This morning I received a letter from a reader who is a regular commenter on this blog, though he uses a false name. I have his permission to tell this story, though I’ve had to paraphrase it from his letter to me to protect him. I’ve run this version past him for his approval.
He explained the role he had professionally in mainstreaming Critical Race Theory in universities and institutions. Not long ago, he had a falling out with a CRT advocate over corporate culture.
My correspondent — let’s call him Henry — argued with the CRT person over power and identity within corporations. Henry has decades of experience with corporate life. His view is that men and women who have reached the top in most corporations have been thoroughly assimilated into corporate culture — and that defines who they are and what they believe. His interlocutor disagreed, and said blacks in corporations retain their black identity and just engage in lots of “code switching.” They tell white people what the white people want to hear. They tell the truth to their black friends.
Henry said that this woman’s view, when understood through communications theory, means that her actual argument is this: that black people lie to white people all the time. Conclusion: the white racists have been right all along. Black people cannot be trusted when they talk to whites. Henry goes on:
Critical race theory does a poor job of relating with various theories of communication. She had no idea what to say. I presented her with an either/our that was built on what she taught. The whole problem of intentionality was lost on her (as it is on a generation of English majors who were taught not to look for authorial intention). She and I have not talked since that day. Take away point—“code switching” is a potent weak link in implicit bias and structural racism training. Code switching filtered through communication theory means lying.
The take away point, those who teach critical race theory, structural racism, and implicit bias cannot actually engage in a reasoned discussion with an educated audience—because the structure of their argument collapses. Their argument only succeeds if two things are true: (1) you accept their normative assumptions; and (2) you do not look at the implications of their argument and test them with other theories.
Most people who take critical race training at work are not in a position to ask simple but devastating questions. That puts the burden on others to do so.
I asked Henry for a list of such “simple but devastating questions” that people forced to take CRT-based training in the workplace could ask. He responded with more than a few, separating them into subject areas. This is really useful stuff, and I hope you readers will take them into this training with you to subvert the process:
Pattern One: “Code Switching”
Line of questions about “code switching.” Code switching is basically a communication strategy often (but not exclusively) used by black people where they use one set of language and words to talk with “white people” and a different set of language and words to talk with each other. The assumption is that blacks tell whites what they believe works as communication in white world—or communication is shaped to the audience. Blacks then speak a different truth to each other.
1. What is “code switching?” I have heard that black people respond to racism by “code switching” — what is it?
2. Is code switching acceptable?
3. Words have meaning and generally if you use different words you change the meaning. Why isn’t code switching lying? So it is okay to speak different truths to different audiences?
4. Is it okay if white people code switch?
5. Unless you are calling white people dumb, don’t you expect that the response to your training will just be for white people to code switch (like black people do)? How will that help?
Pattern Two: Moral Relativism
This is a line of questioning about the values underlying the training.
1. What are the values or principles behind what you are teaching us? (We don’t actually care the answer to this one so long as it is answered) Follow up—why won’t you tell me what your principles are? What are you hiding?
2. Are those moral assumptions “moral absolutes” or are they just social constructions like all the stuff you are teaching us about race? (Again, we don’t care the answer to this one; we just want the speaker to make what the late Douglas Walton calls “unwelcome commitments.”)
3. So you agree there are moral absolutes? I’m still allowed to adhere to my moral absolutes, like putting my family first? Putting God first? Putting my faith first? I’m allowed to expect that other people will always tell me the truth (see code switching above)? I’m allowed to expect that other people will respect my property?
4. So morality is a social construction? So you are attacking my religious faith? You say it’s a problem if it’s a moral absolute? What exactly is wrong with my religion? If there is nothing wrong with my religion, why do you want me to change what I do? I’m just following my faith. I’m Christian — do you have the same problem with Judaism? (These follow ups are why we don’t care about the beginning … the entailments are what we want — but one has to be willing to witness her or his faith).
Pattern Three —How Do You Know?
