Myopia’s Archetype (Review of Delgado and Stefancic’s “Critical Race Theory”)
Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic are the academy’s equivalent to the single-issue voter: too narrow-minded to see the bigger picture and too self-centered to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes.
Why is it that the Woke aimed to reduce six works of Dr. Seuss, known primarily as the author and illustrator of an enormous number of wonderfully whimsical and educational children’s books, to toxic contraband due to alleged racism within these stories, written three quarters of a century ago?
After all, the man was a noted Democrat and staunch supporter of FDR’s efforts to bring the United States into World War II. A mere two years ago, graphic novelist Art Spiegelman declared to the BBC that Dr. Seuss’ political cartoons, of which he produced many, “rail against isolationism, racism, and anti-semitism with a conviction and fervor lacking in most other American editorial pages of the period.”
In other words, Dr. Seuss was more Woke than his contemporaries.
Well, that was then and this is now. For a society bobbing around unmoored in the flotsam and jetsam of the eternal present, two years can seem like two millennia. And so it was that an academic paper by a pair of radical scholars laid the intellectual groundwork — if “intellectual” we can call their efforts — for the Twitter mob to declare Dr. Seuss beyond the pale.
If we wish to understand the meaning of Dr. Seuss’ post-mortem defenestration, we have to understand the ideas driving such efforts. And understanding these ideas requires, regrettably, reading the works of Critical Race Theory.
The book presently under review — Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (Third Edition) — is considered a standard work within the field, or, as UC Davis’ Angela Harris puts it in her foreword, “a primer for nonlawyers that makes the now sprawling literature of critical race theory easily accessible to the beginner.” A husband and wife team, Delgado and Stefancic share a long history in “critical” scholarship. Both are currently employed at the University of Alabama School of Law.
What is Critical Race Theory? Delgado and Stefancic state in their introduction: “The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.” They explain that CRT draws from “the insights of two previous movements, critical legal studies and radical feminism” as well as from “certain European philosophers and theorists, such as Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Derrida,” and many within the American radical tradition.
In a syntactically questionable sentence, Delgado and Stefancic point out that CRT scholars believe that “racism is ordinary, not aberrational — ’normal science,’ the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country.” Moreover, most “crits” (as these people love to call themselves) “would agree that our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material, for the dominant group.”
So far, none of this differs from the standard argumentation found in postmodernism and critical theory, which posit that racism is not an individual act, but rather a “systemic” set of beliefs and attitudes woven into the very fabric of our Western societies which enables whites to maintain their dominance over people of color.
The authors proceed to divide CRT thinkers into two camps. One consists of “idealists”, who argue that “Race is a social construction” which can be unmade and deprived “of much of its sting by changing the system of images, words, attitudes, unconscious feelings, scripts, and social teachings by which we convey to one another that certain people are less intelligent, reliable, hardworking, virtuous, and American than others.” In other words, by canceling the hell out of yokels like Dr. Seuss.
The other camp is made up of “realists”, to whom “racism is a means by which society allocates privilege and status.” In this view, the narratives surrounding racial disparities are the product of a raw economic determinism which cannot be undone by countering racist attitudes and language alone. Rather, they require addressing underlying economic realities and power gaps.
One such “realist” is the late Derrick Bell. Bell famously argued that whenever society did make progress on racial issues, this only occurred because it happened to be in the interest of the white majority, a phenomenon Bell dubbed “interest convergence”. For example, the true reasons for the Supreme Court to decide Brown v. Board of Education the way it did, Bell contended, were “the possibility of mass domestic unrest” and the horror of continued stories in the foreign press of “lynchings, Klan violence, and racist sheriffs” in the midst of the Cold War.
Whereas most commentators would dismiss out of hand the idea that the Supreme Court would decide cases coming before it based upon such external considerations, Delgado and Stefancic serve up a legal historian called Mary Dudziak, whose “extensive archival research in the files of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Justice … showed that Bell’s intuition was largely correct. When the Justice Department intervened on the side of the NAACP for the first time in a major school-desegregation case, it was responding to a flood of secret cables and memos outlining the United States’ interest in improving its image in the eyes of the Third World.”
