Christopher Cone, Th.D, Ph.D, Ph.D
The Diagnoses of Critical Race Theory
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is to some either ally or oppressor. To one evaluator CRT “teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other. It is state sanctioned racism and has no place in…schools.” To others it is the necessary means to expose and change an inherent caste system. Charles Ogletree, argues it is needed because, “We still find today a dual system of justice, one black and one white.” One commentator recognizes CRT as “a graduate-level academic framework that encompasses decades of scholarship,” while others perceive CRT to be a hermeneutic issue at its core, “From critical legal studies, the group borrowed the idea of legal indeterminacy – the idea that not every legal case has one correct outcome. Instead, one can decide most cases either way, by emphasizing one line of authority over another, or interpreting one fact differently from the way one’s adversary does.”
These different interpretations are most often evident in legal contexts, hence CRT is often focused on critical examination of societal systems – especially in legal contexts – to identify where racism is embedded, and change those systems to create equality. Kimberle Crenshaw is the influential law professor credited with the term “Critical Race Theory” and considered the founder of intersectionality. Crenshaw suggests that, “the goal is to facilitate the inclusion of marginalized groups.” The goal seems laudable for sure. Who would oppose such a thing? The concerns come with the chosen methodology and the foundational and presuppositional lenses employed for the critique.
While the term CRT came after him, Derrick Bell is widely recognized as the founder of this new discipline. Rather than offering definitive answers, Bell sought to “provoke discussions.” Bell perceived that early efforts by the white establishment to ease discrimination were largely symbolic, and that racism remains a permanent foundation of American systems. To illustrate his perspective, Bell records a conversation with a man named Semple, who remarked to Bell:
you movin’-on-up black folks hurt us every-day blacks simply by being successful. The white folks see you doing your thing, making money…latching onto all kinds of fancy titles…they conclude right off that discrimination is over, and if the rest of us got up off our dead asses, dropped the welfare tit, stopped having illegitimate babies, and found jobs we would be just like you…you do harm simply by being good at whatever you do for a living.
While Bell admits being a bit cautious about putting things so harshly, he responded by saying, “I often make the same point in my lectures.” The progress toward eliminating racial discrimination to that point was symbolic, and not representative of everyday life for Black Americans, according to Bell. These aspects of progress were perceived as serving more to ease the consciences of the entitled than to bring equity to the marginalized.
Charles Ogletree agrees and insists that one only has to look to law enforcement to discover the real lack of progress. He notes that, “Policemen stand not only for civic order by formal laws and regulations, but also for white supremacy and a whole set of social customs.” While there are specific cases of black successes in society, they are largely symbolic and not representative of any real receding of discrimination. Racism remains pervasive and is, in fact, permanent, according to these interpretations. While whites argue that the system works and point to examples supporting that conclusion, CRT advocates assert that there is a cloud of witnesses betraying a dichotomy of justice: “We still find today a dual system of justice, one black and one white,” as Ogletree put it. In light of these interpretations, we find this more comprehensive explanation:
…[CRT] critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers. CRT also recognizes that race intersects with other identities, including sexuality, gender identity, and others. CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.
It is important to recognize that CRT is critiquing not just individuals, but systems – the “social fabric of this nation.”
Kimberle Crenshaw, Intersectionality, and Black Lives Matter
Kimberle Crenshaw advanced CRT toward intersectionality, which focused especially on the intersection of race and gender issues. She calls it a “Black feminist criticism.” She explains here perspective, noting that “Black women are sometimes excluded from feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse because both are predicated on a discrete set of experiences that often does not accurately reflect the interaction of race and gender.” She discovers that “Black women are protected only to the extent that their experiences coincide with those of either of the two groups [black men, white women],” and suggests that “Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.” Crenshaw’s brand of CRT – intersectionality – is designed “…to look beneath the prevailing conceptions of discrimination and to challenge the complacency that accompanies belief in the effectiveness of this framework. By so doing, we may develop language which is critical of the dominant view and which provides some basis for unifying activity.”
