Carl Trueman’s CRT, Part 1: “Basic Claims” of Critical Race Theory?

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Carl Trueman’s recent article, “Evangelicals and Race Theory,” purports to be about Critical Race Theory (CRT)—I think. He offers no definitions, no citations, and doesn’t even mention a single CRT scholar. He does, however, make a series of unargued claims which might constitute a characterization for our purposes. From what I can gather, Dr. Trueman believes the following:

(1) CRT contains a set of “basic claims,” among them are “racism is systemic” and “being non-racist is impossible.” (2) the “basic claims” of CRT are “self-certifying,” they are “axioms,” and are “not conclusions drawn from argument.” (3) CRT “relies on the concept of false consciousness—the notion that the oppressors control society so completely that the oppressed believe their own interests are served by the status quo.” (4) “Critical race theory is the Marxist horse, ridden by the jockey of identity politics rather than the jockey of class warfare”; that is, CRT simply replaced the role of “class” in Marxism with “race.” (5) “Critical race theory rests on simple, therapeutic premises,” including that life is a “zero-sum game”: “Some people do not have power. They struggle and do not ­flourish. This happens because somebody else has seized power from them and oppresses them in an ongoing and unrelenting way.” And, last, (6) CRT claims to offer a “comprehensive explanation for all the evils we suffer.”

Presuming the article is supposed to be about CRT, I plan to take a look at each of these claims in turn over the next several days, rather than cram it all into one article. As someone said to me recently, it takes one paragraph to spread bad information and a dozen to correct it. And while I don’t think Trueman’s article merits these full responses, especially on CRT, I do think it useful to leverage its warm reception as an opportunity to answer some quite common, though quite misguided, claims. For a broader reaction to Truman’s article, I commend Valerie Hobbs‘s article, “Is Critical Race Theory a Religion? Responding to Carl Trueman.” I intend only to address his characterization of CRT in these posts, but will assuredly draw some more general conclusions in the end.

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Segregationists, Assimilationists, and Antiracists

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I was asked recently by a friend if it was correct to say that every American—whether white, Latinx, black, etc.—is a participant in systemic racism, and therefore racist. Given that social structures and institutions have been historically formed in America to benefit white people at the expense of others, then isn’t everyone who participates in such systems also participating in white supremacy? I think this is a very important question. As the wider culture finds itself engaged in deciding who is racist, who isn’t, and why I am not and you are, the binary assumed, viz., “racist” or “not racist,” not only de-emphasizes the distinction between racism as individual and systemic, but also bifurcates what is obviously a much more complicated spectrum. It is easy to say that a Neo-Nazi is a racist, but what about an African American who ascribes the vast current social and economic disparities to black laziness or immorality? Or ascribes segregated churches to blacks’ disinterest in sound theology? And what about white and black Americans who simply give little thought to the disparity or segregation at all, but continue to travel the same worn paths?

Here is where Ibram X. Kendi’s categories “segregationist,” “assimilationist,” and “antiracist” can be so helpful.

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Kendi on Perkins on Slavery

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Ibram X Kendi writes in Stamped From the Beginning,

The Puritans believed, too, in civilizing and Christianizing the world, but their approach to the project was slightly different from that of most explorers and expedition sponsors. For the others, it was about economic returns or political power. For Puritan preachers, it was about bringing social order to the world. Cambridge professor William Perkins rested at the cornerstone of British Puritanism in the late sixteenth century. “Though the servant in regard of faith and the inner man be equal to his master, in regard of the outward man… the master is above the servant,” he explained in Ordering a Familie, published in 1590. In paraphrasing St. Paul, Perkins became one of the first major English theorists—or assimilationist theologians, to be more precise—to mask the exploitative master/servant or master/slave relationship as a loving family relationship. […] It was Perkins’s family ordering that Puritan leaders like John Cotton and Richard Mather used to sanction slavery in Massachusetts a generation later. And it was Perkins’s claim of equal souls and unequal bodies that led Puritan preachers like Cotton and Mather to minister to African souls and not challenge the enslavement of their bodies. (Kindle location 581)

This is 100% true and a powerful point necessary for understanding the genesis, development, and justification of American chattel slavery. But, like a good little student of Kendi, I went back to the primary source, Perkins’ A SHORT SURVEY OF THE RIGHT MANNER OF ERECTING and ordering a Familie, according to the Scriptures.

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