Critical Race Theory is Both Controversial and Misunderstood

Greg Markley


Three months ago, I visited Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. Late one afternoon, I saw 15 to 20 cadets relaxing on a parade field after doing physical training. A tape was playing relaxing flute music. Getting closer, I saw they were using pillows to rest on after spurts of exercise.

Military traditionalists might call these cadets and their instructor “woke,” as in being in tune with liberal orthodoxy. Yet, I believe what was I saw was a bit of “mindfulness” (a big Army buzz word). I also knew that the military is incorporating elements of East-Asian relaxation styles.

Cadets at VMI have tough training but they are also students at a revered institution. I don’t know if they are “woke” but most are “wonks.” Purists could hear the flute, see the pillows, and say the world is ending soon. In the same way, opponents of Critical Race Theory say using it in school will turn children into Marxists. That’s a stretch, but the theory does have weaknesses.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., accused Miguel Cardona, U.S. secretary of education, of doling out grant money to schools that back the 1619 project (a major journalism project on slavery) and Critical Race Theory. Walberg believes that studying race in such a manner will make students hate America.

“This is going backwards,” the congressman told Newsmax. “It’s sad to see curriculums that are encouraging students to believe that they can’t achieve anything outside their particular race and class and that if you’re white you ought to feel privileged and badly about that.”

Cas Mudde, a professor of international affairs at the University of Georgia, noted that Fox News mentioned Critical Race Theory almost 1,300 times since March and 250 in one week. Meanwhile, he said conservative legislators in 20 states are promoting bans in teaching SRT in schools.

“Thanks in part to efforts by conservative activists to turn this previously esoteric academic idea into a catch-all-phrase for the excesses of anti-racist politics, CRT has become an overnight bogey of the right,” Mudde wrote in Guardian U.S. “Just as conservatives attacked anything to the left of the far right as “communist” during the red scare of the 1960s, reactionaries today denounce anything with a whiff of anti-racism as ‘Critical Race Theory’ or ‘wokeness’ run amuck.”

So what exactly IS this theory? How long has it been publicly known? What motivated intellectuals and activists to create this movement? Per the Britannica Encyclopedia, “CRT is an intellectual movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings, but a socially constructed category used to oppress and exploit people of color.”

This says race has been a construct, as many historians call slavery, for not years or decades but apparently since the two or more races were joined in certain societies. Who has been in on this – Bull Conner and every solitary white in Alabama since the 1960s? Was Lester Maddox just a bystander who could not turn the construct into a lovefest for all even if he tried? Or did he make unwise and prejudicial errors on his own, as history tells us?

To the conservatives, religious people, parents and media personalities who are outraged and fearful about CRT, I think things will work out. The advocates of CRT have so much planned but the devil in the details will halt them before they do permanent danger. And, I sense that this sudden hysteria on the right has a hidden cause. That is, it should be called “Critical Base, not Race, Theory.” Republican strategies and conservative TV and radio celebrities needed a controversial issue to rally the base again for the 2022 Midterm elections.

For a theory that has been around 30 or more years, it sounds not very well thought-out. And taught to even high school seniors, it may be hard to follow, nevermind, digest. Critical race theorists, since our current century began, focused on race. For them to escape the towers of academia and concentrate not just on theory but real problems, is admirable.

At a June 23 congressional hearing, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, handled himself like the combat-tested man he is. “I personally find it offensive that we are accusing the United States Army being of being “woke” or something else because we’re studying some theories that are out there,” Milley said elegantly. “I’ve read Mao Tse Tung. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin.”

Learning key ideas and about historic leaders should continue at the U.S. service academies. Critical Race Theory is unlikely to be instituted in its original form soon. A political science major as an undergrad, I read Mao, Marx and Lenin. Yet, I have not in 41 years since wanted to be a Communist. I do, though, need more time to get used to flutes and pillows at PT.

Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 10 years.


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