Critical criticism

I am a critic. A critic of many things, most notably myself. I apply a lens of critique to just about everything, because…that’s just what I do. I contend that most people do that, sizing up everything from produce at the grocery store to people in the news. It’s how our brains are wired, set up to compartmentalize and organize stimuli into manageable bits of clarity. This is not a task for the faint of heart, but we have ways of dealing with that as well.

There’s a lot of discussion, debate, talk, whisper, high emotion surrounding the topic of race these days. If you are prone to consumption of mass quantities of information about this topic, be sure to bring lunch and probably dinner. There’s a lot out there, some credible, some not so much.

I went on a fishing expedition last night, on the interwebz, because I was curious about the recent news topic of critical race theory, and the vehement opposition from certain quarters. The opposition, some of which has devolved into legislation barring educators from even mentioning the topic, is so passionately activated, I wanted to understand the basis of their negative critique.

Since I only devoted a few hours to my preliminary investigation, I’ve only been exposed to a sliver of the viewpoints surrounding this issue. In short, my take on this is that opponents are feeling a bit threatened by critical race theory. Some of their resistance spreads from the usual resistance to anything that singles out Black/African American identity – we all work hard for what we have, so if Blacks want a bigger piece of the pie they should get off their lazy butts and stop using food stamps that we all pay for to buy porterhouse steaks and work like the rest of us.

The “welfare queens are living better than the average hardworking white guy” argument was born from racist politicians, like David Duke, who needed to stir up what is now referred to as TFG’s base. That strategy was derived from Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” playbook, which encouraged fabrication of mythology around race that would keep poor and lower income people at each other’s throats. I attribute that to Nixon, because that’s when it seemed to be formalized and make its way into public discourse, but tactics involved have been utilized for over 100 years.

The “Southern Strategy” is not relegated to the South, of course, and now it’s a national strategy for so-called conservatives to use whenever they feel the need. Conservatism in 2021 has become a mere buzz word to include opposition to just about anything in popular culture, and definitely anything high in public opinion. Extra points awarded for playing the race card using coded language, or by claiming affinity for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of unity but grieving that it has seemingly been abandoned in favor of violence and drugs. This is a somewhat confusing state of affairs, because there is no goal of unity, there is no goal of inclusivity. There is only a goal of financial gain, political power, and personal self aggrandizement. Noble goals, indeed.

So, one of the first things I found in my exploration of critical race theory is that critical race theory is but one of many critical theories concerning social constructs. There is race theory, women’s theory, queer theory, class theory, and others. These are all detailed analysis of particular social issues, and critique of how those circumstances arose. In offering a critique, critical theory necessarily offers solution. The emphasis is on the criticism, the declaration that something is not correct. That would certainly be the case for race.

At least one discussion that I encountered concerning critical theory in particular stated that one of the ends of such an exercise is revolution, revolutionary change. In such a revolution, there must be the goal of liberation. This particular discussion said they felt the sexual revolution was a product of critical theory of women’s rights, and it was a failure because all it did was to inject women into the existing framework of contributing to the economy. It did not simply liberate women from having no access to agency over their own bodies, it gave them access to a different form of second-class citizenship. I found that really interesting, but that’s another story I’ll have to think about in more detail later.

So, in the case of critical race theory, there would need to be the goal of revolution, when the people directly impacted rise up to demand change of status quo, to demand liberation from the existing oppressions. Well, that’s what has been happening for many, many years but the status quo has been maintained on many levels. Perhaps this is a revolution in slow motion, which is how I’ve been viewing recent events surrounding race for the past century or so. The revolution is occurring, but it’s infinitesimally slow progress. Slow, as in eventually the glaciers will all be melted. Slow as in eventually the continents will all be a single land mass again.

Regardless, it seemed to be the first hint of why there is so much opposition to critical race theory is the potential for liberation. Liberation, in the case of race in this country, would upend the social caste and social order. It would be unimaginable to have true equity on the basis of race, because some dominant culture structures would be toppled, or at least reduced, and people do not enjoy feeling as though something they possess will be taken away, or lessened.

The other thing about critical race theory is the opposition from organized Christian religion. Significant opposition from the Southern Baptist Convention has been raised, and has caused a tremendous amount of internal stress in that group. The Convention’s opposition does not validate the existing social order, cleverly enough, but does attempt to bring focus on social ills back to the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ. That argument would seem to engage members of that Convention regardless of race, and unite members on the shared acceptance that only Jesus can solve the problem of race.

Unfortunately for the Southern Baptist Convention, the elders who made the decision about their opposition to critical race theory is a small group of white men, admittedly unaffected directly by issues of race. Members of the Convention who identify as Black/African-American were incensed that no attempts was made to gain their input, or understand their perspective on the matter. So, there’s a bit of trouble my friends. Right here in River City. That’s Trouble that starts with T and rhymes with P. But, I digress.

Anyway, the religious opposition mixed with the more academic opposition to critical race theory is out of control at this point. If said theory is such a sham, it seems to be taking quite a lot of firepower to vanquish it – state legislatures are near hysteria in getting bills passed to prevent this from being taught in their schools. Oddly, though, public sentiment has coalesced around things like “it will make our children feel bad” or “those are not the true facts” and “this is more cancel culture”. One dolt of a legislator blasted out with “We built this country from nothing. There was nothing here when we got here. Nothing.”. Suffice it to say that Native Americans had some choice words for him.

