The Dangers and Delusions of Critical Race Theory – C2C Journal

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Critical race theory (CRT) is quietly, gradually, yet inexorably transforming Canada’s social, cultural, economic and political landscape. Just as in America, most Canadians have likely heard of CRT. But how many understand what it could mean for themselves, their families and the country?
In cities and regions across CanadaHamilton-Wentworth, Waterloo, Toronto, Calgary, to name a few – school boards and teachers’ associations are requiring K-12 teachers to adopt policies and curriculum materials that declare society to be inherently racist. Hamilton’s draft “Learn. Disrupt. Rebuild.” program included primary grade lesson plans using a definition of racism “grounded in Critical Race Theory,” which holds that, “Racism is ordinary, the ‘normal’ way that society does business.” The Toronto District School Board website even touts an anti-racist approach for learning and teaching mathematics, one that it claims will “eliminate systemic barriers” to learning math and “reflects the voices, identities, abilities, lived experiences and expertise of our students.”
In business, CEOs of nearly 500 Canadian companies had by last autumn signed the BlackNorth Initiative’s “anti-racist pledge” promising to “counter anti-black racism in corporate Canada by setting measurable targets to track progress.” This would include hiring and promotion decisions on the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The Justin Trudeau government, meanwhile, has launched Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022, a sweeping initiative that creates an “anti-racism secretariat” aimed at battling racism across all levels of government, non-government organizations, and in Indigenous and other so-called “racialized” communities. In short, more government regulation and bureaucracy, driven by an uncompromising ideology convinced that racism is everywhere.
And late last year, Ontario NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo put forward Bill 67, Racial Equity in the Education System Act. Her private member’s bill would have given legal sanction to a comprehensive program of closely-monitored antiracist “re-education” of teachers and professors, involving examinations and other certification procedures. Institutions would be required to have staff “experts” in “racial equity” to implement anti-racist policies and to recognize, track and investigate incidents of racism. Bill 67 died after second reading when Conservative premier Doug Ford called the June election, but the fact that just a single MPP voted against it demonstrates how widespread such thinking has become.
What do all these measures have in common? All are ostensibly dedicated to combatting racism in Canada. Who except racists would quarrel with that?
The Liberal-Democratic Conception of the Individual
The problem is not the goal of eliminating racism but the CRT-based approach to achieving it and CRT’s definition of racism itself. Consider the language used in explaining measures used to counter racism – words such as equity (often in conjunction with diversity and inclusion), antiracism, subconscious racism and systemic racism. All are terms of art in CRT.
CRT was spawned in the 1970s on American university campuses by academics frustrated with the seemingly slow, halting, often reversible progress in eliminating racism through traditional legal, liberal methods and, since the mid-60s, via civil rights legislation. It was not long before CRT flew the academic coop and, as journalist Douglas Murray vividly documents in The War on the West, began infiltrating more and more areas of Western society. CRT increasingly influenced the language and practices of education, culture and entertainment, then government and the mass media, eventually business and, as was recently seen to spectacular effect in the U.S., even the military.
To see the problem with CRT – and how grave it is – one needs to understand the irreconcilable differences between it and the theory of liberal democracy. Ours is a historically free society with a liberal-democratic form of government. One of the chief ends of such governments is to secure our individual rights and liberties. Liberal-democratic political philosophy envisions people as individuals endowed with free will, capable of exercising their rational faculties to make choices that best fulfill their desires or interests. We are, each of us, in the main responsible for what becomes of us. As humans we are all equal in this decisive respect. That is why it makes sense to think of every human being as inherently possessed of certain rights and liberties.
Equal opportunity means that no individual is legally barred or discouraged from any particular activity or pursuit…But this also means that different individuals, with their varying talents, interests, ambition and work ethic, will end up in different places in life.
