By Craig J. Cantoni
The fatuous thinking behind critical race theory and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The recent Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament showed that CRT and DEI are not passing fads.
The tournament was held in Torrey Pines, California, overlooking the ocean. The winner, a Frenchman, took home $1.62 million of the $9 million purse.
Near the end of the tournament, as the leaders were playing the final holes, the coverage on CBS was interrupted for a course-side interview with a Farmers executive. I cringed because I knew what was coming: The executive was either going to blather about what the company was doing for the poor or what it was doing to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It turned out to be the latter. The executive was the top diversity officer for the company. He was Black, of course. The rehearsed script was replete with tokenism, pandering, and shopworn corporate virtue signaling.
It’s the same way with the hundreds of commercials, ads, news stories, and human-interest stories that Americans see every day on TV, on social media, in newspapers, and other publications. The stilted repetition makes one yearn for the state news programs on Soviet TV, where party hacks with bad haircuts and ill-fitting suits regurgitated the party line.
Having been steeped in sophomoric and even childish notions and nostrums about race and social justice, younger employees of American corporations now demand such hollow displays. So do many customers of the corporations.
Executives in those corporations gleefully go along, especially those executives who graduated from the Ivy League, where they were subjected to a lobotomy—not the ice pick through an eye socket, as was done to the mentally ill in the early twentieth century; but a surreptitious method in which normal human inquisitiveness, skepticism, common sense, and reason are silently and painlessly replaced with a bovine herding instinct.
How did the US get to this point? How did it regress to a level of mass obedience and groupthink not seen since the Chinese Cultural Revolution?
The Identity Trap
It’s beyond the scope of this essay to give a detailed history, but suffice it to say that a series of maladjusted postmodern intellectuals led the way. The following book explains how they captured academe and other institutions, reveals the many fallacies and contradictions in their thinking, and describes the damage they’ve done to the social fabric:
The Identity Trap, by Yascha Mounk, 2023, Penguin Press, New York, 401 pages.
The book is scholarly, nonpartisan, balanced, and written by an author who believes in classical liberalism, pluralism, free speech, reason, and the universality of human nature. In other words, he is the opposite of the illiberal zealots behind CRT and DEI.
The damage done by the zealots includes the fragmentation of society and politics into competing identity groups based on race, ethnicity, skin color, disability, body shape and size, gender, sexual preference, and disability. BIPOC people (Black, indigenous, people of color) rank high in status, especially if they claim that their ancestors were victims of slavery, genocide, colonialism, and imperialism. Naturally, only the oppression committed by so-called White people counts; not the oppression committed throughout human history by non-White people.
One of the most glaring examples of the double standard is how the millions of Americans categorized as Hispanic are treated under DEI. Not only are they considered people of color and disadvantaged minorities—even though many are quite white and quite wealthy–they also escape from being tarnished with the legacies of slavery, although many have distant Spanish and Portuguese ancestors who carried on a brutal slave trade in Latin America that surpassed in numbers the slave trade conducted by the English and Dutch in North America.
As a result of the double standard, a Mexican American named Rodriguez, whose aristocratic ancestors owned slaves in Mexico, would not be tagged with the epithets “oppressor” and “privileged.” But a working-class Italian American named Gianinni would be tagged with the epithets, even though his ancestors were peasants in Italy and never owned slaves.
The concept of intersectionality is a key component of CRT and DEI. Under this concept, those with more than one disadvantage rank the highest in status in the hierarchy of oppression. For example, high status is given to an overweight Black female, because she suffers from the legacies of slavery, from the body shaming that comes with obesity, and from being female in a patriarchal society. If she were lesbian or transgender, she would rank even higher.
Intersectionality demands that those who are victims of certain disadvantages and injustices fight on behalf of not only people like themselves but also people who are victims of different disadvantages and injustices. Thus, a fit and trim gay White man should fight on behalf of the foregoing Black woman.
In this schema, Whites are the dregs of society, especially if they are cisgender and heterosexual because they hold all of the power and privilege and are responsible for the harm done to everyone else. They have left a legacy of structural, or institutional, racism that keeps them at the top in power, wealth, education, housing, and access to healthcare.
