Why would anyone think depicting a black man and a Lumbee as members of the KKK is acceptable?
At least someone at WRAL does—which is why they ran a cartoon depicting Mark Robinson and Olivia Oxendine as members of the KKK for opposing the new school curriculum teaching critical race theory. But the cartoon actually makes Robinson and Oxendine’s point. Critical race theory’s idea of internalized oppression—which mirrors the Marxist idea of false consciousness—can justify depicting Robinson and Oxendine as members of the KKK.
Critical race theory teaches that race and racial oppression are a central aspect of American society and history. Racism is not just personal or intentional racial preference. Systems that produce different racial results are racist too.
Critical race theory came from another school of thought called critical theory.
Critical theory sees all conflict as fundamentally class conflict. Critical race theory sees all conflict as fundamentally race conflict. Systems that produce different racial outcomes are racist too. But both critical theory and critical race theory have Marxist origins and look at society through the lens of power.
False consciousness was one of critical theory’s main ideas. Marx said the most advanced capitalist nations would have the first socialist revolutions because capitalism was the most oppressive there. When this didn’t happen, Marxists had a problem. The critical theorist Herbert Marcuse solved this problem with false consciousness.
False consciousness says workers might not really understand what is best for them. Capitalism commodifies everything. It teaches workers to crave consumption and consumable goods. Workers start to think they actually need capitalism and the goods it produces. This is false consciousness.
Critical race theory’s concept of internalized oppression mirrors false consciousness. Members of oppressed races do not simply have to see themselves through the eyes of their oppressors. Their oppressors shape their very understanding of themselves and their role in society. Oppressed people internalize their oppression. They oppress themselves with the very methods their oppressors use on them. This can include internalized racism.
Like a worker with false consciousness, an oppressed minority who has internalized racism may actually believe America is good. This results from internalized oppression and miseducation. Minorities are taught that America is the land of opportunity not the land of oppression—and they may pass this teaching on as part of their internalized oppression.
This is where Robinson and Oxendine come in. Robinson, an African American, reasons from first principles, often applying natural law and natural rights ideas to policy arguments. Robinson denied systematic oppression. He said America’s system of government “is not racist at all.” Oxendine concurred and affirmed that America was a land of opportunity, not oppression.
To a critical race theorist, Robinson and Oxendine were expressing internalized oppression. In this view, they were reciting the tropes that oppressed them, and they may have been doing it to keep their power. So their false consciousness needed to be exposed. What group better caricatures the oppression of minorities than the KKK?
I can offer a detailed criticism of how critical race theory relies on flawed Marxist premises about conflict, power, religion, and sin. But a shorter criticism may be best here. Critical race theory can justify depicting a black elected official and a Lumbee elected official as members of the KKK. I hope we all can see why that is wrong.
Dan Gibson, a graduate of the E.A. Morris Fellowship for Emerging Leaders, is an attorney with Stam Law Firm in Apex. His practice focuses on civil litigation and appeals.