Little Buttercup and Critical Race Theory

Anytime someone praises Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a valuable interpretation of racism in America, it reminds me of a scene from the comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore. It’s when Little Buttercup sings, “things are seldom what they seem; skim milk masquerades as cream.”

Buttercup would urge us to think critically about the masquerade of insinuations and stereotypes at the heart of Critical Race Theory. The theory combines an alleged homogeneity of vast racial groups with their demonstrable internal diversity. The ideology of CRT uses the lens of race as all-determinant of human thought and action.

One definition of racism is when someone looks at another person, notices his skin color or physique, and from that visual information attributes to him positive or negative characteristics without the person doing anything else. Although scientists have long repudiated race essentialism, critical race theorists frame American history as a 500-year, one-dimensional struggle of races pitted endlessly against each other, with people of color as victims and whites as oppressors. Their accusations are obviously race-based, but CRT’s adherents insist they’re antiracists. Their authoritarian dogma allows no debate or skepticism.

Historians constantly revise their perspectives. In 1891, historian Frederick Jackson Turner observed that “each age writes the history of the past anew, with reference to conditions uppermost in its own time.”

CRT pretends to advance a revisionist history. In fact, it’s a product of the last 50 years of quasi-Marxist writings that grew especially virulent after the violent upheavals following the death of George Floyd. In our hyper-partisan political climate, critical race theorists promote divisiveness and intolerance through doublespeak, calling color-blindness a form of racism, for example.

Ibram X. Kendi, a leading CRT proponent, defines an antiracist as someone who “sees all cultures in all of their differences as on the same level as equals.” His book, How to Be an Antiracist, lumps Americans into ethnic and racial stereotypes. CRT despises so-called “white culture.” Values like punctuality, equality under the law, freedom of belief, individual effort, meritocracy, free speech, and logic are condemned as the oppressive bases for white privilege.

Kendi admits, “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” This requires  equal group outcomes in employment specialties, government contracts, and university admissions and graduate rates. CRT calls this “equity,” another euphemism for race preferences and gender double standards.

Buttercup would spot the sophistry of that contradiction.

Critical race theorists consider skin color as destiny. They perpetuate colonialist ideas that people of a certain pigment think, behave, and fulfill stereotypes one way, while other racial groups do so in other ways.

Louis Farrakhan accepts such retrograde superstitions; so did German Nazis and American Klansmen. As a historian of Africa, I’m shocked to see K-12 teachers, school board members, and parents embrace the same racist quackery that, until recently, was official policy in apartheid South Africa.

Kendi acknowledges multiple cultural, social-class, and ideological diversities found among America’s 35 million black citizens. He devotes a chapter to skin-color prejudices and discriminatory behavior within black communities. As a graduate student at Howard University, I saw first-hand what Alice Walker called “colorism.”

Critical race theorists detest black scholars like John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes, and Shelby Steele who reject CRT’s divisive, illiberal core. The polymath Albert Murray described American culture as “patently and irrevocably composite.” In his classic study, The Omni-Americans, Murray concluded that “for all their traditional antagonisms and an obvious differences, the so-called black and so-called white people of the United States resemble nobody else in the world so much as they resemble each other.” Murray defies the rigid racial narrative of CRT, hence his views are taboo.

The economist Glenn Loury calls “institutional racism” an empty rhetorical phrase that explains nothing. He scorns white privilege and white supremacy as slogans that “assert shadowy causes never fully specified.”

Given its race stereotypes, historic group guilt, and narrow view of our country’s past, CRT should be ridiculed, not valorized. Its proponents declare that not all opinions deserve respect. In open debates (“conversations”) about race and racism, whites are often instructed not to speak and make room for “authentic” marginalized voices. In other situations, whites are condemned because their “silence is violence.”

There are complex causes for today’s racial disparities in household incomes, criminal behavior, and educational achievement. Students should understand them through open discussions, civil discourse, and viewpoint diversity.

Instead, critical race theorists use indoctrination akin to religion to advance grievance activism, not historical understanding. Their contempt for America is all-pervasive. They distort the legal and social benefits of the civil rights movement but detect racism in everyday words, deeds, and images, affirming the scientific reminder, “what you see depends on what you’re looking for.”

When critical race theorists insist that 200 million white Americans have the primary power to create an antiracist America, they advance a twisted form of white supremacy. Loaded terms like “restorative justice,” “equity,” and “social-emotional learning” may appeal to progressive whites, especially those facing serious opposition from parents who deplore attempts to impose CRT on K-12 curricula. Critical race theorists concede that for their antiracism to triumph, capitalism must be destroyed.

Using racial stereotypes to advance the cause of antiracism, critical race theorists are playing what journalist Stanley Crouch mocked as “the all-American skin game.” Buttercup would nod, knowingly.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain


  • Charles Geshekter

    Charles Geshekter is an emeritus professor of African history at California State University, Chico. He is a three-time Fulbright Scholar and served as board chairman of the California Association of Scholars.

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3 thoughts on “Little Buttercup and Critical Race Theory

  1. It would be impossible for me to add anything relevant to Dr. Cheshekter’s all-encompassing observations.

  2. I wonder how long it will take the proponents of CRT to remove that third letter from CRT. The “T” ultimately has to go – because a mere theory will not pack the same punch over time as a certainty.
    But we do live in an era when mere theories play havoc in our lives, in all sorts of ways. As if we’ve managed to prove the unproven, just because we say we have. Which explains much of the rush to power at all costs.
    You have to admit though, that it’s a cute trick. Summarizing 200 million people of white complexion in America – along with the other roughly half a billion white-complexioned found elsewhere. All along the same stereotyped lines. Which used to be, by definition, a foundational and fundamental axis of racism itself.
    So when racism actually walks among us with impunity, and can remain practically invisible (for reasons that Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and Hitler would have understood, implicitly) we know that there is indeed, a very specific and particular practice that does in fact, prove that we have made no progress at all, at worst, and very little progress, at best.

  3. Kendi comments: “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” This is obviously a gloss on Orwell’s lines, in Nineteen Eighty-Four, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
    And that is precisely why the past is being rewritten before our very eyes.

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