The Explosion in Racism
The drip, drip, drip of brainwashing about the extent of racism in America has turned into a torrent. According to The Identity Trap, the appearance of the word “racist” in the New York Times increased by a whopping 700 percent between 2011 and 2019. The increase was 1,000 percent in the Washington Post. In the same newspapers, there was a tenfold to twelvefold increase in references to systemic racism, structural racism, institutional racism, and white privilege.
A bovine herding instinct, for sure.
Two best-selling authors, Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi, are more recent conveyors of such agitprop, so this essay will focus on them. Let’s begin with DiAngelo and turn later to Kendi.
DiAngelo was born in 1956, supposedly in poverty, in San Jose, California, a city where Blacks make up 3% of the population. She is a former professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University in Westfield, Mass, a city where Blacks make up 1.5% of the population. Currently, she is an affiliate associate professor of education at the University of Washington in Seattle, where Blacks make up 6.7% of the population.
Her best-selling book was published in 2018: White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism.
As you will notice in this essay, I don’t find it hard at all to talk about racism.
The book has a similar theme to a paper titled “White Fragility” that she published in 2011 in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy. An excerpt:
White people in the U.S. and other white settler colonialist societies live in a racially insular social environment. This insulation builds our expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering our stamina for enduring racial stress. I term this lack of racial stamina White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimal challenge to the white position becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves including argumentation, invalidation, silence, withdrawal, and claims of being attacked and misunderstood. These moves function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and maintain control.
She also believes that all White people are racist, and that denying this truth is proof of their racism. This is not only a non-falsifiable hypothesis but also a Catch-22.
Incidentally, DiAngelo is White.
She has a lucrative consulting and training business. Clients have included such major corporations as Coca-Cola, Amazon, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, American Express, and CVS.
Her training program for Coca-Cola included a segment on how employees should try to be less White, meaning that they should be “less oppressive,” “less arrogant,” “less certain,” “less defensive,” and “less ignorant.”
That would be the same Coca-Cola that sells soda and other high-calorie products to BIPOC communities afflicted with obesity and diabetes.
DiAngelo must believe that the converse is true: that non-Whites are never oppressive, arrogant, certain, defensive, and ignorant. She has never heard of such historical figures as Genghis Kahn, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Kim II Sung, Ibn Saud, Porfirio Díaz, Saddam Hussein, and Comanche Chieftain Peta Nocona.
The most authentic way for me to debunk DiAngelo is to compare my life experience with hers. I’m not particularly virtuous, so please don’t take my comments as virtue-signaling. Moreover, my experience is not unique. There are millions of Americans of my skin shade and lighter who have similar experiences, and who, contrary to DiAngelo’s unfounded generalizations, don’t live in a racially insulated social environment and are not inherently racist. And let’s not forget those Whites who risked their safety and even lives in marching in solidarity with Blacks in Selma and other segregated towns during the civil rights movement.
If you are not interested in my experiences and how they relate to the subject at hand, you can skip the next section without much loss of meaning.
Torrey Pines, the site of the Farmers golf tournament, is far in miles, conditions, and money from my working-class boyhood home of St. Louis, a city where Blacks make up a significantly higher percent of the population than in Torrey Pines or where DiAngelo has taught. Torrey Pines is also far from the coal mines of southern Illinois, where my fraternal grandfather had worked upon emigrating from Italy, alongside other poor and unskilled ethnic immigrants as well as African Americans. Grandpa would die of emphysema, no doubt from inhaling coal dust.
My dad was born in the impoverished coal mining town of Tilden, Illinois, just a few years before the passage of the 1923 Immigration Act. The act was intended to stem the flow of undesirable immigrants, especially Italians and other southern Europeans, who were considered non-White at the time and for decades thereafter. Dad became a nonunion tile setter in St. Louis. My mom, who was orphaned as a toddler, was raised in St. Louis by her aunt and uncle, both poor immigrants. She worked in clerical jobs for most of her adult life.
At the age of sixteen, I worked at an exclusive country club in a St. Louis suburb, a club where Jews, Italians, and Blacks weren’t welcome as members. Since I’m ten years older than DiAngelo, she was six years old at the time.