CRT, by contrast, sees us as members of racial groups whose choices are determined by their racial group-membership. If you are white, you are a white-supremacist, a member of an oppressor group, and you cannot help acting like an oppressor, even if you are poor and unemployed and have no such intention (hence the term “subconscious racism”). If you are black, you are a member of an oppressed group and a victim of white supremacy, even if you are healthy, prosperous and well-educated. The liberal idea of individual self-determination is replaced by a racial determinism akin to Karl Marx’s socio-economic determinism, which leaves no room for individuality and individual autonomy. We all become unwitting products of the white-supremacist system.
A fundamental principle of liberal-democracy is individual equality before the law. We are each entitled to equal protection of the law, and therefore any discriminatory treatment in law of any person or group of persons based on race, creed, colour, gender, etc., is unjust and should be prevented or eliminated.
This idea follows from the liberal-democratic conception of rights. As Harvard University political philosopher Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. argued in 1993 in his book America’s Constitutional Soul, “rights” in this sense are formal. They entail formal equality, that is, equal protection – in law – of our freedom, irrespective of race, creed, gender, etc., to live our life as we please, though without any assurances of attaining happiness. Rights so understood were never thought to provide for so-called substantive equality, a newer and competing conception of equality that is discussed below.
Connected to liberal-democratic concepts is the principle of equal opportunity. This means that no individual is legally barred or discouraged from any particular activity or pursuit based on the individual’s race, religion, gender, etc. But this also means that different individuals, with their varying talents, interests, ambition and work ethic, will end up in different places in life – some wealthier, others poorer; some more educated, others less; and so on.
The Crits
Critical race theorists (crits for short) reject all of this. For them, the principle of equality before the law is a sham, an ideological smokescreen that conceals injustice while perpetuating the existing, structural racial inequalities – that is, systemic racism. Accordingly, the crits have built much of their program around substantive equality, which seeks to achieve (or perhaps impose) an equality of societal conditions for all and, even more important, sameness of results or outcomes.
The mechanisms to achieve equal outcomes – often termed “equity” – are typically government welfare and redistribution programs as well as laws and policies that provide advantages for members of historically underachieving groups – including preferential treatment for non-whites in education, employment and elsewhere – aimed at bringing about the same levels of success for them as for the rest. The U.S. doctrine of Affirmative Action (AA) launched towards the end of the Civil Rights period is a key example. While individual responsibility is fundamental to the idea of formal rights, it is easy to see how this concept will be diluted or even abandoned under a doctrine of substantive rights.
Hence also CRT’s more recent demand that governments, businesses and universities adopt hiring and admissions policies like non-merit-based DEI, which is basically the old, soured AA wine in new bottles. As Shelby Steele, a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, points out in Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, further massive government-run social engineering projects were sure to follow earlier, more limited programs, such as attempting to achieve racial desegregation of schools through state-mandated busing.
The concept of systemic racism was invented to explain all forms of substantive statistical inequality between races in health, education, income, social status and so on that cannot be empirically linked to racism in its original meaning.
Should you point out to crits that such policies undermine free-market economics, which is, with due qualification, liberal democracy at work in the economic sphere, they will say, “Fine!” For them, capitalism (as they typically call it) is inherently racist. Exceptions notwithstanding, blacks are statistically over-represented in lower-income brackets, proving they are racially oppressed, whereas whites are statistically over-represented in upper-income brackets, proving they are racially privileged. The crits see any statistical disparity in outcomes between races as proof of systemic racism. Individual choice, talent, drive and work ethic are of little practical significance and individual responsibility as liberals conceive it is a racist red herring.
Over time, CRT’s advocates come to see more and more things as racist or evidence of systemic racism. Recently, for example, the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of African American History and Culture published an online guide called “Talking about Race” which insinuated that rationality, punctuality and hard work are all norms of “whiteness” which it would be racist to impose on black people, who have their own culture and norms equally deserving of respect. Faced with an online outburst of angry incredulity, the Smithsonian removed that portion of the guide only a few days after its appearance. But this ludicrous – and, indeed, deeply racist – idea is being expressed all across the U.S.
For crits, only antiracist anti-capitalism, the ultimately goal of which is equity, can abolish systemic racism. Equity as crits understand it is also the ultimate meaning of the CRT conception of social justice. AA and DEI are but important steps in the Long March to social justice as will one day be embodied in an antiracist-socialist utopia.