1. If I follow what you are saying, how we approach the world is shaped by cultural forces beyond us?
2. How did you escape these cultural forces? Aren’t you in fact part of the cultural forces? Aren’t you intellectually a prisoner to the same forces you are telling us about?
3. So you are saying you are smarter than me — that you escaped, but I didn’t?
4. Without knowing me personally, how can you teach that I am subject to these cultural forces and have not “escaped” them through my own critical thinking?
5. Why would you assume all escape from these social forces looks the same? Aren’t there different paths that work?
6. Doesn’t Christian faith lead one to escape these cultural forces? [This depends on one’s willingness to argue doctrine]
7. Of course you have read [fill in your favorite text, and argue from it] Martin Luther’s “Freedom of the Christian.” Do you have a problem with Luther’s teaching that one has liberty or freedom only when he lives in bondage to Christ? Indeed, freedom has nothing to do with the secular or political world, but is purely a matter of our relationship with Christ?
In graduate school I was part of a “voluntary” critical studies reading group that existed so a young assistant professor could test out some ideas he had for a book. This line of questions ended the reading group.
1. Let’s take a step back for a moment. You are teaching us a process of critical analysis. You are asking us to examine how culture shapes thinking. What is the end point of your process? Does this process have an end point? Why is that end point correct? So you are saying that end point is a moral absolute? So you believe in moral absolutes? So that end point is not a moral absolute, it’s just a different cultural construction—one among perhaps an infinite number of possible such cultural constructions? Really?
2. Why isn’t your end point merely an alternative cultural construction? Can you show me the difference? How one is an absolute and the other a construction?
3. Why don’t you try this to explain this more clearly. Let’s invert the problem and use your end point as the point of critical departure. What happens if we apply your methods to your end point? Doesn’t that mean we will end up somewhere else? Where? That place might not be good? Won’t people just apply your methods to your ends?
This last one probably goes beyond the easy.
4. Can you restate what you are telling us in terms of Popperian falsification? Can you give me a testable hypothesis that we could prove false? Can you present us your theory in something testable that can be falsified?
On Henry’s last point, this link should clarify things. In brief, the philosopher of science Karl Popper said all scientific claims should be “falsifiable” — that is, it ought to be possible, in theory, to prove them false. If it’s not, then the claim is not scientific. What Henry advises the Critical Race Theory disrupter to do is to put the instructor in a position of having to demonstrate that CRT-based claims are scientific by coming up with examples that could, in theory, be proven false. If they can’t do that, then it shows that CRT is a political or moral ideology. This line of questioning undermines its authority in the minds of the captive audience.
UPDATE: A reader dissents:
What an insane idea, recommending that people attempt to disrupt this process will ensure nothing more than the system being reinforced even more; because the end result will be those disrupters being made into an example for the rest of the group.
I can already picture it in my mind, some foolish white man attempts to “own” the CRT hustler by asking a question like those listed above. The CRT instructor will then denounce the questioner as a racist, likely white supremacist, and a danger to people of color. This person will then be fired when a protected class member complains about them. And they will complain after they see you ask a question like this.
Of all people Rod Dreher should understand that you don’t “debate” with totalitarians, do you think the response to a friend being put in a gulag is to offer a noble debate to a commissar? We have a massive movement working towards bringing Dhimmitude status upon white people. I suppose it makes conservatives feel better thinking that they can debate their way out of that raw hatred. That’s also the reason most conservatives keep calling BLM Marxist, it allows them to avoid the real issue.
The proper response to these trainings is #1 do and say nothing, schedule a doctors visit for the training day and if you can’t do that sit silently and #2 if forced to speak say the following “I don’t have anything to add, I’m just listening to the good information everyone is discussing”. At this stage of the game your martyrdom will have the opposite impact you want as the establishment will gleefully make an example out of you. Maybe after another 10 years of ritual humiliation there will be enough angry people to push back on these concepts, but today is not the day.