I was the only White (actually olive) on an otherwise all-black clubhouse crew of janitors, porters, cooks, dishwashers, and waiters. The waiters were at the top of the pecking order and had learned their craft on Pullman railroad cars. I would wash and wax their big Buicks and Pontiacs on my off hours for extra money. My coworkers would invite me to their family picnics in the main park in St. Louis, Forest Park, where they made sumptuous barbequed ribs.
On the first day on the job, my boss, a man named Jewel, told me to clean the employee restroom in the dank basement of the clubhouse. It hadn’t been cleaned in years. Even at a young age, I understood that I was being tested.
As I was finishing the job and the restroom was gleaming, a dishwasher who was a former prizefighter and an alcoholic, staggered into the restroom, proceeded to pee on the floor, and commanded, “Clean it up, whitey.” At that moment, a young, strapping coworker was walking by and overheard the dishwasher. As quick as a cheetah, he leaped into the restroom, shoved the dishwasher against the wall, and said, “You clean it up, motherfucker.” Not wanting the dishwasher to later take it out on me, I said that I’d clean it up.
I learned a valuable lesson: That good and bad people come in all colors.
Does that sound like a racially insular social environment? Well, it wasn’t the faculty lounge at Westfield State University.
I went on to get two degrees at a university in south Texas, where Mexicans were about a third of the student body. They referred to themselves as Mexican back then and not Hispanic, Latino, or Latinx. Nor did they refer to themselves as oppressed, disadvantaged, or minorities.
My Mexican friends jokingly called me “Capone,” in reference to the Italian gangster Al Capone. I would retort by referring to them as “bandido.” Those who were in ROTC with me were very patriotic and gung-ho.
No one got hung up on speech codes, safe spaces, or cultural appropriation. We all saw ourselves in the same way: as students of modest means trying to get ahead by working our way through college and not being drafted into the Vietnam War before getting our degree and officer commission.
I experienced additional cultural diversity by living in a barrio for five years. A neighbor in the adjoining duplex was a kindhearted friend. She also was a stripper with the stage name Candy Kisses.
My car was stolen one night, and its mag wheels were stolen another night. Gunfire would often awaken me in the middle of the night, and I once got caught in the middle of a gunfight between gangbangers.
From the barrio, I went on to a stint in the integrated Army as an artillery officer. After that, I began my corporate career in the Chicago Loop while also being an officer in an Army Reserve unit in a high-crime neighborhood of South Chicago, where the commanding officer, first sergeant, and most of the enlisted personnel were Black.
Over my career, I was the vanguard of equal rights, equal opportunity, outreach, and the teaching of what it is like to be a minority in a workplace, but teaching that didn’t dwell on race, didn’t inject politics into the subject, and certainly didn’t praise non-Whites while denigrating Whites.
I also voluntarily attended what was known as T-group, or sensitivity training, where the participants leveled with each other about race, gender, and other hot-button issues. One of the programs was held at a lodge in rural Maine and led by two black women who were corporate consultants. One evening, after the day’s session was over, they invited me to go along with them in their big Mercedes to buy beer at a convenience store and park in the woods to drink it. We had a great time ridiculing the absurdities of corporate life and the uptight, officious, out-of-touch executives who took themselves too seriously.
When my management book was published nine years later, I started my own consultancy to help executives and owners of private companies turn around their struggling businesses. I am now retired in diverse Tucson and am blessed with a wonderful extended family—a multiracial one, at that.
DiAngelo would probably call me a racist for saying this, but, given my life experience, I think that her schtick about race is hogwash. If I were still in corporate life and had to attend one of her training programs, I’d face a Hobson’s choice: either smile and nod my head in agreement with her hogwash, or disagree and destroy my career.
It’s sad to realize that thousands of Americans have to make this choice when they are subjected to such doctrinaire programs, not only in corporations but also in government and nonprofits.
Speaking of doctrinaire, let’s turn to Ibram X. Kendi.
Ibram X. Kendi
Ibram X. Kendi would probably see me as a dumbass and a racist. If you recall, he is another best-selling author and is considered in many quarters as a renowned expert on race.