This is perhaps a key reason why Black Lives Matter (BLM)has (previously) been so transparentlyfeminist and critical of any hint of patriarchal underpinnings in American culture. Before a recent change of verbiage in September of 2020, BLM unapologetically affirmed that they work to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.” While the philosophy has not changed, the rhetoric has softened. Still, it is not surprising then that the BLM organization is more about intersectionality than simply CRT, and that it seeks to reshape community by centralizing the role of the black woman both in the family and in society. In the BLM “Herstory,” “Black liberation movements” are critiqued as creating “room, space, and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men — leaving women, queer and transgender people, and others either out of the movement or in the background to move the work forward with little or no recognition.” For intersectional activists it is not enough to examine racial discrimination, but gender discrimination must be engaged at the same time.
THE PROBLEM: SPIRITUAL VS. SOCIO POLITICAL
From Bell’s CRT, to Crenshaw’s intersectionality, to BLM’s anti-nuclear-family stance, each of these philosophies push back against perceived systemic expressions of racial and gender discrimination, rather than focusing on the personal discriminatory expressions. Strategically, it makes great sense to attack systems where there needs to be systemic change. However, in these cases, the systems in the crosshairs are not the root offenders, they are merely symptoms of a far greater systemic problem. Like their ideological forerunners, CRT, intersectionality, and the anti-nuclear-family perspective are diagnosing symptoms and prescribing systemic change that cannot resolve the root cause, and are consequently caught in a vicious cycle of villainizing the wrong entities.
The Platonic and Socialist/Communist Failure
Centuries before Marx’s and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, advocated the same, Plato promoted a socio political system in which the ills of society could best be managed by an elite group of enlightened philosopher kings. Plato decried democracy, as the ignorant working class – or those driven by appetite, the artisans – should have no say in directing society. They simply aren’t equipped for it. Only those who are equipped to join philosophy and law should govern, and only they can do it well, and only under such leadership is a society truly functional and happy. Whether intentional or not, Plato makes himself an enemy of individual rights when he suggests that people need governing and only by the enlightened.
Marx and Engels take up the Platonic mantle nearly twenty-three-hundred years after Plato, asserting that the human problem was borne of class struggle and the resulting oppression of one class by another. Where Plato diagnosed the problem as a philosophical one, Marx and Engels perceived an economic enemy. The certain solution was obvious and could be “summed up in the single sentence: the abolition of private property.” Achieving this would also require the abolition of the family to ensure that no advantage might be gained by one over another through familial advantage. In these principles is evident a prefiguring of today’s progressive-left movement. In all cases, these ideologies would necessitate the administration of justice by an unbiased third party, and in these necessities would be found another evidence of the real problem: if the problem is actually a spiritual rather than philosophical or economic one, there can be no unbiased third party. If the problem is spiritual at its core, then any third party will be just as prone to injustice as those it seeks to correct. Plato’s ideal republic would be governed by the broken-minded even if the philosopher kings sat upon the throne. Marx and Engel’s socialist communist ideal would be undone by the reality that the party was composed of nothing more than selfish oppressors. And so it has gone in every instance where these systems have been applied.
Plato recognized a problem – the masses do promote injustice. They are often ignorant. They are often unequipped to lead. But his philosopher kings are not immune from the same root cause. Marx and Engels rightly recognized that oppression was a big problem, but their party leaders would bear the same stain of greed and hate that the oppressed bore. The problem was not philosophical nor economic. Those were merely symptoms.
The Spiritual Problem and its Racial Implications
The Declaration of Independence asserted that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The United States Constitution was supposed to guarantee those rights for all without partiality. So what happened? How was slavery, for example, permitted in American society which was presumably built on such eloquent affirmations of universal human rights? Further, how was slavery promulgated by at least some key signers of that very Declaration? Patricia Williams asserts, for example, that “Thomas Jefferson owned Sally Hemings and her children, and that his power over them was a right that was weaved into the fabric of the new nation.” Because of instances like these, it is not surprising there would be mistrust of any system allowing such inequities to persist. But the system – the Declaration and the Constitutional government – is not the problem. The problem is that some people refused to acknowledge the humanity of others, and thus could in good conscience exclude the less-than-human from the justice demanded by the Declaration and the Constitution. Is this a systemic failure of the governmental system, or a personal failure on the part of those who interpreted some as being less than human? Again, the problem is a spiritual one, not simply a socio political one.
