I almost passed up The Glenn Show episode of Loury and McWhorter talking about CRT, because I knew I would agree with 90% of what they would say and it seemed a poor use of my time to be told what I already wanted to hear. But some podcasts have that feature of pushing themselves to the front of the line when another podcast ends and just start playing. When you are driving, it is often best to just let that happen until you stop and switch over. So I started hearing it anyway, and happily went through to the end.
I have nominated them as public intellectuals, and they do generally fulfill that. But in the French model, that would be thinkers who put forward edgier, more difficult ideas, put in a form that the brighter persons in the general public can understand. I consider that valuable, and I believe there are American and British thinkers who do that and are worth hearing out, even when they are infuriating. A public intellectual must be a person who can transpose the ideas coming from the deepest thinkers to a discussion that we middlebrows can absorb and reflect on. Think William F Buckley Jr and "Firing Line," for example. (We were already far downhill of that when Dick Cavett took the stage. He was a decently-bright but thoroughly indoctrinated individual who was skilled in engineering interviews so that the general public was told what their betters deemed it good for them to hear, with the carrot that they thought they were listening in on True Intellectual Thought. It was a form of deep propaganda, very Gramscian. See also Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver.)
Loury and McWhorter are even better at a separate function, as educators. As they both do that for a living I shouldn't be surprised. What I heard on the podcast wast not merely things I agree with, but things put concisely and clearly, so that I said "Yes. Exactly this. Thank you, sir." It may be a more important function, though it is less glamorous. Notice, by the way, that both of them are almost as solid in construction of the language and ideas when they are speaking of the cuff as the rest of us are when we have a chance to write things down and edit ourselves. McWhorter:
Do you want your children taught that battling power differentials is the center of intellectual, moral, and artistic endeavor? Do you want that taught? I think all of us would say a concern with power differentials might be one of maybe ten things, that an education is concerned about, maybe even six. But do you want that to be the central focus of all endeavor at the school?
Because that is the issue. There is continual dishonest representation that people who don't want CRT don't want slavery or racism to be mentioned at all. Motte-and-bailey argument. Or straw man. Or intellectual dishonesty. Your choice. But CRT is exclusive by design. It asserts it is the only method by which political understanding should be viewed. It is a derivative of Marxian, Nietzschean power theologies. Children are set into "affinity groups" of their own kind*. So we are pitting one POV that says "Let's teach a variety of approaches to understanding all of history, literature, and culture," while the other says "Those are false. Only one voice shall be heard." This is why the legislatures trying to ban CRT altogether are wrong, but they aren't crazy. As one view among many it would be fine. It destroys all discussion.
There was an interesting approach when my children were in Christian schools to teach World Religions, but it was something of a put-up job. They explained what Islam teaches - not entirely accurately, but better than "religion of peace" bromides - and why that was wrong. They described Buddhism - again, not fully correct but based on a true story - and why that was wrong. Adults looking back on this method of instruction express a lot of irritation about it.
Let me stress that CRT is far worse. Those other viewpoints don't even make it to the table to be criticised. They are simply dismissed. The excuse is that those other, racist ideologies are so firmly embedded in the national culture and already have such a head start that CRT is only pushing back against a massive tide, feeding on scraps, and cannot afford to offer quarter. That was not quite true in 1950, though it was at least a decent argument then. It is now simply ludicrous, seizing upon anecdotes for confirmation bias. Look, we found a racist! That proves everything! It is the argument I have heard hundreds of personality disorders make that what looks like cheating and manipulation are merely their desperate attempts from deep in the hole to get some fairness back in the world. It does look that way to them. I have little doubt that personality disorders in the public discussion also feel this just as strongly about racism.
It doesn't make it true. It's just Motte-and-bailey that "this isn't what Derrick Bell and Kimberle Crenshaw said" (and you ignorant fools can't reach our lofty peak), when it is they who have watered down Bell and Crenshaw into programs that dim people can effect, because their skills are not abstract thinking and they can be convinced "...two legs better!" Like that's my fault.
And now Loury, summarising McWhorter and commenting further:
I want to reiterate something that you said earlier, because I think it was profound. People are always demanding "What's your definition of Critical Race Theory" and you offered one. It was a two-part definition - I want you to correct me if I get this wrong - one part had to do with separating children by race, and encouraging whites to think of themselves as privileged, presumptively in virtue of their race and oppressors. And encouraging blacks to think of themselves presumptively in virtue of their race as victims. That was one part. The other part of it was making this idea of countering disparities of power or influence into the central mission in life. You are here to get an education so that you can be a warrior on the battlefield of equity, on the battlefield of social justice. You think the marriage of those to those two things, basically, defines critical race theory (McWhorter: "As. Practiced. Today. In schools") and as opposed by the people who are up in arms about it. That's what they're against.They are not fighting a phantom. They're not just, as Ibrahim X. Kendi would have it, having an argument with themselves about something that is in their imaginations but that doesn't exist in reality that no one has ever said. There is a real thing they that they are concerned about, and it has to do with identitarian and with the kind of co-opting of our kids into a crusade on behalf of political objectives which are not universally shared.(To which McWhorter chuckled and said "Yes! That was better put than I could...")
In short, if CRT actually did what they said they intended to do and no more, I would have no objection. I would say they were wrong but refutable, and may the best
man woman** win, as conservatives generally do about Marxism or immigration.
*I think of our local schools. Here in suburban, rural, or small-town NH, if you did such a thing there would be one lone black, Hispanic, or Asian child set into a corner by herself. However much you tried to sell the idea "No, you are the good one, darling! It's those others who are oppressors who we are trying to humiliate," that poor child would feel separated from the only friends she had and made to feel distant from them. These educational exercises are almost universally cruel to actual children in order to feed the fantasies of what some narcissistic adult imagines he would have liked as a child, or will save the world. All of our memories are inaccurate, and what we think we would have liked is partly delusion. But narcissists are far worse on this. They reconstruct their pasts far more thoroughly than the rest of us are even capable of - because we don't work at it 168 hours/week.
**CRT is the fad. But women, environmentalists, socialists, and a half-dozen other groups are constantly clamoring for primacy, hoping for that one big tragedy that will vault them to the top for a few months. Being a leftist is highly competitive.