When Does Something Become Racism?

I've been thinking a lot about so-called "Critical Race Theory" and its relationship to actual, run-of-the-mill racism. Truth be told, there's a lot to dislike about CRT, but it's been difficult for me to express exactly what is wrong about it. Meanwhile, I've read a lot of analyses from academics who are critical of CRT, and their explanations - while very valuable and compelling - seem to fall short of explaining why I think CRT is nothing more than a new form of racism.

Then, the other day, the issue clicked with me.

A Victim Narrative

Let us begin by considering plain, old racism. Let's take an example that everyone already agrees on: nazi-style white supremacy. We all agree that white supremacy is invidious racism, so this works as a viable starting point from which to build.

White supremacy has a fundamental contradiction, which is that it is not actually about the supremacy of the white race at all. Instead, white supremacy is a victim narrative. According to white supremacists, other races are to blame for all the problems that white people face. Other races, through immigration, interracial marriage, and cultural proliferation, are upending the traditional lifestyle of an "old-timey" white supremacist. That is, there was supposedly some set of halcyon days, way back when, and back then the white race was everything it was supposed to be. Then, the story goes, along came other races, which caused all sorts of problems. 

Obviously, a narrative like this does not describe a superior race, but an inferior one. A truly superior race would be able to easily counteract the influences of other races on national culture. A superior race would be so obviously superior that all other races would want to be more like it. But that's not what white supremacists think or claim. White supremacists claim to be victims of other races. 

Why Cultural Pride Is Not Racism

This inherent victim narrative also sheds light on why non-whites who have always been proud of their own unique cultures are not committing racism or cultural supremacy when they celebrate their own cultures. Namely, there is no victim narrative in celebrating one's own culture.

Take Black History Month, for example. Traditionally, "Black History Month" has been a celebration of black historical figures and the important contributions they've made. We learn about objectively great people like Harriet Tubman, who helped human beings escape from slavery; Duke Ellington, who elevated the intellectual rigor of jazz music to the same level as Western Classical music; and Alexandre Dumas, who became one of the most successful writers of his time, so successful in a white-dominated culture that many if not most people in that culture don't even realize that he's black at all.

What all of these stories have in common (aside from the obvious) is that they don't pander to a victim narrative. Tubman's story is about triumph over slavery, not about the plight of enslaved people. Ellington's story is about his magnificent creative mind, not about the biases that kept him from growing into the genius that he was. Dumas' story is simply about being a great author and a charismatic person. 

And so it is with any cultural heritage celebration. For the most part, people are celebrating the things that make their cultures unique: art, music, cuisine, history, a common story. They're not exalting in their status as oppressed people, they're just enjoying themselves. Without a victim narrative, there can be no objection. Loving one's own culture is no different than loving one's own family or appreciating the color of one's own hair.

But Then, Resentment Appears

Unfortunately, practitioners of Critical Race Theory, and those ordinary people who have become enamored of its teachings, do in fact promote a victim narrative. What began as a celebration of their own uniqueness veered into resentment. It is this resentment that I argue is racism.

During the Rwandan genocide, there existed a victim narrative similar to the white supremacist one. The Hutus blamed the Tutsis for their comparatively low station and exacted their revenge. It was this resentment that enabled a political dispute to fester into a genocide. We all have our differences with all kinds of people, but when we allow those disagreements to grow into pure resentment, and when we build that resentment into a victim narrative, then that's when we've become racists; and racism is never that far away from ethnic cleansing.

The defining feature of CRT, even beyond all the postmodernist academic mumbo-jumbo, is the resentment. CRT is primarily about advancing a victim narrative of "structural racism" that permeates all social interactions. As a self-contained system, it works. That is, it appears to me that CRT is at least internally consistent. I'll let the academics debate the truth value of CRT's fundamental claims, such as they are. 

But the real problem, the one thing that makes Critical Race Theory a kind of racism, is the fact that CRT's primary focus is resentment. Notice that this resentment is even fixated on a single group of people: whites, and primarily cisgendered white males. The entire world is the terrible place it is thanks mainly to cisgendered white males, so claims CRT. The problems that exist out there can ultimately traced back to them.

So we can see that Critical Race Theory is merely racism in a fancy hat. But I would even go one step further and suggest that CRT's fixation on a single, easily identifiable group of people as the villains of the whole story creates an incredibly dangerous situation.

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