(Critical) Social Justice and Ideological Totalism in South African Schools: A Brief Overview

Sara | Oct 08, 2021
Caiden Lang compares the teaching of Critical Race Theory to the processes of indoctrination or thought reform used by cults.

               “Everything was perfectly healthy and normal here in Denial Land.”

                   ― Harry Dresden (Jim Butcher, Cold Days)

Introduction

Under pressure from left-wing commentators and education bureaucrats , former Model C and private schools in South Africa are working hard to foster a school environment centred around 'diversity', 'inclusion', and 'equity'. On the face of it, these seem like laudable goals given our racially segregated and oppressive history. I am sure that everyone, barring actual racists, would agree that fostering environments free of discrimination and where everybody, regardless of their race, feels as though they belong, should be a priority. To this end, schools are rewriting policies, drafting transformation plans, introducing social justice curricula, hiring diversity consultants, and in many cases, forming committees whose job it is to make sure that all stakeholders commit themselves to the new set of rules laid out in the policies – and all of this under the moniker of 'social justice'. 

Being interested in ideas of social justice, I decided to read a book that was recommended by a few schools and diversity consultants. The book is called Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad (2018), who describes it as a "28-day truth-telling journey to guide people with white privilege to discover, examine, unpack and dismantle their inner white supremacy and their internalised racism."

This sounded like bold and important work. So, I picked up the book and started the journey of dismantling my white supremacy. A couple of pages in, I started to feel uncomfortable. And then, to my surprise, I was informed by the author that any discomfort I was feeling meant that her thesis was correct and that I needed to keep reading to understand the discomfort. The author was right. I continued reading and figured out the source of my discomfort. 

I think that the so-called 'anti-racism' movement is an ideology that all too often flirts with mind-manipulation techniques to recruit adherents - occasionally it hops straight into bed with them. Fortunately, being in those cases naked, 'anti-racism' ideology, with its promise of ecstatic release, is laid bare to outsiders who see her for what she is, a siren in a tumultuous sea of perceived injustice.

Me and White Supremacy is one such example of promiscuity. 

The book is full of clever little linguistic traps and attempts at emotional blackmail. Almost everything in the book is centred around emotion. I was told that not feeling what I was meant to be feeling (guilt for my complicity in a system of white supremacy) was proof that I was guilty of complicity. Convenient. A little too convenient, perhaps. And then, of course, there was work to be done. Always work to be done, dammit. Don't misunderstand me – one must strive to improve oneself at all times and all of that, but this seemed different. This was coercive. This was the language of non-thought wrapped up with a pretty bow.

This was an attempt to lure the reader into accepting an ideological worldview.

This looked a lot like brainwashing.

How could a school recommend a book like this to children? Have we lost our minds? Is ascribing collective guilt back in fashion? These were questions I kept asking myself as I turned the pages. And these are the questions I’d like to answer in this essay.

Answering these questions requires a broader look at what social justice means for South African schools. 

In this essay, I will show that the beliefs informing social justice at these schools seem a far cry from what one could call a liberal sense of social justice; that social justice as presently practised should more accurately be called critical social justice, which, regarding race relations, derives its first principles from Critical Race Theory (CRT), broadly speaking; and I make the case that far from fostering inclusion and diversity, CRT promotes a kind of race essentialism, fosters psychological fragility, is anti-intellectual, and is distinctly political. As such, social justice in its present form should be scrutinised more than it is at present by various stakeholders in our schools. 

Further, and perhaps more importantly, I will suggest that proponents of Critical Race Theory and its offshoot, 'anti-racism', employ unethical methods of influence to gain adherents to their worldview – methods that could reasonably be considered indoctrination to varying degrees of intensity. As such, CRT should be treated as a religion in that it should be taught about instead of affirmed as true, as is the case in many South African schools.

Having made the case, I will provide some thoughts on why such an illiberal conception of social justice has become the default theory in schools, and respond to common criticisms of the position I have taken in the essay. 

‘Me and White Supremacy’ as Ideological Totalism

“If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument could you provide to show the importance of logic?” – Sam Harris

“This is not an intellectual activity” – Layla Saad

Whether or not something counts as indoctrination often depends on whether or not you have been indoctrinated. 

In a conversation with Robert Cialdini, author of, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (1984), Michael Shermer jokingly mused that ‘nobody joins a cult.’ Shermer was crystalising an idea perhaps best expressed by Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World (1932).

“The nature of psychological compulsion is such that those who act under constraint remain under the impression that they are acting on their own initiative. The victim of mind-manipulation does not know that he is a victim. To him the walls of his prison are invisible, and he believes himself to be free. That he is not free is apparent only to other people. His servitude is strictly objective.” (Brave New World Revisited, 1958)

Me and White Supremacy is a book that ‘leads readers through a journey of understanding their white privilege and participation in white supremacy, so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on black, indigenous and people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.’ 

The book tries to achieve this aim by explaining certain concepts and invites the reader to answer a series of questions regarding their complicity in the system of white supremacy.

The author turns to Wikipedia for a definition of ‘white supremacy’, which is “… a racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races, and that therefore white people should be dominant over other races.”

She acknowledges that many white people are reluctant to admit that they fall into the category of ‘white supremacist’ because they believe that all people are created equal and should be treated as such. These people think that ‘white supremacy’ is a term used to describe a fringe group of white people. But, she explains: 

“What this workbook, which is a deep-diving self-reflection tool, will help you to realise however is that that isn’t true. White supremacy is an ideology, a paradigm, an institutional system, and a world view that you have been born into by virtue of your whiteness.”

The author’s argument is as follows: 

White supremacists believe that white people should be dominant over black people.

All white people are white supremacist

You are white,

Therefore, you believe that you should be dominant over black people.

If the premises are true, the argument is sound.  

It is obvious that the second premise is the one that requires evidence for its truth value. It is this premise that the author is going to help us ‘realise’ is true. 

Typically (ideally), when somebody presents an argument and tries to convince you that it is true, they will be engaging in an intellectual activity. They might provide data in the form of psychological studies, statistical evidence, scientific papers, or even rely on an a priori argument proving that their conclusion is necessarily true. 

Layla Saad does no such thing. She merely asserts that the above argument is true and relies on a plethora of manipulation techniques designed to convince the reader to accept them – manipulation techniques that bear a striking resemblance to what we might think of as indoctrination, brainwashing, or what Robert J. Lifton describes as ‘thought reform’. I would even go so far as to suggest that ‘anti-racism’, as Saad presents it, could be thought of as a cult, and as such, Me and White Supremacy should not, on moral grounds, be mandatory reading in any business or school. 

Before getting into specifics, I’ll offer a taster. The author categorises her audience as follows: 

“Lastly, there will be different categories of people who read this book:

There will be those who read this book because they want others to think they are a good white person.

There will be those who read this book because they genuinely want to do the work, but they tap out after a few days because it challenged them too much and required too much of them.

There will be those who will use this book to become better white supremacists - learning the lingo and the arguments, and then weaponising them against BIPOC to continue to build their ego, and maintain the status quo.

And then, there will be those who are really about this work. Who worked through the entire book, and will continue to use it as a tool to re-examine their complicity in white supremacy and how to dismantle it - both within themselves and in their communities.

You get to decide which category you belong to. You get to decide whether or not you become a good ancestor.”

 Notice how there is no category for people who disagree with her work. Presumably, those people are subsumed by those in the third category.

You don’t have to be a fishmonger to notice when something smells fishy. However, a fishmonger can tell you what species of fish you’re smelling. 

For that, I turn to Robert J. Lifton, one of the authorities on indoctrination. 

Thought Reform

In 1961, Robert J. Lifton, an American psychiatrist, published a book called Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China. 

Lifton sought to understand how Chinese communists were able to ‘brainwash’ American POWs during the Korean War, many of whom converted to communism, an ideology that under normal circumstances they would be opposed to. 

Lifton interviewed several American servicemen who were subjected to Chinese indoctrination, as well as fifteen Chinese students who had fled their homeland after experiencing similar indoctrination in Chinese universities. 

As a result of those interviews, Lifton wrote, “I wish to suggest a set of criteria against which any environment may be judged – a basis for answering the ever-recurring question: ‘Isn’t this just like brainwashing?”’. He goes on to say that, “The more clearly an environment expresses these eight psychological themes, the greater its resemblance to ideological totalism.”

Lifton’s eight conditions are:

1) Milieu Control – the control of behaviour and communication. 

2) Mystical Manipulation – behavioural and emotional manipulation that occurs in such a way as to appear to have arisen spontaneously.

3) Demand for Purity – arbitrary standards for purity are set and then guilt and shame are elicited by convincing a person that they fall short of these standards.

4) Cult of Confession – insistence that a person confess their sins and accept responsibility for them, thereby purifying themselves.

5) Sacred Science – the doctrine is presented as sacred and transcends ordinary reason and logic. Critical thinking is met with hostility and derision.

6) Loading the Language – the use of a unique and restrictive vocabulary that limits expression and subtly shapes the way a person interprets their manipulation.

7) Doctrine Over Person – a person’s experiences are processed through the group’s philosophy.

8) Dispensing of Existence – a sharp line is drawn between those who have a right to ‘exist’ and those who do not.

