In the section titled “Thought Line” of Voddie Baucham’s new book, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe, Baucham attempts to identify and define his enemy, Critical Social Justice (I think). He, rightly, realizes that failing to do this accurately will allow his critics to accuse him of “creating a straw man and labeling everything [he] disagree[s] with or that makes [him] uncomfortable as CRT” and “making things up, taking them out of context” (pp. XIV – XV). And in a much later chapter, he states that a common “white” response to his arguments is, “You just haven’t done your homework … , so you don’t know any better” (pp. 82 – 82). Well, I’m here to level all of these charges, though I would never claim that he doesn’t know any better. And I intend to level these charges based specifically on this section, “Thought Line,” which he claims sets the target and identifies “the subject of this book” (p. XI).
To keep it all relatively brief, I will simply quote claims made by Baucham and then list responses below.
(Note: this is not a book review, per se. For a review proper, please see Marty Duren’s, “Fault Lines, by Voddie Baucham—Book review.”)
(1) Claim: “Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell and some colleagues held a conference in Wisconsin, where Critical Race Theory was officially born” (p. XI).
a) Derrick Bell and colleagues did not hold a conference in Wisconsin in 1989. Rather, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, and Stephanie Phillips held a conference in Madison, WI on July 8, 1989, titled “New Developments in CRT.” Dr. Bell was merely invited and subsequently attended. (See, “The First Decade: Critical Reflections, or A Foot in the Closing Door” and “The Christian and Critical Race Theory, Part 8: the Harvard Story and the Birth of ‘Critical Race Theory’” for full overviews.)
b) I think it is quite a stretch to suggest that “Critical Race Theory was officially born” at the 1989 event. We might be able to say it was the first time the title was officially used, since Crenshaw had coined it for the event. Later in Fault Lines, Baucham even refers to Dr. Bell as the “father of CRT” (p. XVI) and “the founder of Critical Race Theory,” which is in many ways true. But Bell’s seminal text, Race, Racism, and American Law was published in 1970, “Serving Two Masters” in 1976, and “Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest Convergence Dilemma” was published in 1978. Of “Serving Two Masters,” for example, the editors of Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed a Movement, wrote:
All that was necessary was a race-conscious perspective that focused on the effect of integration on the black community. That change in perspective is the intellectual starting point of Critical Race theory. (p. 2)
And when discussing Bell’s work in the 1970’s, Dr. Crenshaw notes that he was “not only a racial realist but an early Critical Race Theorist” (“The First Decade,” pp. 1347 – 1348).
Further, Baucham quotes from Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (Delgado and Stefancic) just a couple pages later, a book which argues plainly that,
Critical race theory sprang up in the 1970s, as a number of lawyers, activists, and legal scholars across the country realized, more or less simultaneously, that the heady advances of the civil rights era of the 1960s had stalled and, in many respects, were being rolled back. Realizing that new theories and strategies were needed to combat the subtler forms of racism that were gaining ground, early writers, such as Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, and Richard Delgado, put their minds to the task. (p. 4; see also, Delgado, Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge: “Critical race theory sprang up in the mid-1970s with the early work of Derrick Bell (an African American) and Alan Freeman (a white)… ,” (p. XVI))
Did he miss this when he read the book?
[Edit: If by “officially born,” Baucham merely means, “born as a soon-to-be more organized movement, now with an official title,” then I will concede. But if he means the set of ideas that Crenshaw named for the first official workshop (there were many unofficial meetings prior to the workshop), then my point stands. Either way, this is low on my list of critiques of Baucham’s piece.]
(2) Claim: “1989 was a banner year. … Bell’s protege, Kimberlé Crenshaw, introduced the idea of Intersectionality in her paper ‘Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.’ Peggy McIntosh published ‘White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.’ And two other Harvard professors, Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen, published their little-known but monumentally influential book After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear & Hatred of Gays in the 90s” (pp. XI-XII).
a) Baucham refers here to Dr. Crenshaw as “Bell’s protégé” (p. XI) and a little later as “Bell’s Harvard Law School protégé” (p. XVI). This may be nitpicking, but it is an odd designation, especially the second, given that Crenshaw was never at Harvard Law at the same time as Professor Bell. She actually laments this fact; “I was one of many students who had chosen Harvard because the renowned Derrick Bell was there, only to be disappointed to find that he had departed a few months earlier” (“The First Decade,” p. 1347). He further states that Crenshaw “developed the idea [of intersectionality] under the tutelage of her mentor, Derrick Bell, the founder of Critical Race Theory” (p. 146). Every time she is discussed in the book (as opposed to just mentioned), she is connected in these ways to Bell. Not that big of a deal, of course, but pretty strange.
b) I can’t quite figure out why he selects an essay on Intersectionality, a commonsense presentation of “White Privilege,” and a book about homophobia as publications that made 1989 a “banner year.” Just because all three happened to be published in 1989? Significantly more important works in Critical Legal Studies, Critical Feminism, Postcolonial Studies, Critical Race Theory, Critical Theory proper, etc., were published long before 1989, and just as many after. Taking CRT as an example, we already saw that Derrick Bell’s foundational texts were published in the 1970s, Alan Freeman’s “Legitimizing Racial Discrimination through Antidiscrimination Law” was published in 1978, Delgado’s “The Imperial Scholar” in 1984, Mari Matsuda’s “Looking to the Bottom” in 1987, Charles Lawrence’s “The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection” also in 1987, Crenshaw’s “Race, Reform, and Retrenchment” in 1988, etc. etc., and so many other “foundational” texts were produced in the years following.
