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The Parent-Led Challenge to Critical Race Theory

Christopher F. Rufo Contributing Editor, City Journal
John Yoo Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley
Coleman Hughes Fellow, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal
Thu, Feb 18, 2021 EVENTCAST

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The Parent-Led Challenge to Critical Race Theory

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The Parent-Led Challenge to Critical Race Theory

Christopher F. Rufo Contributing Editor, City Journal
John Yoo Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley
Coleman Hughes Fellow, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal EVENTCAST 01:00pm—02:00pm
Thursday February 18
Thursday February 18 2021
PAST EVENT Thursday February 18 2021

On his first day in office, President Biden reversed former President Trump’s Executive Order prohibiting trainings rooted in critical race theory. Many on the left praised the move as a step towards racial healing, and accused critics—even those on the left—of bigotry. However, critical race theory, which takes aim at color blindness and American capitalism and treats all disparities as systemic, warrants a debate on its merits.

Critical race theory has gradually crept into the administrations of universities, government agencies, and private workplaces. For many Americans, its introduction into K–12 education—both public and private—was a wake-up call about the spread of the ideology. Parents in particular fear the dissemination of illiberal ideas to their children under the guise of “equity”, and have begun to band together to challenge the movement at the state level.

On February 18th, Manhattan Institute fellow Coleman Hughes moderated a discussion with City Journal contributing editor Christopher Rufo and Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law John Yoo on the legal landscape for those invested in the opposition, and what the legal battle may look like in the future.

Event Transcript

Coleman Hughes:

Good afternoon. I'm Coleman Hughes, Manhattan Institute fellow and contributing editor for City Journal. Today we are discussing critical race theory. A group of legal scholars came together in the 1970s and '80s because they were dissatisfied with the way of thinking about race that came out of the civil rights movement. Scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Gary Peller and Derrick Bell became the founders of a new movement called critical race theory. One of the core claims of critical race theory is that objectivity is not possible. Anything that claims to be objective, whether you're talking about knowledge or the standards by which we judge academic achievement, is actually white supremacy in disguise.

Coleman Hughes:

When the civil rights movement defined racism concretely in terms of racist individuals whose minds could be changed, and racist laws which could be overturned, critical race theory defined racism abstractly. In critical race theory, white supremacy became an abstract, society-wide skewing of opportunities. White supremacy, it alleged, is all around us. But we're like the proverbial fish in water: too close to see the racism right in front of our noses.

Coleman Hughes:

For years, critical race theory remained confined to the academy, but in recent years it has spread. KIPP, the nation's largest network of charter schools, a few months ago changed their slogan from "Work hard, be nice" to get rid of the "work hard" component, because it implied that hard work was enough for a black person to succeed. Even more concrete examples, the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History in Washington, D.C. released a document condemning rationality and hard work as, quote, "white values."

Coleman Hughes:

Many people have been alarmed by the spread of these counterintuitive ideas about how to approach race that have recently been seeping into the K-through-12 curriculum at many people's schools, and so we've gathered a few experts on the subject to discuss this alarming trend. We have John Yoo; John Yoo is an Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law at University of California. Professor Yoo is also the director of the law school's program in public law and policy and the director of the Korea Law Center and the California Constitution Center.

Coleman Hughes:

And we have Christopher Rufo; Christopher Rufo is a writer, filmmaker and researcher, as well as a contributing editor of City Journal. He's been carefully documenting the spread of critical race theory within government agencies, private organizations and schools, as well as leading the legal challenges to critical race theory in schools.

Coleman Hughes:

So before I begin the questions, I just want to remind the audience that you can ask questions, we'll have a Q&A session for the last 15 minutes of our chat, and you can ask questions wherever you are watching, whether that's on YouTube or on the other stream. We will try to get to as many of those questions as we can, and please, if you are on Slido, please write your name so that we can identify you when we are answering your question.

Coleman Hughes:

Okay, so gentlemen, thank you so much for being here.

Christopher Rufo:

It's good to be with you.

Coleman Hughes:

Okay, let's start with you, John. One thing I've noticed studying critical race theory is that it's very difficult to find any critiques of critical race theory from within the academy. I think I know of one paper by Randall Kennedy from the '90s, which actually criticizes this very controversial set of ideas, which you would expect there to be robust criticisms of. So is there a critique of critical race theory from within the academy, and if not, why not?

John Yoo:

Well, Coleman, there is. First, let me say thank you very much to the Manhattan Institute for inviting me. It's great to be with you, Coleman, great to be with Mr. Rufo, who I've not met before. I'm really pleased to be participating in another Manhattan Institute event, I think so highly of the institute and all the great work it's doing. I'm just sorry ... well, I'm not sorry I'm not in Manhattan today, because I hear there's freezing rain there, and this is the one time the electricity works in California, but not the rest of the country. So I'm happier to be in California today. But I'd much rather be visiting with my friends in the Institute and in New York City.

