American conservatives have found a new enemy: Critical Race Theory, a discipline that studies the impact of racial inequalities on the functioning of American institutions. They accuse schools of using it to make “white” children feel guilty by making them believe that they are all racists. Yet this theory was never taught before college.
In Nevada, an “Alliance of Families” demanded in early June that school teachers wear cameras on the chest to make sure they don’t teach children a subject … that has never been taught. In Virginia, police officers were forced to intervene last week to end a very agitated school reunion in which parents accused teachers of “brainwashing” children with subjects… that are not on the agenda.
In both of these cases, the families suspected the faculty of instilling Critical Race Theory (CRT) in their cherubs. In these two cases, the schools or colleges retorted that such a specialized subject was surely not going to be on the menu for the learning of children or adolescents.
A discipline of constitutional law
These incidents are far from being exceptions. Stories of parents of students storming schools to prevent their children from being subjected to the CRT are rife in local US media. The Opinion sections of newspapers as prestigious as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington post or the New York Times are full of articles debating the virtues and limitations of the famous theory.
Lawmakers even got involved … especially on the right. States in the hands of Republican governors, such as Oklahoma, Florida and Tennessee have passed laws to ban the learning of CRT in schools, colleges or high schools.
For Texas Senator Ted Cruz, one of the stars of the conservative camp, “we must stop teaching a subject that tells our children that every white American is racist, that the United States is fundamentally and irreparably racist”.
A definition that has enough to swallow the specialists of the critical theory of race. Originally, the CRT was a very specialized discipline of American constitutional law, which appeared in the 1980s “in the wake of” Critical Legal Studies “, a left movement arguing that the law was a tool in the hands of the powerful to legitimize their power. The supporters of the CRT maintained that beyond the criticism linked to class domination carried by “Critical Legal Studies”, it was important to also highlight racial inequalities “, explains Lionel Zevounou, senior lecturer in public law at the University of Nanterre and author of articles on the CRT, contacted by France 24.
Historically, the “Critical Race Theory was born out of the failures of the civil rights movement of the 1960s,” assures Mohan Ambikaipaker, professor of critical race theory in the communications department at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, contacted by France 24. The activists of this cause understood “that the laws of 1965 against discrimination were very badly applied, contested by a part of the ‘white’ communities, and were not going to put an end to the racial inequalities”, summarizes the American expert. Hence the birth of the CRT, which studies “the way in which laws and jurisprudence have perpetuated racial discrimination rooted in American institutions,” notes Lionel Zevounou.
“I was accused of anti-white racism”
A vast field of study that occupies the students of some of the most prestigious universities in the United States. Harvard and UCLA Law Schools [à Los Angeles] have become bastions for teaching Critical Race Theory ”, explains Lionel Zenvounou.
But it is also a discipline that has gone beyond the strict framework of law. “The critical theory of race has also been adopted by anthropologists, sociologists and educators,” notes Mohan Ambikaipaker. There are now dozens if not hundreds of academic papers each year that refer to this theory in the United States. It may be the CRT applied to computer science research, to the “interactions between police and African-American students on college campuses ” or to unequal access to healthcare during the Covid-21 pandemic.
“This is still in-depth academic work with dozens of footnotes on topics that will surely not be covered in high school, college and even less elementary school classrooms as claimed by those currently leading. a campaign against CRT, ”says the Tulane University professor.
It is, however, not surprising that the conservative right has made it its new scarecrow. Critical Race Theory has always drawn enemies. “When I started teaching it ten years ago, several students complained and even asked for my dismissal, accusing me of anti-white racism,” says Mohan Ambikaipaker.
All that was needed was a good soul on the Right to root Critical Race Theory out of university classrooms, change its meaning somewhat to make it more easily understandable and throw it into the pasture of crowds in need of it. enemies to fight.
A reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement
It was Christopher Rufo, an ultraconservative activist, who took on the task of transforming “the Critical Race Theory into a target to be killed”, tells the New Yorker in a long survey published on June 18 on the origins of this new “cultural war”. While leafing through flyers for anti-racist seminars organized by the city of Seattle for its employees in the summer of 2020, Christopher Rufo came across references to Critical Race Theory several times. For him, it was the revelation: “The concept of Critical Race Theory had everything to become the perfect villain of the story. One has the impression that it is a hostile, academic, elitist, anti-American idea conceived by individuals obsessed with the idea of race ”, summarized Christopher Rufo, interviewed by the New Yorker.
He then embarked on a series of articles for the conservative City Journal site in order to denounce the “Critical Race theory”, used by dangerous leftists to make all white Americans and especially children feel guilty by making them believe that they are racists.
This thesis caught the attention of Tucker Carlson, star of the conservative Fox News channel, who invited Christopher Rufo to his show in September 2020. The activist was then contacted by relatives of Donald Trump shortly before the election. presidential election of November 2020.
For Mohan Ambikaipaker, the offensive against Critical Race Theory is above all a reaction against the Black Lives Matter movement. “Whenever there is progress in the fight to reduce discrimination, there is a counter-offensive from a certain part of the American white community”, regrets the professor.
And this time, the Republicans’ strategy would be particularly pernicious since it is a question of “preventing teachers from addressing the racial dimension of American history in class, which amounts to a form of censorship of which the first victims are children, ”says Mohan Ambikaipaker.
If the attacks against the CRT have only gained in force since the spring of 2021, “it is by political and electoral calculation of the conservatives”, maintains Lionel Zevounou, of the University of Nanterre. “After the fiasco of the insurgency against the Capitol in January, the Trumpist camp needed a new dynamic and a crusade against an enemy, even imaginary like the CRT, which makes it possible to remotivate the troops”, explains Mohan Ambikaipaker.
They also make it possible, “in the great tradition of the conservatives, to try to crumble the possible electoral convergence of the popular, white and minority classes”, assures Lionel Zevounou. For him, the Republicans “know that they are in the minority, and therefore to hope to win they must break this vote” by making the white man believe that he is threatened by militants of the Critical Race Theory.