So You Think Critical Race Theory Is a Useful Analytical Tool?

I was with my new friend Howard that afternoon, and he was pumping me with questions about some of my projects so he could do some graphic design work. That’s still in process, and you’ll see the result when we’re done with it. We have a lot of opinions in common, including thoughts on critical race theory. I was just leaving his office when he brought up a mutual friend who has to deal with CRT at work all the time. “What he keeps hearing,” Howard told me, “is that even if you don’t agree with CRT’s answers, we should at least learn from what it can tell us as analytical tool.”

I practically jumped out of my skin. It’s a good thing the two of us are friends. It’s a good thing I wasn’t with someone who actually believes it’s a useful analytical tool. “What? Analytical tool? There is no such thing!”

That was a bit abrupt. And incomplete. So I went on to explain what I meant: “You’ve been asking me questions, right?  Did you notice they had an effect on me? That I actually learned something? Your questions weren’t just neutral information-gathering: They actually changed me!”

You Can’t Ask Without Communicating

I’ve heard this “analytical tool” question before. The idea seems to be that even if CRT has false worldview foundations, and we don’t think much of its theories of structural racism or white guilt, we can still learn from it as a neutral analytical tool. That’s where it falls off the rails, off the trestle, and into the drink a hundred feet below. Because when it comes to people and social groups, there is no such thing as a neutral analytical tool.

I learned this in my earlier work in organizational psychology, where I built, delivered, and analyzed several organizational surveys. My first question to the leaders I worked with was always, “What do you want to measure?” My second question was, “What do you intend to communicate?” They expected the first question, but the second one usually caught them off guard. “Communicate? I’m not communicating, I’m asking questions!”

Then I would tell them how the two are inseparable. “Suppose we put in four or five questions about communications in the organization. You’re not just asking them how we’re doing at communicating. You’re telling them you care what they think about it. And suppose your survey uncovers a deep level of discontent over corporate communications, and then six months later your employees notice you haven’t done a thing about it. You know what they’re going to think: You only pretended to care. It wasn’t real. You might as well have come out and lied about it.”

If You Ask a Big Question You Communicate a Big Point

Of course I’d keep this all very hypothetical, because I wasn’t about to tell a leader he was a liar, especially since he hadn’t done any such thing at that point. It was enough to get the point across. When you ask a question, you’re saying you’re interested in the answer.

Now, suppose you announced a grand, huge, organizational survey. Suppose you made such a big deal about it, everyone knew it was going to influence your company’s culture for years to come. And when you  had 20 questions on it, and ten of them were about communications and nine more were about tech support. You’d very soon have your employees asking each other, “Is that all they care about? Is this even real?”

That’s more or less the situation with critical race theory as an analytical tool. It’s got itself built up as the answer to America’s cultural problems, or I might even say America’s cultural problem, because it seems at times that whatever the issue is, it’s racism. Or as I said at The Stream, “It sounds like a squirrel to me, but I’m going to say racism.” Critical race theory is supposed to analyze the race problem. And it’s almost like the company that communicates it only cares about two things.

CRT Communicates What It Considers Important: Power

In CRT’s case, those two things are money and politics, and in the end they boil down to one: power. CRT analyzes blacks’ and whites’ status with respect to economics and political power. (The two collapse into one when talking about persons’ positions on the job. Organizational leadership is a form of political power.)

CRT claims to measure racism, or systemic racism, or racial injustice, or some such thing. It produces information on how differently blacks and whites experience life in America, and so on.

What it actually measures — because this is central to CRT’s view of reality — is discrepancies in blacks’ and whites’ economic and political circumstances. It’s a power measurement. How much economic and political power does each group hold, and in particular, how are whites using their power advantage against blacks?

It Mis-Communicates What Life Is Really About

The answers could conceivably useful if the analysis  were positioned as what it is: a measurement of how much economic and political power each group holds, and how whites may be using their relative advantage to disadvantage blacks. Instead it’s put forth as a measurement of justice, or “social justice,” which is a travesty of real justice.

CRT assumes that justice is reducible to current circumstances, without regard to whether a group’s beliefs, habits, customs, and actions — its own culture, in other words — have played any role in their current circumstances, or whether they may be receiving something like a just return for their labors, habits, customs, and so on. Justice for CRT is a matter of outcome, disconnected inputs. The one grand exception to that is the idea that outcome (justice) for blacks is a matter if input (injustice) by whites.

As a theory of justice this is incredibly distorted. As a measure of quality of life it’s even worse. It ignores everything from quality of relationships, to aesthetics, to virtue, to spiritual life (relationship with God). Its narrow focus allows it only to measure narrow living.

There Is No Neutral Analysis

So it doesn’t really measure what it claims to measure. That’s problem one. The second problem is the one I started with here. It communicates a theory of justice, of right living, of quality of life, and more, that depends entirely on money and power. That’s a very flat view of life. So flat, I’ve called it today’s flat earth theory, and just as believable as the original one.*

It’s a flat view. It’s a dangerous one, in view of its focus on power; for power always tends to grow into the abuse of power. It’s a deadening view, being so uninterested in most of what makes life rich, rewarding, and enjoyable. It’s a spiritually fatal view, in that it pays no attention to God, or even to human virtues.

And that’s the view that CRT’s analytical method communicates. Don’t let anyone fool you. There is no such thing as a neutral analysis.


*Side note: I got pushback on that article from a reader who objected to the comparison. It was a flat-earth theorist trying to convince me his view was right. I’m keeping that one for my upcoming “Bizarre Moments in Ministry” video series.

Image Credit(s): Scott Graham/Unsplash.