John Yoo:

It's a great question, Coleman, because you've really noticed, and as someone who's not in a legal academy, you can speak more honestly, in a way, about the problems we have dealing with critical race theory than those of us on the inside, because you're right. If you were to ask scholars, give me a good example, the leading example of a critique of critical race theory, they are few and far between. The article you're referring to by Randall Kennedy, written, it's got to be more than 20 years ago now, is one of the few prominent examples.

John Yoo:

I can think of just one or two others, a book by Dan Farber and Suzanna Sherry, I think it was called Beyond All Reason, that came out in the early or mid-'90s. An article by Jim Chen, both these are friends of mine, called Unloving. And one reason why, Coleman, you don't see more writing, more criticism of CRT is to look at the responses those articles and books got. There were symposia held about each of those three articles, where several scholars accused them of being racists, accused them of fraudulent scholarship, accused them, in some cases, accusing them of, my friend Jim Chen, who's Asian, he was asking, is there such a thing even as Asian-American critical studies? They accused him of not really being Asian.

John Yoo:

There's a huge backlash within the academy against anyone who questions critical race theory. On the other hand, in response to the first part of your question, Coleman, there's a lot of points to raise. There's a lot of criticism to be leveled at CRT, and it actually would be even good for CRT to engage with critics, to become better, rather than to sort of be in an echo chamber where you don't hear critical scholarship and discussion.

John Yoo:

Some of those points, those who are more philosophically and political theory-minded, which is a lot of people, I know, who are involved with the Manhattan Institute, will know that critical race theory is just sort of the latest descendant of Marxism. It specifically comes from a school called critical theory, which is associated with something called the Frankfurt School, Frankfurt's approach to history. That turned into something called, descended in the legal academy to something called critical legal studies, and from that came critical race theory.

John Yoo:

Now, Marxism and the Frankfurt School, just put very briefly, said that most institutions and rules in society are about oppressions. Marxists like to think it's about oppressing people based on their class, which derives from their role in the means of production. The critical theory people move the ball a little bit farther and said, well, the oppression is primarily ideological. Critical race theory said, well, the oppression is really based on race. So when you see things like the New York Times' 1619 Project, that's just sort of rough journalistic attempt to bring critical race theory to the masses.

John Yoo:

But the basic idea is a critical race theory idea. If you remember, The 1619 Project says America's not founded in 1776 with our revolution, it's not founded in 1788 with the adoption of our Constitution. It's really founded in 1619 when the first African-American slaves are brought to the United States, and our history ever since then has been one of oppression.

John Yoo:

There's a lot of problems with this. Many historians, the leading historians in our country of conservative and liberal bent have said The 1619 Project is fundamentally wrong, if race is the single variable that it counts for all of American history. I think that's also true of critical race theory in general. Race is an important factor in our history, it's an important factor to the way people think. But to say it's the single things that explains everything in our society, politics, law, culture, is, I think, mistaken.

John Yoo:

The other main criticism familiar to the ones, people who have criticized Marxism too is that, what's the solution? When Marxists got in charge, they wanted to put in place, and this is idea of Marxism or critical race theory is we have to burst through, radically upset and revolutionize society to get rid of all this oppression. Well, look what happened when true believers got in charge with this as their mission. They tried to centralize power so profoundly in a government, to establish and enforce their rules of a just society, and Marxism led, I think, to the worst human suffering and death and waste of the 20th century.

John Yoo:

And I think CRT still has that problem that Marxism has, is what are you going to do about a society that you claim is so fundamentally, essentially racist to make it better that doesn't involve handing power over to an elite group of people who have their own ideas who may very well make things far, far worse than a society that has, and this is my counter, yes, has tried to live up its own principles of equality and freedom and has gotten better and better every decade, and is aware of its faults, but tries to correct for them, and nothing is ever perfect. The union is not perfect, our nation's not perfect, but I think the market speaks for itself. There are millions and millions of people who gladly trade their places to come and live here, rather than any other country on Earth.

John Yoo:

Thanks a lot, Coleman. Sorry I went on at great length, but you got me too excited and I couldn't stop myself. But thanks for-

Coleman Hughes:

Not at all. That was a great answer. So I want to pivot a little bit from the philosophy of critical race theory to how it's manifesting in people's lives right now. This will be more in your wheelhouse, Christopher. As I said, CRT remained confined to the academy, and most people had never heard of it in the '80s and '90s, unless they were actually a part of the movement itself. But now we're seeing it influencing administrations of universities, government agencies, private workplaces, and K-through-12.

Coleman Hughes:

So what are the dangers of CRT becoming widespread and accepted? What's at stake here?

