by Karyn Pomerantz, July 1, 2021
As I write this, Critical Race Theory debates dominate the media, school board meetings, state legislatures, and university campuses. The Oklahoma City Community College canceled a course that discussed white privilege. Politicians in eight states have outlawed its teaching, and nine more are considering legislation to do so (https://www.heritage.org/data-visualizations/education/critical-race-theory-legislation-tracker/). Antagonisms at several school boards led to the cancellation of face-to-face meetings to avoid physical fights. Florida already passed legislation to ban its teaching and requires civics courses to include “portraits in patriotism” … to tell stories and “first-person accounts” of victims of ostensibly communist governments which are then compared with the more supposedly democratic US.” Florida’s Duvall County School Board fired a teacher for hanging a Black Lives Matter flag in her classroom. Texas passed a bill that prohibits teachers from discussing any theories of racism. For example, one section of the bill prohibits lessons that make:
“… any individual (should) feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex”
Another section prohibits teaching that:
“meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a members of a particular race to oppress members of another race (https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/87R/billtext/pdf/HB03979I.pdf).”
Proposed bills in other states call for putting cameras on teachers to reveal whether they teach the “wrong” ideas and outlaw any student demonstrations for social justice issues. University faculty in Florida will be required to register their political positions, and students and faculty will have to take surveys about their beliefs, and students must pass a “civic literacy” exam to graduate. If these beliefs deviate from the conservative, racist ideas of the state, the state legislature can remove their research projects and funding, seriously imperiling their jobs and increasing self-censorship.
Emboldened by Trump, opponents claim discussing racism offends and blames white people, that it rejects color blindness. They cite weepy accounts by white children allegedly exposed to these ideas. They never acknowledge the trauma people of color experience from physical, economic, and verbal abuse caused by racism.
What is this theory? Why has it generated so much opposition and disinformation? Why is racism so vital to capitali
What is CRT? Ideas Matter!
CRT was developed in the 1970s in legal and academic circles by scholars Kimberle Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, and others to address racial differences in legal cases. Critical Race Theory stipulates that racism is an integral part of US history, practices, and policies, and explains the huge inequalities in housing, policing, health care, the environment, and all other social determinants. It is promoted in many books, articles, and documentaries, including The New York Times’ 1619 Project (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html). It explains the development of slavery, the extra profit taken from black workers, and the necessity of dividing the working class into so-called races. Its ideas are not new.
Key Concepts of CRT
- Racism is a structural, social problem that is integral to US history and policy, attitudes, and behaviors.
- US society is not post-racial nor color-blind.
- Racial realities must be centered in our teaching, work, and struggles.
- CRT does not blame white people for racism. People are not born racists. On the contrary, it exposes how racism is part of the structure of capitalism.
- CRT explains how inequities in wealth, housing, health, and education develop and persist.
- CRT calls for social justice activism.
- CRT uses stories and personal narratives to illustrate racism.
Weaknesses of CRT
- CRT does not explicitly link capitalism to racism.
- Proponents often support identity politics and intersectionality without a class analysis.
- CRT does not call for abolishing capitalism.
- CRT does not explicitly call for multiracial unity or comradeship although individual supporters do.
Major CRT Principle: Racism Is Fundamental to US History
The Road Not Taken, a classic history by Lerone Bennett (see the multiracialunity.org blog), reveals how planters and early capitalists in the 16th and 17th Centuries needed masses of workers to produce cotton, sugar, and tobacco. They debated using white indentured European servants but did not have enough of them. They considered using Native Americans, but they knew the lay of the land and could easily escape. Therefore, they chose Africans who would be less likely to flee and could replenish by breeding and abduction.
Before enslavement, white indentured workers, free black people, and Native Americans intermarried, socialized, worked together, and rebelled against the government (burned down Jamestown in Bacon’s Rebellion). To break the bonds between these groups, the planters criminalized contact and violently attacked people who continued their relationships, including murdering white people who resisted separation. To subdue and co-op white workers, they provided them with higher wages, a better living situation, and most importantly, a higher social status (what DuBois called a social wage). White workers became members of slave patrols that searched for runaway slaves and enforced order on the plantations. These patrols developed into police forces that serve the same functions in society today, operating by terror to maintain social control. White people suffered low wages due to the abundance of free labor, unemployment, little education, and military drafts while large slaveowners were exempt. Yet, they were not enslaved and grateful that they were “free.” Instead of uniting with their black brothers and sisters, they resented them and accepted their own false superiority.
