By Critical Race Theory (CRT) is meant a) an analysis of the concept of race such that b) race will turn out to be a, if not the, prime determinant of social stratification. In that sense CRT cannot but be banal. Surely there would have to be some analysis of the concept of race such that race will turn out to be a-if-not-the prime determinant of social stratification. All one has to do is pick a measure of social stratification and identify a-if-not-the prime determinant of it as being what is meant by race. But that would just be silly.

So to be saying anything interesting the Critical Race Theorist has to provide an analysis of the concept of race that’s prior to and independent of any measure of social stratification. But Critical Race Theorists take assiduous pains not to provide any such analysis. And so CRT can have nothing interesting to say.

This is what happens when a critical theory is subjected to something else ‘critical’, namely critical thinking. A critical thinker doesn’t deny we carve the world up into something we then call race. But she wants to know how we do so. By which I don’t mean how the human mind goes about carving up the world – any cognitive scientist can tell us that! – but rather by what particular sortal it does so in the case of race. Then and only then are we in a position to decide whether it is or isn’t a-if-not-the prime determinant of social stratification.

Any attempt to answer this question is going to die the death of a thousand qualifications. Is it skin colour? No. Width of nose or lips? No. Hair texture? No. And yet, ask anyone, black or white, to pick out the black people in a classroom, and they all seem to come up with the same result. As the judge is said to have said about pornography, “I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it.”

But does he? Is he doing it independently of what it does to and in his loins? I suspect not. So the most he can say is that by pornography he means what something particularly does to and in his loins. He might then try to induce from those things he’s identified as pornographic what property, prior to and independent of his libidinous responses, these things have in common. Perhaps it’s that they all involve domination and submission. But so does the lion’s share of erotica. So it’s a matter of degree. But how would he measure that degree other than by the strength of his libidinous responses? And then we’re back to where we started.

Is the same true of race? I think it is. But my conjecture is that what takes the place, in the case of race, of libidinous response in the case of pornography, is sensitivity to history. These and these are the features we associate with those who were once slaves. And we can test this conjecture by imagining if there’d never been such a history – or at least we’d never heard of it – would we still perform the same sortal?

To what purpose? There’s as much variation within a race than there is between them. And yes, we do jaw with our buddies about this green-eyed young lovely as distinct from that Van Morrison-esque brown-eyed girl. But that talk is seldom about our differential libidinous responses.

So what CRT does, in effect, is rehearse that history for the benefit of those who might not already be aware of it. To what end? So they can respond ‘appropriately’, i.e. as the rest of us do, to it. No one denies that racism is a problem. But those opposed to CRT being taught in school accuse Critical Race Theorists of exacerbating rather than ameliorating the problem. Kids aren’t born racists. They learn it. So it’s like sex education. If they don’t get it at home, it’s the responsibility of the school, dammit, to teach it to them.

Does this mean I’m among those opposed to CRT being taught in school? Far from it. I think we should be teaching about who sold those slaves to those slave traders. Why? Because we need African Americans to learn to hate each other, to take some of the pressure off us whiteys.

Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask, Social and Political Philosophy, Why My Colleagues Are Idiots, Critical Thinking

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