(3) Claim: “All of these publications have one thing in common. They are all the product of the same worldview: Critical Social Justice (CSJ), which is the subject of this book” (p. XII).
a) Leaving the absurdity of calling it a “worldview” for others to debate (I don’t care; it’s not a real discussion, in my opinion), “Critical Social Justice” (CSJ) is a term of art that, so far as I can locate, didn’t appear (or at least with any popularity) until Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo’s, Is Everyone Really Equal?, published in 2011. (And since Baucham references James Lindsay and Michael O’Fallon’s website “New Discourses” throughout his book, it is notable that Lindsay likewise states that Sensoy and DiAngelo “introduced this concept to the world” [“Naming the Enemy: Critical Social Justice”]. I think Lindsay’s article is also precisely why Baucham chose “CSJ” as the target of his book.) Sensoy and DiAngelo explain what they mean by CSJ in the following passage:
While some scholars and activists prefer to use the term social justice in order to reclaim its true commitments, in this book we prefer the term critical social justice. We do so in order to distinguish our standpoint on social justice from mainstream standpoints. A critical approach to social justice refers to specific theoretical perspectives that recognize that society is stratified (i.e., divided and unequal) in significant and far-reaching ways along social group lines that include race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. Critical social justice recognizes inequality as deeply embedded in the fabric of society (i.e., as structural), and actively seeks to change this. (pp. xx)
So, is the belief that there is social stratification along social group lines, and that such stratification is embedded in the fabric of society, the “worldview” in question? The “subject of this book”? And is this the “worldview” that all critical approaches supposedly have in common—that which unites Crenshaw, McIntosh, Kirk, and Madsen as adherents to one shared “worldview”? Sensoy and Diangelo certainly don’t believe so. They see their project, viz., Critical Social Justice, as itself just the application of the “critical” approach, as developed from Critical Theory proper, to the subject of social justice, with a little help from poststructuralism and other related ideologies:
Our analysis of social justice is based on a school of thought known as Critical Theory. Critical Theory refers to a body of scholarship that examines how society works, and is a tradition that emerged in the early part of the 20th century from a group of scholars at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany…. These theorists offered an examination and critique of society and engaged with questions about social change. Their work was guided by the belief that society should work toward the ideals of equality and social betterment.
… Efforts among scholars to understand how society works weren’t limited to the Frankfurt School; French philosophers (notably Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Jacques Lacan) were also grappling with similar questions (this broader European development of Critical Theory is sometimes called “the continental school” or “continental philosophy”).
… Critical Theory’s analysis of how society works continues to expand and deepen as theorists from indigenous, postcolonial, racialized, and other marginalized perspectives add layers to our collective understanding. Thus, to engage in a study of society from a critical perspective, one must move beyond common sense–based opinions and begin to grapple with all the layers that these various, complex, and sometimes divergent traditions offer. (pp. 25-27)
Is Critical Theory a “worldview,” then, that contains CSJ? Or is CSJ a “worldview” that somehow contains its own predecessor? Or is the “continental school,” broadly, the real “worldview” that includes these others? Or is just being “critical” itself the “worldview”? Or is it really just that Sensoy and DiAngelo made up a phrase to capture their own work, which happens to incorporate ideas from many different critical traditions, yet is also distinguishable from many other critical traditions? I think it’s almost certainly the latter.
(4) Claim: “German philosopher Karl Marx was the leading architect of the most dominant school of thought within sociology, known as Conflict Theory. Marx viewed society as a group of different social classes all competing for a limited pool of resources such as food, housing, employment, education, and leisure time. (p. XII)
a) Social Conflict Theory (SCT) is not simply that individuals and society compete under scarcity, but that these conflicts create and are reflected in dominant social institutions, ideologies, and norms, and thus hold explanatory power.
b) Social Conflict Theory is not Marxism and Marxism is not Social Conflict Theory. This is important to note because Baucham calls his opponents beliefs “Marxist” or products of “Marxism” dozens of times throughout his book. Of course, something like Social Conflict Theory was popularly employed by Marx, thus seating him with Durkheim and Weber as a founder of sociology. But SCT has since become the province of various different sociologists from very different ideological and political traditions, including, for example, Ludwig Gumplowicz, Georg Simmel, C. Wright Mills, Gene Sharp, etc. Further, in the very text Baucham cites for this section (though he omits the page number), Introduction to Sociology 2e, the author does a pretty good job of explaining Marx’s specific and peculiar understanding of Conflict Theory:
For Marx, society’s constructions were predicated upon the idea of “base and superstructure.” This term refers to the idea that a society’s economic character forms its base, upon which rests the culture and social institutions, the superstructure. For Marx, it is the base (economy) that determines what a society will be like. Additionally, Marx saw conflict in society as the primary means of change. Economically, he saw conflict existing between the owners of the means of production—the bourgeoisie—and the laborers, called the proletariat. (pp. 81 – 82)
Those who have studied Marxism know that Marx was a class essentialist, and much of Critical Feminism, and all of Critical Legal Theory, Critical Race Theory, and Critical Social Justice, reject Marx’s essentialist understanding of class conflict, his base/superstructure paradigm, and his historical determinism, even if they are influenced by SCT as it has come down through the school of sociology. And most don’t believe that mere competition for goods is the center of all social conflict anyhow. For example, racism is not reducible to a simple materialist dialectic in CRT understanding. (For more, please see, “Is Critical Race Theory Marxist?”)
