Posts Tagged ‘Critical Race Theory’

Book note: White Supremacy Culture

June 18, 2021

A SELF-CONFESSED WHITE SUPREMACY CULTURE: The Emergence of an Illiberal Left in Unitarian Universalism by Anne Larason Schneider (2019)

In 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees took the unusual step of declaring that the UUA was part of a “culture of white supremacy,” and declaring that its mission was to root out this culture.

The UUA is, by some definitions, the most liberal religious movement in the USA. So why would its leaders would describe themselves in words formerly applied to neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan?

It makes a little more sense if you realize that “white supremacy culture” is something more vague and insidious than plain white supremacy. White supremacy is an ideology that says that white people have a right to conquer, enslave, drive out or kill off non-white people.

“White supremacy culture” is defined as a set of traits and attitudes that are common to white people, including nice well-meaning white people, and not shared by nonwhite people.

At worst, it is claimed that these attitudes are detrimental to non-white people and maintain white dominance. At best, they exclude non-white people. Either way, the “whiteness” of even well-meaning white people is believed to be harmful, and needs to be overcome.

A Unitarian-Universalist named Anne Larason Schneider, a retired political science professor, took it on herself to research whether there is any basis for belief in white supremacy culture, and such related concepts as white privilege, implicit bias, micro aggression and white fragility. The results are in this book.

She found that the most commonly-used description of white supremacy culture comes from a 2001 article by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun. A Google search shows the article is still widely quoted, including by Unitarian Universalists.

Jones and Okun said white supremacy culture is marked by (1) perfectionism, (2) sense of urgency, (3) defensiveness, (4) quantity over quality, (5) worship of the written word, (6) only one right way, (7) paternalism, (8) either/or thinking, (9) power hoarding, (10) fear of open conflict, (11) individualism, (12) “I’m the only one,” (13) progress is bigger and more, (14) objectivity and (15) right to comfort.

One notable thing about the Jones-Okun article is that race, racial groups and racial prejudice are not mentioned except in the title and opening and closing paragraphs. Take them away and it would be a typical critique of business management practices. It is almost as if such a critique had been retitled and repurposed.

Another thing that struck Schneider is how the alleged traits of white people fit in with historic racial stereotypes.

Are white people perfectionists? If so, does that imply that black people, Hispanics and American Indians are sloppy? Do white people have a sense of urgency? If so, does that imply that non-white people are habitually late?

Do white people worship the written word? If so, does that imply non-whites are only semi-literate? Do white people value objectivity? If so, does that imply that non-white people don’t care about facts?

Would non-white people benefit if white people become less individualistic, perfectionist, objective and so on? Schneider said there is no evidence and no logical reason to think so.

The important question is whether there is any reason to think that whites and non-whites are divided along these lines. Or are “power hoarding,” “fear of open conflict,” or belief in “a right to comfort” traits found in all human beings?

Schneider found a survey showing that whites were on average a little more individualistic that blacks, Asians and Hispanics, but only by a few percentage points. Other than that, she found no empirical data either supporting or refuting the essay. It is mere assertion.

Because White Supremacy Culture ideology cannot be defended on rational grounds, it can only defended based on appeals to emotion, attacks on motives and exercise of authority.

One example of this is the campaign against Schneider’s friend, the Rev. Todd Eklof, to whom she devotes a chapter.  This is bad news for Unitarian Universalists who believe in historic principles of freedom, reason and tolerance.

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A critique of critical race theory

April 23, 2021

CRITICAL RACE THEORY: an introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Strafancic (2017) is a college textbook about an idea that is transforming the USA.

Supporters of CRT—Crits for short—claim that the only thing holding back black citizens of the United States is the racism of white people, including unconscious racism and the legacy of past racism.

Their goal is to make us aware of how racism works so we whites will yield our privileged place in society to blacks. 

CRT rejects the old liberal ideal of civil rights, which is to guarantee all individuals equal rights under impartial laws. 

The claim is that this ideal only deals with obvious forms of racism and prevents rooting out racism in its deeper and more subtle forms.

In some parts of American life, CRT has become a creed to which you must swear allegiance if you care about your reputation or career.

Being an old-fashioned liberal myself, I am taken aback by how quickly CRT theory has taken hold in academia, journalism, the liberal churches, and government and corporate administration. 

I read this book because I wanted to understand CRT from an authoritative source and engage with its arguments.

According to the textbook, there are two main schools of CRT.

“Idealists” hold that racism arises from “thinking, mental categorization, attitude and discourse.”  The way to fight racism is to change “the system of images, words, attitudes, unconscious feelings, scripts and social teachings by which we convey to one another that certain people are less intelligent, reliable, hardworking, virtuous and American than others.” (p.11)

“Materialists” hold that what matters is that race—for whatever reason—determines who gets “tangible benefits, including the best jobs, the best schools and invitations to parties in people’s homes.” (p.11)  The way to fight racism is to eliminate racial disparities in access to jobs, education, credit and the other good things of life.

By analogy, the same ideas apply to other oppressed groups (Hispanics, native Americans, women, LGBTQ people, the disabled and so on) in regard to their defined oppressors.

Obviously there is truth to all of this.  Obviously racial prejudice—past and present, conscious and unconscious—has a big impact on American life.  Obviously it is a valid topic of research and debate.

As a specialized social science research agenda, CRT could make a good contribution to human knowledge, in dialogue with other research agendas—for example, sociological and anthropological research into group differences, and how they contribute to success or failure.

The shape of society has multiple causes, and if you insist limiting yourself to one, you risk becoming a dangerous fanatic.  This would be true whether your single explanation is economic self-interest, class struggle, religious heritage or something else.  CRT is no exception.

I’m opposed to treating CRT as unquestioned dogma because I’m opposed to treating anything as unquestioned dogma.  But I also have problems with CRT specifically, not so much because the theory is wrong as because of what it leaves out.

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