by Steve Golden —
Ideas have consequences. That’s the title of a classic work of philosophy written in 1948 by the late Richard Weaver, an English professor at the University of Chicago. Weaver makes the case that the decline of Western society is chiefly tied to the rejection of absolute truth, leading to what he terms “the Great Steriopticon”—the manipulation of the masses through the commodification of truth. Reflecting on the tendency of radio commentators during World War II to describe tragedies while interjecting advertisements for new products, Weaver writes with jarring prose, “The metaphysical dream of progress dictates the tone, which is one of cheery confidence, assuring us in the face of all contrary evidence that the best is yet to be. . . . The radio, more than press or screen, is the cheerful liar” (p. 103). While we rely more on Internet and television media than radio today, not much has changed—mainstream media outlets remain the cheerful liars as they report on “largely peaceful” protests while cities burn in the background.
In Part 1 of this series, I explained some of the history and terminology in Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality (CRT/I). But now I want to look at how CRT/I has attached itself to real issues, sprinkling just enough truth into its false narrative to make it believable to the public.
Repackaging the Revolution
How often have we heard calls for social justice or for racial equality? Who would speak out against such ideals? Indeed, these and other terms sound appealing because of the way CRT/I has been repackaged by the media and activists, but they have become a bait-and-switch that is nearly impossible to oppose, thanks to the subconscious bias CRT/I assigns to anyone who disagrees. If someone responds that the statistics don’t reflect the assertions being made by Black Lives Matter, they’re labeled racist, or worse, White supremacist. The objector is met with social punishment and ostracism—the very things the critical theorists claim to hate.
When the media chooses to talk about police brutality, it’s generally in the context of white police officers and black victims. While police brutality has been a documented problem, there’s no evidence that it’s exclusively or even very often racially motivated. George Floyd’s death was a tragedy, but it’s not clear that it was motivated by race. Moreover, police brutality against white people also exists (though the media is loath to bring it up); some readers might remember the white police officer who fatally shot a white unarmed man in a hotel hallway. Critical theorists might argue (but won’t, because the victim was white) that this is evidence of some sort of systemic bias against white people or drunk people or people who choose to stay at a La Quinta, but it’s more likely the officer’s reactions were the result of fear, anger, and/or poor training. What that incident revealed to many is the need for police reform and better training, but not because of some mythical systemic racism in the nation’s police force.
Part of the repackaging has been the use of raw statistics without context or explanation as evidence of this systemic bias. Thomas Sowell, a well-known economist, warns against such reliance on raw statistics to draw correlations in his book Economic Facts and Fallacies. His premise can be applied here too: CRT/I activists look at raw data that shows that while overall white people die more often from police shootings, black people die in disproportionately high numbers compared to other races. Black Lives Matter activists and the like conclude that this is because white police officers have an implicit bias—a bias they cannot even recognize—against black people and shoot them more readily. But most reasonable people would want to know more: What was happening in those scenarios? What crimes were being committed? Are Black people doing something in disproportionately higher numbers that leads to the use of force? Who was armed and who was not? What does “unarmed” mean in a police shooting?
These are important questions that can inform us in ways critical theory cannot. Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, pointed out in the Wall Street Journal that while African-Americans made up a quarter of those killed by police in 2019, that’s actually low compared to the black crime rate:
In 2018, the latest year for which such data have been published, African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and commit about 60% of robberies, though they are 13% of the population.Heather MacDonald, “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism,” Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2020.
She also notes that police fatally shot twice as many unarmed whites in 2019—nine blacks were killed, compared to 19 whites. She and others have noted that “unarmed” is broadly defined to include suspects who had weapons nearby, who were committing violent crimes including punching and choking police officers, and who grabbed the officer’s gun.