Over and above these eight conditions,

 “…the thought reform process, according to Lifton, revolves around two extremes of treatment and two demands – the alternation between assault and leniency (extremes of treatment), and the requirements of confession and re-education (demands). Physical and psychological assault is designed to bring about ego death, and leniency and confession are the means by which “rebirth” occurs. This process of death and rebirth is said to have profound effects on the person in question’s loyalties and beliefs, as well as his sense of being an individual and being part of a group.” (Hunter, p. 202)

Before I proceed, I offer the following caveat. I am not suggesting that anybody who reads the book will have undergone the same experience as did a POW during the Korean War. I am merely suggesting that in her attempt to make her white readers realise that they think they should be dominant over black people and should, therefore, participate in a lifelong process of anti-racism, Saad employs all but one of Lifton’s conditions of thought reform to varying degrees.

There is a big difference between an adult reading this book at home and a child being required to read and answer all the prompts at school and in a group setting. The former can easily decide to put the book down, whereas, for a school child, it's not that easy. Reasons for this might involve peer pressure as well as an assumption that whoever has been chosen to administer the workbook will have already subscribed to the ideology. Therefore, in the context of the discussion, I am assuming that the reader is a high school student whose school has made it mandatory to go through the workbook as part of a social justice curriculum.

Indoctrinating Johnny: A helpful guide

Johnny is a white high school student who arrives at school one day and is told that he and his white classmates will be working through a book called 'Me and White Supremacy'. 

The following is a guide for anybody interested in learning how to change somebody’s mind without offering any meaningful evidence. 

First, you must have complete belief in the truth of your doctrine. If you want Johnny to believe what you are asserting, you must believe it too. This is crucial and cannot be overstated. There can be no doubt in your mind that your message represents the truth about how the human race is to reach its utopia. Put another way, you need to be the opposite of those who couch what they say in intellectual humility. After all, if you are willing to doubt your position it must mean that you are not in possession of the Truth. You are without faith. 

One way to wipe doubt from your mind is to give God, or a higher power, the dishcloth. You must believe that you are merely a mouthpiece delivering the good news. As such, your doctrine should be presented as something sacred – something beyond the purview of conventional rationality or science. Your message is urgent, there is no point getting stuck in the meticulous weeds of logic and silly syllogisms. 

Layla provides some nice examples of unfettered certainty. Here she is explaining the inspiration for her work. 

“I’m working quickly and efficiently now. I can barely keep up with the prompts that are pouring through me from what I believe is God (or Spirit, or however you define Source) working through me.”

“I ask God for further direction. I listen for an answer.”

“I am simply following Divine directions.”

She tells us that the workbook is partly the result of “… a manifestation of a mystical experience that happened in the middle of the night on a full moon.”

In the acknowledgements, she says, "It is my belief and experience that this work was divinely channelled through me."

In addition to citing God as a reference, Saad describes her work as ‘Sacred Activism’, ‘spiritual shadow work’, and ‘soul work’. 

Channelling God/Source plays an additional role. When trying to help Johnny 'realise' that an ideology is true, he must be discouraged from asking questions. Basically, you need to convince Johnny that blind acceptance of your message is a feature and not a bug in your totalism machine. Mentioning God is a good start. Johnny happens to believe in God so you've probably convinced him already, but just in case, it is useful to explicitly discourage thinking. Your message is not about thinking, it is about feeling. 

Something like this would work nicely:

“I repeat this a lot in my work and it bears repeating again: This work is not an intellectual exercise or a mental thought experiment.”; 

“This is not an intellectual activity. It is a personal deep dive.”;

And finally, “It is work that is designed to get you to look at something you don’t want to look at – the way white supremacy manifests within you. Not as an intellectual concept, a thought experiment or a thing to do because you are ‘a good white person’. But something deeply personal and intimate.”

As an aside, another benefit of describing your work in that way absolves you of anything a reasonable person might consider logically fallacious or just downright confusing. It means people can overlook the fact that you define ‘people with white privilege’ as “… persons visually identifiable as white, white passing, or holding white privilege.” (My emphasis) 

Or claim that “You do this work because Love is not a verb to you, it is an action.”

Or indeed having to consider the fact that you have a chapter explaining that when white people try and help black people (including wanting to travel to Africa to help the poor) it is racist, without the intellectual awareness to consider that your entire book is about getting white people to be 'allies' of black people, with one possible way of achieving this being to donate money to an anti-racist organisation like Black Lives Matter.

Anyway, once you have sown the seeds of non-thought - harvested from the parent-crop in your head - you might want to begin to make Johnny ‘realise’ that the world is made up of evil people and good people and that if he wants to be a good person then he must believe everything you say. This serves a couple of ends. It fosters group solidarity, especially if you continually repeat that your doctrine serves a higher purpose; and it begins to distance Johnny from social circles who may present an obstacle to your message in that they might not agree with you. Just don’t lay this motif on too thick just yet. That will come later.  

Take a lesson from how Layla manages to manipulate Johnny into believing the us/them paradigm (sidenote – some people might call what you are doing ‘emotional blackmail’ but they would say that, wouldn’t they?):

“… if you are a person that believes in love, justice, integrity and equity for all people, then you know that this work is non-negotiable. If you are a person who wants to become a good ancestor (be on the right side of history), then you know that this is some of the most important work that you will be called to do in your lifetime.”

In other words, if you don’t do the work of anti-racism, you are someone who believes in hate, injustice, dishonesty and inequity for all people. Also, you are someone who wants to be on the wrong side of history.

In a similar paragraph, Layla explains why someone would want to ‘do this work’:

“…you do this work because you believe in something greater than your own self-gain. It means you do this work because you believe that every human being deserves dignity, freedom, and equality. It means you do this work because you desire wholeness for yourself and for the world. It means you do this work because you want to become a good ancestor. It means you do this work because Love is not a verb to you, it is an action. It means you do this work because you no longer want to intentionally or unintentionally oppress people.”

And my personal favourite …

“The work you do as you go through this workbook will make you feel uncomfortable. You’ll feel queasy in your stomach. Like the ragtag group of humans who are trying to save planet earth for future generations, you may face opposition, not only from your inner self, but also from friends, family members, and others who are close to you.”

Put another way, ‘If you think that it is important to save planet earth for future generations, you think it is important to accept everything I tell you.’

Or, indeed, ‘if you don’t accept my message, you are a climate change denier.’ 

This tactic of drawing a moral equivalency between your movement and another is quite brilliant. Use it. 

At this point, Johnny, who does believe in being a good person, begins to understand why this work is ‘non-negotiable.’

Another aspect of the purity demand you'll want to take advantage of is to help Johnny realise that he is evil and that the only way for him to become less evil is to follow your instructions. Convincing Johnny that he is evil is quite easy at this stage given the fertile ground you have already created. Truth be told, all you need to do is assert that he is evil and that the only reason why he may have thought otherwise is because of said evil. It also helps to assert that as a result of his evil, Johnny bears responsibility for the literal deaths of those who happen to have been born without sin. In this case, everybody who is not white or white-passing. 

Say things like:

“As I’ve mentioned a number of times, this work is hard. There is no way to sugar coat it. White supremacy is an evil. It is a system of oppression, which has been designed to give you benefits at the expense of the lives of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Colour), and it is living inside you.”

And,

“You will want to blame me, rage at me, discredit me and list all the reasons why you are a good person and why you don’t need to do this work. That is a normal, expected response. That is the response of the white fragility and anti-blackness lying within you.”

Johnny thought that he was a good person. Or, at least, he tries hard to be a good person. It saddens him that he bears responsibility for the deaths of people who are not white. For a split-second, Johnny considered putting his hand up and asking exactly how he is responsible but suddenly recalls that his doubt proves that he is, in fact, responsible and the moment passes. 

Once Johnny believes that he is carrying some sort of original sin inside him, he is now primed to receive a solution to his predicament. This is when you can start to ramp things up a bit. You’ll want to do few things here. First, you’ll want to avoid sounding like a self-help guru as there are so many of them! Frame the solution in mystical or religious language so that Johnny understands that you are not merely offering a solution to the ‘virus that has been living inside of [him] all these years, that [he] never knew was there’, but rather, you are offering a completely life-changing experience that will ‘feel like waking up.’ 

To that end, describe the process of recognising the evil within, in the following ways (I guess you could pick your favourite, but it might be beneficial to follow Layla’s lead and use a few of them):

Refer to it as, ‘beyond transformational’, ‘work that will pull out the worst of you, so that you can get to the best of you’, ‘re-humanis(ing) yourself’. 

The idea of waking up or being lost and now found, not only makes your mark more committed to the work but contributes to the idea that anybody not doing the work is asleep, not fully human, content with living with a virus inside them. The presence of an out-group does wonders for the cohesion of the in-group. 

The work has been stressful for Johnny up until now. But, as the lady says, doing this work means he will become fully human. 

I hope you are still with me. Just a few more tips to go before you can start trying this for yourself. 