Christopher Rufo:

I think John laid out the theoretical case about CRT, and I think a lot of my most recent investigative reporting work is really looking at it as it's manifested itself in institutions. I think this all does emerge from the Frankfurt School theories of Marxism, and the idea was that maybe seizing the means of production and for the physical economy, like factories and other manufacturing facilities, that's not necessarily the way. We need to actually seize the means of cultural production. That's the way we can get kind of past the bulwark of a large and rising American middle class.

Christopher Rufo:

Frankly, 50 years after they marched, after they announced their idea to do a long march through the institutions, echoing, of course, Chairman Mao, they've largely done so, in my view. I think now, kind of with this astonishing speed, critical race theory has jumped out of academia and now is becoming the default operating ideology of American public institutions. I've reported in dozens of federal agencies that are conducting critical race theory-based trainings, everything from the FBI conducting intersectionality workshops to taking the white male engineers from our national nuclear weapons laboratory, sequestering them in a resort for three days, forcing them to deconstruct their white male identity, telling them that their identity is consonant with the KKK, with lynchings, with MAGA hats, and then forcing them to apologize for their inborn racial and sexual identities.

Christopher Rufo:

These kind of programs are reported now on dozens ... are happening everywhere, from the smallest school districts in the Midwest. I reported, for example, on a middle school in Missouri that was forcing teachers to locate themselves on an oppression matrix, dividing the white male, Christian, English-speaking, middle-class teachers into the oppressor category, and then the racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, women and sexual minorities, into the oppressed categories, ignoring any of their own individual stories or behaviors or beliefs.

Christopher Rufo:

This really crude separation is happening everywhere, and I think the same reason that, as John outlined, it really has gotten very little pushback in academia is the same reason it's getting very little pushback in other institutions, whether government or corporations or schools: because people are afraid to stand up against it. And I think critical race theory did something that I think is intellectually dishonest, but justified by their view of power. And actually, very clever; they constructed their argument like Mousetrap. And Ibram Kendi or Robin DiAngelo, the new corporate HR gurus of this movement, basically have constructed this argument where, if you oppose critical race theory, that's evidence of your own guilt, of your own white fragility, of your own internalized white supremacy.

Christopher Rufo:

So they make an argument that the only possible opposition is interpreted as essentially the truth of the theory, or kind of false consciousness, again, derived from Marx. On a very practical level, a parent in a school district that sees some of this stuff coming in is saying, am I going to be called a racist or a white supremacist? People, I think, don't have the language or the vocabulary, and then I think, in many cases, don't have the courage, because they will truly be the first people standing up.

Christopher Rufo:

To wrap up my introductory segment, the only bright spot that I've seen is, actually, the Asian-American community in states like Washington state and California has been remarkably successful in pushing back against critical race theory and related ideological programs. I think in part because there is a commitment to the meritocracy; I reported on people who said, look, we left Communist China to come to the United States because we think the cultural revolution that we experienced in our home country is bad. We came here because, as you talked about, if you work hard, you study hard, you have a little bit of luck, you can succeed.

Christopher Rufo:

And I think also they're, in some ways, almost immune to the criticism of being white supremacists. On the face of it, it's ridiculous, right? Critical race theorists make the argument, in some cases, that Asian-Americans are white-adjacent or have assimilated into whiteness, but I think most people reject those out of common sense. I think that it's really going to take people banding together and pushing back in local institutions, as well as a kind of counter-institutional response from think tanks, academics and legal foundations.

Coleman Hughes:

So you mentioned some examples, you've been doing some investigative reporting on critical race theory in K-through-12 classrooms. And I know this is one of the topics that is, I think, closest to the hearts of many people, because people worry, understandably, about their children being indoctrinated at an impressionable age with the totally unnecessary belief that doesn't come naturally to children, who tend to have a more colorblind orientation, that their race separates them from their classmates and should determine how they think and how they engage with the world and what their values are and so forth. Very much the opposite spirit of Martin Luther King's dream of white children and black children effortlessly being friends and viewing each other not as stand-ins for their race, but as individual people to be judged on their individual qualities.

Coleman Hughes:

So can you talk a little bit about what you've seen, especially in K-through-12 classrooms with critical race theory?

Christopher Rufo:

Yeah, and I'll use some very specific examples from my reporting: first, I think, critical race theory, the kind of analogous movement in education is from a Brazilian Marxist theoretician named Paolo Freire, and he wrote a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed that's actually being used in curriculum design and school districts all over the country, including one that I'm going to be reporting on for City Journal in Portland, Oregon. And the idea is that teachers should use the kind of ... their primary pedagogical aim should be to instill critical consciousness in their students, to show them who the oppressor is, to educate them in their experience of oppression. And then as they get older, they'll be able to transform that critical consciousness into revolutionary activism, actually naming and overthrowing oppressive systems and institutions.