(5) Claim: “Gramsci redefined hegemony as ‘a complex interlocking of political, social, and cultural forces’”
a) He is here quoting from an author quoting an author who is not quoting Gramsci. And, no, Gramsci did not redefine hegemony as “a complex interlocking of political, social, and cultural forces.” That is not a definition of anything, though it might be a decent description of every possible social institution or idea. Rather, Antonio Gramsci defined “hegemony” as both,
the “spontaneous” consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is “historically” caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.
The apparatus of state coercive power which … “legally” enforces discipline on those groups who do not “consent” either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed. (Selections from the Prison Notebooks, p. 12, as quoted in Beyond Critique, p. 59)
(6) Claim: “These men developed Critical Theory as an expansion of Conflict Theory and applied it more broadly, including other social sciences and philosophy. Their main goal was to address structural issues causing inequity” (p. XIII).
a) Simply put, the “main goal” was not “to address structural issues causing inequity.” The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School was primarily a response to Fascism and totalitarianism, even as found in supposedly “Marxist” societies. The project was much wider than inequity. According to Horkheimer, Critical Theory was to be
…an essential element in the historical effort to create a world which satisfies the needs and powers of men. However extensive the interaction between the critical theory and the special sciences whose progress the theory must respect and on which it has for decades exercised a liberating and stimulating influence, the theory never aims simply at an increase of knowledge as such. Its goal is man’s emancipation from slavery. (Traditional and Critical Theory, p. 246)
Further, Horkheimer defines “Critical Theory,” the phrase he himself coined, in the following:
[T]here is a human activity which has society itself for its object. The aim of this activity is not simply to eliminate one or other abuse, for it regards such abuses as necessarily connected with the way in which the social structure is organized. Although it itself emerges from the social structure, its purpose is not, either in its conscious intention or in its objective significance, the better functioning of any element in the structure. On the contrary, it is suspicious of the very categories of better, useful, appropriate, productive, and valuable, as these are understood in the present order, and refuses to take them as nonscientific presuppositions about which one can do nothing. … [T]he critical attitude of which we are speaking is wholly distrustful of the rules of conduct with which society as presently constituted provides each of its members. The separation between individual and society in virtue of which the individual accepts as natural the limits prescribed for his activity is relativized in critical theory. The latter considers the overall framework which is conditioned by the blind interaction of individual activities (that is, the existent division of labor and the class distinctions) to be a function which originates in human action and therefore is a possible object of planful decision and rational determination of goals. (pp. 206 – 207)
We will get to what exactly is meant by “critical” below; here it is just important to note that Frankfurt was not simply another project (among thousands) intended to close the inequality gap, nor a mere extension of Marxist style conflict theory. (For more, see, “Christianity and Critical Theory, Part 1: Marx and Frankfurt.”)
(7) Claim: “In order to understand Critical Theory, it is important to understand how the words ‘critical’ and ‘theory’ are used. In the social sciences, ‘critical’ is ‘geared toward identifying and exposing problems in order to facilitate revolutionary political change.’ In other words, it implies revolution. It is not interested in reform. Hence, we do not ‘reform’ the police; we ‘defund’ the police or abolish them. ‘It is more interested in problematizing—that is, finding ways in which the system is imperfect and making noise about them, reasonably or not—than it is in any other identifiable activity, especially building something constructive’” (pp. XIII-XIV).
a) The meaning of “Critical Theory” is not just an addition of the meanings of “critical” and “theory.” This shouldn’t require any further argument.
b) Are we here seeking to understand Critical Theory or Critical Social Justice? I can’t help but think Baucham is willing to speak of these, including Critical Race theory, as interchangeable throughout the text, which is not only simple error (they are literally different), but makes the “worldview” claims quite confusing.
c) Here Baucham relies entirely on James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose. There’s really no other way to say it except that these are terrible definitions and/or explanations of the meaning of “critical.” We’ve already seen above what Horkheimer meant by “critical.” And since Baucham is using Sensoy and DiAngelo’s phrase “Critical Social Justice” as “the subject of this book,” we should see how they use the designation “critical.” We read the following in Is Everyone Really Equal? (which, presumably, Baucham has read):
By critical stance we mean those academic fields (including social justice, critical pedagogy, multicultural education, antiracist, postcolonial, and feminist approaches) that operate from the perspective that knowledge is socially constructed and that education is a political project embedded within a network of social institutions that reproduce inequality. (p. 1)
Further, Dr. Bradley Levinson, in his book, Beyond Critique, offers an even fuller explanation:
So what do these theoretical traditions have in common, and what enables us to be audacious enough to call them all “critical,” when their influences and assumptions may otherwise be so varied? … Following Agger (2006, 4–5) and Allan (2005, 16), we would add just a few more defining characteristics. Critical social theory is driven by
- “value-rationality” rather than instrumental rationality. In other words, it is not neutral in reference to values and has a definite (though not teleological) conception of “progress” and the social good, often a utopian vision or concept of “liberation.”
- the assumed need to dismantle and critique taken-for-granted ideologies, to challenge the “false consciousness” (Lukács) or “misrecognition” (Bourdieu) that enables social domination.
