremendous progress on many different fronts. And what Critical Race Theory does, it essentially asserts that we can never address that problem, that our system is systemically racist. It is baked into, I think that’s a term you often hear [about] our system, and I don’t, I don’t agree with that.
But what it does is it sets up perpetual racial conflict. It sets up the way its implemented. and I’m not talking about the academic theories, I’m talking about in the real world anti-racism programs, equity programs, it sets up a continuing, never-ending racial conflict. It ascribes to people various designations as oppressor or oppressed based on the color of their skin. So what it does is it takes the most sensitive issue in our nation’s history, it perpetuates it, it creates conflict where there doesn’t need to be it.
And what is the end game for this? The end game for this is continued racial strife. And that I think is a dead end for our society.
There’s so much that’s been written about what Critical Race Theory does to students. When they’re told they’re oppressors, when they’re told that they are privileged and therefore evil, but you’ve written recently about what this does to kids of color. When you tell them that the deck is stacked against them, that there are limits on what they can achieve and what they can be in the world. Can you describe for us what the impact is that Critical Race Theory has on students of color?
Well, I think that, obviously you’d have to ask them directly, but what I observe and what I’ve heard is that it essentially is a very negative stereotype that is imposed on them. So when students who are so-called white or designated as white are told that they are privileged and that they are oppressors and they have some special obligation. And then students who are not white are told that they are oppressed by the nature of our system. The message you’re sending to the students who are designated as oppressed, is that there is no hope for them, that no matter how hard they try, no matter what they do, they are always going to be subject to this oppression.
So I think when you shame white children, and that’s what a lot of this is, it’s race shaming. When you shame white children, you’re actually also shaming black children because you’re sending a message to them that somehow in our society they start out less equal, that somehow in our society they don’t have a fair shot, that somehow in our society hard work and dedication is not going to pay off because there’s this systemically racist system that is putting them down.
And to me, that’s One, inaccurate, and Two, such a negative message to send to students that that is their fate in life. Their fate in life is to be oppressed. I think that’s about as bad as you can get.
And you’ve seen Critical Race Theory from the start. I understand that you were a student at Harvard law school, right? When Critical Race Theory was being developed by some of your classmates, what was the response like on campus then? Did you have any idea that CRT was going to become the phenomenon that it is today?
Well, no. That the short answer is no, this, this has been multiple decades in developing. So at Harvard Law School, in the early 1980s, I graduated in 1984, nobody referred to it as Critical Race Theory. It was Critical Legal Studies was where this all started. And that was a big burgeoning sort of area of study of the law. And it turned over time into taking critical legal studies, becoming critical race studies. One of my classmates was one of the founders of what is now known as critical race studies. I think she may have even been the person who coined the term, Kimberle Crenshaw professor at UCLA and now Columbia also. So this was around, this was a controversy. The concept that our legal structures were meant to oppress people, at that time in the early 1980s, it was really critical legal studies. And then in the later eighties, it became critical race studies. They took that analysis applied to the legal system and applied it more broadly to society.
So I’ve seen this developing and I’ve followed it. Now, I didn’t study it back then because there was nothing to study. It was a lot of people writing things and talking about it. It was literally the earliest stages of this movement. And so I’ve kept abreast of it over time. And then in the last year or two focused on it much more specifically,
And you raise a good point that colleges are the first place where Critical Race Theory took root. And while we see it now, everywhere we see it in K-12 schools, we see it in, you know, woke capital in corporate America. CRT started and took root really on college campuses. What is it about the college environment that allowed that to happen?
Well, I think part of the problem is that you have faculty who view part of their mission in life as being activists. And I think many of them openly admit that. Not all of them admit that, but many of them openly admit that. So they view their role not simply as a passive instructor on a subject matter, they view their role more as an advocate for something. And this has held a lot of allure to a number of people. I don’t think the majority of people, but to enough people that once you have a very dedicated base on a campus, once you have an activist group of students and faculty who may, maybe you’re only 10% of the population, they are the ones who get on the student government. They are the ones who push for the faculty proposals. And most importantly, they are the ones who end up doing the hiring.
So what you’ve seen over about 30 years is that increasing percentages of faculty advocate or adhere to these sort of things, increasing percentages of students. And it is a closed environment. It’s an environment where people have a fair amount of control. So I think that’s why it’s flourished on college campuses.
The important thing is that it has moved off of college campuses. It’s moved into K through 12, it’s moved into corporations. And you will rarely hear the term at the corporate level or the K through 12 level ‘critical race studies.’ That’s not what it is. You have an entire industry of people who write books, who are consultants, who are bureaucrats at universities, who will never use that term. They will use other terms like ‘equity.’ They will use terms like ‘anti-racism’ the term most associated with Ibram Kendi and his How to be An Anti-Racist [book]. At the K through 12, they will call it culturally responsive learning.
But whatever they call it, if they are centering race as the subject matter to instruct students, if they are telling students that our society is systemically racist, if they are telling students that your fate in life is determined for the most part, by the color of your skin, if those are the concepts they are teaching, those are critical race concepts. Whether they say that or not, you’re never going to find a book in fifth grade called ‘critical race studies,’ but you will find a variety of books, which push those themes. Almost every day it seems like some parent on the internet is exposing what’s going on in their school.
And those are the themes, that race is the single most important thing for a child to know about that child’s self, to know about his or her classmates, to know about his or her parents, to know about society, is race. That’s Critical Race Theory, no matter what they call it.
And by any name here, the set of ideas, this ideology that says people today, bear the blame for the sins of America’s past. It seems like whenever someone questions it there’s a huge uproar from other parents who call themselves anti-racists, you have the teacher’s union fighting to keep critical race theory in the classroom. What’s in it for them? What do they stand to gain by pushing this on children?
I think that’s a complicated question. Some of them are just true believers. In any sort of ideological movement, you have people for whom this becomes their truth. They like to use that term. It’s their truth. And they believe it. They adhere to it almost as a religion. It is part of their being, it is part of how they view their self-worth, that they are essentially saving people from this evil corrupt system.
So you have the true believers, but you also have people for whom this is monetarily rewarding. You have a Diversity Equity and Inclusion industry of publishers, of consultants, of bureaucrats, who have a financial interest in perpetuating that. And you should not underestimate that. You also have an entire industry of advocacy groups. One group I just looked into recently for a post I wrote at Legal Insurrection was a group called the Future of Learning and what it is, it’s a coalition of over 300 significant-sized groups, pushing this in K through 12, supported by dozens of major foundations.
There is enormous money behind this. If you want to make a lot of money in education, don’t become a grade school teacher, don’t even become a law professor, become a Diversity Equity and Inclusion consultant, either on the payroll of the university or better yet, if you want to make a lot of money, writing a book or consulting.
So you have the true believers, you have the industry built up around this, and then you have people for whom I think it’s just a power play. And I think that’s probably where the unions fit in. This is a way of exerting power. This is a way of making college administrators crumble in the face of being accused of being racist, of being accused of not being sufficiently woke, of being accused of any sort of matter of things. That is enough to make university presidents, who we often think of as having all this power, absolutely crumble in the face of an online day deluge. So to many of these people, it’s just a way of exerting power. They have found the magic way of making administrators adhere to what they want.
So I think it’s a combination of those three things and that’s part of what makes it so difficult.
You’ve given us much to think about how, about how well-funded and well-organized these groups are that continue to push CRT, professor William Jacobson. Thank you again for answering five big questions. Thank you so much.DONATE
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