If one objects that policies favouring one group over another amount to reverse racism, one is generally met with vitriol, denunciation and demands that one be silenced. And yet, some crits might actually concede this point. Leading CRT exponent Ibram X. Kendi comes close to doing so in How To Be An Antiracist: he considers “antiracist discrimination,” what we might call anti-white discrimination (or perhaps just racism), a matter of “equity.” “The only remedy to racist discrimination,” writes Kendi, “is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” The clear implication is that, so long as it is discrimination against whites, it is socially just.
Racism Redefined
The concept of systemic racism is very different from racism in the traditional sense. The latter denotes conscious contempt or dislike of other people merely due to their race and intentional acts of raced-based discrimination that flow from such feelings. The “Jim Crow” laws imposing racial segregation in many states in post-Civil War America are among the most infamous of these. Canada also had instances of open racism. Ontario, for example, created legally segregated schools in the 1800s, the last of which was closed only in 1965. Many golf and country clubs banned minorities such as Jews from membership as late as the 1960s.
There is a fundamental flaw at the heart of CRT. Contrary to what crits hold, CRT’s concept of systemic racism is actually unable to explain the existence of racial disparities that are not products of overt racism. That’s because it simply assumes, in circular fashion, what it is supposed to explain: all racial disparities not causally related to overt (or traditional) racism are effects of systemic racism. This conceptual stratagem enables crits to maintain that if a black-white disparity in wealth cannot be traced to overt racism, then it must be a product of systemic racism, since it cannot be due to anything else. Systemic racism, then, is so defined as to rule out the existence of substantive disparities between races not reasonably attributable to racism of one form or the other. It has been set up to be self-proving and irrefutable.
This defining assumption permeates the literature of CRT. The price is serious and ever-growing distortion of reality. This includes overlooking people of colour who don’t fit the crit narrative, such as East Asian students who statistically perform as well as or even better than whites. This recent C2C article, for example, discusses a Statcan study which found that Canada’s highest-earners are Canadian-born Japanese men, who comfortably out-earned white men. So did Chinese, Korean and South Asian males. Among women, whites were out-earned by the majority of visible minority groups. Among both men and women, the two lowest-earning groups were blacks and Latin Americans. As the article states, these results undermine “current narratives declaring all of North America to be a bastion of white supremacy” or systemic white racism.

Faced with the logical incoherence at the heart of their theory and unable to address the empirical evidence contradicting their claims, crits deploy several tools to maintain their momentum. One is attempting to write off any countervailing studies or articles as bad science. Another is to ignore critiques and, where this fails, to deplatform the critics. A further technique supports the first two, denouncing critics and criticism as racist, indeed, to assert that white critics lack legitimacy to comment on anything to do with race (and, since the crits consider nearly everything to be about race, this would rule whites out of most public discussion). Paradoxically, such charges are often levelled by white crits, not that this slows them down. And increasingly common is to pursue the marginalization or destruction of the critic, worsening the phenomenon of cancel culture.
That the concept of systemic racism obscures rather than illuminates the problem of actual racism seems not to bother critical race theorists, for they don’t care much about logic or evidence, or even about truth.
Continuing conflict over or caused by CRT is likely to have even greater and graver social consequences. The trafficking in pernicious falsehoods, author Murray predicts, will generate increasing hostility and hatred towards whites merely for being white and also towards non-whites who depart from the official CRT narrative. These are already being denounced as “white-adjacent,” “multiracially white” or worse.
Successful African-Americans who will have no truck with CRT or other woke ideology, such as constitutional-conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, journalist Candace Owens and Republican Senator Tim Scott, are routinely reviled as “Uncle Toms, sellouts, Oreos, [or] puppets,” to draw from Kendi’s list of demeaning racialized slurs. Kendi himself goes further. “Black people need to do more than revoke [the] Black card” of “Black on Black criminals,” he writes. “We need to paste the racist card on their foreheads for all the world to see.”