Ideologically, the founders created an entire myth of race to justify the use of free labor. This became the moment when the idea of a white “race” developed. Racism allowed the ownership class to extract super-profits from black workers, maintain low wages for whites, and divide them from one another. White workers were taught to identify and sympathize with the elites and fear the black and indigenous groups.
Power of Ideas
While physical force and laws often subdue rebellion against unjust conditions, ideas justify the status quo of capitalism, including labor exploitation to create profit and imperialist wars to grab resources. Foundational US ideology promotes individualism as personal failure rather than systemic policies, such as housing discrimination, to explain poverty. Politicians and media mouthpieces blame poor people for their poverty. Instead of creating jobs and decent housing, politicians advise people to get married, get an education, and get fathers involved in family life. When native born workers face unemployment or a lack of social services, immigrant workers catch the blame for “stealing our jobs.” These justifications endanger black, Asian, and Latinx people since they often lead to violent attacks as we have seen with the upsurge in attacks on Asian residents.
Identity politics also provides reasons for the working class to separate. It divides the working class into specific demographic groups based on gender, “racial” categories, sexual expressions, religions, ages, abilities, and ethnicities. Instead of organizing collectively, many groups exclude activists from meetings and activities. For example, Black Lives Matters chapters have limited admission to meetings and marches to black members. An NGO denied two white activists’ access to a meeting for jobs for unemployed black residents. While it is understandable why black workers do not trust white people, separation does not build trust and relationships. White workers need to learn to follow black leaders who have useful politics; they cannot do so if they are only welcomed as allies or excluded from political discussions.
In a class-conscious framework, an injury to one is an injury to all, regardless of one’s own identity. People’s relationship to controlling the production of goods and services determines class. The few people who own thesebusinesses and employ workers constitute the ruling class. Most of the population sell their labor to business owners to earn a wage or salary. They comprise the working class. Within the working class there are black, white, trans, gay, Christian, Jewish, Muslim people, men, women, young and old. While people with these and other characteristics have different experiences and different levels of oppression, they have more in common and reasons to unite.
Some theories of social change claim that ideas determine practices and policies. For example, prejudice against immigrants leads to border control and detention policies. If we changed our attitudes, policies would change. As Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, it is practices that require justifications. The enslavement of African people requires the ideas of inferior/superior classes of people. The limit on immigration requires the demonization of Latinx workers as criminals. Ideas justifying racism change over time. In earlier times, scientists classified black people as a separate species. Today, another racist book by Charles Murray of The Bell Curve claims black people have less intelligence and a predisposition to violence, justifying more severe policing and imprisonment.
To further suppress revolutionary social change, the rulers also push the election of black misleaders, use funding to co-opt the militancy of anti-racist organizations, and control education. Schools have always taught a curriculum of lies, from civics classes on US democracy, history that justifies US imperialism, and racist depictions of immigrants. With standardized tests, teachers are forced to follow a standardized curriculum that restricts any creativity or critical thinking. Many self-censor to preserve their jobs. Even without these limitations, teachers may not know enough about racism’s role in US history. Currently, Black History Month allows teachers to discuss African American history promoting hero worship of relatively safe politicians, scientists, and athletes.
The goal of capitalist ideology is to inhibit or wipe out any class consciousness and solidarity.
CRT is the current battleground to win the hearts and minds of the US population to support capitalism and its rulers.
Why is there so much opposition now?
Controversy over teaching CRT has erupted despite its long history. The Washington Post editorial staff devoted the entire editorial page on June 26 to CRT. One cartoon shows a Republican instructing Frankenstein to: … Take a lap around town, rile up the villagers, then double back here and we’ll make up some more nonsense to scare white people.”
Conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and magazines like National Review also misrepresent CRT with lies that spread fear and deliberate disinformation.
Trump’s Administration wrote the 1976 Commission Report to disparage CRT. The section on education included these recommendations:
“States and school districts should reject any curriculum that promotes one-sided partisan opinions, activist propaganda, or factional ideologies that demean America’s heritage, dishonor our heroes, or deny our principles. Any time teachers or administrators promote political agendas in the classroom, they abuse their platform and dishonor every family who trusts them with their children’s education and moral development.”
The 1776 Commission Report authors represent an array of conservative think tanks. Its chair, Larry Arnn directs the Aequus Foundation that funds the right-wing Heritage Foundation. Other members work in libertarian organizations that promote US myths.