Christopher Rufo:

They're applying that to the American context, basically saying the American Constitution, American law, American social customs are fundamentally illegitimate, dating back to 1619, and they have to be overthrown through revolutionary activity. That's the theory. What does it look like in practice? It looks like first-graders in Cupertino, California being forced to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities and then rank themselves according to their power and privilege. Again, first-graders being taught intersectionality theory and then forced to apply it to their own lives.

Christopher Rufo:

It looks like fifth-graders in a school, in a public elementary school in Philadelphia being forced to celebrate black Communism and simulate a Black Power rally to free Angela Davis from prison. Again, kind of very politically aggressive tactics, in a school that, at eighth grade, only 13% are literate. 87% of students are functionally illiterate, but they are being educated not in learning but in political activism. It also looks like a story that I just did right where you are, Coleman, in New York, a mixed middle and high school principal sent an email to parents denouncing conservatives as racists and white supremacists, and then providing white parents at the school with a color-coded gas dial that said, these are the eight identities of whiteness, and that white parents at this school, again, public school, should aspire to become, quote, "white traitors" and eventually advocate for, quote, "white abolition."

Christopher Rufo:

This is the kind of language and crude distillation of critical race theory, and I think it's really dangerous. Even the language veers on stuff that I think is quite scary. I talked with a number of families through my reporting, one from Iran who said it reminded her of the ideological fervor in the run-up to the revolution in 1979, and again, Chinese-American parents who said it reminded them of what happened to their parents during the cultural revolution of the 1960s.

Coleman Hughes:

so for those who are invested in the legal opposition to critical race theory, what does that landscape look like right now?

John Yoo:

Are you asking me, Coleman?

Christopher Rufo:

I'll defer to the distinguished law professor of that one, I don't want to embarrass myself in front of John.

John Yoo:

No-no-no, I mean, I think the primary solution is the one that the founders created, which was federalism, which forces a lot of decentralization on the country, I think, in a positive way, forces jurisdictions to compete, and ultimately the problem is that these examples are terrible. I notice a lot of them go on in the large coastal cities and large coastal states, like California right here or New York, where you are. That's going to encourage people in Texas or Florida, Arizona, other states, to retain a more traditional curriculum, based in history and facts and science, rather than teaching ... Mr. Rufo's quite right, this idea in CRT that truth itself is just socially constructed, there is no objective truth. You really worry what's going to happen when a view becomes adopted in the sciences and engineering and so forth.

John Yoo:

The primary response is, I think, competitive federalism. The second response, I think there is a legal angle beyond people organizing and changing their school boards and fighting to change the curriculum in their classes, or even the competition, which may ultimately be the more healthy one, but by private providers of education like charter schools and home school and so on, is the effort to use, several examples that Mr. Rufo talked about, the CRT idea to use diversity or to use race as a criteria to decide who gets into schools, as a criteria to decide who teaches, who gets promoted, who gets hired.

John Yoo:

Because it's not just the curriculum, it's all part of a larger program in which this idea that race has to be or is the primary deciding variable that explains everything in American society. Well, the ironic thing is that critical race theory wants to use race, to turn around and use race, then, to make all kinds of other decisions in society. And luckily, that, I think, is prohibited when the government does it by the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment, or the Fifth Amendment if it's the federal government.

John Yoo:

Or when private employers do it, it's prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Coleman, you started out by quoting Martin Luther King, and the civil rights movement, one of its great achievements is the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, and those require colorblind treatment in hiring, employment, promotions. And if critical race theorists are going to try to take over institutions and inculcate the use of race in decisions at schools: who's going to be a teacher, who's going to be a principal, why did we choose this book rather than that book? That, I think, does make those institutions subject to legal challenge.

Coleman Hughes:

Yeah, so a question that could be for either of you: John, you mentioned that this Civil Rights Act requires colorblind treatment, and it does, you can read the plain language right there. It even says in the act, "Nothing in this law is requiring any kind of preferential treatment based on race." There's no reason to make decisions based on race. That's the spirit and the text of the Civil Rights Act. And yet we've seen, in the ensuing 55 years, the proliferation of policies and laws that take race into account. And so it's easy to become cynical about the efficacy of writing good laws, even important, monumental laws like the Civil Rights Act.

Coleman Hughes:

So why is it that we haven't seen, in the past half-century, America more and more reflect the text and the spirit of the laws that we all celebrate on Martin Luther King Day and during black History Month and so forth?

John Yoo:

Well, part of it is cultural. As you say, a lot of things you point out might not be things that the law can reach. If corporations are going to start saying we're going to use diversity in our hiring, or we're going to use diversity in our programming, that's much harder for the Civil Rights Acts to reach than outright uses of race.

John Yoo:

The other thing is, and this was, I think, an important fight in the courts, and actually the judicial appointments, particularly to the Supreme Court over the last few years, are going to really make the difference here, I think, which is that the courts open the door to allowing the use of race in admissions to schools. The Manhattan Institute, the last program I was on with you was about the use of race in the magnet schools in New York City by Mayor de Blasio and the head of the school board there, and why I thought that was inconsistent with the Constitution and civil rights laws.

