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Is critical race theory a helpful tool?

Thaddeus Williams | Or is it a broken ideology that glosses over true injustices?


Protesters outside the offices of the New Mexico Public Education Department’s office in Albuquerque, N.M., last fall Associated Press/Photo by Cedar Attanasio (file)

Is critical race theory a helpful tool?
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Critical race theory has become the latest flashpoint in the American culture wars. In June 2021, the term showed up 297 times on CNN, 993 times on Fox News, and more than 1,000 times on One America News. For some, CRT is synonymous with telling uncomfortable truths about how racism has been embedded in American systems. For others, it is a sinister ideology that threatens to topple the church and gut the gospel itself.

One skirmish within that debate surrounds the question of whether CRT is a dangerous worldview or simply a tool that can be useful in the hands of caring Christians seeking to upend racism. For our purposes, let’s grant for a moment that CRT is merely a tool. Consider an analogy. An ultraviolet light is also a tool used in the pursuit of justice. A good ultraviolet light, with its unique beams, can help crime scene investigators spot blood, bruises, and bogus currency by revealing clues invisible to the naked eye. In the same way, many defend CRT as a tool that can expose forms of systemic injustice that we would otherwise overlook. But, as a tool, does CRT live up to its promises?

CRT is a broken tool for at least three reasons.

First, it fails to shed light on many of the most harmful injustices perpetrated against people of color. The No. 1 cause of death for black image-bearers of God is abortion. Planned Parenthood, fulfilling the legacy of its founder Margaret Sanger “to exterminate the Negro population” has positioned 79 percent of its abortion centers within walking distance of minority communities. Experts estimate that the abortion industry in the United States has terminated more than 19 million black lives since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The government funding of Planned Parenthood is systemic racism at its most lethal. Yet, you can deep dive into the CRT literature and find no mention of this 50-year assault against small black bodies. CRT glosses over that massive bloodstain in the middle of the room.

Many defend CRT as a tool that can expose forms of systemic injustice that we would otherwise overlook. But, as a tool, does CRT live up to its promises?

Second, it identifies many things as racist that are not. Ibram X. Kendi bluntly captures this common theme of CRT literature when he declares, “When I see racial disparities, I see racism.” Yet, many racial disparities have nothing to do with racism. The median age of Japanese Americans, for example, is 51, compared with a median age of 27 among Mexican Americans. This factor alone yields different economic outcomes between races, as many high-paying jobs require decades of experience. Or take the fact that bank lenders throughout the United States rejected twice as many blacks as whites for home loans. Taken alone, that fact seems damning. But the same report found that white Americans are turned down nearly twice as often as Asian Americans for those same mortgages and that “black-owned banks turned down black applicants for home mortgages at a higher rate than did white-owned banks.” Some racial disparities are the result of racism, and we should unite to stamp those out. However, by making it impossible to discern which disparities are discriminatory and which are not, CRT derails our energies to identify and fight the real problems.

Third, it creates the very problem it seeks to expose, namely, white people inflicting more hurt on people of color. Many of the central concepts of CRT do not represent black voices but that of liberal white women—“whiteness” from Judith Katz, “white privilege” from Peggy McIntosh, “white fragility” from Robin DiAngelo, and “racism” as “prejudice plus power” from Patricia Bidol-Padva. Citing a litany of recent sociological studies, Musa al-Gharbi points out that “relatively well-off, highly educated, liberal whites tend to be among the most zealous in identifying and prosecuting new forms of racism.” Accordingly, he adds, “Whites tend to be more ‘woke’ on racial issues than the average black or Hispanic.” Further, he noted, “Indeed, evidence is growing that many fashionable formulations of ‘racism’ (and antiracist activism) may be directly pernicious for people of color.”

Ian Rowe, CEO for a network of black charter schools, adds, “If you’re a kid and you keep hearing over and over and over that because of your race these are the outcomes that you’re going to have in your life, it’s really hard to feel a sense of personal agency.”

If we take God’s commands to seek justice seriously then we must pursue racial justice, and to do that faithfully, we must avoid critical race theory and embrace a Biblical vision.


Thaddeus Williams

Thaddeus Williams is the author of the best-selling book Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice (Zondervan/HarperCollins, 2020). He serves as associate professor of systematic theology for the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and resides in Orange County, Calif., with his wife and four kids.

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