The new (old) fight over Critical Race Theory
Republicans and the Right have successfully redefined the term to serve their ends. Refusing to adapt to that definition will only help them win.
In the wake of 2021’s very bad Election Day for Democrats, much talk has rightly focused on education as a wedge issue. In Virginia, particularly, schools and education were a cornerstone of Republican Glenn Younkin’s successful campaign against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Some of the contentiousness around schooling comes from pandemic-related closures, but much of it — especially for Republican voters — is about Critical Race Theory.
Critical Race Theory is the new War on Christmas, a daily favorite topic on Fox News and other Right Wing propaganda outfits, invoked every time one administrator at one of the 87,000 U.S. elementary schools provides a tiny nugget of grist for the outrage mill. What the two have in common is the elevation of any tiny deviation from the white Christian hegemony into full-on persecution, an existential threat to white Americans. The other thing they have in common: Democrats’ only response is to deny they exist.
But unlike the War on Christmas, Critical Race Theory is a real thing — it just isn’t what Democrats and the Left believe it to be.
People on the left are quick to declare that Critical Race Theory is a graduate-level concept, not taught anywhere at the elementary or even high-school level. The better informed can even describe how it emerged in the 1970s, and drop names like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell. They might call it “imaginary” or share mocking videos of Republican voters who cannot define the term.
But it’s the Left that no longer knows the definition of Critical Race Theory, because language is defined by usage — and the right has redefined it. There are around 200 ABA-approved law schools in the US, with a total enrollment of about 100,000 students each year. Fox News draws roughly 5 million viewers per night, and while they may not be able to articulate a definition of Critical Race Theory, they all use it the same way.
So what does Critical Race Theory mean now? It means, roughly, “miscegenation.” Critical Race Theory is any…