Now, the process of re-humanising Johnny can be a slightly controversial one because essentially what you'll be doing is asking him to confess to a plethora of sins. The problem is that calling it 'confession' might not sit well with some people – it might evoke images of torture, self-flagellation, and coercion. Rather refer to it as 'truth-telling' as Layla does – everybody thinks that telling the truth is a good thing. Alternatively, you could use the word 'sharing' as some cults do. 

Despite this part of the work having its difficulties, for the aspiring ideological totalist, it can also be the most rewarding. Here is where you are likely to find vindication. Here is where Johnny will confess that he has indeed been living with evil inside of him and that he is willing to face his ‘darkest shadows’. It’s what you have been telling him all along, but to hear him say it is a triumph. 

Before you embark on the truth-telling process, you'll want to warn Johnny that confession is not going to be a comfortable process. You'll want to make sure that he frames the discomfort positively. Layla does this superbly by helping Johnny realise that feeling pain, shame, confusion, fear, anxiety, anger, remorse, grief, apathy, and rage " … are an appropriate human response to racism and oppression." It is important to feel those feeling because, "in doing so, you wake up."

Johnny is relieved because he has been feeling some of those feelings and he thought he may have been doing something wrong. He realises now that those feelings mean that the evil inside him is beginning to be exorcised. He is a bit apprehensive about what comes next, especially because he will be ‘truth-telling’ in front of his teacher and friends. But they’re all in it together and the evil has to come out somehow. 

Occasionally, Johnny will not be willing to tell the whole truth. You might want to tell him to ‘Keep writing until [he] hit[s] the ugly truth, then write some more.’; not to “Surface-skim or side-step telling the truth.” After all, that is what evil people would do:

“When you don’t tell the truth as deeply as you can, you are cheating BIPOC of your allyship, cheating yourself of your own growth, and illustrating that you are not truly committed to dismantling white supremacy within yourself, and therefore within the world.”

And, just in case Johnny answers a prompt in the abstract because he doesn’t think that the particular ‘truth’ applies to him, tell him that he is not allowed to:

‘Answer the prompts as specifically as possible with your own examples about yourself, and not about white people broadly. For example: In response to the question “How have you stayed silent when it comes to...?” do not answer “White people stay silent by…”, but rather answer with “I have stayed silent by…”. Remember always that this work is first and foremost about you and only you.

Because this work can rub some people up the wrong way, it is important that the process of confession remains private or shared with only those that are committed to the doctrine. Layla writes, “Please keep all your journal writings to yourself and/or your #MeAndWhiteSupremacy Book Circle, and do not share them online.” 

A good idea is to start slow and turn up the heat gradually. You’ll want Johnny to confess to some pretty awful things towards the end of the process - don’t fly before you can walk. You don’t want Johnny crashing out when you begin to coerce him into confessing to some pretty nasty thoughts that he isn’t even sure he had. Therefore, take the time to ease Johnny into the ‘truth-telling’ process. A nice way to do this is to ask very broad questions about thoughts and actions that most people would have had, but tell Johnny that because he has had them, it proves he is evil. Hopefully, by the time Johnny gets to the part where he is required to confess to some more serious sins that he never knew he had committed, he will be more willing to admit to having committed them. He will believe that the sins have been floating around in his ‘shadow-self’ the entire time. Of course, because of your divine connection, you knew they were floating around in there all along. 

Just in case Johnny feels like he wants to jump straight to the juicy stuff without having been primed for it, you might want to forbid him from doing so. Just like Layla does, say something like,

‘I have designed the journey to follow a very specific and intentional path. Each journaling prompt builds upon the preceding one. When you skip around rather than following the laid out sequence, the work loses its effectiveness. When you choose to skip certain days because you don’t think they apply to you, you undermine and bypass the work.’

Some aspiring totalists might, at this point, be wondering what to make Johnny confess to. The answer is quite simple. In short, come up with a range of tailormade thought-terminating clichés and domain-specific jargon and get him to confess to how that particular term applies to him. 

It is worth pausing to understand exactly what a thought-terminating cliché is and what it does so that you can make full use of them in your own totalistic endeavour.  

Lifton explains what a thought-terminating cliché is and what it does. He says,  

“The most far-reaching and complex human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorised and easily expressed. The major effect of loading the language is that the subject is constricted in terms of his communication and since language is so central to all human experience, his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely narrowed.” (1961, p. 430)

You may have encountered a few of these from time to time. Some examples might include phrases like:

‘Everything happens for a reason.’

‘God works in mysterious ways.’

‘His ways are above our ways.’

Some thought-terminating clichés might seem benign but they are always designed to stifle independent thought.  

“Stated simply, thought terminating clichés are words or phrases which have the effect of minimising critical, or independent, thinking. Many of these phrases appeal to the emotions of the individual and their desire to see themselves (and their desire to be seen by others) in a positive way. This may occur by making the uncritical acceptance of ideas seem like a virtue, or by making critical thinking seem like a flaw. Lifton (1961) uses as an example the phrase “bourgeois mentality” (p. 429), explaining that it “is used to encompass and critically dismiss ordinarily troublesome concerns like the quest for individual expression, the exploration of alternative ideas, and the search for perspective and balance in political judgments”. In others words, any person who tries to think independently, or consider other perspectives, might be labelled as having a “bourgeois mentality”. Those who have bought into this thought-terminating cliché would form a negative association with the individual without considering the merits of his position.” (Hunter, 2019, p. 274 – 275) 

In addition to thought-terminating clichés, if you want the confession process to do its job, never allow Johnny to deny that a particular term applies to him. Come up with a thought-terminating cliché that refers to somebody that denies that any of the terms apply to them. Layla uses White Fragility to play that role (bourgeois mindset, anybody?). 

Here are some examples of how Layla helps Johnny to realise that he is a white supremacist. Feel free to use this rubric and insert thought-terminating clichés in service of the ideology of your choice. 

  • Could you, if you wished, arrange to be in the company of people of your race most of the time? If yes, you have White Privilege which means you are complicit in white supremacy. 
  • Have you ever been annoyed, angry, stayed silent, or gotten defensive when somebody calls you a racist? You have? Well, that means you have White Fragility.
  • Ever asked a non-white person to 'calm down' or to express themselves in a nicer way if they have been shouting at you or using an aggressive tone? Yes? A typical example of Tone Policing. (Johnny sticks up his hand and says, 'But Ma'am, sometimes it's difficult to have a discussion with somebody if they are shouting at you.' The teacher answers, 'Johnny, why are you getting defensive? Did you not learn anything from our discussion on White Fragility?’ Classmates mutter and shake their heads at Johnny. 
  • Have you ever chosen not to engage in a conversation about race, or not attended a Black Lives Matter protest? Yes. That’s called White Silence and it is because of you that black people are being killed. 
  • Have you ever engaged in Tone Policing? (See above). You have? That means that you have White Superiority. It means that you think you are better than black people. 
  • Have you ever thought of yourself as not racist? Yes? That’s called White Exceptionalism and it means that you are, in fact, racist.
  • Have you ever had the thought that a person should be judged on their character rather than the colour of their skin? Yes. Typical white supremacist behaviour. (Join Martin Luther King Jnr in the naughty corner.)
  • Have you ever done yoga, braided your hair or been involved in any activity whatsoever that did not originate in the West? You have? That’s Cultural Appropriation
  • Have you ever travelled or wanted to travel to Africa, Latin America, or Asia to ‘save the poor people’? That’s White Saviourism and it means you are a white supremacist.  

Follow each topic with questions that Johnny must answer and share with the group. Always ask ‘When have you …?’, ‘Why have you …?’, and, ‘How have you …?’. Never ask ‘Have you …?’ – it defeats the purpose. 

******Take a lesson from how Layla asks Johnny to answer her prompts regarding some of the topics above:

  • What have you learned about you and your specific white privilege: How it shows up, how you hold on to it, how you use it (consciously or unconsciously) against BIPOC?
  • How have you weaponised your fragility against BIPOC through for example, calling the authorities, crying, claiming you’re being harmed (‘reverse-racism!’, ‘I’m being shamed!’, ‘I’m being attacked!’)?
  • What emotional outbursts have you had during racial interactions? Or how have you shut down, walked away, deleted everything and pretended nothing happened and hoped no one would notice? (White Fragility)
  • How have you insisted on white norms of “respectability” and “civility” when BIPOC talk about their lived experiences? (Tone Policing)
  • How have you discounted BIPOC in general because of the tone that they use when they talk? (Tone Policing)
  • How do you do harm with your white silence?
  • In what ways have you consciously or subconsciously believed that you are better than BIPOC? Don’t hide from this. This is the crux of White Supremacy. Own it. (White Superiority)
  • In what ways have or do you believe you are exceptional, exempt, “one of the good ones”, or above this work?
  • Are you someone who has used the idea that “there is only one race - the human race” to gaslight, minimise, erase, ignore and harm BIPOC? (And by the way, race is a social construct - we actually are one human race - but race-based systems of oppression like white supremacy act in opposition to that). (From the chapter called, You and Seeing Color)
  • What mental gymnastics have you done to avoid seeing your own race (and what your white race has collectively done to BIPOC)? (You and Seeing Color) 
  • Why have you felt entitled to appropriate from races you see as less than yours (whether consciously or subconsciously)? (Cultural Appropriation) 
  • This is from the chapter on 'Racial Stereotypes':

“Today I want you to think about the Indigenous people from the land where you live, as well as the migrants and descendants of immigrants who live in your country.”

