According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans of Filipino descent had a median household income of just over $100,000 in 2019. The median household income of white Americans that year was about $66,000.
Based on these two facts, should we conclude that our society is pervasively biased in favor of Filipino immigrants, or of Americans whose ancestors once immigrated from the Philippines? Should we draw the same conclusion about Americans with ancestral ties to India (their median household income is $136,000), China ($85,000) or Nigeria ($69,000)?
No, we shouldn’t. That would be an exercise in bad math and faulty logic. Differences in household incomes or other measures among ethnic groups have many potential explanations. Cultures, traditions and family structures vary. Educational levels and labor-force participation rates vary. Settlement patterns vary. Preferences vary.
If you’re with me so far, then you likely don’t agree with a key tenet of critical race theory. Pieced together in the 1980s and 1990s out of disparate strands of Marxist and postmodernist thought, critical race theory seeks to explain gaps in income, wealth, education attainment and other measures as primarily the product of discriminatory social structures rather than individual choices.
Its parent idea, critical theory, was concocted by Marxist intellectuals of the mid-20th century in the aftermath of disillusionment with revolutionary socialism as actually practiced behind the Iron Curtain. Some scholars and activists began applying their new ideas to the judicial system, yielding critical legal studies. Others concluded that prior Marxist analysis had focused too much on class at the expense of other structures of oppression, devising critical race theory (and even more narrow and esoteric applications) not only as an approach to radical scholarship but also as a guide to radical political action.
What does all this have to do with the public-policy conversation in North Carolina? Plenty — unfortunately. Do you believe in diversity, equity and inclusion? So do I, at least when the terms are properly defined. Surrounding yourself with people of differing views and backgrounds is often good for you. It can make organizations and teams stronger. I also think people ought to be treated fairly, that they shouldn’t be discriminated against based on race, ethnicity or other characteristics that have nothing to do with performing a job well. And I think it’s best to include, not exclude. Don’t you agree?
These beliefs are, alas, not what the current diversity, equity and inclusion movement is all about. Much of it is just critical race theory rigorously and sometimes ruthlessly applied to workplaces, government, philanthropy, and the social sector. It assumes statistical disparities must be the product of discriminatory practices and attitudes deeply embedded in our social structures. Therefore, it embraces the use of discriminatory practices and attitudes as the only proper response.
Let me explain that latter point more clearly. If disparities of outcomes are a sufficient proof of systemic racism and other forms of structural oppression, then the only way to know if the oppression has been dismantled would be for those disparities to go away. The logical goal must be an equality of results, not just an equality of opportunity. If that requires ongoing discrimination against “privileged” groups — racial and ethnic preferences in hiring, contracting, and higher education, for example — so be it.
It’s all utter nonsense. It’s based on simplistic and easily discredited analysis, and employs crude tools such as “implicit bias” tests that are both methodologically unsound and highly destructive of real human relationships.
Still, I’d pay little attention to critical race theorists if they confined their nonsense to scarcely read journals and sparsely attended classes. In a free society, we all have an equal right to be very, very wrong.
But critical race theory has now spread far beyond the cloister. Its advocates seek to transform corporate governance, our justice system, and the curriculum of our public schools. Its assumptions are incompatible with freedom, liberal education, and equality under the law. Those assumptions must be fully revealed, clearly understood and relentlessly opposed.