Genesis records that God created humanity in His image – including both genders, and that all humanity originated from that first couple. Consequently, there is no room for gender-based or ethnicity-based oppression. In fact it would seem obvious that oppression of any kind is not permitted at all. If the primary ethical mandate is love, and the goal of instruction is love, then what room is there for mistreating others? The most basic principle of human interaction is that people belong to God, and each one should be treated with the respect integral to that which is created in God’s image. If love is an essential ethical responsibility of human life, the source of violating that ethic is evil, and is contrasted with righteousness.
It is in this that we are confronted with the importance of the Biblical metaphysic: socio political failings and economic failings are symptomatic of unrighteousness – of those who are separated from God. The prescription then is reconciliation to God, which creates peace with God and peace with each other. Having peace with God is one of God’s mercies which allows us to be at peace with each other, and challenges us – demands us – to pursue the things which result in peace and building up one another. Our identity is rooted in peace, and our calling is to be at peace with one another, thus, living in peace is prescribed and enabled, but only when the spiritual problem of enmity with God is resolved.
Certainly the expressions of racism cited by Bell, Crenshaw, Ogletree, and others are undeniable violations of the Declaration and the Constitution. But far worse, they are violations of God’s design for basic human interaction. Movements seeking to overturn discrimination are certainly not without warrant, but they are certainly insufficient – especially if they do not treat with regard the designs and the Source for justice and peace.
CALL TO ACTION: WEEP WITH THOSE WHO WEEP
As I first watched protests led by those chanting “Black lives matter!” I was heartbroken to think that someone felt so unloved and uncared for that they had to scream at the top of their lungs in the streets that they did in fact matter. I thought of how I would feel if one of my daughters had to argue for their own value, and I felt the hypothetical sting of failure as a father who did not ensure that his daughters felt loved. Even that hypothetical sting brought tears to my eyes. Applying the Biblical lens to the problems of social, ethnic, and gender injustice may cause us to (rightly) recognize that attempted solutions rooted in the flesh will not be efficacious. Spiritually borne problems demand spiritual solutions. Still, when our brother or sister is weeping, we are not told to correct them – we are told to weep with them.
While we should not shy away from challenging faulty premises, and we should contend for truth, that also demands mercifully seeking to help those in need. Why is it that only 38% of white Christians recognize a current race problem in the United States, while 79% of black Christians acknowledge a race problem? Why has there been an 11% increase in “Christians who are uninspired to address racial injustice?” If we think there is no need, then perhaps we need to listen closer to the weeping. If we still can’t hear it, then W.E.B. Dubois may enhance our hearing. There is heartache borne of the violation of the image of God in these men and women. Of the years following the Emancipation Proclamation, Dubois writes these haunting words,
…it is doubly difficult to write of this period calmly, so intense was the feeling, so mighty the human passions that swayed and blinded men. Amid it all, two figures ever stand to typify that day to coming ages, – the one, a gray-haired gentleman, whose fathers had quit themselves like men, whose sons lay in nameless graves; who bowed to the evil of slavery because its abolition threatened untold ill to all; who stood at last, in the evening of life, a blighted, ruined form, with hate in his eyes; – and the other, a form hovering dark and mother- like, her awful face black with the mists of centuries, had aforetime quailed at that white master’s command, had bent in love over the cradles of his sons and daughters, and closed in death the sunken eyes of his wife, – aye, too, at his behest had laid herself low to his lust, and borne a tawny man-child to the world, only to see her dark boy’s limbs scattered to the winds by midnight marauders riding after “cursed Niggers.” These were the saddest sights of that woful [sic] day; and no man clasped the hands of these two passing figures of the present-past; but, hating, they went to their long home, and, hating, their children’s children live today.
We are not far removed from the events and sentiments that Dubois describes. While those who did not experience the evils of those times might easily move on, considering them an unfortunate aberration, those who experience similar pain today hearken back to those days, seeing little progress and sensing little hope that things will get better. For those who may have moved on and wish that others might do so as well – slow down. Hear the weeping, and weep.