John Yoo:

I think that what's going to happen is that there have to be more parents, more communities involved challenging these kinds of efforts to use race explicitly in the schools or in their local governments, and those will generate the cases that get to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court can make clear, as I think it should, that race is just never to be used in the government and in state and local at all, for whatever reason, whether it's allegedly benign or it's for malign reasons.

John Yoo:

But you're right, Coleman, you haven't seen the legal system really swing fully behind the colorblind principle because of the fight, the courts have been divided. I think that division is going to end, given the most recent appointments to the Supreme Court.

Coleman Hughes:

So you mentioned as well, John, that you thought the solution is competitive federalism, and this is, again, a question either one of you can answer. Does that imply that the legal battle is best fought at the state level, or local level, or is there also ... is it best fought at the federal level?

John Yoo:

My preference would be at the state level. I think it's a mistake for the federal government to start establishing a nationwide curriculum, even if it's the curriculum that I might prefer. I think it would be a mistake for the federal government to say no critical race theory in any school, anywhere in the country, because sooner or later, people who believe in critical race theory will take over the federal government at some point, and then they'll do the exact same thing in the other direction.

John Yoo:

I think the better answer is let people vote with their feet. If some states like California, again, and New York, try to impose this heavy critical race theory curriculum in their schools, people will leave. Now, right now people have a lot of other reasons to leave New York and California, they might just add these to them. But people can decide the policies that they like, they can decide the schools they want their kids to go to; maybe that means they'll move to other jurisdictions that already gained a lot of residents, like Texas or Florida or Arizona, where the schools might be more resistant. Political leaders are more resistant ... I don't think it's necessarily legal cases that will be the main dynamic, it'll be people participating in the political process within their states to get their curriculums to be more neutral and balanced based on history, objectivity, science. And then people, hopefully, will move to those states because they don't want their children, as Mr. Rufo showed, learning ideology, radical ideology in kindergarten to twelfth grade.

Coleman Hughes:

All right, so for chris, one thing I've noticed is that there's a huge divide between the elites and everybody else, and by elites I mean people who are in politics, in journalism, in media, in Ivy League universities, in Silicon Valley, in corporate America, and everyone else. And this was brought home recently in California, where they tried to overturn Prop 209, which banned all racial preferences and affirmative action in state-funded institutions, and it was shot down by popular vote. And in fact, every majority-Latino county in the state voted against racial preferences. But if you look at the corporate backing for each side, on the side of racial preferences was every corporation you could imagine, Facebook, Yelp, United, Reddit, Twitter. And there was no corporate backing on the side that actually won, the side represented by the citizens of California.

Coleman Hughes:

So is this something you've noticed in your investigation, that there's a huge divide in the perception we get of how popular critical race theory is by looking at elite spaces and how popular it actually is?

Christopher Rufo:

Yeah, I think it's a huge dichotomy, and I think there are really two dynamics at play. First, as you've outlined, this is what Christopher Lasch might've called, or did call, a kind of elite revolution against the people. I mean, this is an idea that circulated in very small groups, always in elite institutions, that explicitly seeks to undermine the kind of traditions and beliefs and patterns and practices of middle- and lower-class Americans, again, of all racial backgrounds. And I think that what I've noticed as a functional matter is that there is, in my mind, I guess I would call it the kind of moral crime of critical race theory is that in practice, it serves best as a means to expand and then solidify the social status of multi-racial elites that profess this theory. So critical race theory is great for the Robin DiAngelos and Ibram Kendis and chief diversity officers and corporate leaders seeking to maybe divert attention away from other bad practices.

Christopher Rufo:

It really is kind of cocktail-party status-builder, but in my view, has really nothing to offer middle-class and even working-class people in the country. I spent five years directing a documentary for public broadcasting, PBS, in three of the poorest American cities and talked to thousands of people. You know, the kind of gulf between the concerns and beliefs and aspirations of poor people in the United States, again, of all racial groups, has nothing to do with the intellectual and political aspirations of critical race theorists, also of all racial groups.

Christopher Rufo:

I think that critical race theory offers really nothing for people that are struggling in our country, and in fact seeks to undermine the three core institutions and practices and habits that actually create the foundation for upward mobility. You'll remember, in their literature, the critical race theorists reject the nuclear family as a white supremacist institution, of kind of Western patriarchal domination. Although every scholar, even someone like Raj Chetty, by no means a conservative at Harvard and I think now Stanford, says, actually, family structure is the key driver of poverty at the individual and community level, something we've known for a long time.

Christopher Rufo:

Critical race theorists also reject the idea of entry-level work, they reject the idea of a blue-collar labor or service-level labor as a tool of capitalist oppression. They had a symposium years ago about "reclaiming the welfare queen," and they said the welfare queen is not an example of society and public policy failing to provide avenues for success, it's actually, the welfare queen is a social status that we should celebrate and elevate as a kind of subversive ideal, again ignoring what I saw in my filmmaking work, the really desperation of people who are stuck at the bottom of the economic ladder in our society.

Christopher Rufo:

And finally, critical race theorists have had a lot of success lately, as a matter of public policy, demolishing the idea of achievement-based academics, or achievement-based education. They think that showing up to school on time, turning in homework, grades, standardized tests are all, again, eugenics-based, scientific racist methods of oppression, and they say we should abolish all of those pathways, abolish magnet schools, abolish charter schools, and abolish any of the alternatives that have been coming up to provide a kind of safety valve or an exit strategy from, in my cases, failing public schools.

Christopher Rufo:

The end of that recipe is fairly simple: what do you get? You get a society like Ibram Kendi described in a piece for Politico. He said we need a permanently funded political fourth branch of government, a department of anti-racism that's not accountable to the executive, not accountable to Congress, that can invalidate any law at any level of government anywhere in the United States and suppress speech from policy-making institutions that don't bow down to the tenets of anti-racism. And this is the kind of endpoint goal.

Christopher Rufo:

I think that that's what you get, that's what's we got, you could see in the history of the 20th century. When you try to have this radical, Marx-inspired ideology of flattening and leveling and eliminating any of those institutions that are deemed as oppressive, you get a kind of totalitarian regime that takes forth and tries to basically managed limited resources and apportion them according to politics. We're not there yet, obviously, but I think that this is the natural sequence, the natural outcome, and we should have no illusions to the danger of this ideology and, I think, the fervent radicalism and fanaticism of its main proponents.

Coleman Hughes:

All right, so with that, let's move on to the audience questions so we can get through as many as we can. So first question, this is from Ryan Monroe. Ryan says, "A lawsuit has been filed in Nevada that challenges the use of critical race theory in public schools. Are critical race theory programs unconstitutional? Does this lawsuit stand a chance?" There are four of five different versions of this question.

Christopher Rufo:

John, I'll take that one, and maybe I hadn't told you, but I'm actually leading a coalition of law firms and legal foundations that are challenging critical race theory. This is from one of our partners, he's actively fundraising, so John, if you're listening, I hope that people can find you at SchoolhouseRights.org.

Christopher Rufo:

I think the argument that John outlined and we're trying to put into practice with this coalition is that critical race theory traffics in three main conceptual practices, I guess you could call them: one is race essentialism, that you can reduce human being to a racial essence, either called whiteness or blackness. I haven't seen Asian-ness, but I think that might be down the pike. And then you can essentially layer on top of that a series of racial stereotypes. Our attorneys are confident that these racial stereotypes, if they are harmful, can actually be violations of the Civil Rights Act. The critical race theorists also, I think, in many of the training sessions where they're actively hostile to people, forcing them to apologize, conducting struggle session-style training programs, create a hostile working environment, that's another avenue for legal action.

Christopher Rufo:

And then finally, a lot of the institutions, I've reported on more than 10 now, are actually hosting racially segregated training and educational programs. A whites-only spaces, a blacks-only space, a kind of POC space for a smorgasbord of other non-white, non-black identities. This too, I think, is a kind of blatant violation of the law. We have three lawsuits that are going through the courts, we're going to be filing another one in the coming weeks, and we're going to test it. I'd love to get John's perspective; my sense is that this is all so new that it hasn't had a chance to work its way up the courts, and I'm very optimistic and excited to see, eventually, where the courts come down on these issues.

John Yoo:

I think that these cases have a good chance. I'm all for them, I think chris is right that courts haven't really dealt with this yet, so it's hard to say the courts will reject them or accept them. It seems to me that school districts or state agencies or governments that use training programs where people are segregated or distinguished by race is going to have hard sledding in the courts. Constitution just says the government is not allowed to act according to race. If it uses race in any way to favor or disfavor anybody, I think that's unconstitutional.

John Yoo:

The curriculum is a harder question. Whether critical race theory itself is unconstitutional to teach in the schools, I don't think the federal constitution, the free speech or Fourteenth Amendment would intervene and say particular curriculum is constitutional or unconstitutional. I think these lawsuits have the best chance of success if they proceed under their own state constitutions. A lot of state constitutions have a provision that talks about or grants a right to a public education. Sometimes they grant rights to something like a free public education, and so courts in those states can interpret, try to recover the meaning of what a public education is, and to say, well, for example, a political party couldn't take over a state in an election and just require that the Republican party principles or Democratic party principles are taught in school. I think most people agree that would be unconstitutional, at least under state constitutions.

