Do Republicans have an “obsession” with or a “fixation” on critical race theory? The Atlantic’s Adam Harris sure thinks so. He penned an article last week explaining this supposed obsession, making note of various GOP bills in state legislatures and Congress that would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, or bar government contractors from training that promotes “division between, resentment of, or social justice for” groups based on race, sex, or political affiliation, as one bill passed by the Arkansas legislature put it.
“For Republicans,” wrote Harris, “the end goal of all these bills is clear: initiating another battle in the culture wars and holding on to some threadbare mythology of the nation that has been challenged in recent years.” The GOP, he adds, is “fixated” on nothing more than an “academic approach.”
But critical race theory isn’t just an academic approach, and Republicans aren’t the ones who initiated this battle. They’re responding — rather mildly, given the stakes — to an aggressive, long-term campaign on the left to ratchet up racial tension, divide Americans by race, and insert frankly racist ideas into every facet of public life as part of a larger strategy to gain and wield political power.
Even if you agree, as Harris seems to, with critical race theory gurus like Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, who teach that people should be treated differently based on their race, the sudden ubiquity of critical race theory and its accompanying jargon — “white privilege,” “racial equity,” “systemic racism” — isn’t because GOP state lawmakers suddenly decided to make a fuss out of it. It’s because left-wing ideologues decided to push it in the places most familiar to them: elite private schools and executive boardrooms.
That’s why private schools across the country are incorporating critical race theory into their curricula, ignoring the concerns of parents who oppose it on the grounds that it’s academicized racist garbage. Corporate America, Big Tech, and Hollywood are all explicitly pushing critical race theory, sometimes in rather ham-fisted and offensive ways. The U.S. Navy’s top brass even included Kendi’s book, “How To Be An Antiracist,” on its 2021 reading list (prompting Republican Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn, to introduce a bill last week to prohibit the teaching of critical race theory at U.S. military academies).
On the same day last week The Atlantic published Harris’s “explainer” about GOP efforts to combat critical race theory, Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute published a trove of whistleblower documents related to the Walt Disney Corporation’s “diversity and inclusion” program, somewhat creepily called “Reimagine Tomorrow.”
The documents are, or should be, a scandal and an embarrassment to Disney because they lay bare a program that is openly racist despite being framed as a program about “antiracism.” In a training module called, “Allyship for Race Consciousness,” writes Rufo, “Disney tells employees that they should reject ‘equality,’ with a focus on ‘equal treatment and access to opportunities,’ and instead strive for ‘equity,’ with a focus on ‘the equality of outcome.’”
Disney is also actively encouraging racial segregation among employees as part of its Orwellian-named “diversity and inclusion” program, with “racially segregated ‘affinity groups’ for minority employees,” reports Rufo. Disney employees, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Rufo that these racial affinity groups are technically open to employees of all races but in practice “have become almost entirely segregated by race, with the occasional exception for white ‘executive champions’ who attend on behalf of corporate leadership.”
In his Atlantic article, Harris describes Rufo as the person who “bears the most responsibility for the surge in conservative interest in critical race theory.” That may be so, but it’s not because Rufo is making this stuff up. It’s actually happening, and writers like Harris are pretending that it’s healthy and necessary, not abjectly racist.
Left-Wing Whites Are in Thrall to Critical Race Theory
But does anyone outside corporate media and elite institutions believe that? When ordinary Americans read Kendi’s declaration that, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination,” do they buy it? Or is critical race theory something that appeals to a narrower and more privileged segment of society?
It appears so. A pair of academics at Yale University recently completed a study that tested the effectiveness of various types of messaging for a handful of left-wing policies, which is common enough research among political scientists. But these researchers, Josh Kalla and Micah English, framed the issues — things like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All — differently to see how it might change support for them.
For one group, they emphasized how the issues would benefit a certain racial group or promote racial equity. For another, they emphasized benefits for the working class. For a third group, they combined the race and class frames, and for the final group they didn’t emphasize any benefits but just described the policies in neutral terms.
Journalist Zaid Jilani interviewed Kalla and English on their findings, and they told him that the class frame was more effective than either the race or the race plus class frames. “After this summer, everyone wanted to believe that you know we had this great awakening that everyone now is aware of racial equity and we need to fix it, but I think our results suggest kind of the opposite,” English told Jilani.
What’s more, they found that for black voters the race and class appeals were about equally effective. According to Jilani, there was only one group in the survey for whom the race appeal was most effective: white Democrats.
Why, wonders Jilani, are white Democrats so fixated on racial messaging? “My guess is that the progressive movement is simply captured by an upper-class elite for whom anti-racism is now an all-dominating philosophy,” he writes. It might not sway voters to frame every policy debate around race, “but it probably does impress your social cohort.”
In other words, it turns out Kendi’s core constituency is — surprise! — white readers of The Atlantic.