God’s design is that humanity is created in His image. Humanity is one race and originates from the same ethnic line. God values every individual as His and as human. Every family (or people) on the earth will see blessing through God’s Son. In keeping His promise to Abraham every tribe, tongue, and people will see eternal blessing by God’s grace. There will one day be rejoicing rather than weeping, but it will be by the Lord’s doing and in His cosmology. Any efforts to arrive at equity and justice that don’t acknowledge His cosmology are doomed to the wrong descriptions and ultimately the wrong prescriptions. On the other hand, any interpretation of His cosmology that does not acknowledge and heed His prescriptions for equity and justice are woefully flawed. Past and future realities have present-tense implications for all of us. As Paul pleas for Onesimus, we plea for those who need the Truth. As we point the wounded to the Truth, we weep with them as our Lord did, we walk with them as our Savior did, and we love them as our Father did.
 Ron De Santis, Governor of Florida, tweet, viewed at https://twitter.com/GovRonDeSantis/status/1402983754134704129.
 Charles Ogletree, “No Justice, No Peace” 1995 in Race, Rights, and Redemption: The Derrick Bell Lectures on the Law and Critical Race Theory, Kindle version.
 Jacey Fortin, “Critical Race Theory: A Brief History” New York Times, Nov 8, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-critical-race-theory.html.
 Richard Delgado and Jean Stafancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 4-5.
 Kimberle Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics “ in University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989, Issue 1: 167.
 Derrick Bell, And We Are Not Saved (), 3.
 Derrick, Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well (), 32-33.
 Ibid., 33.
 Ogletree, Ibid.
 Janel George, “A Lesson on Critical Race Theory” Human Rights Magazine, Vol 46, No. 2, Civil Rights Reimagining Policy, Jan 11, 2021 viewed at https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/civil-rights-reimagining-policing/a-lesson-on-critical-race-theory/.
 Crenshaw, 139.
 Crenshaw, 140.
 Crenshaw, 143.
 Crenshaw, 140.
 Crenshaw, 167.
 Quoted by Joshua Rhett Miller, “BLM site removes page on ‘nuclear family structure’ amid NFL vet’s criticism,” New York Post, September 24, 2020, viewed at https://nypost.com/2020/09/24/blm-removes-website-language-blasting-nuclear-family-structure/.
 E.g., Plato, Laws, trans. T.J. Saunders (London: Penguin Books, 1970), 23-24.
 Plato, Republic (London: Oxford University Press, 1941), 178-179, and Plato, The Republic Books VI-X, Paul Shorey, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935), (518c), 135.
 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Penguin Books, 1967),95.
 Marx and Engels, 96.
 Marx and Engels, 98.
 Patricia Williams, “The Archetypes that Haunt Us” 1998 in Race, Rights, and Redemption: The Derrick Bell Lectures on the Law and Critical Race Theory, Kindle version.
 Genesis 1:26-28.
 E.g., Genesis 5, 10-11, etc.
 Romans 13:10.
 1 Timothy 1:5.
 E.g., Genesis 9,
 1 John 3:11.
 1 John 3:12.
 Ephesians 2:15-16.
 Romans 5:1.
 Romans 12:1 and 12:18.
 Romans 14:19.
 1 Corinthians 7:15.
 2 Corinthians 13:11.
 E.g., Ephesians 2:1-10.
 Romans 12:15.
 Jude 3.
 Jude 22-23.
 The Barna Group, “Black Practicing Christians are Twice as Likely as Their White Peers to See a Race Problem” at Barna.com, June 17, 2020, viewed at https://www.barna.com/research/problems-solutions-racism/.
 Barna, “Black Practicing Christians…”
 W.E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007), 26.
 Genesis 1:26-28, Matthew 19:4.
 Genesis 5, 10-11.
 Genesis 9:5-6.
 Genesis 12:3b.
 Revelation 5:9, 7:9, 14:6.
 Revelation 21:4.
 E.g., Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, Psalm 14:1, Romans 1:18-20.
 E.g., Micah 6:8.
 Philemon 10-20.
 John 11:35.
 Philippians 2:5-8.
 John 3:16.