The Truth about Critical Race Theory

There is a useful phrase that mostly circulates in academic discourse termed “moral panic.” Moral panic is the exaggerated sense that some cultural phenomenon poses such a threat to society that “panic” is called for. Some behavior is considered to be outside the boundaries of acceptable moral behavior and thus a threat to the culture. This is true even for culturally trivial matters. When young people in the 1960s started to wear their hair at shoulder length there was a segment of the population that considered this to be disrespectful, unpatriotic, and even dirty. It was perceived as a threat to the social order. But the threat is exaggerated. The media is fundamentally responsible for reporting on these supposedly aberrant cultural behaviors, and stirring up controversy stimulated by the binary differences between the groups. So, one of the divides in society is between long-hairs and those with conventional haircuts.

The current threat to society resulting in moral panic is “Critical Race Theory” (CRT). The definition of of CRT is not simple and I do not want to dwell on the details here. But at its core CRT is an academic concept that assumes race is a social construction and that race divides people of color against white people. Perhaps more importantly, as demonstrated by the 1619 book, race is more than an individual prejudice or bias but also something embedded structurally in the legal and political system.

So historical patterns of racial discrimination continue to find their way into social policies. In the 1930s the government literally drew lines to create neighborhoods and prevented African-Americans from living in these neighborhoods. To this day, whites continue to benefit from housing appreciation values and developed equity, where blacks have failed to benefit from these policies because of rank discrimination.

Liberals and conservatives draw sharp differences between one another on the basis of their CRT stance. Conservatives contend that when CRT is taught in the schools it undermines patriotism and warps the master American narrative. And those liberals who want to teach CRT in the schools claim that it is an accurate anecdote to the misrepresentations of American history. CRT is a prototypical basis for moral panic.

The problem with moral panic is the experience of the word “panic.” Ideologies like CRT do not warrant panic – which can be dangerous and devolve into violence. Panic ratchets up the intensity of the disagreement and increases the distortions in the positions of each side as well as the perceptual differences that result from intergroup conflict.

There should be a frame check such that what actually happens in the schools is based more on liberalism (I don’t mean progressivism) then a tenacious clinging to an ideology. As I’ve argued before, schools should “teach the conflict.” That is, CRT is a defensible response designed to correctly expose those aspects of American history and the past which are based on white supremacy and racial discrimination. Slavery is certainly a basis for American wealth and structural racist oppression has too easily slipped into the background.

The liberal response to CRT means that it should be taught in the spirit of open-ended inquiry and the rigorous challenge of opposing ideas. Those issues most associated with CRT can be taught in a defensible intellectual manner. America is certainly strong enough to expose its ugly mistakes as they bubble up from liberal foundations of inquiry.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on January 7, 2022, in Communication and Conflict Resolution. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Fischbach, Robert (Emeritus)

    Well said and explained Don.

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