  • What are the negative and/or fetishising racist stereotypes, beliefs, and thoughts that you hold about these people?
  • What racist assumptions do you make about them?

Note: When completing today’s prompt, please identify people by their race. They are not a monolithic block of ‘others.’ Write out the racist stereotypes you hold by race, rather than referring to POC broadly.”

This was a tough day for Johnny because he knows that stereotypes exist and what many of them are. But, it wasn't until he was asked to confess to having applied them to the indigenous population of his country, did he think he did apply them. He had to reach deep into his subconscious to pull this one out. But it was worth it. He knows now that he has always been a racist. 

At this stage, Johnny knows that he has evil inside him. This is where you should turn on the heat and solidify his membership in your group. As many cult leaders and cult researchers will know, one of the biggest obstacles to ideological totalism is the presence of Johnny's existent social circle – those not listening to your message. Friends, family and role models might influence him and cause doubt in his mind. This cannot be allowed. At a certain point, therefore, you will have to begin turning him against these people. You will have already given Johnny the idea that those outside of the totalising environment are not fully human, and you have provided him with a range of loaded words and thought-terminating clichés that only the others who are taking part in your totalistic class will understand. This is a great start and will make Johnny feel special and part of a group but you still have to find a way to alienate him from people who are not receptive to your doctrine. 

Layla is subtle in how she achieves this. During the build-up to the ‘truth-telling’, she begins to plant the seeds of what is to come: 

“This work may bring up dynamics that have caused you or others harm in your family relationships, your friendships, your romantic relationships or work relationships.”

“If you are the only person in your family, friendship group or community doing this work, it can feel lonely. Reach out to other white privileged people who are doing this work so that you can support one another. Do NOT however reach out to other BIPOC (whether family, friends, peers, etc.) to support you and help you process what is coming for you. They do not owe you that emotional labour.”

Do not, “Ask any BIPOC to help you process what is coming up for you in this work, whether paid or free. That includes family members, friends and partners”

Layla then piles on the pressure towards the end of the ‘truth-telling’ part of her book.

She asks Johnny to answer the following questions:

  • What actions have you taken when you’ve seen other white people culturally appropriating? Have you called it out? Or have you used your white silence?
  • Have you or your teachers profited from cultural appropriation?
  • Have you held yourself or your teachers accountable to doing better?
  • In what ways have you observed white-privileged people in your communities (family, friends, work) being apathetic when it comes to racism?
  • Knowing what you now know about white supremacist behaviours across Days 1-22, how do you respond when you witness white leaders behaving in these white supremacist ways? Do you call them in/out on it? Do you ask them to do better? Do you project your own white fragility on to them and fear calling them in/out, because you yourself fear being called in/out? Do you act like it didn’t happen and keep buying their products and services, or following their leadership regardless?
  • Do you challenge white leaders, or do you silently seethe inside while hoping someone else will do it? Do you allow them to do the bare minimum and give them a cookie when they do (whether through speech or in your mind)? Had you even noticed before this work that your white leaders have been showing up in these ways? And if you now realise they have, how do you plan to respond (if at all)?
  • Are there certain people you continue to stay in friendship with even though they are problematic and refuse to change?
  • Have you risked any of your friendships to call in/out, even if nobody was going to give you an ally cookie for it?
  • How do you feel about your friends who are not doing their own personal anti-racism work, and what responsibility do you feel to encourage them to do their work?
  • How do you feel about speaking up about racism and white supremacist beliefs and actions to your family members? Do you speak up or do you remain silent? Do you excuse your family members’ racial aggressions because it’s “not worth it” and you want to keep the peace? Do you justify your silence with your family by referencing your mental health? And do you understand that BIPOC have mental health issues too and still have to deal with (your and your family’s) racism? Do you excuse your elders’ racism because they are “from another time”?
  • If you are a parent, do you speak to your children about racism? And not the “we don’t see colour” talk, but the “white privilege” and “white supremacy” talk? Do you realise how early BIPOC have to talk to their kids about racism? Did your parents or caregivers ever speak to you about racism?
  • What racist beliefs have you internalised from your family?
  • Do you believe talking about racism is important, but not important enough to disrupt your family dynamics?
  • To what extent do you place white comfort over anti-racism in your family?

Snitching Layla includes a chapter called ‘You and Being Called Out’ in which she primes Johnny for the work to come and what reactions he might receive when calling out his friends, family, and teachers. Any negative reaction has a thought-terminating cliché attached to it and will help Johnny see that the white people in his social circle are racist: 

Common Reactions When Being Called Out

Becoming defensive, minimising, derailing, crying, falling silent, flouncing/dramatically leaving the space or conversation, deleting everything and running away (see Day 2: White Fragility).

Talking about your intent while ignoring your impact (see Day 6: White Exceptionalism).

Claiming you’re being attacked, or characterising the person(s) calling you out as aggressive and irrational (see Day 3: Tone Policing).

Pretending that you ‘don’t see colour’ (see Day 8: Seeing Colour).

Pulling out your token BIPOC to prove you’re not racist, or talking about all the good things you’ve done for BIPOC. (see Day 17: Tokenism).

Talking about how the person calling you out doesn’t “know the contents of your heart”.

Having to have the last word (see Day 5: White Superiority).

And other white fragile reactions that center you as the victim, instead of the one who did harm.

Johnny begins to pull away from his friends, family and role models because they are not willing to ‘do the work’ of anti-racism. He called them on their white supremacy and they reacted just like Layla said they would. Badly. He knows it is their White Fragility rearing its ugly head. They just don’t get it. They don’t get how they are harming BIPOC with their White Silence, White Exceptionalism, and White Superiority. He decides it’s better to be friends with those who get it – those who will be on the right side of history. 

Well done for making it this far. Your mission is almost complete. The final thing you will need to do is get Johnny to publicly pledge his commitment to the cause. Layla does like this:

Starting today and over the next week, begin to write down your commitments to this work. Craft a commitments statement that you will be able to refer to everyday, and especially on the days when you screw up. Your commitments are not what you will try to do or hope to do, but what you will do.

To craft this document, go back through all the journaling notes you have made when answering the prompts in this workbook, and recall the ways you’ve done harm and the ways in which you are committed to change. Think about what you are ready to commit to in your personal life, your family life, your friendships, your work and business life, your community life.

Where and how are you committed to showing up? Where and how are you committed to stepping back and de-centering yourself? Where and how are you committed to continuing your life-long education? Where and how are you committed to putting skin in the game instead of staying on the side-lines? Where and how are you committed to being a good ancestor?

Commitments are strong statements of solidarity and action. They are not guarantees that you will actually do the work. But they will help focus you so you know what work you are supposed to be doing. COMMIT to this life-long work. Write it down and then live your life accordingly.”

And with that, dear aspiring ideological totalist, your work is complete! You have managed to completely reform Johnny's thoughts without making a single intellectual argument. You have found the holy grail. Congratulations.

Johnny entered the classroom aware that racial disparities exist. He wanted to make it all better. He knows about the history of colonialism and apartheid. He knows the hurt and indignity it caused for the parents and grandparents (and so on) of his black classmates. But, he entered that class not blaming himself for what his ancestors did. Sure, he had some guilt. Guilt that luck can be a cruel mistress and that he may have been dealt a better hand than some. He wasn’t sure what he could do to fix the fact that his black friend doesn’t live in a house as nice as he does. But he wanted to fix it. And then his teacher started talking. She offered a way for him to fix it. A simple way. A revolutionary way. And it all began with acknowledging that everything was his fault. He had a ‘slavemaster’s’ mindset. He left the class believing that anything to do with western culture was bad and that he was to do everything he could to dismantle it. He left the classroom hating himself but at least he wasn’t alone. 

Summary

Here is a recap of what was discussed above, regarding Lifton's conditions of thought reform as they exist in Me and White Supremacy. This constitutes evidence for the strong case – the argument that ‘anti-racism’ as it is presented in Me and White Supremacy is an example of what Lifton refers to as Ideological Totalism. 

Saad claims her work is a revelation from God and discourages readers from thinking about it critically (Sacred Science); 

she sets the standard for purity as that which is not white supremacist, and then elicits guilt and shame in readers by convincing them that they fall short of that standard (Demand for Purity); 

she insists that readers engage in 'truth-telling' to purify themselves (Cult of Confession); 

she employs a host of domain-specific jargon and thought-terminating clichés which stifle independent thought and ensures that readers thoughts and experiences are processed through the lens of ‘anti-racism’ (Loading the Language; Doctrine Over Person); 

she draws a line between those who are asleep and those who have woken up/ those who are not fully human and those who are ‘re-humanising’/ those who are content with being evil/ those ‘doing the work’ of ‘anti-racism’ (Dispensing of Existence).

In addition to the above conditions, Saad’s work alternates between assault and leniency in that it necessitates stress in the form of a range of negative emotions that she describes as a feature of the work and a necessary component of the waking up process, while periodically providing leniency by telling the reader that they are being a ‘good ancestor’ among other positive attributes. The psychological assault is designed to bring about the death of the reader’s former identity as a white supremacist and through the process of confession, have the reader experience re-birth. 