While I was drilling down on critical race theory, it occurred to me that I might want to get more information on critical theory in general. It was rather enlightening, as I went down a couple of rabbit holes that brought up things like objective vs. subjective reason. Objective reason weighed heavily in the outlook of the Founding Fathers. They contradicted themselves a bit when they attempted to orient the Constitution toward “common good” rather than “personal interest”, because of course a large part of their systemic structure entirely served personal interest, but perhaps contradiction is inherent in construction of social contracts. The intersection of my rights with your rights is always a pot hole.

So, in today’s morass, it would seem that we’ve swung the pendulum away from objective reason and more toward personal interest. Away from the common good and more toward our personal objections or support for any given issue. We are not ruled by the court of public opinion, because in so many cases decisions are made by a non-majority. It’s difficult to have a representative democracy that ignores public opinion when exercising its power. Democracy is very much dependent on the notion of objective reason, but that’s not how we’re practicing it.

The last thing (actually it was one of the first things, but I am backward a lot of the time) I found really interesting about why opposition to critical race theory is so passionate concerns its origin. Critical theory is attributed more or less to Karl Marx, and demonstrates a somewhat Marxist world view that objective reason and science outweighed mythology, religion, and personal interest. Value was derived from reason, not from sentiment or loyalty to myth. This would obviously not fall in line with American religious tradition, most of which is derived from Christian worldview.

The notion of worldview is important, I believe, because it informs our goals. My worldview includes the existence of injustice, and social caste, and so my goals are more about justice and fairness and equity than about elevation of my social class or my financial position. OK, money would be good, but that’s another story entirely. My worldview, however, includes that contradiction, and I accept that we humans are rife with contradiction. I suppose I just have to acknowledge them, and do what I can to reconcile them when I can.

This preliminary investigation of critical theory, and critical race theory, is not over. Not by a longshot. There is an incredible amount of information out there, and I have only just begun to scratch the surface. I want to find out more so that when asked to discuss my position on it, I can sound like somebody with at least half of a working brain. I don’t much care about having disagreements about opinion, but I despise talking to people who don’t know why they hold a certain opinion. That’s a discussion that is a waste of my time.

And I don’t like to waste my time. Relatively speaking, I have little of it left, so it’s got to be doing something that matters in some fashion.

Time on my mind, all the time.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

One thought on “Critical criticism

  1. Wow. There’s a lot to talk about here.
    I hope you don’t mind a long post of preliminary personal views – both positive and negative.

    I have to admit that this is the first time I’ve come across critical theory and have only had a cursory glance at it. It certainly sounds interesting in that it appears to be focusing on the whys of things rather than grabbing solutions. That said there still seems to be more focus on changing the rules rather than ideals and expectations.

    The “welfare queens are living better than the average hardworking white guy” thinking is a prime example. We have the same in the UK with people thinking everyone on benefits is sponging ( including all races and most ages, although I get the impression that youth are seen as worse ). My impression is that it may have grown from the top but it became an accepted ‘truth’ to many, and that then helped to guide people on votes such as Brexit.
    You can probably see where I’m going with this – Laws and leaders impressing views that people then take to heart. But when the laws or leaders change the people still have those views and they affect votes on new leaders, causing a cycle. I agree that rules banning being racist wont work and that laws that segregate people need to be changed but, in the end, it’s people supporting and trusting those laws that make them work and if people don’t change with the laws then nothing changes. People ( as I keep seeing in my search ) aren’t born racist, they just need to have a better way of thinking to hold onto.

    What has concerned me is the idea, that gets hinted at from time to time around the net, that being white means I ( and others ) have no right to comment. I realise I can’t know what others have to face or feel but I think it’s harder to change people’s views if there’s no option to hear what those views are ( and yes, the same is true for white people who blanket assume and block ideas such as critical race, without hearing what it’s about first hand ).
    I also have to admit that some of the posts I have seen so far make me feel that, as I am white I would be instantly seen as an enemy ( this could just be due to the way it is put across on the news sites that I’ve read but I’ve not read enough beyond that to make a judgment ) which obviously puts me slightly on edge ( and again I can see the irony that, that is just a hint of how many people have felt who have been marginalised, whether from race, gender or disability ).

    This isn’t so much a criticism as it is a chance to offer other options of where some people may be coming from.
    As you said, it’s a worldview thing. I’ve never experienced many of the issues being brought out into the open. It would not occur to me that anyone is missing or being downtrodden because, for me the world is one of struggling to fight my way through my problems. They don’t compare to many other people’s problems but because they are mine and I can see others who don’t have them I wouldn’t instantly see myself as privileged. For me there’s also the awareness that those others probably have their own problems that I can’t see and that there are others who have problems and see me as problem free – I count myself as lucky to be able to have that awareness as I’m not sure everyone does.
    Frankly it can be hard to get used to the idea that my own problems are minor compared to others or that I have some kind of privilege because, for me, they are very real and major.

    That said, comments opposed to critical race theory also put me on edge as terms like, ” cultural Marxism” and “the abolition of the nuclear family” sound scarily like the starting volleys of a witch hunt and a thinking that prevents anything but chocolate box style living. Both dangerous ways of controlling the way people live.

    In regards slow revolution, maybe that’s evolution? It certainly seems more likely to change people’s ideas and view over a long time at slow pace than it would in a short fast burst.


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