The issues aren’t ‘Selma vs. utopia,’ John McWhorter argues
John McWhorter, a linguist at Columbia University who happens to be African-American, is sick of people being called racist for questioning the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.
In his latest almost 1,900 word “It Bears Mentioning” substack newsletter, McWhorter rebrands people who would call themselves “woke” as “The Elect” to highlight their dogmatic certainty.
The Elect can make so little sense to the rest of us [because] they actually believe that the heart of all intellectual, moral, and artistic endeavor must be battling power differentials. They get this from Critical Race Theory.
For the last year, McWhorter writes, “The Elect, traditionally overrepresented in the world of schools of education, have sought to take the opportunity furnished by our ‘racial reckoning’ to turn American schools into academies of ‘antiracist’ indoctrination. And the backlash is on.”
The Elect are currently alarmed “that state legislatures are proposing to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools, Florida being the latest example,” he writes.
McWhorter sides pretty squarely with the backlashers.
He argues that schools are being turned into “into Maoist re-education camps fostering star chambers and struggle sessions” in the name of critical race theory.
He also uses his expertise as a linguist to slap down claims that what is happening at many schools is not really critical race theory:
Moreover, it is no tort to call it “CRT” in shorthand when:
1) these developments are descended from its teachings and
2) their architects openly bill themselves as following the tenets of CRT.
In language, terms evolve, and quickly — witness, of late, how this has happened with cancel culture and even woke. To insist that “CRT” must properly refer only to the contents of obscure law review articles from decades ago is a debate team stunt, not serious engagement with a dynamic and distressing reality.
McWhorter insists that parents, teachers, and all people of goodwill can object to critical race theory, as it is actually practiced, without having a too rosy view of America’s past.
“Criticizing Critical Race Theory does not mean teaching students that America has been nothing but great,” he writes.
“Constructive dialogue about complex and sensitive issues is impossible within the pretense that all matters reduce to binary oppositions. The Elect cannot reasonably insist America be more sensitive in their perspectives while responding to all critique with sandbox logic based on yes vs. no, off vs. on, and Selma vs. utopia.”
Read the whole newsletter.