“This process of death and rebirth is said to have profound effects on the person in question’s loyalties and beliefs, as well as his sense of being an individual and being part of a group.” (Hunter, p. 202)

The condition Lifton refers to as Milieu Control is one that, more than the other conditions, exists on a spectrum of intensity. It refers to the general control of a person's behaviour and communication. In terms of behaviour, it could range from sleep deprivation, physical assault, not being allowed to go to the bathroom, and isolation, to more benign controls including ritualistic practices like chanting a mantra or having controls on movement. Control of communication could refer to anything from forbidding a person from speaking at certain times, to what words a person may or may not use, and who a person is allowed to communicate with. 

Control of behaviour and communication is present in Me and White Supremacy. 

Saad writes, 

“If you are truly interested in doing this workbook in a group setting, then the only way this should be done is through a #MeAndWhiteSupremacy Book Circle, using The Circle Way as the model and structure for doing so. Choosing to use another process, or no process at all, against my express wishes, is an indication that you are not truly ready to do this work. This work is powerful, transformational, healing work. I ask that you treat it as such.”

Saad explains that The Circle Way is a methodology structured for ‘deep conversation and wise outcomes.’ It is based on a methodology developed by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea in 1992. 

It includes behavioural controls like having a host or volunteer begin the circle ‘with a gesture that shifts people’s attention from social space to council space’. This could include a moment of silence, reading a poem, or listening to a song, or ‘whatever invites centering’. 

Participants are encouraged to place objects in the centre of the circle that represent the intention of the circle and a focal point through which 'all energies pass'. Such symbols may include 'flowers, a bowl or basket, a candle.'

Meetings begin with a ‘check-in’. This

‘… helps people into a frame of mind for council and reminds everyone of their commitment to the expressed intention. It ensures that people are truly present.' In this case, the expressed intention is to help white people dismantle their inner white supremacist. Check-in begins with verbal sharing, beginning with a volunteer and proceeding around the circle. 'Sometimes people place individual objects in the center as a way of signifying their presence and relationship to the intention.’

In addition, Saad explains that, 

“The single most important tool for aiding self-governance and bringing circle back to intention is the role of guardian. One circle member volunteers to watch and safeguard group energy and observe the circle’s process. The guardian usually employs a gentle noisemaker, such as a chime, bell, or rattle, that signals to everyone to stop action, take a breath, rest in a space of silence. The guardian makes this signal again and speaks to why s/he called the pause. Any member may call for a pause.”

Behavioural control is evident in some of the examples used regarding Lifton's other conditions of thought reform. They include such things as telling the reader who they may or may not turn to for support and how they are to act when called out for their racist behaviour. 

Control of communication is present in the way that readers are asked to explain and understand their and other's behaviour according to the specific terms present in the anti-racist lexicon, as well as other communication restrictions outlined in The Circle Way. 

I mentioned at the outset that Me and White Supremacy uses seven of eight of Lifton’s conditions of thought reform to persuade a reader of the truth of the message. I have shown that to be the case. 

Lifton’s condition of Mystical Manipulation is perhaps the most difficult of the conditions to tie to Me and White Supremacy because it depends on the specifics of the administering of the workbook in a given context. 

Mystical Manipulation refers to events which take place in the environment that may seem spontaneous, but are actually orchestrated by the group (Lifton, 1961). Lifton states that those controlling the environment seek to “provoke specific patterns of behaviour and emotion in such a way that these will appear to have arisen spontaneously from within the environment” (p. 422).” (Hunter, p. 232)

A textbook example of mystical manipulation occurs in the context of 'faith healing' when a person from the congregation is 'healed' but that person has been planted by the faith healer to manipulate the rest of the congregation into believing in the faith-healing process.  

In the context of a #meandwhitesupremacy Book Circle, it is not unimaginable that an already converted guardian or volunteer start the 'truth-telling' portion of the session to manipulate others to follow their lead. But, as I said, it is difficult to prove and for that reason, I maintain that Me and White Supremacy fulfils seven of Lifton’s eight conditions of thought reform.

Therefore, a strong case can be made that Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, when mandatory and read in a group setting, constitutes an example of ideological totalism, and as such, should not be required reading at any school or business. 

Because, this does seem an awful lot like brainwashing, don’t you think?

There might be a strong temptation to dismiss Saad’s book as a fringe case of indoctrination, however, 

“[Saad’s] work has been brought into homes, educational institutions and workplaces around the world that are seeking to create personal and collective change.” Me and White Supremacy

This, in itself, is concerning, but even more concerning is the fact that such was the success of the workbook that a new edition was published in 2020 and includes a foreword by Robin DiAngelo. The book is called Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor. 

Enobong Tommelleo of Booklist lauded it as ‘an insightful and necessary contribution to the work of combating racism’. Kirkus Reviews described the book as a ‘bracing, highly useful tool for any discussion of combating racism’, and Carl Logan of Midwest Book Review called it ‘mandatory reading for anyone having to deal with the social injustice arising from racism and bigotry’. 

Some might argue that making a case that this particular workbook is an example of ideological indoctrination does not necessitate that all ‘anti-racist’ education is such an example. I agree. However, given that this particular book is, according to the author’s website, a New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Amazon bestseller; has been described by none other than Robin DiAngelo as, ‘An indispensable resource for white people who want to challenge white supremacy but don’t know where to begin.’; and the author herself being lauded as ‘… one of the most important and valuable teachers we have right now on the subject of white supremacy and racial injustice.’, by Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author, I make the weaker case that if Me and White Supremacy can conceivably be thought of as a study in indoctrination, it should, at the very least, necessitate further consideration about whether this type of social justice be pushed onto students in the way that is becoming mandatory in many schools in the western world. 

Having discussed the thesis of Saad’s book, a natural question to ask is ‘what is the endgame?’. If Me and White Supremacy is indoctrination, what is the ideology underpinning it and what does it want? 

Saad coerces her reader into believing that white culture is necessarily oppressive and informs the reader that white people, as a moral imperative, should ‘ally’ themselves to the cause of ‘anti-racism’ which primarily involves ‘de-centering whiteness’. An important thing to understand is that ‘anti-racism’ is a political ideology that advocates for racial equity, not as a by-product of equality of opportunity, but by actively adjusting social, economic and political goods such that racial equity as an outcome is achieved. 

Saad's book is not merely about getting white readers to purge themselves of the evils of whiteness but to buy into a political worldview based on core ideas of an area of study called Critical Race Theory. The assertions in Saad's book are numerous and varied but they can be sorted into ideas that fit neatly into this worldview. Once the ideas are understood it makes it very clear why 'equity' is the logical endgame of the 'anti-racist' movement. 

The core claims of CRT inform the transformation drive in most of South Africa’s prominent schools.

Critical Race Theory

“From a critical social justice perspective, the term racism refers to this system of collective social and institutional White power and privilege.” (Sensoy and DiAngelo, 2012)

The term ‘racism’ is not to be confined to overt discrimination by a person targeted at people of another race based on the idea that one race is superior to another. Racism is also subtle and ubiquitous and exists in institutional ‘systems’ designed by white people to continue their domination over previously oppressed racial groups. 

Because white people benefitted, or continue to benefit from these systems, any argument for the utility or morality of a system put forth by a white person, must be interpreted as an attempt to preserve the status quo of white dominance. If such an argument is made by a black person, it must be the case that they have internalised their oppression and are working against their own interests. 

In addition to racism being defined in that way, it is also the case that racism only manifests in one direction. Namely, from whites against blacks (and previously oppressed groups, generally). The reason for this is that social interaction is believed to take place along a power continuum which is always present when people of different racial groups interact. Racism is thus defined as prejudice plus power. In the case where a black person uses derogatory language aimed at a white person based on the fact that the person is white, this is considered prejudiced but not racist. You might wonder whether this would still be the case if a wealthy, black, CEO were to treat a white homeless person in what we’d normally consider a racist manner, given that the power dynamics in that situation would seem to favour the CEO? CRT advocates would still refer to the attitude of the CEO as prejudicial, not racist, because, as we saw in Saad’s work, white supremacy is the dominant force that exists in western society. Therefore, the homeless person, by being white, is considered to be a custodian of the evil of 'whiteness' and thought to hold power over the CEO. 

This idea extends to the concept of ‘cultural appropriation’ which Saad explains only occurs when white people appropriate from other cultures and never the other way around. 

Given the focus on power and the idea that racism exists in western institutions, it makes sense that activists consider liberalism itself as the most fruitful target of radical scepticism given that liberalism is the dominant paradigm within which western democracies operate socially, economically and politically. 

This is not a trivial assertion because it would mean dismantling liberal values like enlightenment rationalism, neutral principles of constitutional law, capitalism, equality of opportunity, and individualism in the service of racial equity. You might think that I am overstating the case for dramatic effect but this statement is entirely factual. 

‘Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.’ (Delgado, Critical Race Theory)

The call for equity is based on the assumption that any disparities in outcome between racial groups are evidence of racism as defined by activists. It follows then that any institution that produces racial inequity must be perpetuating white supremacy and must therefore be altered in such a way as to produce equitable outcomes.  

