If you are white, have you taken a knee? Many politicians in Western countries have. So have universities, coffee companies, sports leagues, and museums.
There are many ways to kneel to admit your racism. You can do so literally, before protesters demanding contrition. You can put out a statement saying your organization is systemically racist. Do you post black squares on Instagram and speak the language of white privilege? If so, you are, metaphorically, on your knee.
That’s what you are intended to do, according to critical race theory, a doctrine premised on the idea that race is the fundamental organizing feature of Western—especially American—society. Power and oppression define race relationships, the theory goes, and racism is “systemic” and “structural,” embedded in the culture of capitalism and endemic to white people.
In critical race theory, it’s racist to deny the intrinsic advantage of white privilege or to claim to be colorblind. As James Lindsay, a leading American critic of critical race theory and social justice puts it: “Notice race? Because you’re racist. Don’t? Because you’re privileged, thus racist.”
Self-flagellation is meant to be the only choice.
Critical race theory is an anti-Western doctrine, a close cousin of modern social justice, and an offshoot of pure critical theory, which, in turn, is derived from Marxism. More ideological agendas than theories, these doctrines reject the ideas upon which the West is built: reason, the scientific method, capitalism, individual autonomy, and equal application of the law. They share the postmodern proposition that all knowledge is socially constructed, and no objective truth exists.
Once limited to the academy, where it was thought they could do no harm, these ideologies have now infiltrated government, media, schools, business, and the law. As Andrew Sullivan wrote last week in his “Farewell Letter” to New York Magazine, a critical mass of journalists in mainstream media seem to believe “that any writer not actively committed to critical theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space.”
Asserting that critical race theory makes no sense misses the point; making sense is Western and oppressive.
The present moment can only be understood through the lens of critical race theory, in which the concept of racism has been turned upside down. In a society based upon individualism, it’s racist to regard race as significant and to treat people differently based on the color of their skin. In critical race theory, racism means the opposite: You are racist if you fail to take race into account and acknowledge which racial groups are privileged and which are oppressed. The new racism means not treating people of color preferentially.
Accordingly, universities now advertise jobs for which whites aren’t eligible; the federal government provides funding specifically for black-led organizations; protesters are permitted to block railways for weeks without consequence; people are dismissed from their jobs for denying that Canada is systemically racist; and at the law school where I teach, housed in Sir John A. Macdonald Hall, a petition has demanded that the name of Canada’s first prime minister be removed on the grounds that he was a racist white man.
Ironically, critical race theory and its related doctrines are largely the tools of elite white people who demand compliance with their worldview—which insults people of color by insisting that they are victims without individual agency, destined to their fate because of the hue of their skin. As Thomas Chatterton Williams, an American writer with a black father and a white mother, puts it in his book, “Self Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race,” woke anti-racism “proceeds from the premise that race is real … putting it in sync with toxic presumptions of white supremacism that would also like to insist on the fundamentality of racial difference. … We can simultaneously resist bigotry and imagine a society that has outgrown the identities it preys on.”
The principle of individual responsibility undermines the agenda of critical race theory and social justice. People who lack self-determination need society to be racist, homophobic, and patriarchal because it relieves them of accountability for their own lives and gives them cause for outrage and resentment. That way, their lot in life can be attributed to structural power imbalances, racism, sexism, and the injustices of capitalism. If you are successful, it’s because you are privileged. If not, it’s because you are oppressed.
In a period of extreme political correctness and cancel culture, refusing to mouth what is demanded is difficult but necessary. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the author of “The Gulag Archipelago,” wrote: “And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul—don’t let him be proud of his ‘progressive’ views, don’t let him boast that he is an academician or a people’s artist, merited figure, or a general—let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It’s all the same to me as long as I’m fed and warm.”
Stand up. If you respect your fellows of all races as the individuals that they are, don’t succumb to the critical race theory game. The way to win is not to play.
Bruce Pardy is a professor of law at Queen’s University.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.