- an understanding of domination as structural yet dialectically connected to agency in people’s “everyday lives.” (Beyond Critique, pp. 10-11 [emphasis mine])
And Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the title “Critical Race Theory,” was simply borrowing the notion of “critical” already operating within Critical Legal Studies (CLS). As Crenshaw’s close collaborator Angela Harris explains,
CRT inherits from CLS a commitment to being “critical,” which in this sense means also to be “radical”—to locate problems not at the surface of doctrine but in the deep structure of American law and culture. (“The Jurisprudence of Reconstruction,” p.743)
I would argue, therefore, that for any theory or system of ideas to be considered properly “critical,” it must at least see (1) group-wide inequalities, hierarchical social stratification, and social ills generally as not simply the product of individual policies and individual actors, but deeply ingrained in the socio-historical development of institutions, norms, values, cultural expressions, and relations of power which operate thereby, (2) that these “pathologies” develop through historical processes of social creation and change, and that much of the furniture of social life and knowledge are therefore constructed and conditioned imminently, (3) that remedies require critique of the whole, and that the transformative action required to dismantle the systems and ideas which embody social dominance and pathology is inseparable from knowledge production itself, and, finally, (4) the theory or system of ideas ought to display a “radical reflexivity,” i.e., “reflective accountability concerning critical theory’s own practices” (Patrica Hill Collins, Intersectionality as Critical Social Theory, Location 1314). I’m happy to offer many further references to justify this description.
(8) Claim: “This is complicated by the fact that Critical Theory denies objective truth” (p. XIV).
a) This is just plain false. And Baucham quotes Sensoy and DiAngelo, yet again, to try to justify his spurious claim. (Also, is he now talking about Critical Theory or Critical Social Justice? He seems to slide back and forth at will.) But Sensoy and DiAngelo explain exactly what they mean, and it is certainly not a denial of objective truth. The point is that socialization limits human objectivity, not that there is no objective truth. They write,
“I’m looking out the window and there’s a rock there, what do you mean there’s no human objectivity? A rock is a rock. I see it with my eyes.” Yes, you see a rock, but the meaning, placement, and function of the rock is dependent upon human subjectivity—what you believe about what a rock is and where it should be; what you have been taught about rocks. For example, when is a rock an expensive gem and when is it something you toss aside to clear a path? When does a rock add beauty to your home and when does it make your home dirty? (p. 27)
The problem, according to Robin DiAngelo, is simple:
If group membership is relevant, then we don’t see the world from the universal human perspective but from the perspective of a particular kind of human. (White Fragility, pp. 11)
In short, “humans cannot be 100 percent objective” (p. 81). I am no fan of DiAngelo, but what is even controversial about this?
And let’s be honest, everyone believes that millions of different things affect our perceptions and epistemic position relative to apprehending truth. Everyone. What is specifically being rejected by Baucham and others is that group-identity—i.e., race, class, gender, etc.—should be included in his calculus. That is, any and every thinking person knows that a host of real-world circumstances dictate what can be known objectively by any given individual. Those who oppose Critical Theory, CSJ, CRT, or what have you, simply think that social group membership shouldn’t be considered relevant to apprehending objective reality. It has little to do with disagreement over the existence or nature of objective truth.
(9) Claim: “The word ‘theory’ can be used in two ways in the social sciences: as an abstract noun (as in ‘I have a theory about that’) or as a proper noun, as in Critical Theory. According to the New Discourses Encyclopedia: ‘Theory—treated as a proper noun and thus capitalized—is an appropriate catch-all term for the thinking behind Critical Social Justice, especially at the academic level. It is the set of ideas, modes of thought, ethics, and methods that define Critical Social Justice in both thought and activism (that is, theory and praxis). In a meaningful way, Theory is the central object—the canon and source of further revelation of canon—of Critical Social Justice.’ That is, Theory is the heart of the worldview that defines Critical Social Justice” (p. XIV).
a) “New Discourses Encyclopedia” is just a bunch of blog posts by New Atheist, mathematician, and anti-social justice author James Lindsay, all funded by cruise ship organizer (HT Marty Duren), Michael O’Fallon.
b) “Theory,” as in “Critical Theory,” is not being used in any unique and subversive way, as Lindsay’s silly explanation would suggest. Rather, it is being used more broadly, as in “social theory.” According to sociologist Austin Harrington,
Social theory refers to ideas, arguments, hypotheses, thought-experiments and explanatory speculations about how and why human societies—or elements or structures of such societies—come to be formed, change, and develop over time or disappear. … [S]ocial theory most commonly encompasses the range of explanatory concepts, analytical tools, and heuristic devices on which sociologists and social scientists draw in their efforts to interpret statistical or qualitative data about particular empirical social phenomena. (“Social Theory“)
Dr. Bradley Levinson defines “social theory” simply as “a set of interlinked concepts that minimally aspires to give an account of how and why ‘society’ works.” Further,
the interpretive side of social theory … helps us “see” the world better in order to orient our action in it more successfully. … As Kenneth Allan puts it, “Theory is that which lifts the veil and connects the dots. It lifts the veil because it can show us what is going on beneath the surface” (2005, 3). (Beyond Critique, pp. 6 – 7)
CRT scholar Khiara M. Bridges defines a social “theory” as and “analytical framework that can be used to explain or examine facts or events.” She uses Critical Race Theory as an example:
Consider [American] incarceration rates…. Social theories, like CRT, are sets of ideas that can help us explain or otherwise make sense of those statistics.
