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The year 2020 has been framed by polarization. Protests in the United States, strong disagreement on social networks and the inability to have a healthy political debate are just examples of the worst face of the year that is ending, only surpassed by physical and economic losses from COVID-19.
Polarization and inability of new generations to listen to each other may have their origin in the institutions that are supposed to serve as preparedness centers for solving the world’s problems: universities. The various reasons for the current polarization are debatable, but by analyzing recent trends in academia (particularly in the social sciences) and new standards in university life, the state of a generation of graduates (often methodologically unprepared to face the world and its challenges) can be ascertained.
That university professors tend to have ideological preferences with economic and social movements of the left is almost a cliché. It is a fact that, in terms of participation in political parties in the United States professors tend to be registered and be donors of the Democratic Party in overwhelming numbers as compared to those who are members of the Republican Party. This fact, in and of itself is not necessarily harmful, as long as they fulfill their objective of educating the population in a balanced and impartial manner. What is serious is that, due to recent obscurantist trends in the humanities and social sciences, coupled with a growing oral resistance by students to allow exploration of ideas that make them uncomfortable, universities are failing in their primary purpose: to teach students to learn to think, to learn to solve problems, and to learn to rethink their ideas.
Today’s student is growing up in a collegiate ideological echo chamber
Enabled by means of social networks, in today’s academic world there are ideas that in the past were considered radical, but now, in a new communication channel they are no longer write analytical essays but rather critical lenses about the modern world with a considerable stress on culture affecting an important number of academic disciplines, so it is important to understand the magnitude of certain ideas, which to the reader could seem exaggerated or uncomfortable, but carry an enormous influence.
“Critical Race Theory (CRT)” is a thesis and method of interpreting reality and academia. This theory examines race and racism in all modes of cultural expression. By using this method, it hopes to understand victims of what they call systemic racism, how it shapes culture, and at the same time prepare groups that suffer from the system to defend themselves against prejudice.
Systemic racism, in its thesis, impacts every hierarchical structure in society, encompassing the entire economic, judicial, scientific, governmental, and academic system. The most important lens to examine reality according to CRT is groups, and consequently, the individual ceases to be the center of analysis. In it, the individual’s experience is not important, but rather the experience as a member of a framed group: his or her race, social class, gender, and sexual orientation, among other characteristics.
CRT students seek to not only address those who suffer from what they consider systemic racism, but also those groups who benefit from the system. The theory originated in the 1970s, and has grown in popularity recently. The theory in its practice prescribes analyzing everything solely through race. In its way, ironically, CRT is the opposite of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s phrase: “I look forward to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Acknowledging that certain racial and economic problems exist today, yet it does not seem that the CRT method is the solution, and its side effects are even worse. CRT has increased its influence upon society, and has managed to hoist on the new generations certain of its terms that have become common place, and as a result they are replicated in the media and other institutions, many times with but slight deviations from CRT. The most popular term is “white privilege.” This CRT term exemplifies what they call the series of social, political and economic advantages of white people over those who are not. More importantly, for CRT students, the bottom line is that the system tends to normalize and ignore “white privilege.”
Micro-aggressions, institutional racism, and intersectionality
Another term is “micro-aggressions,” which is defined in small and common expressions that are considered “attacks” on minority groups, which often occur (according to CRT) due to prejudices of the dominant groups against the subordinates of the system. This concept insists on focusing on the conflict, and has become popular with academics and youth, as it allows them to ask for protection from “micro-aggressions,” from any term or expression they consider offensive.
Even if it is not the speaker’s intention, if the listener or reader considers them offensive, it is considered a “micro aggression,” and according to the CRT it must be corrected. Also, the definitions and words they include tend to increase over time, to the point that they now circumscribe lexicons that in the past were considered part of the academic jargon.
In the California university system, there is an administrative guide regarding “micro aggressions,” showing some examples: “There is only one race, the human race”; “I believe the most qualified person should get the job”; “America is the land of opportunity” according to the guide are all phrases that “micro aggressions”. In the first example, by implying that one should try to ignore a person’s race, it is considered a “micro assault” of “white privilege”. In the second and third examples, by suggesting that gender or race does not influence a person’s success, it is also a “micro assault” (again, because CRT reduces individual achievement by focusing exclusively on a group narrative).
In this concept, one should avoid saying any word or phrase that offends (even subtly) even under academic circumstances of discussion or analysis. Consequently, it diminishes the ability of universities to elaborate on debates and develop logic by limiting oral and written discourse on a multiplicity of topics. The possibility of proposing new ideas is eliminated, freedom of expression and freedom of thought are limited, and the individual is nullified as the center of society.
The CRT insists that there is “institutional racism”, where through the ethnic lens, all the institutions of society originated in a system created by and for whites. According to this, all its content is part of a “social construction”, where even what seems objective, including the scientific method, must be biased in favor of “white privilege”. The CRT concludes that one must doubt the objectivity of the advance of science and enlightenment, since they are, in the CRT’s theory, inventions of “institutional racism”. This is seen in the day-to-day life of the academic world, and is gradually being incorporated into the culture. And the CRT process is rising even higher.
“Inter-sectionalism” is a subdivision of the CRT, where not only are there groups permanently subjugated by another, but the combination of these groups forms a kind of hierarchy of the afflicted. That is, according to inter-sectionalism women suffer from what they call “patriarchy”, but within women, those who are white dominate the rest. Continuing, within this example, African-American women are not only dominated by men and white women, but the latter are in turn divided according to their sexual preference, where it is assumed that heterosexual women are privileged over the LGBT group. Finally, inter-sectionalism expresses that only the members of each section are capable of understanding their sufferings, and no one from a “superior” group (according to them) can have enough empathy to understand them.
