The central idea of critical race theory is “systemic racism”: That the way things work is stacked against persons of color, even if no one actually has any ill will or bias against them.
Stacked against them how? We're not speaking of things like slavery or segregation. An example might be expecting college writing and speech to conform to standard English. According to critical race theory, standard English is nothing but the way white people talk. So suppose I tell my students to use their verb tenses properly. That upholds systemic racism, because I am expecting all the students to “talk white.”
This sort of thing would be silly, if it weren’t so pernicious. Having a lot of different ways to speak is fine, but people who speak different ways cannot expect to understand each other unless, alongside all of them, there is also a standard way. Teaching the standard way benefits all of us by lifting us out of the little islands of our particular dialects. Not teaching it hurts all of us, but it hurts those who speak minority dialects the most. So a lot of black kids will suffer.
There is more. As critical race theorists view things, not only can the system be racist even if no one has racial bias, but individuals can be racist even if they have no racial bias. For racial bias isn’t what they mean by racism. Since they see the system as stacked against black people, they also see anyone who participates in the system without protest as supporting the suppression of black people, whether intentionally or not. So I am a racist just because I do expect all my students to learn their verb tenses. To someone who thinks this way, the fact that I sincerely believe that learning standard English will be helpful to students of every color is beside the point.
Not only do critical race theorists think one can lack racial bias and be a racist, they think one can have racial bias and not be a racist. Premise: All white people, just by virtue of being white, are inheritors of unfair advantages. Premise: In order to cancel out unfair advantages, one must discriminate against the people who have them. Conclusion: Discrimination against black people is racist because, by definition, black people are inheritors of disadvantage; but discrimination against white people is anti-racist because, by definition, white people are inheritors of privilege. To the new KKK who think this way, the only way to fight bad racism is good racism – except that in their topsy-turvy way of speaking, good racism isn’t racism.
Where does this leave us? Equal opportunity is racist. Color-blindness is racist. Treating people of every race the same is racist. The mere act of disagreeing with these opinions is racist, because that too upholds systemic racism.
There is no natural limit to such thinking. Traffic signals, botanical collections, the teaching of mathematics, the stocking of books in libraries, the practice of posting earthquake warning signs near geological faults, even Thomas the Tank Engine – all these things and more have been branded as systemically racist.
In his famous speech at the Washington monument, Martin Luther King said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” To a critical race theorist, that dream was the epitome of systemic racism. I can only conclude that if MLK was a “racist,” then we need more “racists” like MLK.