- A person employing a Marxist social theory, for example, may conclude that the capitalist class’s need to control the laboring class explains those numbers. To a Marxist theorist, the criminal law and the prison are tools that the bourgeoisie uses to manage the proletariat.
- A person employing a Foucauldian social theory may think that the U.S.’s incarceration rates are interesting because, according to French philosopher Michel Foucault, the prison is a model of modern power at its most perfected. Thus, to a Foucauldian theorist, the high rates of incarceration in the U.S. make sense, as the state is most powerful when its subjects are as visible as they are when they are incarcerated.
Like Marxist and Foucauldian social theories, CRT is a social theory that we can use to explain or examine the U.S.’s incarceration rates. CRT would argue that the fact that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, together with the fact that people of color are overrepresented among those who are incarcerated, show that the law—the criminal law, in this case—is deeply implicated in sustaining racial subordination. (Critical Race Theory: A Primer (Concepts and Insights), pp. 8-9)
(10) Claim: “There has been much debate over CRT within evangelical circles recently. Some have accused those of us who are leery of CRT of creating a straw man and labeling everything we disagree with or that makes us uncomfortable as CRT” (p. XV).
a) Voddie Baucham gives us plenty of reason to believe that this is actually true of those “leery” like himself. See, for example:
None of these groups or leaders would openly identify with CRT/I or CSJ. In fact, they all swear up and down that they do not hold to such ideas. However, they regularly use CRT/I categories in defining racial justice/injustice. They embrace the key CRT idea that racism is “normal.” They continually speak of and refer to cases like George Floyd in terms of racial injustice. They define the disagreement in terms of their having a different view of the “importance” of race, but they continue to express an ideology that decides this importance based on presuppositions regarding disparities. (p. 136)
(11) Claim: “[I]t is important that I allow CRT to define itself in order to demonstrate that when I refer to this ideology, I am not making things up, taking them out of context, or building a straw man. I am merely taking its founders and practitioners at their word. According to the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs: [the “definition”] … it comes from a source that has led the charge for CRT in recent years, which means, fourth, that it is a case of proponents of CRT defining themselves” (pp. XIV – XV).
a) Of course, this “definition” does not come from the “UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.” It comes from a group of UCLA students who had organized a course on “Critical Race Studies” in 2009. The slightest research would have revealed this. See https://spacrs.wordpress.com/history/ for the proper background. The authors of this quote have led the charge on nothing—except, hopefully, making their student organized course more permanent. And they are certainly not founders, though they may have become practitioners at some point; we don’t even know who they are.
b) The quote provided from the students is not a definition, it is a list of tenets. And Baucham only quotes a portion of the list. If this list of tenets were the “definition” of CRT, why did he leave half of them out? Was only this paragraph, plucked from the beginning of the list, somehow alone uniquely defining for Baucham? (We will see below that Baucham plays fast and loose with “definitions” and tenets in general—in some very odd and bewildering ways as well.)
c) Part of the reason that this is not a definition, even if a pretty good explanation when taken as a whole, is that there is no definition of CRT. There are commonplaces, distinguishing elements, defining characteristics that are not exclusive, etc., but no agreed upon definition. “[T]he notion of CRT as a fully unified school of thought remains a fantasy of our critics,” notes Dr. Crenshaw (“The First Decade,” p. 1362). And she explains further elsewhere,
CRT is not so much an intellectual unit filled with natural stuff—theories, themes, practices, and the like—but one that is dynamically constituted by a series of contestations and convergences pertaining to the ways that racial power is understood and articulated in the post-civil rights era. In the same way that Kendall Thomas reasoned that race was better thought of as a verb rather than a noun, I want to suggest that shifting the frame of CRT toward a dynamic rather than static reference would be a productive means by which we can link CRT’s past to the contemporary moment. (“Twenty Years of Critical Race Theory: Looking Back to Move Forward,” p. 1261)
Thus, tightly defining and policing the boundaries of what should be considered proper “CRT scholarship” tends to prescribe in advance the internal critical dynamic that is itself, supposedly, a feature of the theory, threatening to calcify CRT into a particular historical contestation with diminishing applicability to ever new contexts. CRT scholars have consistently only ever produced lists of common areas of general agreement which might distinguish CRT from near competitors, while leaving the boundaries subject to expansion and reinterpretation.
(12) Claim: According to Richard Delgado, the worldview of CRT is based on four key presuppositions: ….” (p. XV).
a) Is CRT the “worldview” now, not CSJ? This is more than confusing. And, of course, Delgado does not consider CRT a “worldview” at all, let alone “based on four key presuppositions.”
b) To be honest, I have no idea what Baucham is quoting from here. The whole section is block quoted, but only portions are actual quotes from Delgado and Stefancic’s Critical Race Theory, though that is the citation given. Further, one of the quotes is in quotation marks, the others are not. Why? It is a mix of made-up titles, a bit of quotation, and some obviously mischaracterizing commentary. Honestly, where did this come from?
Here are the block quotes which Baucham cites as from Delgado’s Critical Race Theory; I have emboldened the portions that actually are quotes from Delgado, with the rest of unknown origin:
Racism is Normal: … the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country.