He was born into a middle-class family in New York City, where he attended private Christian schools from third grade to eighth grade. His parents then moved to Manassas, Virginia, where he finished high school. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in African-American Studies at Florida A&M University. He then earned a master’s and PhD in African-American Studies at Temple University.
In addition to writing six books, Kendi founded the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University, where he serves as director.
Other than skin color, he has very little in common with Blacks who live in the slums of inner-city St. Louis—just as Vladimir Lenin, with his bourgeois upbringing, had very little in common with the proletariat.
Why would Kendi see me as a dumbass and a racist? Because of my belief that the battles that I and others fought for equal rights and equal opportunity not only have resulted in positive improvements but also have given us a pass from being labeled as a racist.
As Kendi stated in his book, How to Be an Antiracist, one is either a racist or an antiracist. There is no in-between. In his thinking, being an antiracist requires taking action to close the gap between Whites and Blacks in income, education, and other measure.
But he doesn’t mean the kind of actions that I (and others) took in corporate life, such as offering a company-paid literacy program to illiterate Black employees in a factory in the Deep South, so they could operate new computer-controlled equipment in the plant and make more money. (All of them went through the after-hours program and beamed with pride at the graduation ceremony attended by their families.)
According to Kendi, antiracism means tearing down the institutions and practices that he sees as the root causes of racial disparities, such as capitalism, the use of SAT scores in college admissions, and even the US Constitution. Failing to do so puts someone on a par with the slave traders and segregationists who claimed they were not racist.
In a similar vein, Kendi takes issue with the old civil rights goal of a colorblind society. Colorblind policies, he says, are a mask to hide racism and a way of maintaining structural disadvantages for Blacks and supremacy for Whites.
Kendi believes that racism explains all of the disparities between Whites and Blacks. He’s right, but only in the sense that the root cause of the disparities is the horrible racism of slavery. If it were not for slavery, there would not have been the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, separate but equal, redlining, the civil rights movement, the Great Society, and welfare dependency and its aftermath of fatherless families.
The cause of the disparities, then, is the original sin of slavery, coupled with some remaining legacies of slavery. However, contrary to what Kendi espouses, the cause is not capitalism, SAT scores, the Constitution as amended, or colorblind laws, programs, and institutions.
So why does he espouse eliminating these faux causes?
Although I’ve read Kendi’s book and some of his other writings, his logic escapes me. To hazard a guess, he is philosophically opposed to classical liberalism and might even have Marxist tendencies. Or his motive might be revenge against perceived racists, a revenge that he believes cannot be fully realized under a constitutional republic and a market economy.
More than likely, the correct answer is that Kendi wants to do whatever it takes for Blacks to achieve in short order his view of equity and fairness, even if it means that Blacks have to mistreat Whites and others the same way that Blacks have historically been mistreated. At the same time, he probably thinks that he speaks for all blacks and that they share his philosophy and tactics.
In any case, it’s frightening to think of the divisiveness, backlash, and coercion that would occur if Kendi were to get his way.
A Closing Question: Am I a Racist?
Am I a racist? DiAngelo and Kendi would say yes.
I say that it depends on the definition of “racist.” My definition is that a racist is someone who believes that a given race, as a matter of genetic makeup, is inherently deficient in intelligence, morals, industriousness, or some other positive characteristic.
I don’t believe that about any race, or for that matter, any ethnicity or nationality. Admittedly, however, I do dislike certain groups and kinds of people, who, for reasons of culture or bad upbringing, have one or more of the following character traits: criminality, closemindedness, dogmatism, racism, authoritarianism, dishonesty, or greed.
To take an example, I dislike Italians who are members of the Sicilian Mob, or Costa Nostra, or Mafia. I don’t want to associate with them, live next to them, or work with them. I say this even with knowing the historical reasons for their thuggish culture: the centuries of Sicily being conquered, the corrupt Sicilian governments, the injustices and oppression suffered by the peasants, and the hardscrabble existence on the rocky island.
Other cultures are also not likable, especially those that treat women like chattel property. To save myself grief, I won’t name them here.
How about DiAngelo and Kendi? Are they likable? Let me answer this way: They seem to believe that White people are inherently racist. That would make them racist, and racists are not likable.
As we move through 2023 and into the next election cycle, The Prickly Pear will resume Take Action recommendations and information.