Irrational arguments plague critical race theory

It has become apparent that critical race theory (CRT) supporters are now engaging in illogical arguments to convey the doctrine as something other than what it is. As if to purport it as separate from critical theory and Marxism. This would be like saying America has never been influenced by English culture, and it just so happens that we share language, history, mannerisms, and political beliefs.

One of the chief leaders in the argument for CRT is Professor Ibram X. Kendi. Recently, The News & Observer reported on his interview with CMS Foundation director Sonja Gantt. During the interview, Kendi made some extraordinary claims about the nature of CRT, which will be the subject of this article.

Unfortunately, Kendi is not the only individual making outlandish claims about CRT. Dr. Rashawn Ray, a David M. Rubenstein fellow in governance studies at The Brookings Institution, employed some bizarre reasoning in his attempt to prop up CRT. His claims will also be examined. In doing so, I aim to demonstrate that the supporters of CRT cannot rationally defend its doctrine and it should therefore be rejected as a valid response to group inequities.

Kendi claims to believe human beings are “deeply complex” but then seeks to define individual outcomes as a consequence of racism. For example, he states, “[i]f you believe we shouldn’t teach students about the existence of structural racism, then what should we teach them about why racial inequity exists?” Here, he is implying that racism is the only reason for racial disparities to exist. However, disparity does not mean discrimination. Moreover, if we take the definition of ‘equity’ as a general expression of fair treatment and opportunity, then Kendi’s interest in racial inequities becomes an examination into the perception and actuality of equity and not just the occurrence. This is because fairness and opportunity could mean different things for different parts of society. For example, if I pursue an engineering degree, I am likely to be denied employment opportunities at a law firm. But the engineer would not conclude, in this case, that he was mistreated or denied an opportunity. Likewise, a criminal may perceive justice differently than their victims.

However, Kendi may reply to this by saying racism and racist are not the same. Interestingly enough, Ray expresses the same belief when he argues, “racism can exist without racists.” But this is illogical. A racist is one that practices racism. By definition, the two are inseparable.

When asked about the doctrine of CRT that teaches children that they are inherently oppressors or oppressed, Kendi brushes off the consequences of his belief by stating, “[t] hat’s not what we’re trying to teach.” But that is the consequence of teaching CRT. His claim is akin to saying “I didn’t mean to run other cars off the road” while intentionally driving on the wrong side of the road. Similarly, Ray makes an illogical separation between the belief in CRT and its consequences. He purported, “[u]ltimately, we cannot employ colorblind ideology in a society that is far from colorblind.” Following this logic one should not employ an ideology against stealing because society is far from ending theft.

Outside of their absurd responses to the consequences of adverting CRT, Ray and Kendi demonstrate their limits in forming a moral and logical argument to justify CRT as a valid assumption. Ray makes conflicting claims due to his lack of understanding about what moral responsibility entails, and Kendi’s responses tend to result in circular reasoning.

“Scholars and activists who discuss CRT are not arguing that white people living now are to blame for what people did in the past,” Ray writes. “They are saying that white people living now have a moral responsibility to do something about how racism still impacts all of our lives today.”

An essential attribute of moral responsibility is blameworthiness. If people today are not to blame for historical events in the past, then they do not have a moral responsibility to do anything insofar as one has isolated their concern to said historical event. Moral responsibility falls under the branch of philosophy concerned with ethical behavior. And if one is concerned about moral responsibility, they must also concern themselves with whether a person is worthy of blame. (Unless they are a determinist, but I will save that conversation for another day.) Hence, Ray claiming that a group is not blameworthy for a particular action and then claiming they are morally responsible to act on the same particular action is a contradiction under moral philosophy.

Kendi’s responses to Gantt’s questions tend to produce circular reasoning. For example, in response to a question about his belief concerning teaching CRT in schools he says, “[a]re you stating that we should not teach students about the existence of structural racism?” What Kendi does not realize is he is making a circular argument. If Kendi is suggesting CRT is an examination into societal structures to identify racism, then he assumes the very thing he is trying to prove with his argument. By implying systematic racism inherently exist, he makes systematic racism a necessary outcome. Kendi makes the mistake of thinking that existence is something that can be used as a defining characteristic. For instance, if a square exists, it necessarily has four sides. But it could be that no square exists at all. This is because the idea of a square existing is not part of the definition of a square. Likewise, if systematic racism exists, then it must be woven into institutions and detectable upon examination. But that does not mean that systematic racism exists. Kendi’s response illustrates another problem with CRT: it is a fishing expedition. Accordingly, its practitioners tend to suffer from confirmation bias based on the perception that an event resulted from racism or extrapolating inappropriately onto broader society an individual occurrence of racism.

Upon inspection, I have made the case that CRT is not a logically valid framework to adhere to. Its practitioners must appeal to ignorance or social grievances, which are forms of emotional reasoning, to make a case for CRT. Insofar as CRT is predicated on emotional reasoning, I see no reason to accept its doctrine as a valid response to group inequity, whereby it has the potential to mitigate atypical group disparity.

Joshua Peters is a philosopher and social critic from Raleigh, NC. His academic background is in western philosophy, STEM, and financial analysis. Joshua studied at North Carolina State University (BS) and UNC Charlotte (MS). He is a graduate of the E.A. Morris Fellowship for Emerging Leaders.