Convergence Theory: “Racism advances the interests of both white elites (materially) and working-class whites (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it.” This means whites are incapable of righteous actions on race and only undo racism when it benefits them; when their interests “converge” with the interests of people of color.
Anti-Liberalism: [CRT] questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.
Knowledge is Socially Constructed: Storytelling/Narrative Reading is the way black people forward knowledge vs. the Science/reason method of white people. Minority status, in other words, brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism. The “legal storytelling” movement urges black and brown writers to recount their experiences with racism and the legal system and to apply their own unique perspectives to assess law’s master narratives. (pp. XVI – XVII)
This is confusing, bewildering, and misleading. And he follows it up with, “While this is a well-established summary….” No, it is not “well-established” by any means, nor even a real summary. It is a mess of unknown origin.
The portions that are actually quotes from Delgado are from the section in Critical Race Theory titled, “F. Basic Tenets of Critical Race Theory.” But Baucham has left out three of the tenets, viz., the social construction of race thesis, differential racialization, and intersectionality. He further mis-describes the tenets he does include, adding in his own false commentary, and has turned the “unique voice of color thesis” into a “social construction of knowledge” thesis, a phrase not even mentioned by Delgado, but mentioned throughout Sensoy and DiAngelo’s text; they define it as well:
When we refer to knowledge as socially constructed we mean that knowledge is reflective of the values and interests of those who produce it. This concept captures the understanding that all knowledge and all means of knowing are connected to a social context. (Is Everyone Really Equal?, p. 29)
Did he confuse the “unique voice of color thesis” with the “social construction of knowledge thesis”—two different concepts? Or did someone else perform this blunder and he just copied and pasted? This is a complete failure. How did this happen? Did he even read the texts? I mean, “whites are incapable of righteous actions on race”? “Storytelling/Narrative Reading is the way black people forward knowledge vs. the Science/reason method of white people”? Who made this nonsense up?
[Edit: note from a reader: in the third supposed “tenet” from Delgado, the quote Baucham uses isn’t from Delgado and Stefancic’s section titled “F. Basic Tenets of Critical Race Theory,” but from a few pages earlier, as part of a general description of CRT. So, Delgado and Stefancic give us six “Basic Tenets” of CRT, Baucham uses only two, distorts one of those two, pulls a sentence from elsewhere, adds a tenet of his own creation, and then attributes the whole to Delgado, calling it a “well-established summary”?]
Honestly, it would take the rest of the post to ferret all of the errors in this claim. Instead, I will quote the whole section from Delgado and Stefancic as an addendum at the end of this article, for those interested in comparing Baucham’s construction and the actual text. (Also, if you would like to see the actual “tenets” of Critical Race Theory, please see section 16 in “What is Critical Race Theory? An Introduction to the Movement and its Ideas (With Further Reading),” wherein CRT scholars are quoted verbatim answering the question, “What is Critical Race Theory?”)
(13) Claim: “Tara Yosso, one of the most-cited academics on Critical Race Theory, expands Delgado’s fourth tenet with a very important dimension: ‘The centrality of experiential knowledge. CRT recognizes that the experiential knowledge of People of Color is legitimate, appropriate, and critical to understanding, analyzing and teaching about racial subordination.…’”
a) Here is another curious use of source material. While I don’t think it is at all true that Yosso is “one of the most-cited academics on Critical Race Theory,” it is, however, a pretty great quote. Nevertheless, it does not “expand Delgado’s fourth tenet.” Baucham’s manufactured and mislabeled “fourth tenet” of Delgado includes the claim that, “[s]torytelling/Narrative Reading is the way black people forward knowledge vs. the Science/reason method of white people.” That claim neither exists in Delgado’s writing, nor in Yosso’s, nor is it actually anyone’s position. It’s scandalous tripe, and Yoso’s quote in no way supports or expands it.
b) In the context of the article Baucham is quoting from, “Whose culture has capital?,” Yosso is herself quoting Daniel Solórzano’s “five tenets of CRT that can and should inform theory, research, pedagogy, curriculum and policy,” specifically for “the field of education,” namely:
(1) the intercentricity of race and racism; (2) the challenge to dominant ideology; (3) the commitment to social justice; (4) the centrality of experiential knowledge; and (5) the utilization of interdisciplinary approaches. (p. 73)
Here again, Baucham plucks a tenet out from the middle of a list and transports into an alien context. It is not an “expansion” of Delgado’s mythical “fourth tenet,” but is rather one of five tenets which the author finds useful for critical education.
I am left wondering, why has Baucham eliminated tenets, added a tenet, and butchered the existing tenets of Delgado and Stefancic, and now lifted one tenet from Solórzano and Yosso, ignoring the rest, then calling it “an important dimension” of a tenet he himself manufactured for Delgado? Someone truly needs to make some sense of all this.
c) The full tenet reads,
The centrality of experiential knowledge. CRT recognizes that the experiential knowledge of People of Color is legitimate, appropriate, and critical to understanding, analyzing and teaching about racial subordination (Delgado Bernal, 2002). CRT draws explicitly on the lived experiences of People of Color by including such methods as storytelling, family histories, biographies, scenarios, parables, cuentos, testimonios, chronicles and narratives (Bell, 1987, 1992, 1996; Delgado, 1989, 1993, 1995a, b, 1996; Espinoza, 1990; Olivas, 1990; Montoya, 1994; Carrasco, 1996; Solórzano & Yosso, 2000, 2001, 2002a; Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001; Delgado Bernal & Villalpando, 2002; Villalpando, 2003).
Does Voddie Baucham not believe that “experiential knowledge of People of Color is legitimate, appropriate, and critical to understanding, analyzing and teaching about racial subordination”? Is it illegitimate, inappropriate, and not critical to that end? Does “including such methods as storytelling, family histories, biographies, scenarios, parables, cuentos, testimonios, chronicles and narratives” imply that science and reason are a White man’s game for Baucham, given that he claims this quote adds an important dimension to his made up fourth Delgado tenet? Is there anything even controversial in this passage from Solórzano and Yosso?
Has Voddie Baucham even read and contemplated these sources at all?
(14) Claim: “Put simply, Intersectionality is about the multiple layers of oppression minorities suffer. For instance, if a black person has one layer of oppression, a black woman has two, a black lesbian woman has three, etc.” p. XVII.
a) This is absolutely false. No CRT theorist, nor Intersectional theorist, has said this or would say this. It is, simply, a different metaphor entirely. Baucham references Crenshaw’s “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex” and “Mapping the Margins,” but clearly did not actually read them. Intersectionality is about “intersections,” not layers which pile up, or “oppression olympics,” or “oppression sweepstakes.”
He’s quoted from Sensoy and DiAngelo throughout his book, so he must have read a much more accurate description, e.g.,
Intersectionality is the idea that identity cannot be fully understood via a single lens such as gender, race, or class alone—what legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) called a “single axis framework” (p. 139). Rather, our identities and the social meaning attributed to them must be understood in their interdependence on one another; identity is multidimensional. (Is Everyone Really Equal?, p. 175)
And he’s quoted from Delgado and Stefancic, so I’m assuming he’s read this as well:
No person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity. A white feminist may also be Jewish or working class or a single mother. An African American activist may be male or female, gay or straight. A Latino may be a Democrat, a Republican, or even black—perhaps because that person’s family hails from the Caribbean. An Asian may be a recently arrived Hmong of rural background and unfamiliar with mercantile life or a fourth-generation Chinese with a father who is a university professor and a mother who operates a business. Everyone has potentially conflicting, overlapping identities, loyalties, and allegiances. (Critical Race Theory, pp. 10-11)
(Though, he curiously didn’t quote it when pretending to describe Delgado’s “key presuppositions.”)
Finally, he also quoted from Tara Yosso’s, “Whose culture has capital?,” wherein she directly contradicts his description:
Naming, theorizing and mobilizing from the intersections of racism, need not initiate some sort of oppression sweepstakes—a competition to measure one form of oppression against another. As Cherrie Moraga (1983) writes,
The danger lies in ranking the oppressions. The danger lies in failing to acknowledge the specificity of the oppression. The danger lies in attempting to deal with oppression purely from a theoretical base. Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place. (pp. 52 – 53)
(pp. 72 – 73)
Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge argue in their book, Intersectionality (Key Concepts), that though there are “varied and sometimes contradictory answers” to “What is intersectionality?,” “[m]ost would probably accept the following description”:
Intersectionality is a way of understanding and analyzing the complexity in the world, in people, and in human experiences. The events and conditions of social and political life and the self can seldom be understood as shaped by one factor. They are generally shaped by many factors in diverse and mutually influencing ways. When it comes to social inequality, people’s lives and the organization of power in a given society are better understood as being shaped not by a single axis of social division, be it race or gender or class, but by many axes that work together and influence each other. Intersectionality as an analytic tool gives people better access to the complexity of the world and of themselves. (p. 2)
Finally, what Baucham does quote, from The Encyclopedia of Diversity and Justice, supports Crenshaw, Sensoy, DiAngelo, Delgado, Collins, and Bilge’s understanding of Intersectionality quite admirably, and does nothing to justify his own mischaracterization. It’s an odd choice (and from an odd source).
Conclusion: “There are volumes written on these concepts, and I commend them to you. I have benefitted greatly from the work of people like Neil Shenvi, Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay, and a host of others. Their work is thorough, insightful, and much-needed in these times. I also recommend diving into the sources I have cited here and throughout this book for an inside look at what CRT and Intersectionality say about themselves” (p. XVIII).
Yes, there are volumes written on these concepts, but I am less than convinced that Voddie Baucham has engaged with any of it. The best explanation for the constant errors, misunderstandings, misquotes, and mischaracterizations that plague every page of this short text is his reliance on “the work of people like Neil Shenvi, Helen Pluckrose, James Lindsay.” Not only do they not constitute primary source material, none of them are trained in the social sciences, are not experts in the fields they discuss, and their only peer reviewed academic publications on these topics were hoaxes, embarrassing journals because they were written by non-experts. And let us not forget that Pluckrose and Lindsay are pro-choice atheists; I think there may be an anti-Christian “worldview” in there somewhere.
Further, their whole raison d’être for writing on these subjects at all is to contradict, attack, and disprove. It would be like someone writing a book critiquing Calvinism without having read Calvin, nor even his best defenders, but rather by reading Leighton Flowers, Roger Olson, William Lane Craig, and maybe even Trent Horn, learning what “Calvinism” is from them, and relying on their definitions and categorizations. And, as in this case, also assume they are mainly just internet bloggers who hold no degrees in theology. I’d expect such a book to be shot through with as many blunders and misunderstandings as is Baucham’s. And I doubt Baucham or his cohorts would take that book seriously at all.
