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Commentary By Jason L. Riley

Critical Race Theory Is a Hustle

Culture Race, Critical Race Theory

It may resemble a serious academic discipline, but it’s really just a fancy argument for racial preferences.

A majority of American fourth- and eighth-graders can’t read or do math at grade level, according to the Education Department. And that assessment is from 2019, before the learning losses from pandemic school closures.

Whenever someone asks me about critical race theory, that statistic comes to mind. What’s the priority, teaching math and reading, or turning elementary schools into social-justice boot camps?

Given that black and Hispanic students are more likely to be lagging academically, it’s a question that anyone professing to care deeply about social inequality might consider. Learning gaps manifest themselves in all kinds of ways later in life, from unemployment rates and income levels to the likelihood of teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and involvement with the criminal-justice system. Our jails and prisons already have too many woke illiterates.

Wealthier parents will make sure their kids receive a decent education, even if it means using private schools or hiring tutors. But the majority of children are relegated to the traditional public-school system, where progressives now want to prioritize the teaching of critical race theory. In addition to being a horrible idea, the timing couldn’t be worse. As the country rapidly diversifies—for more than a decade, U.S. population growth has been driven primarily by Asians and Hispanics—liberals want to teach children to obsess over racial and ethnic differences. What could go wrong?

Recently, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, announced that they had jumped on the bandwagon. At its annual meeting earlier this month, the NEA adopted a proposal stating that it is “reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.” More, the organization pledged to “fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric” and issue a study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” There was no proposal vowing to improve math and reading test scores, alas.

Meanwhile, the NEA’s sister outfit, the American Federation of Teachers, has joined forces with Ibram X. Kendi, an activist-scholar who openly embraces racial discrimination against whites. “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination,” Mr. Kendi asserted in “How to Be an Anti-Racist.” Sadly, that sort of circular drivel is what passes for deep thinking on race today. Mr. Kendi spoke at an AFT conference last week, and the union announced that it will donate copies of his writings to schools, AFT members, educators and youth mentors.

Critical-race ideology is also entering the classroom via the New York Times “1619 Project,” which claims that the Revolutionary War was fought to preserve slavery and earned its creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize. In a forthcoming book, “Woke Racism,” the humanities professor John McWhorter argues that proponents like Mr. Kendi and Ms. Hannah-Jones have mostly been given a pass because they’re racial minorities, they’re on the left, and criticizing them is politically incorrect.

“On the issue of the Revolutionary War, Hannah-Jones’s claim is simply false, but our current cultural etiquette requires pretending that isn’t true—because she’s black,” Mr. McWhorter writes. “Someone has received a Pulitzer Prize for a mistaken interpretation of historical documents about which legions of actual scholars are expert. Meanwhile, the claim is being broadcast, unquestioned, in educational materials being distributed across the nation.”

Mr. McWhorter is right to point out the racial double standards at work in elevating shoddy pseudoscholarship. He’s also correct in noting the general cowardice of his colleagues in the academy. There is no shortage of books about slavery or America’s founding, and none of them have been written by Ms. Hannah-Jones. To what, other than her race and politics, does she owe all this deference?

And while Mr. Kendi is using trendier language—“antiracism,” “implicit bias,” etc.—critical race theory amounts to little more than a fancy argument for affirmative action, and always has. The theory comes out of the legal academy, and early proponents argued that race, ethnicity and gender should be used as academic credentials in hiring and promoting professors. It’s less a serious academic discipline than a hustle. It posits that racial inequality today is the sole fault of whites and the sole responsibility of whites to solve—through racial preferences for blacks. It’s employed by elites primarily for the benefit of elites, though in the name of helping the underprivileged. Ultimately, it’s about blaming your problems on other people—based on their race—which might be the last thing we should be teaching our children.


Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator. Follow him on Twitter here.

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal