Racism is not something a human being is born with. To be sure, a young child will see human difference. But how that young child responds to human difference is learned. Depending on what the child is taught, he may consider a difference or set of differences as incidental or significant. Racial thinking is the result of teaching children that human difference in terms of skin color and other phenotypic features, the result of ancestry, determines a person’s fate in the world. Racial thinking very easily crosses over into racism.
I will define racism later on. But before I get to that, I want to say more about the raising of children. How we raise children determines whether they operate on the basis of cognitive styles regarding and shaping interaction with individuals with or without respect to race. If you teach a child that those who share phenotypic characteristics because of ancestry are collectively bad or good and so forth, then the child will likely to grow up believing that. If you teach a child that the color of a person’s skin does not matter, then they will grow up believing that.
For example, if you teach a child that those with light skin and European facial features are “white,” and that people who are white enjoy a race privilege, this in a country where race privilege was abolished more than half a century ago and discrimination based on race in institutional life made illegal, then you will plant in that child’s mind a fiction that will shape future behavior. Some false beliefs fade over time. Few children grow up to be adults believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. At the time time, most children grow up to be adults who believe in other imaginary things, such things as angels and demons. Not all childhood beliefs fade easily away.
This is why it became widely recognized during the civil rights movement that parents, for example members of the Ku Klux Klan, who taught their children to think in terms of white supremacy, were practicing bad parenting. To counter the bad parenting that was widespread during America’s periods of institutional racism, those who opposed race prejudice taught their children, and encouraged other parents to teach their children, and sought to have teachers teach children, that thinking of others in essentialist racial terms is wrong. This principle was embodied in the preachments of Martin Luther King, Jr., who told the nation of his dream of an America where children are taught to judge each other not by the color of their skin, but on the content of their character.
A black child who is taught to believe that the world is made up of different races and that membership in these groups determines one’s life chances may believe that, no matter what he does, he will never be able to get ahead because he does not possess the race privilege he imagines the white person enjoys. This may cause the child to grow up falsely believing that he is disadvantaged because of his race. This belief may cause him to feel resentful and make him conflict-seeking. It may cause him to be fearful and limit his freedom of movement. The belief may cause him to interact with others in a way that sabotages his chances to make something of himself in a nation founded on individual liberty—the very value that caused men to abolish all forms of institutional racism over the course of its short and spectacular history.
The person who thinks this way may become bitter, not in the face of reality, but because of the fruit of his own self-defeating behavior—a self-fulfilling prophecy caused by the planting of false notions in his head during childhood.
Another person, on account of merely having white skin and European features, may on the basis of such teachings feel guilty for something he did not do or for something other people did. He may falsely believe the situation of those he believes aren’t like him are not because of a self-defeating cognitive style but because he enjoys a privilege he most likely does not enjoy because he is a working man. The false belief will cause him to be ignorant of the fact, for example, that most people who are disadvantaged in America share his skin color and European facial features. For this reason, it will be difficult for him to see that his disadvantage is the result of an economic system inadequate to his needs independent of his racial classification. This false consciousness will likely, like with his black brother, motivate self-defeating conduct.
No good comes from teaching children that ancestry shapes destiny. We have now an extensive decades-long history of collectively participating in a comprehensive, intergenerational real-world experiment. The first phase of the experiment involved teaching children to think and act in racial terms. The second phase taught children that thinking and acting in racial terms was wrong. In this phase, children were instructed to think of themselves as individuals first, for this was the creed of their nation, the ethic of a free and democratic republic. The third phase involves a return to instruction in racial thinking and practice. We are in the throes of the experiment’s third phase. It’s time to call off the experiment. The results are unambiguous. We continue to the detriment of the experimental subject: ourselves.
A society based on reason and evidence does not ignore the findings of such a definitive conclusion. Such a society, if it is true to its rational character, will abandon the antiracist teachings of critical race thinking and demand a return to traditional civil rights thinking and practice—and parents across the nation are indeed making this demand. Rational people recognize that critical race theory is a return to a cognitive style and practice deleterious to the optimal growth and development of human beings. CRT is a form of neoracism, one that teaches people that ancestry defined in racial terms shapes their life-chances. It teaches white children that they are members of an oppressor race, while teaching black children that they are the oppressed race. In its intention or its effect, this teaching obscures the common experience of all children in a class-based social system wherein a few enjoy lives of actual privilege, while the many are exposed to preachments dividing children in essentialist terms in order to raise falsely conscious adults.
Now I come to the definition of racism, although it hardly feels necessary anymore. Racism is not merely the belief that there is human variation and that group differences are the result of ancestry. As I said at the outset, physical differences are real. That offspring in time come to resemble their parents is true throughout the natural world. It is a biological truth (which it seems progressives would have us deny). The differences across a species can be made important or unimportant depending on how they are conceptualized and on the emphasis placed on things. But the individuals of a species are more alike than they are different. This is what we mean when we say race is “socially constructed.” The ideology of racism thus requires more than merely observing human variation; it holds that our species can be subdivided into essential race types and that these types tell us about what goes on inside a person’s head, how he acts in life, and what he deserves.
But our thoughts and our conduct are products of socialization and enculturation that ultimately have nothing to do with our physical appearance. This is why we can say that some forms of socialization and some cultural formations are inadequate for the proper raising of children and the treatment of individuals. This is why cultures that teach and practice racism, sexism, etc., are not up to the task of producing individuals who can develop to their full potential—they do not provide the tools necessary for self-actualization.
In the presence of an institutional system that mandates the differential treatment of individuals on the basis of skin color and other phenotypic features, it is wrong to teach children that such a system is good and appropriate. Because of our creed, Americans understood that and rebelled against this system and, in the end, abolished it. It is just as wrong to teach children that such a system still exists but as an abstraction accessible only through a specialized language. It’s wrong for a different reason, of course. It’s wrong because it is immoral to deceive children in this way to establish of a new system of racial division and conflict.
We see in the lie—an ideology dressed in social studies clothing telling children and young Americans untruths about America’s past and present—the desire to re-segregate social spaces on the basis of race. It is dishonest to resurrect and refashion the old antagonisms that favored the power elite using the rhetoric of justice. To be sure, the scheme of favored and disfavored races is flipped, but the inversion hardly disguises the racism inherent in such style and practice. The doctrine of critical race theory, that racism is about the direction of power, itself exposes the scheme as racist. This is why CRT pushers don’t want parents to know what they’re teaching their children. It’s even why the deny they’re even teaching it.
It is time we speak frankly about the state of affairs. The doctrine teaching untruths to our children is critical race theory. The CRT pushers tell us it’s not being taught to children. In the same breath, they tell us that those who seek to remove it from public school curricula are racist. Their doublespeak is noise designed to obscure the signal. Our purpose here, as in most times and places, is to improve the signal:noise ratio in order to live in light and truth. Removing neoracism from our schools is not about free speech and academic freedom. The appeal to free speech and academic freedom is noise because it is a false appeal. Our republican institutions have been captured and corrupted by a technocratic elite who serve corporate power. When the illiberal appeal to liberal freedoms, the cynicism is palpable. There is no freedom to indoctrinate children in ideology. It’s why the Founding Fathers separated Church and State.
Our struggle is nothing less than saving the American republic. We must return to our children a curriculum based on civil rights and the ethic of individualism—which are the same things. This will require legislative and popular action.
One last thing. There are voices who will tell you that it’s more complicated than this, that I am oversimplifying things. They will try to pull you back into orbit around a world they have constructed with jargon and slogans. I’m a professional sociologist who has studied racism and social history for more than a quarter century. I’m well-acquainted with the formulas of critical theory. I have also studied religion. Like any system of religious scripture, critical race theory is designed to obscure truth and it meant only for the clerics to translate. Our role is to join the congregation, receive the wisdom of the priest, take up the rituals, affirm the commandments, and sit and stand on direction. Yes, there are details here and there, but at its core it’s really not more complicated than that. Nor is it mysterious and novel. You’re already familiar with the way this sort of thing works. It’s an old story. We have already written a new one.