As such, am I to truly believe that Baucham desires that his readers dive into “the sources” he has “cited here and throughout this book for an inside look at what CRT and Intersectionality say about themselves,” when he clearly has not himself, and can’t even seem to explain what Critical Theory, Critical Social Justice, or Critical Race Theory are—let alone demonstrate that he can tell the difference between them?
In my estimation, despite all his brilliance in other areas, Baucham is here just another smear-monger walking down a long-worn path beginning in the late 1990’s. As Crenshaw wrote of CRT nearly 20 years ago, “Our critics’ re-construction of who we are and what we do is so complete that we can barely recognize ourselves in the mass media” (“The First Decade,” 2002, p. 1366). She continues, presciently:
Make no mistake about it: We are in a full-scale race-baiting campaign. It is well-organized, and it could be effective if we fail to mine the lessons of Crit-bashing in the 1980s and Red-baiting in the 1950s. Indeed, the structure of the assault is virtually identical: The baiters identify some threat to our cherished institutions or way of life, tie it to some “pointy-headed intellectuals,” and then claim that ruthless suppression is the only way to be sure the threat has been contained. (p. 1368)
Honestly, reading this one short pericope, supposedly identifying the subject of Baucham’s book, has been the most intellectually insulting experience I’ve ever endured from a work that (somehow) made it all the way to print. And, of course, it doesn’t get any better from there.
Addendum: Selection from Delgado and Stefancic’s Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, for comparison with Voddie Baucham’s use of the text:
Basic Tenets of Critical Race Theory
What do critical race theorists believe? Probably not every writer would subscribe to every tenet set out in this book, but many would agree on the following propositions. First, racism is ordinary, not aberrational—“normal science,” the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country. Second, most would agree that our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material, for the dominant group. The first feature, ordinariness, means that racism is difficult to address or cure because it is not acknowledged. Color-blind, or “formal,” conceptions of equality, expressed in rules that insist only on treatment that is the same across the board, can thus remedy only the most blatant forms of discrimination, such as mortgage redlining or an immigration dragnet in a food-processing plant that targets Latino workers or the refusal to hire a black Ph.D. rather than a white college dropout, which stand out and attract our attention.
The second feature, sometimes called “interest convergence” or material determinism, adds a further dimension. Because racism advances the interests of both white elites (materially) and working-class whites (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it. Consider, for example, Derrick Bell’s shocking proposal (discussed in chapter 2) that Brown v. Board of Education—considered a great triumph of civil rights litigation—may have resulted more from the self-interest of elite whites than from a desire to help blacks.
A third theme of critical race theory, the “social construction” thesis, holds that race and races are products of social thought and relations. Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they correspond to no biological or genetic reality; rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient. People with common origins share certain physical traits, of course, such as skin color, physique, and hair texture. But these constitute only an extremely small portion of their genetic endowment, are dwarfed by what we have in common, and have little or nothing to do with distinctly human, higher-order traits, such as personality, intelligence, and moral behavior. That society frequently chooses to ignore these scientific truths, creates races, and endows them with pseudo-permanent characteristics is of great interest to critical race theory.
Another, somewhat more recent, development concerns differential racialization and its consequences. Critical writers in law, as well as in social science, have drawn attention to the ways the dominant society racializes different minority groups at different times, in response to shifting needs such as the labor market. At one period, for example, society may have had little use for blacks but much need for Mexican or Japanese agricultural workers. At another time, the Japanese, including citizens of long standing, may have been in intense disfavor and removed to war relocation camps, while society cultivated other groups of color for jobs in war industry or as cannon fodder on the front. In one era, Muslims are somewhat exotic neighbors who go to mosques and pray several times of day—harmless but odd. A few years later, they emerge as security threats.
Popular images and stereotypes of various minority groups shift over time, as well. In one era, a group of color may be depicted as happy-go-lucky, simpleminded, and content to serve white folks. A little later, when conditions change, that very same group may appear in cartoons, movies, and other cultural scripts as menacing, brutish, and out of control, requiring close supervision. In one age, Middle Eastern people are exotic, fetishized figures wearing veils, wielding curved swords, and summoning genies from lamps. Later, after circumstances change, they emerge as fanatical, religiously crazed terrorists bent on destroying America and killing innocent citizens.
Closely related to differential racialization—the idea that each race has its own origins and ever-evolving history—is the notion of intersectionality and antiessentialism. No person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity. A white feminist may also be Jewish or working class or a single mother. An African American activist may be male or female, gay or straight. A Latino may be a Democrat, a Republican, or even black—perhaps because that person’s family hails from the Caribbean. An Asian may be a recently arrived Hmong of rural background and unfamiliar with mercantile life or a fourth-generation Chinese with a father who is a university professor and a mother who operates a business. Everyone has potentially conflicting, overlapping identities, loyalties, and allegiances.
A final element concerns the notion of a unique voice of color. Coexisting in somewhat uneasy tension with antiessentialism, the voice-of-color thesis holds that because of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, American Indian, Asian, and Latino writers and thinkers may be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the whites are unlikely to know. Minority status, in other words, brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism. The “legal storytelling” movement urges black and brown writers to recount their experiences with racism and the legal system and to apply their own unique perspectives to assess law’s master narratives. This topic, too, is taken up later in this book. (pp. 8-11)