Stanley Crouch, the cultural critic who died last month at 74, was a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy.
In the 1980s and ’90s, when he wrote for publications like the Village Voice and the New Republic, he was sometimes referred to as a “black conservative,” the lazy label applied to any black person who strays from civil-rights orthodoxy. Crouch was liberal but decidedly not doctrinaire, and black intellectual elites often came in for bruising in his work.
Crouch wrote that the black-power activists of the 1960s did little more than “transform white America into Big Daddy and the Negro movement into an obnoxious, pouting adolescent demanding the car keys.” He observed that “Afrocentrism is another of the clever but essentially simple-minded hustles that have come about over the last twenty-five years” and “has little to offer of any intellectual substance.” His essay on Derrick Bell (1930-2011), a black scholar who popularized critical race theory in the 1980s, was titled “Dumb Bell Blues.”
“Bell is a law professor and legal scholar whose work is either praised in public or dismissed as mediocre in private, dependent on whether the occasion is one demanding convention or is safe enough to allow honesty to take on the invisible form of words spoken off the record,” Crouch wrote. “Bell’s reputation has been built upon squawking about the supposed inevitability of racism. According to him, black Americans will never get a fair chance because the racist tattoo on the white sensibility is irremovable.”
Critical race theory attributes social inequality to racial power structures. It posits that problems within the black community are entirely the fault of whites and the responsibility of whites to solve. This thinking has grown in popularity over the past decade through the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander, Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi. Its jargon—“white privilege,” “systemic racism,” “unconscious bias”—has entered the vernacular. It has moved beyond college campuses and into our elementary schools via Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times’s “1619 Project.” It has entered workplaces through “diversity” and “racial sensitivity” training.
Last month President Trump issued an executive order that prohibits the federal government and its contractors from using diversity training based on critical race theory, which has become more widespread since the death of George Floyd in May. According to Russ Vought, who heads the Office of Management and Budget, government agencies have spent millions of taxpayer dollars on “training” programs that feature racially divisive, anti-American dogma. Employees had to attend sessions “where they are told ‘virtually all White people contribute to racism’ or where they are required to say they ‘benefit from racism.’ ”
Many people are learning for the first time that the government has been paying “diversity consultants” to teach employees that the U.S. is inherently racist. But what’s also been revealed is the dwindling number of Stanley Crouches on the political left who are willing to call out today’s Derrick Bells. Progressives have succeeded in bringing into the mainstream a school of thought once relegated to the fringes of the academy. There is no shortage of conservatives willing to push back against this pernicious nonsense, but where have the honest liberals gone?
In 1989, Randall Kennedy, a black professor at Harvard Law School, published a devastating law-review article on the “empirical weaknesses and inflated rhetoric” of critical race theorists. He also noted their “strategic use of accusations of prejudice.” Toward the end, Mr. Kennedy revealed that black colleagues who had seen earlier drafts of the article urged him not to publish it. They feared that it might undermine their arguments for racial preferences in hiring. Mr. Kennedy suggested that they come up with better arguments.
Liberal black elites claim to speak on behalf of everyday blacks when in reality they are just speaking for themselves. School choice and crime control are two obvious examples. Blacks favor charter schools and putting more police in their neighborhoods, while civil-rights leaders call for charter-school moratoriums and reduced funding for law enforcement. Nor is this divide a new phenomenon. In 1993, a Gallup poll found that 75% of black respondents wanted more cops on the street; 82% said that the criminal-justice system didn’t treat offenders harshly enough; and 68% favored building more prisons so that longer sentences could be handed out.
Pushing “white supremacy” or “systemic racism” as a blanket explanation for racial disparities is a parlor game for better-off blacks who can afford to play games. It helps activists raise money and intellectuals secure cushy posts in the academy, but it does nothing to help the black underclass, which is more interested in safer neighborhoods and better schools than in making white people feel guilty.
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