CRT Deconstructed

Although the purported teaching of the tenets of CRT or critical race theory in public schools is a hot topic at this writing, a notable example of such—and the ensuing flap—occurred back in February of 2016. It involved the showing of a short animated video at Glen Allen High School in Glen Allen, Virginia. The title of the video was Structural Discrimination: The Unequal Opportunity Race; it was co-scripted by Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the big names in CRT.

The video depicts a long footrace around an oval track, certain of the runners being held back at the starting line after the race begins and then having obstacles placed in their lanes while others enjoy benefits that keep them out in front. Now while certain of those obstacles such as slavery, segregation, and discrimination did indeed historically hamper the progress of black people in this country, the video suggests that those things are responsible in large part for the current black/white disparities, no alternate explanations allowed. That is the essence of CRT.

Moreover, the specific imagery behind other obstacles needs to be unpacked. In one segment of the video, there is a kind of baton passing going on from older white male to younger white male runners, but instead of a baton, it is a canister with a dollar sign on it, the canister increasing in size as it is passed on. This represents accumulated generational wealth that is supposed to account for current black/white wealth disparities. However, our country is full of examples of non-white immigrants who weren’t wealthy or connected when they arrived, but who worked hard, saved their money, pushed their children to do well in school, and saw their children ascend to middle class respectability, all without the benefit of centuries of generational wealth being passed down. Furthermore, lifestyle choices have an impact on accumulating and passing on wealth. For example, Household A consists of a working couple with a baby they planned on having together; Household B consists of a single working mother with a baby, the baby the result of unprotected sex with an irresponsible male who doesn’t pay child support and doesn’t help with taking care of the baby. Which household is more likely to accumulate and pass on wealth?

Further on in the race, black and brown competitors stumble over boulders that have materialized in their lanes, these obstacles representing poor schooling. It isn’t clear whether “poor” means underfunded or whether it means lacking in quality, so let’s consider both. There was a failed “Kansas City experiment” began in 1985 in which tons of money were dumped into a Missouri school district to build new schools and end segregation. In spite of black students and white students ending up sitting side-by-side in brand new schools with the latest amenities, the black/white achievement gap still persisted. More recently, a twenty-first century black high school in Baltimore gained notoriety when it was discovered that nearly half its senior class had GPAs of 0.13 or lower, parents and teachers seemingly oblivious to this ongoing mass debacle. It would appear that the terminology used in the video—“poor schooling”—is actually a euphemism for “lackadaisical attitude toward academic achievement.”

Another obstacle that presents itself is a water-filled pit with sharks swimming around in it, this water hazard representing—get a load of this—standardized tests. Let’s consider a sample question a student might encounter on a standardized test, say the math section of the SAT:

One side of a right triangle measures 4 inches, and the other side measures 3 inches; what is the length of the hypotenuse of the triangle?

Four answers are provided, the test taker having to select the right one. Student A never cuts class, pays attention when he is in class, always does his homework, and always studies for exams; Student B frequently cuts class, doesn’t pay attention when he is in class, seldom does his homework, and seldom bothers to study for an exam. Which one of these students is more likely to be able to recall—and to have reviewed—curriculum dealing with the Pythagorean theorem that will enable him to solve the problem and select the right answer to this standardized test question? Which one of these students will probably be the more competent addition to the workforce? Which one is more likely to go on to be a degreed professional making good money?

Other obstacles take the form of cages that drop down out of the sky onto hapless runners and snatch them right up off the track, these cages representing the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. Disruptive students are frequently suspended, and suspended students are more likely to have run-ins with law enforcement and end up behind bars. Well, how about not being disruptive in the first place? How about parents teaching their kids to behave in school, to shut up and be quiet when the teacher walks in and begins the class? Yet the video portrays these disruptive troublemakers as victims, as runners doggedly giving their all in the race, only to be snatched up-and-away by the school-to-prison pipeline. (Referring back to the previous paragraph, which student is more likely to end up in the school-to-prison pipeline, Student A or Student B?)

Toward the end of the video, workmen are seen constructing what turns out to be a high-speed moving sidewalk along the innermost lane of the oval track. A white male is then seen being whisked along on the moving sidewalk, effortlessly passing the other runners to take the lead; this represents connection, privilege, wealth, and old boy network, falsely suggesting that these are the only reasons for the success of the white male. But Crenshaw might have to rewrite that part of the script to show an Asian female sprinting ahead of the white male; in 2021, the median income of Asian females pulled ahead of that of the white male. How did those ladies manage to do that in spite of supposed “systemic racism” and without all those supposed advantages of the white male? Could hard work and focus on education have anything to do with it?