The shooting of Rayshard Brooks serves as a perfect foil to what happened to George Floyd. Brooks got drunk, drove to a Wendy’s (while drunk), fell asleep in his car in the drive-thru, and was confronted by two police officers who were cordial with him and showed no racially motivated bias. Brooks failed a breathalyzer test and chose to resist arrest, punch and wrestle with the police officers, take one of their tasers and, as he ran from them, turned around and fired it at one of the officers, who then—and only then—shot Brooks. This is in stark contrast to the police brutality cases seen in the last several years (though one can certainly make an argument here for better training to incapacitate without killing). But what happened? That officer lost his job and is being charged with felony murder, and rioters burned down the Wendy’s to protest yet another supposed example of systemic racism.
There’s been very little condemnation from the media or leftist politicians of the violent riots, looting, and burning of buildings—or the repeated targeted killing of police officers in the weeks since Floyd’s death. But plenty of media outlets, politicians, and corporations are condemning the police force as “systemically racist” and calling for defunding or disbanding of police altogether. As academics and activists have repackaged and sold CRT/I to an unwitting public—especially our students—they have created racists who overlook the crimes of those protesting so-called systemic racism but who see racism everywhere, even in the most innocent of interactions.
Living in Cancel Culture
One last aspect of this revolution that begs for attention is the tendency of CRT/I adherents to encourage the cancellation of events and shutting down of speakers who do not align perfectly with their viewpoints and demands. The Federalist reported that following Floyd’s death, a white student at UCLA requested that his professor for an online course “offer a ‘no-harm’ final exam that could only benefit black students’ grades.” When the professor questioned this request, specifically how it could be fair to students who were only partially black or not black at all, students became outraged and branded him a “racist.” He’s since been put on leave while the matter is investigated, and his classes taken over by other professors. He’s not alone.
Even among the “woke” crowd, some of the most well-known players have proven not pure enough for the mob. In a non-race-related incident, author J.K. Rowling made statements defending the existence of the female gender and upset the trans lobby. Because society has lost much of its ability to have civil discourse, she was roundly condemned by many who know her. The woman who was once the hero of children’s literature, who brought homosexuality to the forefront when she announced Dumbledore of the Harry Potter series was gay, is now an oppressor who’s lost the game of critical theory.
In another example of mob rule, a woman was recently fired from her job after the Washington Post dredged up a social faux pas she made two years ago: she attended a Halloween costume party, where many guests had planned costumes parodying conservative figures. The woman in question dressed as Megyn Kelly in blackface, in reference to Kelly’s statement that when she was a kid it was okay to be in blackface. After receiving a fair amount of backlash, the woman left the party humiliated, later apologized to the host, and appeared to have learned a lesson from it. The first important point here is that dressing in blackface is considered socially unacceptable today because it was once a way of making fun of and stereotyping African-Americans—neither of which this woman was doing. But the very act was unacceptable in the eyes of her fellow “woke” partygoers. The second point is that no amount of atonement was enough to redeem her; this woman lost her job two years later because a news outlet decided to shine a spotlight on her—a non-public figure at the time—and because mistakes are not forgiven by the Black Lives Matter activists or others who are influenced by CRT/I.
Trading in Half-Truths
Whether they realize it or not, many participants in Black Lives Matter protests and violent race riots have been influenced by CRT/I. When a white police officer kills a black person—whether or not it was a result of police brutality or excessive force—CRT/I demands that the automatic conclusion is that the killing was racially motivated. The cries of protestors that “Black lives matter!” whenever this happens indicates they believe as much.
The reality is that systemic police racism does not exist. It’s fake news. This is not to discount the experiences of those who have been discriminated against by police officers; these are disturbing events that should not be happening. To be sure, some officers exhibit racial prejudice, and levels of racial prejudice will vary based on the area of the country. For instance, one study showed that in three major cities police were more likely to use non-lethal force on blacks versus whites. But it’s unfair and delegitimizing to our police force to make the claim that racism is systemic because the implication is that there are no exceptions—every white police officer on every police force in America is racist because the system is racist. Police are not hunting down people based on the color of their skin and murdering them. Racism and police brutality need to be acknowledged, condemned, and dealt with appropriately, along with those who choose violence and destruction to air their grievances. Let’s seek justice in these issues without giving ground to the ideas creating and fueling the mob. Otherwise, we perpetuate more racism and bias.
†Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash