Do not be conformed to this world, by be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
~ Romans 12:2
This is part 3 of a multipart series exploring the ideas around the secular ideology of Critical Theory in the book ‘Cynical Theories: How Universities Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity – and Why This Harms Everybody’, by authors Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay. You can read part 1 here, and part 2 here.
With the brutal police killing of George Floyd earlier this year, the vexed issue of American race relations exploded onto US streets, and into other parts of the world.
In the midst of this strife, a number of books written by people holding to the ideology of ‘Critical race Theory’ gained newfound prominence. Among them was Robyn DiAngelo’s 2018 book: ‘White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism’, which reached no. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list in June 2020, during the George Floyd protests.
In White Fragility, DiAngelo expounds her views about racism, which are different from what we usually associate with racism (i.e. racist actions by individuals/groups/governments). She argues that only white people (in the US) can be racist, because they benefit from a society that is inherently racist:
Racism is a society-wide dynamic that occurs at the group level. When I say that only whites can be racist, I mean that in the United States, only whites have the collective social and institutional power and privilege over people of colour.
People of color do not have this power and privilege over white people… Individual whites may be “against” racism, but they still benefit from a system that privileges whites as a group… racism [is] “a system of advantages based on race”.
While declaring only white people to be racist might seem unusual and unfair, DiAngelo’s beliefs about racism make sense when understood through the lens of ‘Critical race Theory’.
And it’s this issue that we’ll explore, through the chapter on Critical race Theory in the book ‘Cynical Theories’, by authors Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay.
Critical race Theory: What is it?
According to Pluckrose and Lindsay,
Critical race Theory formally arose in the 1970s, through the critical study of law as it pertains to issues of race. The word critical here means that its intention and methods are specifically geared toward identifying and exposing problems in order to facilitate revolutionary political change.
This is different to the Civil Rights Activism we associate with people like MLK. They continue:
‘Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress , critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.’
Thus, Critical race Theory is part of the second wave of ‘applied postmodernism’ (see my previous post on this). It uses principles drawn from the philosophy of postmodernism to understand and act on the world.
‘Intersectionality’: A Key Plank in Critical race Theory.
‘Intersectionality’ is a key concept within Critical race Theory. It’s an analytical tool coined by Critical race Theorist Kimberle Crenshaw, which says that a person can be discriminated against in a variety of ways at the same time. Thus, a black woman might face discrimination both because of her gender, and because of her race, in a way that neither white women nor black men face.
The basic idea of intersectionality has merit (people can be discriminated against in more than one way). But ‘intersectionality’ assumes a person is not an individual, but merely a mix of various group identities, according to the categories laid out by Critical Theory (e.g. race, sexuality, gender identity, religion etc). These various group identities each have to be understood in relation to one another, so that their ‘positionality’ (i.e. status of either privilege or oppression) can be identified, and measured.
As you can imagine, this is a highly subjective exercise. After all, who’s to say that black females are more discriminated against than gay men? What does it mean to be a Jewish Lesbian: what sort of privilege/oppression does that identity give you?
And who’s right (and who’s wrong) when one minority group comes into conflict with another minority group, such as when non-white women beauticians refuse to wax the genitalia of a trans woman (i.e. biological male identifying as a woman)? Who’s being discriminated against in such a scenario?
Seeing Racism Everywhere
According to the Pluckrose and Lindsay, Critical race Theory and intersectionality assume that racism is everywhere, through their underlying postmodern political belief that power imbalances are a form of oppression. Thus, for example, when black people (as a group) have higher rates of incarceration than white people, this can only mean that they are being oppressed in some way by a racist system.
And so, this is where it’s important to note that for Critical race Theorists, the belief of ‘power imbalance = oppression’ wasn’t arrived at through careful, testable, repeatable social scientific observation: rather, this belief is a priori assumed to be true (because of their postmodern beliefs), and thus read into every instance of racial inequality.
And because there is racial inequality between different racial groups (that much is verifiably true), there must be (according to the beliefs of Critical race Theory) systemic racism.