John Yoo:

You could argue that presenting critical race theory in a sort of unquestioned or universalist way violates that right to an education. But I agree, these cases are so new, there really isn't any prominent case law. Which means, actually, that the lawsuits really ought to be brought, to see whether the courts will try to supervise and stop the use of ideological means to achieve these ends in the schools.

Coleman Hughes:

Okay, so a question from Freida, and this one's for Chris: "Have you ever spoken to those who are required to take this CRT training? Is there some level of backlash or hidden resentment or anger at being forced to attend these trainings?"

Christopher Rufo:

Yeah, absolutely, Freida. I've spoken with hundreds of people in my reporting that have attended these trainings and leaked documents to me and assisted me in finding out what's happening within the institutions. Absolutely, there's fear, there's resentment, there's division. I've heard from hundreds of people that these training programs that, on the surface, seek to celebrate diversity and common purpose actually end up undermining that goal and creating a hostile working environment. The Department of Treasury, for example, has an office of diversity inclusion that was described to me as an internal intelligence service, bombarding employees daily with these kind of hard-left ideological messages, and then seeking to root out, shame and invalidate, and eventually chase out any employees with open conservative sentiments. The political offices, in a lot of ways, create a lot of division.

Christopher Rufo:

The other question is, I think an important question, not the most important question, but a corollary, is do these diversity and inclusion programs actually work? And the answer from the literature seems to be no; there was a Harvard professor that had studied 800 different organizations over a time span of 30 years, looking at their diversity training initiatives found that they offered no benefit, and some cases actually caused harm. I think that you have to really listen to people's experience and hopefully, in the coming years, provide them the kind of vocabulary and tools and practices and institutional support for them to resist and fight back against it.

Coleman Hughes:

One other thing I would add to this is that it's not only that these kind of training sessions create resentment among white people for feeling that the finger's being pointed at them constantly as racists. It's also, I've been in these training sessions and been very frustrated as a black person because of, A, the assumption that because I'm black, I would agree with everything that's being taught to me by the so-called diversity experts. And just the sense of being spoken for, right? This is one of the main ways critical race theory gets its moral legitimacy, is to say that there is a black point of view that most or all black people agree with, and the moral thing to do is just for everyone else to just get onboard with what we black people already know to be true.

Coleman Hughes:

Just poll after poll refutes this notion, right? Just the one example that's always at the front of my mind is only 20% of black people in American told Gallup they want less police in their neighborhood. 60% want the same amount, and another 20% want more police, right? But you ask a CRT perspective, and they'll say, well, black people want to defund the police. That's the whole implicit message, and that gives them an enormous semblance of moral legitimacy that makes it very difficult to argue against. It can be frustrating to be one of the people being spoken for, as well as one of the people being blamed in such contexts.

Coleman Hughes:

Okay, so let's get a question from John Syndel. This is for John: "Do you anticipate legal challenges to the teaching of critical race theory based on the Equal Protection Clause and/or federal and state non-discrimination statutes? If so, what are the prospects of success of such suits?"

Coleman Hughes:

Oh, I think you're muted.

John Yoo:

Oh, sorry. Yeah, I don't think that a case that claimed the teaching of critical race theory or any subject or set of values is going to violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Instead, what I think the vulnerability is how it's done. In fact, Coleman, as you just suggested, actually, one of the problems with critical race theory is that, at the one hand, it argues that minorities were historically excluded and treated poorly. But at the same time, critical race theory often stereotypes those very same minorities and doesn't understand the full diversity and individuality of people of all different races.

John Yoo:

If a school district or a government tries to intervene not just in the selection of subjects as to what's to be taught but who's to teach them ... so for example, one part of critical race theory is only authentic minorities, sometimes, are seen as the people who can write about critical race theory. As I mentioned, I mentioned an Asian-American scholar who was heavily criticized by other Asian-Americans for being inauthentic, in a way, for his writing.

John Yoo:

So if it came to school districts saying, well, we're going to favor teachers from certain races or books written by people of certain races, because those are really the only authentic minorities, I think that would definitely give rise to Fourteenth Amendment problems. The other, and I think this is more of a stretch, but again, my example of could a school district or a state government say we're only going to teach this political party's views? I do think that, at some point, there could be a claim that what the government's doing violates the First Amendment, but that's a real stretch. When it comes to schools and what they teach, the courts have been relatively deferential. But you can imagine some very extreme cases where states would not be allowed to use the schools as ideological training grounds. The provision I would think that courts might look to would be the First Amendment in some way.

Coleman Hughes:

Okay, so a question from Vicky Manning: "I'm a mom of two high schools students and a school board member fighting against critical race theory in my district. When I speak against it, I'm called a racist. I fear the constant white privilege, white supremacist narrative is causing racial division. I'm advocating for school choice, but what more can we do as parents?"