“…Koch network libertarians have propagated the fantasy that we all do (or should) live in a radically free market, populated by unraced and ungendered free individuals, all pulling ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps. In this world, individuals are wealthy (or poor) on their own merit (or because governments tried too hard to make everyone equal).
The founding myth for plutocratic libertarians — an American dream on steroids — is essential in maintaining this deeply ideological, pro-corporate policy agenda. This mythical narrative, however, requires studiously avoiding the fact that the United States is not a radically free market but rather a country founded on both the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the racialized practice of chattel slavery (https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/just-visiting/guest-blog-where-does-bizarre-hysteria-about-%E2%80%98critical-race-theory%E2%80%99-come-follow).”
Rulers Need Patriotism and Fascism to Control Workers
The purpose of education is to create support for the system.
Politicians, financiers, foundations, and business owners feel extremely threatened by multiracial uprisings that developed during the summer of 2020 when Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd and after many other police murders. It was the largest multiracial rebellion seen in decades in the US. Ideologically, the rebels linked state racism to capitalism and amplified calls for the abolition of all inequitable practices. The ruling class knows that capitalism requires racism to earn profits and keep people subdued and separate. The ruling class needs willing soldiers to fight for them. On June 28, the neoliberal Biden ordered air strikes in the Middle East and welcomed Israel’s last president to the White House. He supports Israeli apartheid and continues US funding of Israel’s military as Israeli cops train US and other police forces. He and other Democratic Party presidents have continued wars in Asia and trade policies that imperil workers in other countries, and increased conflict with China and Russia. Ultimately, the rulers will need loyal soldiers to protect its empire.
The ruling class also needs workers to support fascism and nationalism. Trump’s presidency allowed right-wing white nationalists to threaten anti-racist activists, attack the Capitol, and demonstrate openly at state legislatures and rallies. This nationalism predates Trump and exists outside of the US. European fascists have killed migrants in Germany, blocked the admission of immigrants to Eastern Europe, and burned down hostels where many migrant workers live. In the US, we have seen the growth of the Proud Boys, virulent social media memes, physical attacks in Charlottesville, and murders in shopping centers, churches, and synagogues.
Fascism exists when the current rulers cannot operate as usual. When workers revolt, the government resorts to terror to stop them, “disappearing,” torturing, and killing anyone who rebels. The government needs force to maintain its power and armies of racists to spread this terror. At this time, Biden’s Administration will use financial subsidies and infrastructure projects to quell rebellions. However, there are no long-term plans to fund health care, education, and housing. It is using an increase in gun violence to expand the number of police across the country.
Corporate America and its cronies cannot afford to graduate children with strong antiracist and anti-war ideas and actions. It needs them to pledge allegiance to ruling class wars, repression, and impoverishment. Teaching patriotism, the American Dream, and color-blindness trains students to support capitalism. Therefore, they whitewash US history to lessen the risks of rebellion.
Is racism essential to capitalism?
CRT does not address the relationship of racism to capitalism. Nor does it call for multiracial unity, revolution, or abolition beyond advocating social justice reforms. The ruling class, on the other hand, knows how critical racism is to keep them in power, earn a fortune, and preserve capitalism. Racism creates material riches and maintains control of the working class. The small group of rulers could not survive if workers united to overthrow them.
Profits from Labor
For example, racism generates profit. Employers pay black and Latinx workers less than white workers to generate trillions of extra profits each year. On average, Latinas make 35% of the income of white men, and as a group, women make approximately 80% of the wages of white men. In addition to women’s lower pay, they also provide the free labor to birth and raise the next generation of workers, maintain a home, and emotionally support their families (i.e., social reproduction). This role saves the capitalists money they would have to spend on childcare and housekeeping.
Profits from Damaging Living Conditions
Capitalists also save money by lowering the quality of essential services, such as schools, or eliminating them all together, such as medical care. On average, black working-class families are more likely than whites to attend underfunded schools with less experienced teachers, live in neighborhoods with more concentrated poverty and dilapidated housing, lack healthy food, and receive worse (or no) health care. Due to red-lining policies that undervalued black neighborhoods, their homes produce less wealth that could pay for children’s college educations or down payments on homes. Instead of building affordable homes for new and long-term residents, developers profit by displacing black and Latinx families to construct market-price, profitable homes, and luxury condos. These examples reveal a significant way that capitalists reduce costs to the system and enhance wealth for themselves.