The Crits’ Ultimate Aim and How they Intend to Achieve It
Why do crits cling so tenaciously to the concept of systemic racism if it has no real explanatory value and is contributing to worsening race relations? Possibly because without it, CRT loses not only its radical rhetorical appeal but, arguably, its reason for being. For the purpose of CRT appears to extend beyond even the already-radical idea of imposing uniformity of results across all racial groups in society. In the crits’ minds, the entire Western-style, liberal-democratic, free-market system, the essence of which is domination by “hetero-patriarchal capitalist racist” white men, is rotten through and through, and therefore must be remade from top to bottom.
Thus one powerful motive for propagating systemic racism is to foment a revolutionary political movement along Marxist-socialist lines – much as some groups linked to Black Lives Matter and Antifa imagine. In their view, battling the remnants of overt racism doesn’t go nearly far enough.
Concomitantly, that the concept of systemic racism obscures rather than illuminates the problem of actual racism seems not to bother crits, for they don’t care much about logic or evidence, or even about truth. This brings us to what are probably the most serious problems with CRT.
First is its misology – its deep distrust of reason. This is derived from its postmodernist forbears like Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. This tendency cashes out as the denial of objectivity in science or any form of rational, evidence-based argument, disdain for logical consistency and the debunking of the idea of objective, universal truth. For Foucault, science is, like every other social institution and practice, a manifestation of power. “We should admit,” he wrote in 1977’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, “That there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.” For Foucault, the principles of science, including disinterested objectivity and logical coherence, are mere elements of an ideological construct.
We catch more than a whiff of that postmodernist misology and relativism, mixed with cultural self-loathing, in the document outlining the Toronto District School Board’s new, CRT-based approach to mathematics mentioned earlier. As Murray writes in The War on the West, citing the document, it seeks to “weed out ‘Eurocentric mathematical knowledges’ (sic) and replace them with ‘a decolonial, antiracist approach to mathematics education’” that includes “‘Indigenous pedagogical approaches…[and shows] respect for the diverse and multiple ways of knowing that are relevant to and reflective of students’ lived experiences.’” It remains unclear what this torrent of ideology will mean in practice. The entire world has embraced Western mathematics. Do the crits intend to get rid of calculus or propose that 2+2=5?
Perhaps, then, CRT is at bottom a kind of political rhetoric designed to play on the sentiments of white guilt and non-white resentment and to spur a new, anti-liberal-democratic political activism with revolutionary aims. In his Theses on Feuerbach, Marx wrote, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” (Emphasis added.) As though mindful of Marx’s call to action, crits often refer to the theory as a “practice” and to themselves as “practitioners” and “activists.”
Feeling Sincerely Non-Racist Demonstrates Your Racism
According to the crits’ critics such as Steele and Columbia University linguistics professor John McWhorter in his recent book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, the logical consequence of CRT’s misology and activism is to rule out reasonable dialogue between crits and their opponents. All talk of antiracist “education” through open-minded discussion in antiracist workshops, like those led by CRT activist Robin DiAngelo, is thus hollow pretence.
As Columbia University professor John McWhorter argues in his 2021 book Woke Racism, the consequence of CRT’s distrust of reason and of its activist impulse is to make reasonable dialogue between its proponents and critics impossible.
In DiAngelo’s books White Fragility and Nice Racism, virtually every conceivable objection raised in her workshops by white persons of any political stripe is “explained” as a sign of their “white fragility.” For her, the term signifies the defensiveness with which white people react when compelled to recognize their own, often unconscious complicity with systemic racism.
That defensiveness, DiAngelo maintains, is typically couched in such ideologically tainted rationalizations as the liberal-democratic-sounding, “Oh, but in my interactions with other people I disregard their race or colour!” Among hardcore crits, professions of “colour-blindness” are themselves still-further evidence of racism. Or as the Toronto District School Board put it in a document offering tips for parents on talking to their kids about racism, colour blindness “promotes the idea that non-white races are inferior.”