Wait a minute: Dudziak’s findings as reported by Delgado and Stefancic here prove nothing with regard to Brown v. Board of Education, much less the Supreme Court. It’s wholly possible Bell was on to something, but the issue of public perception can hardly have been the only factor moving the needle on Civil Rights issues, especially when it comes to the Supreme Court, of all institutions. Nothing the authors present counters that notion. If they wish to defend Bell’s extraordinarily cynical claim, they will have to come up with stronger evidence than this. Unfortunately, such tenuous reasoning is a tenet of this book, as we will see.
If the debate between “idealists” and “realists” sounds to you like tedious bickering on the extreme margins of existing thought on race issues, that’s because it is. For make no mistake: These people are radical. They are, to borrow from Leo Strauss, no friends of liberal democracy, and they make no secret of that fact.
As if to demonstrate this point, Delgado and Stefancic stress that CRT presents an explicit departure from not just the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s but also the liberal order under which it operated: “Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law [emphasis added].”
You wouldn’t be able to fathom this absurd notion, but liberalism has historically promoted “color blindness and neutral principles of constitutional law.” However, while that is an “admirable” idea, the authors write, “it can be perverse, for example, when it stands in the way of taking account of difference in order to help people in need.” They conclude: “Only aggressive, color-conscious efforts to change the way things are will do much to ameliorate misery,” even if that means, presumably, that we throw our Constitution overboard in the process.
Secondly, the authors state that, in a clear violation of academic ethics, “critical race theory contains an activist dimension. It tries not only to understand our social situation but to change it, setting out not only to ascertain how society organizes itself along racial lines and hierarchies but to transform it for the better.”
Taken together, these two important observations explain why some on the intellectual Left have taken the viewpoint that it’s fair game to violently undermine our republican system of government and capitalist economy. I suppose the authors are to be commended for their openness in this respect, where the thugs of BLM and Antifa more often than not cloak their true objectives in lofty rhetoric regarding moral battles against mostly imagined “racists” and “fascists”.
As with so many zealous reformers who came before them, however, such sweeping statements beg the question as to what the alternative to our constitutional order should be. These ignoramuses, Edmund Burke once wrote, would not get it in their empty heads to reverse-engineer a clock, but have no qualms whatsoever about tearing apart a political order about whose “wheels, and springs, and balances, and counteracting and co-operating powers” they understand even less.
“Their delusive good intention is no sort of excuse for their presumption,” Burke concluded. “They who truly mean well must be fearful of acting ill.”
Well, not these Social Justice Warriors, who view themselves as veritable white knights on one end of the political spectrum charging full speed against those on the other, the unintended consequences of their actions be damned.
Even if we disregard the book’s radical underpinnings, its pages are littered with all the warmed-up clichés on how more blacks are in prison than whites and how they’re having a harder time getting approved for mortgages. Conservatism, the authors warn us, “co-opts Martin Luther King, Jr.’s language; finds little use for welfare, affirmative action, or other programs vital to the poor and minorities.” Sounds fair enough. But they fail to present any counter-arguments to these conservative policy positions, as if merely stating them should be sufficient to gin up gag reflexes among the book’s readership.
“Building on the work of radical criminologists,” Delgado and Stefancic write, “one race crit shows that the disproportionate criminalization of African Americans is a product, in large part, of the way we define crime. Many lethal acts, such as marketing defective automobiles, alcohol, or pharmaceuticals or waging undeclared wars, are not considered crimes at all. By the same token, many things that young black and Latino men are prone to do, such as congregating on street corners, cruising in low-rider cars, or scrawling graffiti in public places, are energetically policed, sometimes under new ordinances that penalize belonging to a gang or associating with a known gang member.”
The false equivalence being presented here is beyond outrageous. First of all, it’s just nonsense that there would be no legal consequences if people died from consuming your products which you knew to be defective. Do these two know anybody who’s ever run a business? Secondly, we can argue about the constitutionality of the war on terror any day, but to equate the government-sanctioned killing of terrorists in Syria to being a gang member in downtown Chicago is plain dishonest and stupid.
The problem is, of course, that spraying graffiti and hanging out with MS-13 thugs are often an indicator of far more serious crimes. Gang-related homicides in the U.S. average some 2,000 per year, a figure which doesn’t even take into account an avalanche of other horrific gang-related crime. Regardless of one’s opinion of it, the broken windows theory didn’t just emerge out of thin air. It was a measured response to a real problem. The authors completely ignore all of this.