Here are two examples of how this kind of thinking plays out in schools:

On average, whites get better marks at school than blacks. Reason: The tests are racist; the curriculum is racist; schools are predicated on white ‘ways of knowing’. Solution: change the tests; get rid of tests altogether, decolonise the curriculum. 

At many former ‘Model C’ and private schools, black students and teachers are underrepresented in relation to the demographics of the country as a whole. Reason: Hiring and recruitment practices reflect an unconscious racial bias on behalf of the school. Solution: actively hire and recruit black students and teachers regardless of whether or not they are the most qualified for the position. 

It should be quite clear that in each of the above examples, a variety of confounding variables is omitted in favour of the simplistic anti-racism argument. Differential outcomes between racial groups are undoubtedly partly a result of historic racism by whites on blacks. This, however, does not tell the whole story because it glosses over various factors including cultural norms, class, and poor policy decisions. 

However, in requiring additional evidence for the CRT assumption that racial disparities equal racial discrimination, a person is often accused of ignoring the ‘lived experience’ of the racially powerless. If one argues that ‘lived experience’, although important to consider, might not always be epistemically sufficient evidence to base a political worldview on, one is accused of relying on western forms of evidence predicated on the western institution of enlightenment rationalism which betrays in the sceptic evidence that he has internalised ‘white ways of knowing’. To be clear, what is being referred to is scientific evidence, logic, and reason as ways of determining whether a proposition is true or false. 

It is not surprising then that Saad informs her readers not to assess the truth value of what she asserts, intellectually. After all, it is not about thinking. It is about feeling.

The point I am making here is that although Saad’s book does not explicitly explain what it means to ‘dismantle whiteness’ in all its iterations, it is important to understand her work in the broader context of CRT and its political views. The indoctrination process evident in Me and White Supremacy, therefore, could be considered a politically ideological recruitment process in service of equity as understood by social justice activists. Once you can get a kid/person to believe that they are evil and that they must do everything they can to ally themselves to the 'anti-racist' cause, it is an easy step to get them to further your political agenda.

Readers who have been indoctrinated into 'anti-racism' will believe that racism is everywhere; social interactions are predicated on power; racial groups are political units; individualism and meritocracy have been designed to ignore the plight of black people and to uphold white superiority respectfully; and that to reach an equity utopia, western culture ought to be dismantled. To top it off, readers will think that anybody who opposes any of the above views, do so because they are racist or have internalised their oppression.  

CRT and thought reform.

I have shown that Me and White Supremacy takes the beliefs of CRT as its starting point and uses seven of eight of Lifton’s conditions of thought reform to persuade readers of the moral imperatives of doing the work of ‘anti-racism’ – a worldview with definitively political agenda. 

Although Me and White Supremacy is a concentrated example of thought reform, its ideological parent, CRT, by virtue of its core beliefs, should be viewed with some scepticism in light of the assertions it makes and their correlation with Lifton's conditions of thought reform.

CRT says that racism is ubiquitous. It takes as evidence, racial disparities and lived experience. Anyone that challenges the notion using conventional methods of assessment like reason, logic, and scientific evidence, is considered to be motivated by their racist thoughts, whether conscious or unconscious (Sacred Science). 

CRT sets the standard for purity as someone who agrees with its beliefs about the world. It elicits guilt and shame by telling people that they fall short of the standard unless they make a lifelong commitment to fostering racial equity (Demand for Purity).

CRT asks individuals to examine their complicity in furthering the agenda of racist institutions that prioritise western ways of knowing or being and to atone for these sins (Cult of Confession).

CRT uses a bunch of domain-specific jargon and thought-terminating clichés designed to stifle independent thought and ensures that a person adopt these terms as a way of interpreting their own experiences (Loading the Language/ Doctrine Over Person)

CRT draws a line between those who are asleep and those who are ‘woke’. It divides society into good and evil and asks that people dispense with their ‘old’ identities and take up a new identity as somebody who has awoken to the worldview of CRT (Dispensing of Existence).

 

Critical Race Theory in Schools

“The very power of [textbook writers] depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.”

  • C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943)

The beliefs of CRT and ‘anti-racism’ form the dominant paradigm within which former ‘Model C’ and private schools are interpreting what a socially just school would look like. This is evident in the terminology used and beliefs espoused in anti-discrimination policies, transformation agendas, and social justice curricula. It is also evident in the types of social justice training that staff are required to attend. 

This raises the question of how this version of social justice has taken over these schools with little to no pushback from teachers, parents, and governing bodies. I will give some possible answers to that question but first I will explain what I mean when I say that CRT is the dominant paradigm in many schools in South Africa. Thereafter, I will close by remarking on possible consequences of pushing CRT in schools and I will respond to some common criticisms of the position I have taken in this essay.  

A large number of schools are committed to achieving racial equity quotas whereby the student body, staff, and governing body must be demographically representative of South African society as a whole. This idea is in direct opposition to equality of opportunity and meritocracy. Hiring practices have changed in many schools such that instead of hiring the best person for the job in terms of experience, performance and qualification, schools have the mandate to consider the equity quota. The best person for the job appears more and more to mean the person who best adds to the racial diversity of the staff. 

If two candidates could not be separated in terms of experience, qualification and performance, I would have no problem with a school hiring the candidate who is from a previously oppressed group. However, the equity quotas are resulting in job advertisements that explicitly say that the school is looking for somebody from a previously oppressed group. If I was a parent, I would want my child to be taught by the most qualified candidate no matter what colour they happen to be. This would seem to align with non-racialism as stipulated in our constitution. Sadly, non-racialism appears to have gone out of fashion and is being replaced by race essentialism in the guise of ‘anti-racism’. 

As proof of this, it is quite common for schools to include in their anti-discrimination policies a clause stating that 'saying that you don't see colour' is an example of unfair discrimination. This could be read in two ways. The first, as some school administrators have assured me, is that the sentence 'I don't see colour' is used by white students as a way of masking their racism. It is akin to saying 'I have black friends', and therefore, is considered proof of racism. 

The other way to read this clause is that it is a way of outlawing the individualist ideal of judging somebody on the contents of their character rather than the colour of their skin. This 'colour-blind' ideal is in overt opposition to the CRT/ anti-racist idea of producing racial equity. For racial equity to be engineered, the identification of people by race is a prerequisite. For CRT theorists, racial identity is the defining characteristic of a person and any other individual traits are secondary. Whereas I might see myself as an individual with unique desires, experiences and personality traits who is a father, a Liverpool supporter, a South African, and a fan of Neil Young, amongst other characteristics, a CRT activist would consider these things to be secondary to the fact that I am white. That I don’t consider the fact that I am part of a group called ‘white’ to be more important than other identifying factors is, according to CRT activists, a function of my white privilege. A person’s racial group is the most important thing about them and a predicter of their prospects. Thus, saying that you don’t see colour, on this view, is a racist proposition in that it is believed to de-humanise the individual by stripping him of the most salient part of his identity.

This idea is echoed in Kendi’s ‘How to Be an Antiracist’, where he explains that, 

“The common idea of claiming “color blindness” is akin to the notion of being “not racist”—as with the “not racist,” the color-blind individual, by ostensibly failing to see race, fails to see racism and falls into racist passivity. The language of color blindness—like the language of “not racist”—is a mask to hide racism.”

Even if it is the case that schools that include this clause in their policies are doing so in the very context-specific manner as in the first reading, it seems to conveniently throw the baby out with the bathwater in the sense that while it might reveal a racist attitude in the rare case where the phrase is used, it outlaws the more common use of the idea of colour-blindness as a liberal, individualist ideal of social interaction. When placed in the context of CRT, this result is desirable, especially given the explicit equity goal of most schools. 

Another common sentiment in school policies is that racism is systemic. It is built into the very fabric of our institutions, and particularly our schools, seeing that many of our schools were built for white students and teachers. Many schools explicitly state the need to transform their institution because it is dominated by white cultural norms. One school policy explains it like this:

“As the demographics of many schools continue to shift a more culturally assertive “born free” generation of black learners feels increasingly disconnected from schools that continue to perpetuate dominant white cultural values, practices and power structures.”

The idea is that black learners, up until recently, have been expected to conform to, or assimilate with, the dominant culture. However, 

“Given the growth of representivity of black learners and their increasing cultural and political confidence this approach to racial inclusion is no longer tenable. If schools continue on this path conflict will only increase as blacks will continue to challenge the dominant order, which will experience deep seated discomfort as a result and intergroup tension levels will remain elevated.”

What the school means by 'dominant white cultural values' and 'practices' is not made explicit but having read many resources regarding transformation both in South Africa and abroad in the US and Great Britain, it appears that dominant white cultural values and practices can range from things like wearing a school uniform, work ethic, having to stand and greet teachers, hair regulations, standardised testing and homework, to being on time and being expected to get the right answer to maths questions. 

In addition to policies and transformation mandates, many schools have implemented social justice curricula that teach students about concepts like ‘white privilege’, ‘white fragility’, ‘whiteness’, ‘cultural appropriation’, ‘decolonisation’, ‘intersectionality’ and a host of other terms that relate directly to the beliefs of the CRT worldview. 