What’s more, DiAngelo avers, white fragility is a privilege of whites not available to non-whites, making it another phenomenon of white racism. Here, too, the concept is set up to be self-proving and unfalsifiable. Whites who admit to having harboured feelings of racism or used racial epithets are confessed racists, while whites who assert that they regard people of all races equally and deny being racist are guilty of white fragility, a form of racism. Kendi put DiAngelo’s thesis well when, in a comment on Good Morning America, he said, “[The] heartbeat of racism itself is denial and the sound of that heartbeat is ‘I am not a racist.’” The only way out for a white person is to publicly confess guilt and become (as Kendi insists) not a non-racist but an “antiracist.” Which really means that whites must remake themselves into active CRT adherents. Shades of Mao’s Cultural Revolution!
Since they won’t – and can’t – acknowledge that the basic concepts of CRT are in principle rationally contestable, then whatever it is that crits offer, it is not science. As philosopher of science Karl Popper demonstrated, an unfalsifiable proposition is not a scientific proposition, although it may figure in a secular religion.
Consequently, the crits’ most effective response to criticism is to dismiss their critics as racist and silence them using shaming or other coercion. This may be the most troubling of CRT’s many problematic aspects. People openly skeptical of the theory and its resulting practices are increasingly threatened with “cancellation,” ranging from damage to their reputation to loss of livelihood and physical harassment such as doxing.
Many blacks, according to Shelby Steele, regard CRT-related practices as patronizing, demeaning and ultimately disadvantageous.
A number of Canadian academics have already faced this. At Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, professor Rima Azar faced arbitration and a seven-month suspension after students complained that her personal blog denied systemic racism in Canada and called Black Lives Matter a radical movement. Frances Widdowson was fired from her tenured position at Mount Royal University in Calgary – something almost unheard of, aside from cases of gross professional misconduct. Widdowson’s “transgressions” consisted primarily of academic publications which sought to show that, as this C2C article put it, “The current concept of a ‘nation-to-nation’ relationship between First Nations and mainstream Canada is ill-founded and ultimately deleterious to the success of Indigenous communities.” That plus a few provocative tweets ended the career of a lifelong opponent of race-based discrimination. Practitioners of CRT, it is clear, are enthusiastic practitioners of cancel culture as well.
The Role of White Guilt in CRT’s Rapid Spread
Perhaps the best explanation for the spread of CRT’s influence is found in Steele’s 2007 book White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of America in the Civil Rights Era. Where whites in positions of power have embraced such empirically unfounded CRT concepts as systemic racism, it’s not because they hope these will provide real knowledge about racism. Rather, says Steele, they’ve been beguiled by the moral and emotional appeal. Adopting those “poetic truths” allows whites to dissociate themselves from the actual white racism that previously permeated American society and to expunge the lingering guilt while retrieving the moral authority lost when institutionalized white racism was at last publicly acknowledged.
Where blacks embrace CRT, according to Steele, they frequently do so because of resentment and the prospect of power over guilt-ridden whites or access to material benefits provided by CRT-influenced programs. But by no means all blacks feel this way; many have used their constitutionally entrenched and legally sanctioned rights to pursue the good life by means of their own hard work, talent and ambition. They regard CRT-related practices as patronizing, demeaning and ultimately disadvantageous to blacks.
One such person, Steele recounts, is Clarence Thomas, who after graduating Yale Law School “found his Ivy League pedigree to be tainted by affirmative action.” Thomas couldn’t land a position at a big-city law firm because his “interrogators assumed his presence before them was explained by racial preferences, not by talent. It was as if they were saying the pretence was over: Yale could afford tokenism, but they could not.” These setbacks did not stop Thomas, who became one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s leading intellects. But it is easy to imagine how a less driven individual might have given up and suffered the predictable emotional damage.
Where Resistance to CRT is Most Urgent
Despite its manifold flaws, logical incoherence and damaging effects, CRT is becoming nested in the place where it can do the greatest long-term damage: the school system. Among the Canadian school boards using or imposing CRT is Ontario’s York Region, where the board’s Anti-Black Racism strategy bluntly states that the province’s “public education system has evolved within an historical context of white supremacy, colonialism and anti-Black racism” which are “woven into the fabric of school board policies and practices.”