Delgado and Stefancic’s implication, of course, is that some hideous inequality is at play in the way whites and blacks are treated by authorities. But the examples they offer up don’t support this idea. Just like fellow-traveler Robin DiAngelo and so many others, they make blacks out to be helpless little angels victimized by white oppression who lack any agency and fortitude of their own. This is more racist than anything a serious commentator on the Right could ever say or do, and blacks should be infuriated by it.
Things take a further turn for the worse when Delgado and Stefancic address CRT’s critics in chapter 6. Most of this chapter consists of fluff about internal criticism within the CRT movement, which reads like Chinese to a normal reader like you and me. The only real disapproval of CRT they bring up is that of Daniel Farber and Suzanna Sherry, who “accused critical race theorists of hiding behind personal stories and narratives to advance their points of view, as well as lacking respect for traditional notions of truth and merit. Citing the example of Jews and Asians — two minority groups that have achieved high levels of success by conventional standards — they argued against the idea that the game is rigged against minorities.”
The question of Jews and Asians in this country and their outperforming the majority population group seems like a legitimate one to raise in this context, but rather than convincingly answering it, Delgado and Stefancic outrightly distort the argument they claim to refute: “[T]he crits replied that if Asians and Jews succeeded despite an unfair system, this is all to their credit. But why should pointing out unfairness in universal merit standards, like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), bespeak a negative attitude toward members of those groups? As the crits saw it, Farber and Sherry confused criticism of a standard with criticism of individuals who performed well under that standard.”
I’m not sure if this is a poor attempt to gaslight the reader, but it is an utter load of rubbish. Nowhere in the above description of their argument do Farber and Sherry accuse anybody of criticizing individuals or a group of people. Rather, the fact that Jews and Asians on average perform so well academically and economically indicates that there might be other factors than just racism, systemic or otherwise, which explain the lack of progress among blacks. Which is exactly what many not on the insane Left suspect.
At any rate, Farber and Sherry wrote an entire book about “the radical assault on truth in American law”, and the duo of detractors presently under review should have made a better effort at relaying and refuting their arguments.
I’m still patiently waiting for the crit who would write me a book rebutting Thomas Sowell’s impressive body of work on the topic of race with arguments and data of their own. Enlightened and “red-pilled” as these people supposedly are, it couldn’t be too hard for them to come up with convincing evidence.
But the reality is that the CRT crowd prefers ignoring the noise coming from the Right over properly addressing it. This is what we get when the concepts of debate and free speech are rendered “white supremacist” in and of themselves. The crits have every right to draw that conclusion, of course, but it does make them more like a religious cult than a serious intellectual force worthy of our respect.
Examples such as the above add to the various instances in which the authors engage in an outright bending of historical facts. For example, they write: “Before [slavery], educated Europeans held a generally positive attitude toward Africans, recognizing that African civilizations were highly advanced with vast libraries and centers of learning. Indeed, North Africans pioneered mathematics, medicine, and astronomy long before Europeans had much knowledge of these disciplines.”
Well, the North Africans way back when probably had a better grasp of history and human nature than the crits today, I’ll give the authors that. But to reduce that vast continent to the relatively small region previously colonized by the Ottoman Empire and ignore the nine million square miles of civilizational wasteland to the south seems like a severe case of “stretching the argument.” Without resorting to bigotry an honest observer could still point out that whatever modern civilization exists in most of Africa today was brought there by the Europeans.
The reader should by no means conclude from the fact that Critical Race Theory: An Introduction is on its third edition that it is some groundbreaking and seminal work which will reverberate through the ages. Its argumentation, where it exists to begin with, is near-sighted, one-dimensional, lazy and dishonest. A lot could be said about DiAngelo’s White Fragility, but compared to this book it was the epitome of logic and coherence.
Delgado and Stefancic are the academy’s equivalent to the single-issue voter: too narrow-minded to see the bigger picture and too self-centered to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes. No academic on the Right would get away with writing such a shoddy and badly-written book, and rightfully so. It’s about time we started exposing these extremists for the intellectual frauds that they are.