Abbott: Critical Race Theory 101

January 7, 2022

by Jeff Abbott, Ph.D., J.D.

In September 2020, President Donald Trump issued an executive order prohibiting federal agencies and federal contractors from requiring employees to undergo diversity, equity and inclusion training. The order barred training that had divisive concepts such as race or sex stereotyping and scapegoating.  Immediately, the radical left (aka the Democrat Party) went ballistic. 

Among the content considered divisive is Critical Race Theory (CRT). Reports indicate that over 300 diversity, equity and inclusion training sessions were canceled as a result of the order. Over 120 civil rights organizations and allies of the Democrat Party signed a letter condemning the order. Of course, they are back on the schedule since the change in administrations.

It started on day one of the Biden administration. That’s when Joe Biden signed an executive order saying America suffers from “systemic” racism and promised to advance “equity,” a concept mandating that everyone have the same outcomes. And as used by the liberal left, equity is about tearing some people down rather than lifting everyone up.

During the last year, the national media frequently reported numerous protests by parents of public-school students as well as others. These protesters object vigorously to the imposition of CRT in the nation’s classrooms. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz recently said that “the federal government should not be funding the training for a Marxist ideology that teaches people to hate America.” 

CRT is an offshoot of Critical Theory (CT), which was first presented to the world in the 1930s by German Marxists in academia. Critical Theory is said to be any approach to social philosophy (their term, not mine) that focuses on reflective assessment and critique of society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures. With roots in sociology and literary criticism, it argues that social problems stem more from social structures and cultural assumptions than from individuals. It further argues that ideology is the principal obstacle to human liberation. (In other words, it’s never the individual’s fault, it is always the fault of someone else, such as the oppressors and America’s institutions.)

The left wants to hide the origination of CRT as a part of the Marxist ideology of Critical Theory that has now inculcated higher education. Even a former dean of the college of education at one of Indiana’s prominent public universities had a research specialty in Critical Theory, publishing numerous articles and books on the topic. Critical Theory has been around in academic circles for over 75 years but has found a new home in the nation’s schools under a variety of disguises.

Back to CRT; what exactly is it? The term seemed to appear out of nowhere at statehouses and at political rallies. Over the past year, it has morphed from an obscure academic discussion point of the left into a covert intrusion into the public schools. And CRT has become a political rallying cry of conservatives.

Critical Race Theory is a way of thinking about America’s history using the lens of racism. Leftist university academics developed it during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what they viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

In the mid 1970s, some academics coined the term in a way that it cannot be confined to a static and narrow definition but is an evolving and malleable practice. CRT critiques how the “social construction” (their term, not mine) of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate “a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers.” 

It would be helpful if a more specific description of how a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers could exist in America, considering all the civil rights laws that the United States of America has enacted and operated under for well over a half century. But again, CRT centers only on a claim that racism is somehow “systemic” in the nation’s institutions, and that these institutions function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

The architects of the theory argue that the United States was founded on the theft of land and labor. CRT proponents believe that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people based on race. Their evidence is anecdotal; neither do they identify specific federal laws that perpetuate such unequal treatment. 

Proponents also believe race is culturally invented. By that they mean that race is a “social construct,” the  product of social thought unconnected to biological reality.

As such, CRT rejects claims of a merit-based or colorblind society, arguing that it is the systemic nature of racism that bears primary responsibility for reproducing racial inequality. So, anyone who claims that he or she is colorblind is not actually colorblind, no matter how sincere. 

The most troubling of these arguments is that merit must be rejected (can we spell “socialism?”) Our nation was built on the concept of meritocracy. Employees that produce more work with better quality than others should be hired and rewarded. Those who contribute most to society are rewarded as well. 

Many observers view these and other concepts underlying Critical Race Theory as an effort to divide Americans by rewriting history and convincing some white people that they are inherently racist and should feel guilty because of their advantages. But again, CRT advocates fail to provide evidence of these advantages other than the anecdotal.

CRT also has become a catchall phrase to describe racial concepts that conservatives find objectionable, such as “white privilege,” “systemic inequality” and “inherent bias.” Leftists push the idea that equal opportunity is not enough but equity in outcomes must be achieved. This is the precise definition of socialism: everyone treated the same whether they are productive or not.

CRT therefore admonishes white people for being oppressors while classifying black people (and sometimes people of other races too) as hopelessly oppressed. They call this “white privilege.”

Simply put, Critical Race Theory argues that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race. Leftists overlook the six decades of racial progress since the civil rights laws were enacted on the federal level, and states long ago enacted their own set of civil rights laws. 

Nor have leftists proven that unequal outcomes have been directly caused by racism. Unequal outcomes can have a variety of additional causes, such as: single-parent families, poverty, lack of education, minimal or no training, poor attitude, lack of work ethic and personal intellect factors. 

There is no question that there is a history of racism in America. But it is not as prevalent as it was 75 years ago. Sure, there are some people of all races that one could call racists. But only laws can be legislated, not the heart. There are just too many federal and state civil rights laws that protect Americans from racism to conclude that America is a racist country. A few examples of areas protected by these laws are employment, housing, public venues, public school education and voting rights.

Fifty years ago, the law school in Indiana from which I graduated, began admitting minorities over some majority-race applicants with higher undergraduate grade point averages and higher Law School Admission Test scores. No loud voices of opposition were heard. Affirmative action (which favors minority races over majority race) in employment and education matters has been implemented for the past six decades. 

With all the opportunities government has afforded to minorities during the last half century and more, it does not appear that a caste system exists. Leftists would want all Americans to view American society as a feudal system with two fixed classes, the oppressed and the oppressors, but nothing could be further from the truth. There clearly is still upward mobility available for all Americans.


Jeff Abbott, Ph.D., J.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has served as a superintendent of two Indiana public school districts and on the staff of the graduate school of education at Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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