Christopher Rufo:

Yeah, I'll take that. Well, first of all, thanks for pushing back. I think that we're in this strange place where ... I've seen articles recently that square-dancing, logic, rationality, math, I think today was organic food, are all manifestations of white supremacy. We've reached to a point of kind of white supremacy ad absurdum, where anything that the political left and media don't like, they label white supremacist because frankly, it's a very powerful word, representing a very evil ideology that achieves political aims of intimidating people.

Christopher Rufo:

I think, first of all, have the courage to stand up. You're going to be labeled and harassed and slandered; you have to break through that and stand strong. Second, I think that the success stories that I've seen are always establishing usually a multiracial coalition of people. It's very easy to say, oh, well, look at Susie over there, she's the one person we can marginalize, we can insult, we can intimidate, we can shut down. It's a lot harder to shut down a group of five or eight or 10 families that are actually saying, "We care about these issues, we represent a diversity of backgrounds and experiences. This ideology is wrong for our district for these reasons, and we propose a better way forward."

Christopher Rufo:

I know there are a number of groups that are going to be kind of popping up in the next couple months that are seeking to provide resources, that are seeking to kind of give you the arguments and form letters and knowledge and vocabulary in order to right back. But I always think that the number-one tip that I've gotten and seeing successful campaigns is always strength in numbers, it's always cobbling together a coalition of people that can't be dismissed.

Coleman Hughes:

Okay, let's go to a question from Heather. "Have any of you researched of the role of the National Association of Independent Schools, NAIS, in promoting critical race theory ideology in the private school sector? Their annual People of Color Conference and other materials they publish are heavily CRT-based." This is actually something I know about firsthand, because I attended the annual People of Color Conference when I was 16 years old, my private school sent me off to this conference, Heather. And that's where I first the concepts of white privilege, internalized oppression.

Coleman Hughes:

It was a two- or three-day workshop which indoctrinated something like 1,000 high school students from across the country, and many of the kids there were gay and struggling with their identity and from places that were less tolerant. So there was a very spiritual sense to the whole event, but there was also this very doctrinaire, don't ask questions, learn about intersectionality, but in the kind of environment you just can't challenge anything.

Coleman Hughes:

And then everyone brings those ideas back to their respective schools, so I think you're right to point to this as something that's been going on for decades, but a sort of yearly way in which critical race theory has been, the tendrils of critical race theory have been spreading throughout the nation.

Coleman Hughes:

Okay, so because there are so many questions in the chat about what parents can do, can we just, let's just end by giving parents one or two action items to do right now, a website to visit or something that they can follow or support or donate to, just so we can sort of give people something to do the moment that this stream ends.

Christopher Rufo:

I guess I'll go first. One thing that I found to be really persuasive is to provide specific examples. There are a lot of examples I have in my reporting at City Journal, City-Journal.org, you can look up my author archive. To show people exactly what it means, because in the abstract, critical race theory has, I think, a good brand. It's saying, hey, we need to take race into account in how we look at society and institutions. I agree with that, that seems great, but let's look at it actually in practice in concrete terms.

Christopher Rufo:

And the more specific examples of what happens when you institute these programs in many cases, I think, persuades people. It puts the other side on the defensive, it puts people in a position where they have to justify this, and I think that's tremendously helpful. John, maybe you have some other resources to share?

John Yoo:

I don't know if I have resources. I'm on the board of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is a Libertarian public interest group, and they have, I think, done a very strong job in challenging the end of meritocratic methods for choosing students for K-through-12 magnet schools and efforts by school districts to use race. I think they might well be interested in cases where school districts go the next step and start trying to require critical race theory teaching or principles, especially when it comes to the selection or promotion of teachers and books and so on.

John Yoo:

So I'd recommend people look at the Pacific Legal Foundation. And there are a few other groups, like the Institute for Justice. Each region actually has a sort of similar Libertarian legal foundation that you could look that could help talk through whether it makes sense to bring a lawsuit or to organize as a way to make sure that CRT doesn't seep into the classroom.

Christopher Rufo:

And just to add to John's point, anyone listening that has either an experience they want to share that might be good for my reporting, or an experience to share that they might need to talk to an attorney, we do have a network of volunteer lawyers and law firms, so anyone can reach out to me directly. My email is just ChrisRufo@protonmail.com. There's a lot of email traffic, I can't get back to everyone, but certainly, if you have a direct experience and you need to either leak documents that are so outrageous they must be reported or have a potential case, just contact me directly.

Coleman Hughes:

All right. With that, I would like to thank Chris and John for joining us today for this important discussion, and thanks so much to our audience today for tuning in. Of course, if you like what you saw, I invite you to subscribe to receive the latest updates and research from Manhattan Institute and follow the Manhattan Institute on Twitter. You will find the link to subscribe in the chat. Thank you so much for tuning in with us today.

John Yoo:

Thank you.

Christopher Rufo:

Thank you.

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