It is an emotionally based claim, void of the facts, aimed at creating further division.
Amongst Critical Race Theory (CRT) scholars there is one belief that is practically universal: the idea that racism is both ordinary and permanent in a society.
Critical Race Theorists Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic write in Critical Race Theory: An Introduction that “racism is ordinary, not aberrational- ‘normal science,’ the usual way society does business.” It is the idea that racism is baked into the very foundation of our society; the idea that, structurally, this country was designed specifically for the success of the white demographic; the idea that, despite hard work and dedication, minority groups will always run into white-dominated roadblocks because they are attempting to work within a system built against them.
This claim is emotional. It is jarring. It makes both minorities and white people question their places in society. For the minority, it can sow distrust in the government, our corporate ladder, and our systems of education. For the white person, it can insinuate strong feelings of guilt – of benefitting from a rigged system. The claim is severe. But what about the facts?
First, let’s talk about historical progress. If racism is still ordinary and normal in American society, it means that we should attribute much of its obvious “lessening” in history to a vast cover-up conspiracy. This is evidenced by Critical Race Theorists’ snarky dismissals of linear racial progress narratives, which they argue “hide the way dominant society often casts minority groups against one another to the detriment of each.” One minority advances at the expense of another, argue Critical Race Theorists.
Such a view is narrowminded and obscures unequivocal racial progress in our nation, while at the same time minimizing the horrors that Black Americans have actually escaped throughout history. In August of 1619, the first English North American slave ship arrived in Jamestown. By 1860, more than 3.9 million slaves were living throughout the United States. These individuals were infamously considered only ⅗ human. They were not allowed to vote, to live their own lives, or to pursue an education. Their existence was confined to hard, involuntary work, violence, and grief. Slavery was what Nikole-Hannah Jones refers to as America’s “original sin.”
But what Critical Race Theorists hardly ever acknowledge is that “sin” of slavery was reckoned with – by both whites and blacks. It’s worth noting that although Critical Race Theorists give lip service to the Civil War as being motivated by slavery, they almost never engage with the war in the moral terms with which they read the rest of American history. The Civil War was not just a war about slavery, but a war against slavery; it was white people and black people fighting alongside each other for the higher ideal of equality under the law. The American people could have chosen to avoid war but keep slavery in both the elections of 1860 and 1864; instead, they determined their time to abolish the peculiar institution was now. The cost was bloody- the bloodiest ever in America’s history – but the consequences was the freedom of slaves, and a genuine quantum leap in racial equality and progress.
Even beyond slavery, racism has still played a prominent role in our history – and so has its ending. Perhaps the second-best example of genuinely monumental moral progress in our nation was the Civil Rights Movement. Schools were segregated by race; black Americans were forbidden from entering certain establishments; interracial marriage was out of the question. It was into this setting that Martin Luther King Jr. famously implored the American people for equal rights regardless of race. He asked for the freedom to live equally to his white peers.
One might use the words ordinary and permanent to describe racism in the United States during these times; however, as the successful Civil Rights Movement showed, racist laws previously thought as permanent were made impermanent, and the so-called “ordinary” racism that had genuinely pervaded the South during Jim Crow became extraordinary indeed. There were over 500 recorded lynchings in Mississippi between 1882 and 1968; in the past twenty years, there are around eight. Racism across the South and America has sharply declined, and in 2021, a new high of 94 percent of Americans approve of interracial marriage, up from 20 percent just 50 years earlier.
Today, the idea of slavery probably makes most of us uncomfortable. Owning another person?
That is not ethical, or just, or okay in any way, shape, or form. The same goes for segregation or marriage restricted by race or any other confinement one might face simply because of the color of his or her skin. We no longer have laws in place working against Chinese immigrants; we no longer limit people’s access to the job market based on race; it just does not matter to most people anymore.
Did you know that the U.S. is actually one of the few countries that explicitly protects its citizens from unequal treatment based on race? Today, there are no good laws currently in place that permit racial discrimination of any kind. If such a law were proposed, it would undoubtedly be struck down as unconstitutional.
Economically, racism is a far lower inhibitor of progress than cultural factors which are shared by people of every race. For both blacks and whites, following the “success sequence” – graduating from high school, getting married before having children, and having a full-time job, lead to about similar rates of attainment of the middle class, and a greater than 90 percent chance of avoiding poverty for both race. Racism is not a poverty causer so much as the legacy of bad policies, past racism, and yes, cultural issues is. For the latter, look at education: black Americans study only 5.5 hours a week on average compared to 7 for whites and 13 for Asians. Some problems cannot be solved until the underlying cultural issues are, and study habits is one of them.
Even so, America has also been a home of progress for black Americans over the past 50 years, although not at the rate some have wanted, which has led to the foment of Critical Race Theory. However, Critical Race Theorists need to contend with the fact that Black incarceration rates fell from 2001-2017 by 34 percent. Between 1999-2000 and 2016-2017, black graduation rates in universities increased by 82 percent. And, over 60 percent of blacks at every degree of educational attainment say they’re doing better financially than their parents. These are great statistics that show a brighter future for Black Americans than ever before, and certain one that challenges the idea that racism is “permanent” in society.
The claim that racism is permanent and ordinary in our society is a powerful one. It tugs at our emotions. It makes us question our societal systems and our collective sense of justice. But that’s the point. It is an emotionally based claim, void of the facts, aimed at creating further division.
CRT is not the answer. Attributing all our problems to “ordinary” systemic racism is not the answer. Believing that such issues are permanent and ordinary is not the answer. So what is the answer? Examining the facts, pursuing the truth, and not assuming the worst. Before we turn to CRT as the racial guiding framework for our lives and scholarship, let’s switch out our emotional glasses for our logical ones.
Kenny Xu is the President of Color Us United, which advocates for a raceblind America in the midst of racial division. He is the author of An Inconvenient Minority which exposes racial discrimination against Asian Americans at elite colleges like Harvard and Yale.DONATE
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