Want to Discuss Critical Race Theory? Start By Making it Easier to Vote

angry man

There is lots of outrage from the political right these days over critical race theory, or at least over popular conservative characterizations of critical race theory. I'm not sure I believe this is much more than a clever strategy by a handful of conservative media elites to rile up their largely uninformed base (not unlike their war on Christmas), but I'll play along and imagine that many conservatives really are outraged about this and want to limit its reach.

The deal I'd offer such conservatives would be something like this:

If you'd be willing to do one thing for me in exchange, I'd be willing to discuss critical race theory with you, doing more listening than talking. I'd try as hard as I could to understand your perspective on the subject. Assuming you convinced me that it was the sort of problem you seem to think it is, I'd then work with you toward limiting its influence and whatever else we agreed was an appropriate way to address it.

I can't promise that you will convince me. I haven't heard your arguments yet, and some of what I have heard about critical race theory from some of your thought leaders makes me suspect that at least some of them have little idea what it is. All I can promise is that I will engage with an open mind. And given my reaction to the online diversity trainings I have been required to complete by my employer, you might find me a bit more receptive than you expect.

But what is the one thing I'd want in return? That's simple. You know how the politicians you keep electing are working so hard to restrict voting rights by making it more difficult for black and brown people to vote? You need to put an immediate end to that and reverse these efforts so they are instead aimed at making it easier for everyone to vote. That's what I'd want in return. Why? I think I'd have a difficult time having a good faith conversation about how there is no such thing as systemic racism (one of the central pillars of critical race theory) with someone who was electing people who were engaged in such a blatant form of it. We'd need to remove that obstacle first.

While restricting voting rights in a way that disproportionately impacts black and brown people is just one of many examples of contemporary systemic racism taking place in the U.S., I am picking it for two reasons. First, it strikes me as being as antithetical to democracy as anything else I can imagine. Someone pursuing such tactics may claim to value democracy, but they do not. Second, I think you'll have a much easier time reversing restrictions on voting rights than something like pervasive racism in the criminal justice system, income inequality, or just about any other example of systemic racism. Thus, I selected the easiest thing I could think of that you can change to make it more likely that we can have this conversation.

How dare I put strings on my willingness to allow you to try to win me over to your views on critical race theory! You are certainly free to look at it that way if you'd prefer. Perhaps you are confident that you already have more allies than you need. But from where I'm sitting, critical race theory has gained enough traction that it is unlikely to go away anytime soon. At least, not until after it claims your own children.