When I study history, I do so with historical context. The past is another country; they do things differently there. I don’t study it to pass judgment.
The reasons I don’t study it to pass judgment are twofold:
1) The past is past. My reaction to it will not impact it at all. I don’t matter to the past; my response is entirely unimportant. I cannot change it however much I may deplore it.
2) Any judgment I impose merely serves to warp my own perspective, and thus is to be avoided when practicable. I’m a scholar, and bias is anathema — grit in a fine mechanism, a scratch on a high-powered lens.
So in one sense whenever someone says words along the lines of “Critical Race Theory” with respect to historical studies, someone like me blinks in incomprehension (bordering on revulsion and astonishment), since they’re just putting modern labels on studying selective aspects of history, and then viewing it in a modern context where it very much doesn’t belong. History simply is, and doesn’t change based on the way one views it.
And yet, when one studies the formation of culture, one isn’t studying history so much as anthropology. Within that field, something like “Critical Race Theory” makes perfect sense. It’s not merely appropriate, it’s fundamental to specific aspects. One oughtn’t apply it where it’s useless, just as one shouldn’t use a hammer as a torque wrench or vice-versa. But as a perspective, it’s as valid as any.
As best I can tell, most of the reaction here springs from people who believe Critical Race Theory is being applied to history rather than anthropology (or similar studies). It’s a minor misunderstanding that is now being used by certain among the ignorant as a shibboleth and for virtue signalling.
We have more than enough shibboleths already, thanks.
Critical Race Theory was developed to help understand the formation and development of laws currently impacting our present societal system in a way that helps us untangle any intrinsic injustice that would be applied as a result, whether unequally due to race or in general due to the inefficiency of outdated systems. It was not created as a tool for the study of history, but instead as a method by which history can be used to study law and the institutions generated and sustained by systems of laws.
Whether or not one agrees with its conclusions is irrelevant. It is a tool, nothing more — a system of intellectual restraints and guidelines for the interpretation of data from a specific perspective. If it’s useful, so be it; if not, set it aside. It’s not all-purpose, and its intrinsic limitation is that of hyper-focus on any specific point to the neglect of others.
Personally, in most topics where it might be employed, I’ve found that using class-based analytics presents simpler and therefore more useful results as a rule. There are specific cases where the concept of race cannot be removed from the equation, but they are far rarer than one might think when viewing the same topics from a race-centered perspective. Consider, for example, the problem of endemic generational poverty in the inner cities — or, alternately, the forces that conspire to keep black people poor. It’s a single problem, but when viewing it from a racial perspective (which is in part how we got where we are) we neglect aspects of it while ignoring potentially simple and effective solutions.
Either study says that the first step should be to end the War On Drugs. We should do that first and only then argue over which approach was the most logically valid and intellectually rigorous.
And yet, the entrenched Powers That Be resist change — Republican and Democrat alike. Republican isolationists would prefer closed borders and hardliners want us to be Tough On Crime; big-government Democrats also like Tough On Crime and appreciate the power of sloganeering as well as the next corrupt politician. Neither would willingly surrender the vast portion of the Federal budget that presently focuses on the War On Drugs, and neither would accept the fallout from ending it.
Bear in mind, I’m not talking about some sort of conspiracy. This is just the natural forces of politics at work; no conspiracy is required for politicians to lack a spine. And as a result, the populace is encouraged, subtly, to fight over terms and scholarly perspectives we don’t understand rather than asking more fundamental questions like:
Since the War On Drugs has clearly been lost long since, shouldn’t we stop fighting it?
Since addiction is a medical problem, endemic poverty an economic one, and self-destructive despair an aspect of mental health, let’s retool our programs to treat these problems. After we’re done we can worry about whether the War On Drugs was racist (hint: it was).
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