The New Yorker recently published an article about the man who single-handedly sparked the backlash against Critical Race Theory, Christopher Rufo. It is enlightening.

Let me draw your attention to a few elements of the story.

First, Rufo started with images of workplace diversity trainings that trainers didn’t like. Second, he found loose connections in these formations to writers like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi, and from those writers to critical race theory and Marxism. Third, he believed Critical Race Theory would be an ideal villain to annoy conservatives.

Now, many of us have taken diversity training in our jobs, schools or communities. It’s safe to say that they are probably not all equally useful.

I teach breed at the college level, and learning to breed is a long and slow process. There is no quick fix that can be achieved in a two-hour or half-day diversity training seminar, especially when some participants don’t want to be there.

The idea of ​​reducing racism in the workplace or in the classroom is good, but that doesn’t mean that all the methods people use to make it happen are good, too.

What is absurd is Rufo’s connection between these formations and a few specific authors, and from there to the academic theory of critical race theory, and from there to Marxism and the whole world of formidable conservatives for nearly a decade. ‘a century.

It’s really stretching it. It’s like saying that because birds evolved from dinosaurs, a chicken is a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Hope you can see why those of us who study and teach race as an academic discipline find these bogus equivalences problematic.

In academia, we don’t just read a theory and believe it to be true. We assess the evidence and ask critical questions. How did the author define the terms he uses? How do they measure the concepts they put forward? Did they provide enough evidence to support their conclusion? Can the study be replicated with the same results?

I have heard science, including the social sciences, called “organized skepticism”. It is what it is. Different academics have different theories they promote, but science is a community activity, not an individual one. Sometimes theories are in vogue for a while, and sometimes they lose favor or never succeed at all.

Academic articles begin with a review of the literature that explains all the major theories on the topic in question and highlights the supporting evidence and criticisms for each. If we cannot find the evidence to support a theory, the theory is rejected.

This brings me to the last part of Rufo’s strategy: Using Critical Race Theory as a villain.

As the New Yorker story goes, he lashed out at Tucker Carlson, calling him “an existential threat to the United States” who is “armed against core American values.” But in reality, it is he who arms it. “Critical Race Theory is the perfect villain” for warriors of conservative culture, he wrote.

Clearly, it works. State lawmakers across the country are now making vague new laws about what can and cannot be taught about race and history in this country.

But do you want to fall for it?

Let’s see the backlash against Critical Race Theory for what it is: invented moral panic against academic theory used for political ends.

If there’s a discussion to be had about diversity training, let’s have it. But don’t demonize an academic theory for being politically useful.

If you want to kill a theory, you can use the scientific method to find evidence that disproves it, but you have to understand the theory first.

Jill Richardson is pursuing a doctorate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This editorial was distributed by OtherWords.org.


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