Critical race Theory: A Noble Desire with a Terrible Method
Critical race Theory (CrT), like so many secular ideologies (e.g. communism) have noble ideals. They wish to end oppression of vulnerable groups, and bring liberation. Critical race Theory recognises the reality of racism, both of individuals, but also of groups and systems. And occasionally its diagnosis of systemic racism has some merit: it can be used as a diagnostic tool of sorts.
The problem, however, is its methodology.
Problems with Critical race Theory
There are a number of serious issues with Critical race Theory, which move it from a useful diagnostic tool to a pernicious ideology that harms more than it helps.
Some of these problems are as follows:
1) Critical race Theory Has a Warped View of Relationships
It reduces all relationships to a power struggle.
Critical race Theory and Intersectionality reduces everything to ‘one single variable, one single topic of conversation, one single focus and interpretation: prejudice, as understood under the power dynamics asserted by [Social Justice] Theory… it always assumes that, in every situation, some form of Theoretical prejudice exists and we must find a way to show evidence of it’.
But reducing all relationships to that of ‘power’, and thus prejudice, steamrolls over reality.
Now, are some relationships marked by prejudice and bigotry? Yes, of course: whether a toxic DV situation, or Jim Crow-type systemic racism — that much is true.
But are all relationships — including those between you and your spouse, you and your kids, you and your co-workers — reducible to mere power struggle and prejudice?
Is, for example, power and prejudice the key component of your relationship with your loved ones? Or are there other, better ways of understanding those (and other) relationships?
When CrT and intersectionality read all relationships through the lens of power and prejudice, they misunderstand the vast majority of relationships we’re involved in.
In other words, CrT takes a ‘sometimes’ truth, and makes it an ‘always’ truth.
2) Critical race Theory Misunderstands Humanity
It reduces people to a sum of their ‘group identities’
Intersectionality reduces people to the sum of their group identities. It doesn’t see them as responsible individuals, with their own unique individual identity, views and behaviour. Thus, it falls into stereotypes, and judges people on things like skin colour. (Which is rather ironic, considering that the classic definition of racism is judging of a person by the colour of their skin).
An example of such identity-based judgment is when Joe Biden told the black community in May: ‘If you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black’, as if all black people think and act alike.
3) It Is Inherently Divisive
Because it divides people into opposing identity groups.
By reducing people to their group identities which are often locked in a power struggle, Critical race Theory lays the foundation for inter-group conflict. While CrT’s stated aim is equality, their way to equality is not merely by lifting up those deemed oppressed, but by removing many of the rights of those deemed oppressive (e.g. the silencing of Christian voices on issues such as marriage and sexuality, declaring them to be ‘hate speech’).
Adherents of Critical race Theory actively search for hidden and overt racial offenses until they find them, and they allow of no alternative or mitigating explanations-racism is not only permanently everywhere and latent in systems; it is also utterly unforgivable. This can lead to mob outrage and public shamings, and it tends to focus all our attention on Racial politics, which inevitably becomes increasingly sensitive and fraught.
For example, a gay human rights activist was branded racist when he criticised black rap musicians who sang about murdering gay people.
4) It Harms Those it Seeks To Help, by Breeding Paranoia
Critical race Theory doesn’t just damage social harmony, it also harms the mental health of its adherents. It’s worth quoting Pluckrose and Lindsay at length on this:
Critical race Theory’s hallmark paranoid mind-set, which assumes racism is everywhere, always, just wanting to be found, is extremely unlikely to be helpful or healthy for those who adopt it. Always believing that one will be or is being discriminated against, and trying to find out how, is unlikely to improve the outcome of any situation.
It can also be self-defeating: In The Coddling of the American Mind, attorney Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describe this process as a kind of reverse cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which makes its participants less mentally and emotionally healthy than before. The main purpose of CBT is to train oneself not to catastrophize and interpret every situation in the most negative light, and the goal is to develop a more positive and resilient attitude towards the world, so that one can engage with it as fully as possible.
If we train young people to read insult, hostility, and prejudice into every interaction, they may increasingly see the world as hostile to them and fail to thrive in it.
And at a group level, such paranoia leads to increasing (rather than decreasing) racial tension across society.
5) It Breeds a Victim Mentality
Along with breeding a paranoid mindset, Critical race Theory also breeds a Victim mentality in its adherents.
When a person is told they’re oppressed by the society around them, and there is nothing they can do to change that, it’s unlikely to empower them. Instead, it’s more than likely to breed in them a victim mentality: a harmful belief that everything bad in your life is the fault of other people (in this case, wider society), and you as an individual are powerless to change it.
This is arguably one of the most damaging side effects of Critical race Theory, and harms the very people it’s intended to help: vulnerable minorities.
6) It is a Highly Subjective and Untestable View of Society
Because Critical race Theory is built on a postmodern view of knowledge (knowledge is culturally constructed, therefore one person’s view of ‘truth’ is a valid as anyone else’s), it doesn’t lend itself to rigorous, impartial analysis.
In other words, if someone from a racial minority interprets an act or a policy as ‘racist’, then according to Critical race Theory, it is racist.
As Pluckrose and Lindsay point out:
[In the view of Critical race Theory], everything the marginalized individual interprets as racism is considered racism by default — an episteme that encourages confirmation bias and leaves wide open the door to the unscrupulous. In scholarship, this leads to theories built only upon theories (and upon [Social Justice] Theory), and no real means of testing or falsifying them.
The Biblical Challenge to Critical Race Theory
While Pluckrose and Lindsay raise important critiques of Critical race Theory from a secular liberal perspective, the Bible has more to say about it.
Here are some thoughts in closing:
Identity. While the Bible affirms the reality of ethnic (racial) identity (e.g. Rev 7:9), it doesn’t affirm a person’s race as their ultimate identity. A person’s ultimate identity is that of an image bearer of God (Gen 1:27), which affords him certain unalienable rights no matter his skin colour (or whether he’s deemed to be an oppressor or a victim). As we saw above, Critical race Theory denies this ultimate identity, and thus denies the very notion of inalienable rights by tying a person’s rights to their skin colour (e.g. people considered to be part of the oppressive group shouldn’t have the right to free speech or freedom of association).
Systemic Racism. While the Bible affirms that sin exists both at personal and systemic levels, this doesn’t mean that every sin exists at every level, at all times. For example, a married man may have occasional lustful thoughts about women he’s not married to, but this doesn’t mean that lust will be the key feature (or even present) in all (or any of) his relationships with other females. In a similar way, a white person can relate to a black person without prejudice or bigotry. By saying that racism is always present in society, Critical race Theory sees particular sins where they might not be present.
Victimhood. While Scripture affirms that people can be oppressed by wider society or groups/individuals around them, it never affirms or excuses a victim mentality. We see this in the New Testament letters to oppressed Christians (e.g. 1 Peter), and in the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Critical race Theory, on the other hand, tends to reduce people to victims of their circumstance.
Of course, there’s more — much more — that Scripture would say in response to Critical race Theory. But at the very least, while CrT has noble ambitions, it’s a warped view of reality, which harms those it seeks to help, and fractures the society it’s trying to improve.
 Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility — Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism (UK: Penguin, 2018), 22, 24.
 Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, Cynical Theories: How Universities Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity — and Why This Harms Everybody (UK: Swift Press, 2020), 114.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 115.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 123. ‘As intersectional scholars Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge point out: ‘Intersectionality is a way of understanding and analyzing the complexity in the world, in people, and in human experiences…When it comes to a social inequality, people’s lives and organisation of power in a given society are better understood as being shaped not by a single axis of social division, be it race or gender or class, but by many axes that work together and influence each other.’ Quoted in Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 127 (fn 38).
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 128.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 132.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 128.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 128. Emphasis added.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 130. See also the Christianity Today article on the removal of freedom of association from many Christian groups on US campuses.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 134.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 129.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 132. It’s worth noting how activist organisations like BLM and their media supporters feed the narrative of Police killing unarmed black men. However, in 2019, 13 unarmed black men were shot by Police in the USA. While every death is tragic, such numbers contradict the narrative of systemic killing of black men by Police.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 134.
 Pluckrose and Lindsay, Cynical Theories, 133.