The near-miss that was Bill 67 is particularly instructive. Without naming CRT explicitly, it would have made CRT the reigning orthodoxy in Ontario’s education system. The crit credentials of its sponsor, NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo, should have been well known by then. Among other things, she contributed a chapter to Revisiting the Great White North? Reframing Whiteness, Privilege, and Identity in Education, a 2015 book in which she writes that it’s “with a turn to critical race theory (CRT) that I have been able to find more words to describe my encounter with the Whiteness of philosophy.”
Critics of Bill-67 note it would have included punishment of “transgressions” – like questioning the legitimacy of CRT-style programs – from “inquisitorial” bureaucrats wielding quasi-judicial powers against defendants who would be presumed “guilty until proven innocent” and denied normal due process rights. Punishments could include fines, suspension or even firing. Although the bill never made it to a final vote, there’s no guarantee something similar won’t return. Even without Bill 67, it is not much of a stretch to predict that teachers in CRT-influenced schools who question such measures could soon find themselves under pressure or even out of a job. This has already happened many times in the U.S. and, as we’ve seen, in higher education in Canada.
As the CRT sensibility takes increasing hold, young people across Canada will suffer. They will be raised to despise our Enlightenment heritage with its affirmations of liberal-democracy, science and pluralism, while gaining no clarity regarding any sensible alternative.
While CRT continues to make almost unopposed inroads across Canada, resistance to it in the U.S. has strengthened and spread dramatically. Upon discovering during the pandemic that schools were indoctrinating their children with CRT-laced ideas, concerned parents of all political stripes in many states started to organize in opposition. National organizations including Parents Defending Education (PDE) were also formed. States with Republican governors and Republican-held legislatures – notably Florida and Texas – began passing laws prohibiting the use of CRT to shape K-12 curriculums. They advocated combatting racism using means consistent with the liberal-democratic principles of freedom of speech, equality before the law and equality of opportunity.
In some places, popular revulsion over CRT proved powerful enough to propel Republicans into office. An endorsement from the Virginia branch of PDE helped political neophyte Glenn Youngkin last November beat Democrat veteran and favourite Terry McAuliffe for Virginia Governor. Running alongside Youngkin was Winsome Sears, a former Marine and member of the Virginia House of Delegates who became the first African-American elected Virginia’s Lieutenant-Governor. Youngkin and Sears had each promised to purge CRT from K-12 education.
There are glimmerings of similar parental resistance in Canada. David Haskell, professor of sociology of religion at Wilfrid Laurier University and current head of the Waterloo Region Chapter of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, described what is happening in this recent C2C essay. It chronicles the growing influence of CRT and other woke ideologies on the region’s educational system and local government processes, and shows how parents have begun to mobilize against it.
As the CRT sensibility takes increasing hold, young people across Canada will suffer. They will be raised to despise our Enlightenment heritage with its affirmations of liberal-democracy, science and pluralism, while gaining no clarity regarding any sensible alternative. They will grow up intellectually deficient, bedevilled by a vague, utopian vision of government-engineered “equity” yet bereft of any capacity to subject that vision to rational scrutiny. Poorly educated in the discipline of logical, evidence-based argumentation, promulgators of CRT and other woke “poetic truths” in positions of power can be expected to enforce this burgeoning secular religion with a fanatical zeal whose limits remain undefined.
At the same time, those whom CRT has promised the world may well experience a period of hope or exhilaration. But when utopia isn’t reached, they will likely descend into confusion, resentment and anger, perhaps worse than ever. Whites and perhaps not a few individuals of Asian descent will be racked by guilt, ashamed of their achievements, constantly on edge about being accused and frightened of their potential accusers. Race relations in Canada – a country that long considered itself and was seen by much of the world as a beacon of tolerance and pluralism – can only suffer.
Borys M. Kowalsky holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Toronto and is a former secondary school and college educator who focuses on research, writing and lecturing in the history and philosophy of art, political philosophy and contemporary social, political and educational issues.
Source of main image: Pexels.
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