Social Control through Multiracial DISUNITY
To maintain the social order and prevent rebellion, the media dehumanizes non-white people with common stereotypes: black workers are lazy, immigrants are job threats, Native Americans are drunks, and Asian families are foreign. These lies allow governments to cut or deny social services to immigrant groups who cannot access government benefits like Medicaid and to returning citizens who are not allowed to vote or live in public housing. White workers also suffer high unemployment, police violence, homelessness, and poor medical care. While they suffer less economic and social oppression than workers of color, they have more in common with other workers than with employers. Racism ends up hurting white workers as well. During slavery, white southerners lost jobs as planters used free labor. This competition for employment and wages continued after slavery. Steel bosses used jobless black men to scab on strikes in Pittsburgh, creating even more disunity and animosity. Presidents Reagan and Clinton used racist stereotypes of black welfare recipients to cut benefits, cuts that hurt the vast majority of white recipients. More important than these economic problems are the divisions in the working class and the loss of contributions black, Asian, Latinx, and Native workers make to society.
Multiracial Anti-Racism is Key
Since the beginning of US colonial history, workers have united in multiracial and ethnic relationships and organizing. The rulers never include their stories in our civics and history classes. The opponents of CRT seek to sustain this ignorance of our history to preserve capitalism.
During slavery, white and black abolitionists collaborated to rescue runaways and demand an end to enslavement. During the1930s, the US Communist Party and other socialists organized multiracial campaigns for shorter working hours, integrated housing, and criminal justice. They organized unions and strikes, supported the Scottsboro Boys who were falsely convicted of rape, united black and white sharecroppers in the Southern Tenant Sharecroppers Union, and taught people how to read. White and black workers have fought together for peace, civil rights, voting rights, community safety, and gay rights.
We must follow their lead and expand the ranks of activists who speak out against CRT critics to build multiracial organizations. We cannot allow them to silence our voices or squelch our organizing.
Solidarity is not just an option. It is crucial to workers’ ability to resist the constant degradation of their living standards. … While it is true that when Black people get free, everyone gets free, Black people in America cannot “get free” alone. In that case, Black liberation is bound up with the project of human liberation and social transformation. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in #Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation
On an individual level, we can engage in political education, friendships, and struggles on local, national, and global levels. Some concrete ideas:
- Build multiracial and multiethnic inclusive groups.
- Maintain long term relationships with people of similar and different backgrounds and experiences, and patiently engage them in political discussions.
- Use experiences from one’s own life to discuss social problems.
- Be open about one’s radical politics, do not self-censor.
- Work with students on anti-racist campaigns, such as policing in schools.
- Organize social events and clubs with young people.
- Talk with non-fascist Trump supporters and others who disagree with us.
- Use book clubs, webinars, discussion groups to study racism.
- Conduct antiracist campaigns and mutual aid to bring people together, such as rent cancellation.
- Join local, national, and international organizations, such as Justice is Global, to advocate for vaccine equity, housing, jobs, etc.
- Exhibit at local fairs and present at conferences to meet people.
- Reject white privilege explanations in diversity and antiracist trainings that blame white workers for the oppression of others as Robin diAngelo’s White Fragility does.
- Expose the way the ruling class uses fear and elitism to indoctrinate people with racist ideas.
- Learn lessons from the Red Scare, anti-communist days of the 1950s to counter CRT disinformation.
- Defend teachers who explain the role of racism in society and the alternatives we can create.
Ultimately, abolishing capitalism is the only way to eliminate racism. Multiracial relationships and rebellions are essential to develop the trust and power to truly threaten and dismantle the rulers.
Antonio De La Garza; Kent A. Ono. Critical Race Theory. October 2016. In book: The International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy. (PDF) Critical Race Theory (researchgate.net)
Johnson, Alex Florida governor signs anti-socialist education bills, requiring students and professors to register political views. June 25, 2021. World Socialist Web Site. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/06/26/flor-j26.html
See links in the text.
Suggested readings for political education
The following readings can inform us about racism in past and current times.
Bennett, Lerone. The Road Not Taken.
Marable, Manning. How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America.
Kendi, Ibram X. How to be an Antiracist and Stamped from the Beginning.
Desmond, Matthew. Evicted.
Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law.
Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. Race for Profit and From #Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation.
McGhee, Heather. The Sum of Us.
Dunbar-Ortiz, Roseann. s History of the United States.