Schools are recommending books like ‘White Fragility’, by DiAngelo, ‘How to be an Anti-racist’ by Kendi, and ‘Me and White Supremacy’ by Saad, and a host of others. 

Teachers around the country are being made to attend regular workshops hosted by various organisations whose philosophy is based on CRT. In other words, teachers are being forced to accept a worldview that is ultimately antithetical to the core values of liberal democracy and are being asked to pass on this knowledge to students, as one school puts it, ‘… in an explicit manner, at every opportunity, and in all subjects and teaching.’

Students attending a maths lesson at this school might have made the reasonable assumption that they were there to learn maths, not learn about systemic racism and how maths interacts with this system. 

It is difficult to downplay the extent to which the beliefs of Critical Race Theory and its offshoot, anti-racism have found their way into our school system. I can only conclude that those commentators who deny that this is the case, have not bothered to read the social justice material at our top former Model C and private schools. 

Perhaps they have and are reading the policies selectively. Having read quite a few policy documents I do sympathise. Our schools’ anti-discrimination policies can be vague and intellectually inconsistent. Some statements seem liberal yet are contradicted by other statements, and some clauses ban a particular act of discrimination which the school itself is guilty of. Amid such confusion, the important question to ask is who gets the final say when it comes to interpreting the document? This is not clear but having spoken to schools it seems like the answer is, as you may have guessed, the same person in charge of recommending books like Me and White Supremacy.  

Some examples include: 

1. Claiming non-racialism yet not allowing a colour-blind perspective of race relations.

2. Including in your policy the following examples of discrimination …

- “Dissemination of any propaganda or idea, which propounds the racial superiority or     inferiority of any person, including incitement to, or participation in, any form of racial                     violence.” 

- “Inferior treatment of a specific racial group, compared to those from another racial group.”

- “Use of derogatory language to undermine a certain racial group”

- “Using insulting language against particular cultural or racial groups”

- “Suggesting that a member of a particular race group only got to where they are because of                  their race.”

- “Associating the presence of any group of people with racial or cultural stereotypes.”

… while at the same time teaching students about concepts like ‘white privilege’, ‘white fragility’, ‘white supremacy’, and ‘whiteness’. Having taken you through Me and White Supremacy, I hope to have left little doubt that these terms undermine, insult and stereotype a certain racial group. However, for the same reason, I hope to have left little doubt that CRT and ‘anti-racist’ activists do not consider these concepts to be in violation of any of the above examples of discrimination because to them, discrimination is a one-way street. As one school explicitly states.

““Racism” means prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalised.”

School policies also seem to be in the business of claiming tolerance of diversity, where diversity extends to freedom of belief, conscience, and opinion. I can’t help but feel that many schools are not living up to that ideal.  

In the course of my looking into issues of social justice in South African schools, I have yet to come across a single resource that is critical of the CRT version of social justice or one that offers an alternative to telling students and teachers that they are either oppressors or oppressed based on the colour of their skin and that the only way to rectify the situation is to racially engineer society and institutions so that equity is achieved. One wonders how much freedom of belief, conscience and opinion is allowed? It is difficult to tell, but in reading statements like this … 

“A critical question we needed to ask ourselves was how we would ensure that staff aligned themselves with the detail/philosophy and rationales for the policies put in place for hair, uniform, spirituality, identity and so on. This will require ongoing monitoring and working closely with staff and there will be further engagement with all staff at the start of 2021.”

… I submit as the answer – not much. 

Given what I’ve discussed, ensuring that staff ‘aligned’ themselves with this school’s social justice philosophy comes out sounding a lot like Saad helping her readers to ‘realise’ that they think they are superior to black people. Yikes. 

I hope I’m wrong, but the liberalism in so many of our schools’ policies looks like window-dressing when all of the above is taken into consideration. 

But why has this happened in South Africa with so little push-back?

First, teachers are being trained in Critical Pedagogy at University. This is a theory of education that encourages teachers to instill in their students a ‘critical consciousness’ which amounts to examining their complicity in systems of oppression as well as uncovering, at every turn, how the syllabus relates to these systems. Alison Baily explains that,

‘Philosophers of education have long made the distinction between critical thinking and critical pedagogy. Both literatures appeal to the value of being “critical” in the sense that instructors should cultivate in students a more cautious approach to accepting common beliefs at face value. Both traditions share the concern that learners generally lack the ability to spot inaccurate, misleading, incomplete, or blatantly false claims. They also share a sense that learning a particular set of critical skills has a corrective, humanizing, and liberatory effect. The traditions, however, part ways over their definition of “critical.”’

She continues, 

“The critical-thinking tradition is concerned primarily with epistemic adequacy. To be critical is to show good judgment in recognizing when arguments are faulty, assertions lack evidence, truth claims appeal to unreliable sources, or concepts are sloppily crafted and applied. For critical thinkers, the problem is that people fail to “examine the assumptions, commitments, and logic of daily life… the basic problem is irrational, illogical, and unexamined living” (Burbules and Berk 1999, 46). In this tradition sloppy claims can be identified and fixed by learning to apply the tools of formal and informal logic correctly.

Critical pedagogy begins from a different set of assumptions rooted in the neo-Marxian literature on critical theory commonly associated with the Frankfurt School. Here, the critical learner is someone who is empowered and motivated to seek justice and emancipation. Critical pedagogy regards the claims that students make in response to social-justice issues not as propositions to be assessed for their truth value, but as expressions of power that function to re-inscribe and perpetuate social inequalities. Its mission is to teach students ways of identifying and mapping how power shapes our understandings of the world. This is the first step toward resisting and transforming social injustices.” (‘Tracking Privilege-Preserving Epistemic Pushback in Feminist and Critical Race Philosophy Classes.’ Hypatia, 32(4), 2017: 876–892, pp. 881–882.) 

In addition, CRT, like Critical Pedagogy, has a distinct activist element. It is evangelical in orientation. Saad describes her work as ‘Sacred Activism’, and Delgado explains that, ‘The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.’ (Delgado, Richard. Critical Race Theory) And Delgado and Stefancic explain in Introduction to Critical Race Theory, that

“Unlike some academic disciplines, critical race theory contains an activist dimension. It not only tries to understand our social situation, but to change it; it sets out not only to ascertain how society organizes itself along racial lines and hierarchies, but to transform it for the better.” 

Most teachers probably do not take CRT and Critical Pedagogy too seriously. They are more concerned with imparting knowledge and teaching their students how to think. However, some teachers are CRT activists and take their role in evangelising very seriously. It is these teachers that seem to be in charge of social justice in schools because they are thought of as 'experts'. They are the ones who are involved in writing anti-discrimination policies. 

One of the interesting things I have learnt while investigating the spread of CRT in schools is that most stakeholders defer to so-and-so when asked about particular policy decisions. Anti-discrimination policies and transformation plans are, more often than not, signed off by governing bodies and trustees of the school. I have spoken to members of governing bodies asking them whether they are aware that their school outlaws colour-blindness or that the social justice curriculum is teaching students that they are victims or oppressors. It is curious and a little disheartening that in response to these questions, the person will often display some shock but then tell me that they do not know much about social justice and I should rather speak to so-and-so about it. Inevitably, so-and-so is somebody who has been educated in critical pedagogy and believes fully in their mission to dismantle whiteness in the school. I have even spoken to teachers that sit on social awareness committees who are unaware of the beliefs propping up the content of their policies. 

Another reason why CRT has infiltrated schools without much opposition is the way that language is used to take advantage of the good intentions of most people. Much like Saad couches her message in lovely sounding words like ‘love’ and ‘integrity’, CRT activists use words and concepts that discourage anybody from looking behind the curtain. Some examples of this are ‘social justice’, ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘equity’ and ‘anti-racism’.  Anybody not aware of CRT will read those words in a positive light. After all, who wouldn’t want to be against racism? 

But, taking into account the actual content of CRT ideology, these terms take on entirely different meanings. The tactic is brilliantly deceptive. 

For example, ‘social justice’ actually means ‘critical social justice’ with ‘critical’ being used in the sense explained above. 

‘Diversity’ means creating an environment where the individual, with his own opinions and range of identities, is subsumed by a diversity of racial identities understood in terms of intersectional hierarchies of power as explained by CRT.

‘Inclusion’ means making people from previously oppressed groups feel comfortable in an environment by dismantling spaces thought of as ‘white’ and violating freedoms of speech by banning certain words and opinions thought to cause discomfort and offence to previously oppressed groups. While this might sound admirable, it results in the banning of viewpoints considered racist by CRT activists and privileges anything not seen as a product of western culture. 

As I have already discussed, ‘equity’ is not meant to be taken as ‘fairness’ as a by-product of creating equal opportunity but, instead, refers to the goal of actively engineering equality of outcomes between racial groups. ‘Equity’, therefore, is Marxist in its mechanism but differs from Marxism in that instead of focusing on material means of production, CRT activists focus on material as well as cultural means of production where any racial disparity in outcome must be amended because it is considered a result of discrimination due to the culture benefitting only those who are historically privileged. 