Also, it does not matter if a particular person has been the victim of abuse or racism because he or she is part of certain groups, he or she is in a morally superior position to express himself or herself over other groups considered privileged. For example, in inter-sectionalism, it does not matter if a woman is born poor, in a life of difficulties that she may be able to overcome; not being, for example, an African-American woman or a homosexual woman, she would never understand the reality of those latter groups. Worse yet, any achievement in her life is not hers, it is due to the advantages she had by being, in the example, white or heterosexual.
The problem in public policy
The danger is that this leads to the fact that if studies are carried out that contradict these paradigms, the CRT does not consider them valid because they are made by members of “privileged” groups. For example, the slogan “Defund the Police” has its origin in the idea that the police have their origins in a racist system, which, according to the CRT, is the reason why there are a number of African Americans who die at the hands of police officers every year.
Utilizing the CRT lens, the solution can never be to increase the number of police in an area to decrease crime, because despite academic studies that objectively measure the reduction in crime by increasing police presence, and although these studies are done using the scientific method: (1) they are probably studies done by whites or the privileged, and (2) the scientific method is part of institutional racism, which is subjective to “systemic racism.” This can be seen to mean that the only alternative left is to eliminate the police as an institution.
This has permeated university students, so much so that today there is a significant group (including members of the U.S. Congress) who insist on implementing this “Defund the Police” measure. Even former President Barack Obama has insisted on the absurdity of the measure, to which new members of the Democratic Party insist that it is the only solution possible, attached to the CRT’s vision of the world.
For students it not only has it increased its influence as a philosophy of life, but has provided a carte blanche to opaque and silence dissent in thought within the universities. Today, it is rare to see comedians performing at universities, as they are often accused of making “micro-aggressions” in their jokes by students following the CRT guidelines. Professors invited to give lectures (and who could be considered as part of this “white privilege”) are received with strong protests that prevent them from speaking at all costs even when presenting the results of scientific studies.
Professors have begun to be suspended for showing students ideas that reinforce what they consider to be “systemic racism.” Excluding a small minority of cases, the examples of these incidents show how a dangerous philosophical spiral has taken hold, where not reason but feelings dominate. Colleges are no longer exposing students to new ideas, but are creating a great ideological cave where those who think differently are punished. Culturally it focuses on revenge and guilt over solutions. In the area of research, it is restricted to the topics to be explored; in class, students self-censor certain topics and evidently, an academic methodology is applied with misinterpreted results.
The students, hidden in a kind of ideological chamber, are coming out to face the problems of the world with various wrong definitions: (1) A classification of the binary world between allies and enemies, formed by vague definitions but with an emotional and moral charge; (2) a belief in the existence of multiple truths, where the subjective experience is more important than the objectively analyzed facts; and (3) the assertion where supposedly a powerful but intangible power structure exists. Under this dogma the consequences are being felt in 2020.
The problem of the CRT is not its intention, but its consequences in society. During the Black Lives Matter protests, looting and vandalism were justified as an end to changing the system. At New York University this year, certain students formally asked for the segregation of university dorms, because according to the CRT, only by living separately can minority students be free to be offended by “micro-aggressions” from other student groups. In the state of California, a referendum was held on a law that eliminates the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of race in government positions (including universities), in order to discriminate in favor of candidates from certain groups.
In certain U.S. government agencies, CRT workshops are being conducted, but segregated by groups according to inter-sectionalism (by race and gender). In a sad and ironic ideological circle, the civil rights protests of the 1960s are being trampled underfoot, as the ideal of “no longer seeing skin color” changes to “skin color first.” As a result, “critical race theory” does not appear to be an advance against racism and discrimination, but a retreat.
It is also entering the academic world at all levels, where it is promoting a post-truth stream. In the city of Seattle, the elementary education curriculum now includes studies of “power and oppression in mathematics,” asking questions such as “How is math manipulated to allow inequality and oppression to persist,” “How has math been used to resist and liberate people and communities of color from oppression,” “How can we change mathematics from individualistic to collectivist thinking? So strong is the tendency to position the world as one big racist system, that one Brooklyn College professor proposes that “2+2=4” is not an objective statement, but rather is one of “white supremacist patriarchy”. Orwell in an ironic equation.
While access to social networks has elevated discord in the population, the origin of polarization comes from the universities. It is possible that the origin of the CRT conceptually comes from radical minorities, but its influence is currently felt in art, industry and politics. In a framework where everything is explained with a simplistic and obscurantist method, the links of encounter and conversation are less and less. University graduates are highly influenced by these committed ideas, and they go on to form the intellectual capital of the corporate, artistic, scientific and political world.
The great challenge of society in this decade of the 2020s is not going to be a reflection of right vs. left (even though certain politicians on the left are beginning to follow the ideas of the CRT); it is going to be a deliberation of enlightenment, liberal values, reason, modernity and scientific revolution against irrationality, tribal mentality, intellectual authoritarianism and post-truth. It is a great challenge that requires educators, families and individuals to adhere to science, liberal values and truth. Only in this way can all the challenges of the new century be conquered, including racism.
Carlos is an economist with studies in business and political science. He currently lives in Canada, where he is a portfolio analyst for the oil sector // Carlos es un economista con estudios en negocios y ciencias políticas. En la actualidad vive en Canadá, donde es analista de portafolios del sector petrolero