Critical Race Theory: Longread Explainer

by Julia Butch

Critical race theory examines the systematic, cultural, and implicit biases that continually manifest in society. Theorists argue that racism is exacerbated intentionally via ill-intentioned policies and power structures. In other words, racism doesn’t just appear out of thin air, but is maintained by ignorance, denial, and refusal to right the wrongs of the past. Most importantly, though, critical race theorists often take issue with mainstream liberalism, arguing that it is not radical enough to break down systemic racism. Some argue against incremental policy change, favoring more extreme measures to end inequality such as riots.

Those on the other side of this debate believe that a policy-centric approach is key to eliminating inequality and disagree with the notion of mandated privilege-admission. Those against critical race theory sometimes deny the notion of white privilege, arguing that capitalism gives everyone a fair shot, regardless of race. They also believe that “wokeness” and radical policies/programs have negative impacts and can worsen problems. Instead, they advocate for changes in healthcare, education, and economics, which they believe could lead to a more equitable society [without resorting to affirmative action, etc…]. While they sometimes agree that false power structures exist, they advocate against measures of extremity, erring on the side of legislation.

What are the key issues in this debate?

White Privilege

This concept is at the core of critical race theory. While some argue that society offers everyone the same opportunities, others argue that white folks access invisible tools and power, making it easier for them to prosper. This, they argue, helps maintain white power structures.

A. “It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.” - Tal Fortgang

In his article for the Times, Tal Fortgang argues that he will never apologize for his white privilege because it is not a legitimate concept. He believes that in US society, everyone has the same opportunities regardless of race, and people should instead focus on individual stories. He suggests that there is discrimination in every family’s history and it cannot always be seen via skin color. Moreover, he sees the concept as unproductive, and believes that it causes more divisiveness. He ends with, “I have checked my privilege. And I apologize for nothing.”

B. “What is white privilege? It’s the level of societal advantage that comes with being seen as the norm in America, automatically conferred irrespective of wealth, gender or other factors. It makes life smoother, but it’s something you would barely notice unless it were suddenly taken away — or unless it had never applied to you in the first place.” - Christine Emba

Emba argues that it is difficult for white people to understand what privilege they have because it has been granted to them throughout their lives. Without the acknowledgment, she argues, it is difficult to eliminate unearned power and racially-charged benefits. She says that “while the term can be used to silence, that’s more the fault of a rude terminology-wielder than of the concept itself.”

Wokeness & Progressive Policies

Many companies, both private and federal, enforce “woke” policies such as racial sensitivity training. While the results are often unmeasured, many argue for its effectiveness, and many argue that it fails every time.

A. “The days of taxpayer funded indoctrination trainings that sow division and racism are over. Under the direction of @POTUS we are directing agencies to halt critical race theory trainings immediately.” - Russ Vought

Here, Vought is applauding the president for directing federal agencies to end critical race theory and racial sensitivity training that addresses white privilege. He argues that CRT programs themselves were wrought with racism and bias, and they emboldened racial divides instead of mending them. This speaks to the broader argument that CRT is counterintuitive.

B. “Whatever the Commander-in-Chief’s skewed ideas — which are often fueled by conservative propaganda — racial sensitivity training is actually meant to bring awareness to race issues and prevent discrimination in the workplace. In fact, inclusion training began during the Civil Rights Movement, and it hasn’t been limited to the United States.” - Sonia Weglinski

Weglinski argues that progressive policies to inform people of their implicit biases are important and effective. She says “If we feel threatened by the truth, then the problem lies within us, not the information.” Sounds like Vaught.


The CRT movement believes in awareness of privilege and they believe in breaking it down. Those on the other side of the argument feel that CRT assumptions that all white people are benefiting from white privilege are baseless. As a society, should we continue to blindly promote wokeness and advocate for critical race theory in academia/workplace? Should we start listening to those who argue that mandated privilege-acknowledgment fuels racial divides? Or, should we start collecting more data on the impacts, and acknowledge both the pros and cons of critical theory manifestations? The problem is, not many people are willing to step into the gray area.

This page was last edited on Monday, 28 Dec 2020 at 13:24 UTC