‘Anti-racism’ does not mean the same as ‘against racism’. To be anti-racist is to believe that any disparity in outcome between racial groups is evidence of racism and to commit to a lifelong process of dismantling any institution or law that has produced the disparity. Kendi defines it as follows:   

“The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “anti-racist.” What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.”  (Kendi, Ibram X., How To Be an Antiracist) 

Kendi, in a wonderfully straightforward way, goes on to say that,

“The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.”

And further, that, 

“The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”

Once these terms have been placed in the context of CRT and anti-racism, I doubt that parents and other stakeholders would accept them as willingly as they seem to have. However, policy documents and transformation plans are not forthright in defining what they mean. So, while stakeholders leave social justice to so-and-so, so-and-so organises training sessions, forms committees, and writes social justice curricula steeped in an ideology that nobody really understands except for so-and-so and their anti-racist colleagues, who then present it to children in ways that, as I’ve discussed, look a lot like brainwashing. And given the praise heaped on books like Me and White Supremacy, it seems brainwashing doesn’t count as brainwashing if the ideology you’re spreading is the Truth. 

Another reason CRT ideology has received so little pushback is that schools are afraid to challenge bureaucracy. By this I am specifically talking about the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (ISASA) of which most private schools are affiliated. 

ISASA has produced an anti-racism statement as well as a ‘Guide to Effective School Transformation and Diversity Management’. Both documents are steeped in CRT ideology and contain such statements like, “Quality schools do not subscribe to the ‘colour blindness’ approach”, and 

“ISASA views an anti-racist school as a school that is dedicated to providing an educational experience characterised by an African identity that is reflected daily in the experience of each member school. ISASA schools are places where attention is drawn to an understanding and appreciation of the African experience by drawing attention to and emphasising, specifically, the importance of an African identity, as well as global identities and heritages.”

The document also makes a distinction between the curriculum and the ‘hidden curriculum’. The hidden curriculum is an idea that comes from critical pedagogy and is about going beyond the conventional curriculum to teach students about power and identity (link to Mike Young essay?).

There is much more to say on the role of ISASA and critical social justice in schools but for now it is important to understand that there is only one version of social justice in the organisation – the same version that ends up producing books like Me and White Supremacy.

I understand the hesitancy of heads of schools and administrators to kick up a fuss about what they are being told to teach, how they are being told to hire for diversity and equity, and the diversity training they are being told to undertake. After all, 

All employees and Governors/Boards in member schools must undertake to accept the responsibility to educate all students regarding race and endeavour to educate all their students to uphold principles of anti-discrimination, equality and inclusion. 

And,

Should a member school not work towards actively combatting racism and discriminatory practices, ISASA deems this failure to be inconsistent with its vision and mission. Such a failure to combat racism and discriminatory practices may be considered a material breach of ISASA’s membership conditions and may result in that member school’s membership being terminated in terms of Article 21.2 of the ISASA Memorandum of Incorporation

 

Having said that, schools are certainly not blameless and I hope that they find the courage to face the lawmakers who are leading them down a road to ideological totalism. 

 

Before I write some closing remarks, it is important to dispel some misconceptions about the position I have taken in this essay and respond to the most common criticisms of the position. The criticisms themselves reveal some interesting things about CRT ideology. 

It is often claimed by social justice activists that CRT is just a legal theory and only exists in law departments. This claim is completely baseless and serves as a way of discrediting those who push back against the endorsement of CRT in schools and businesses.

Saying that CRT exists only in a few university departments is like saying that theology only exists in a seminary. That the man is praying in front of the alter over there has nothing to do with theology. 

As Delgado and Stefancic explain in Introduction to Critical Race Theory,

“Although CRT began as a movement in the law, it has rapidly spread beyond that discipline. Today, many in the field of education consider themselves critical race theorists who use CRT’s ideas to understand issues of school discipline and hierarchy, tracking controversies over curriculum and history, and IQ and achievement testing.”

Another deflection used by those who buy the ideology of CRT is to claim that detractors just do not understand it. They just don’t get it. But they never really explain what you don’t get. I think that ‘you don’t get it’ is just another way of saying that you haven’t felt its truth. It reminds me of the time I asked a former colleague whether he seriously believes that Jonah survived in the belly of a whale for three days. He shook his head. I just didn't get it. Did I not know that the bible says it was a big fish, not a whale!? 

Yet another common tactic by critics of those who question CRT ideology is to dismiss that person as Trump-supporting, vaccine-averse fellow who is just picking up on a right-wing talking point. Someone who denies that racism exists. So, of course, they would oppose CRT or anti-racism. This claim is demonstrably false and is just another version of saying that someone has a ‘bourgeois mentality’ – easier to dismiss criticism if it comes from somebody who carries evil in their heart (or unconscious). 

I also hear people claim that those who say that children are being indoctrinated by CRT activists are being alarmist. Truthfully, I thought that too until I started looking into it. I hope that I have dispelled that claim by discussing how CRT ideas are presented. Sure, some of the indoctrination rhetoric is overblown. There will be many schools that are just following the social justice trend and are not pushing the beliefs on teachers and students. However, seeing as a significant number of the top schools in the country, along with a host of consultants, are actively pushing the CRT worldview, it is just a matter of time. In any case, perhaps being alarmist is prudent given what we know of 20th-century politics and ascribing collective guilt to people based on ethnicity.  

A final note on criticism: 

No, people who take the position I have taken in this essay do not deny that racism exists. That would be a ridiculous claim. Of course, racism exists and we should do everything we can to combat it. I think that we do a pretty good job of it, too. However, if the definition and evidence of racism are as CRT activists assert, then yes, in many cases, I do deny that racism exists. 

But what about all of those people that have the ‘lived experience’ of racism? Am I saying that they are lying? No, I think that they do have the lived experience of racism. However, the real issue is whether or not those people are justified in having that experience. In many cases, they will be, and we, as a society should condemn whatever racist act was perpetrated against them. But, just because somebody feels like the target of bigotry does not mean the feeling is justified. If a black student reports that they feel they have been the victim of a racist act because their teacher struggled to pronounce their name, I suggest that that person's accusation is not justified and that they should think hard about what has caused their psychological fragility and takes steps to rectify it.

Closing Remarks 

Critical race theory and its offshoot, anti-racism, is the dominant theory underpinning social justice in South African schools. CRT uses unethical methods to recruit adherents to what is essentially a political ideology. I showed how in its most concentrated form, CRT ideology can plausibly be called indoctrination. Seeing as Me and White Supremacy is endorsed by DiAngelo and by social justice experts in South African schools this suggests that the kind of indoctrination used by Saad is not an outlier but instead is the logical endpoint of anti-racist education. It is a feature, not a bug.

The ramifications of this kind of thinking will be dire for race relations in this country. CRT ideology depends on a kind of race essentialism and leads not towards integration but segregation. It promotes us vs them thinking by ascribing collective guilt for things that happened in the past and which are thought to be thrown forward in the hearts and minds of anybody wearing a particular skin colour. It vilifies anybody holding a heterodox opinion. It doesn’t just consider opponents misguided or wrong, but instead considers opponents to be bad people whose opposition is tantamount to blasphemy and smears them with a word like ‘racist’. Perhaps ‘infidel ’would be more apt.

CRT ideology creates psychological fragility. Racism and power exist in an all-encompassing ether and pointing it out is proof that you are a part of the congregation and will create a sense of tribal belonging. Being offended by something is becoming a mark of virtue and evidence that you are part of a group called ‘anti-racist’. Any challenge to your position causes offence which is taken as proof that that person or thing has committed an act of racism against you. This might cause you to feel unsafe and demand that your school create a ‘safe space’ where the offended might gather and not have to be subject to white fragility, white silence, white exceptionalism etc (this is the case in some schools). Ideas that have been conjured as Kafka traps to confirm what you already believe to be true – that the person who offended you is guilty of blasphemy whether they know it or not, intention be damned. If one goal of education is to produce mentally robust young men and women who are ready to take their places as productive members of society, promoting an ideology like CRT does not seem to align with that goal. Young men and women should enter adult society having been taught how to present and argue a point of view using mental tools at their disposal like reason, logic, and evidence, not having been taught that being offended by an idea is proof that the idea is bad and is being wielded by somebody who means them harm. This idea is antithetical to the very notion of progress.

Progress necessarily depends on the diversity of opinion being tolerated. We never know when we are wrong unless the opinion we hold rubs up against a contrary opinion that proves the previously held one wrong. That is why it is illiberal to explicitly outlaw 'colour-blindness'. It is illiberal to force teachers and administrators to attend Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training sessions that teach that the CRT worldview as the truth while painting any heterodox opinion as contrary to that truth. This is dogmatism masquerading as tolerance. Progress does not look like ascribing collective guilt and suggesting to a black child that but for people like the white kid next to him, he would be living in a world without prejudice; that but for oppressive institutions like liberal democracies, he would be living in an equity utopia. After all, what happens when Jane reaches for a doll and James reaches for a dinky car? Do we start all over again? Progress does not look like telling a child that to think about something intellectually is not useful when attempting to converge on the truth. Progress does not look like teaching children that 'lived experience' is the only epistemic yardstick by which to measure reality. We know that 'lived experience' can be unreliable and misinterpreted - that it can be influenced and reframed. We know ways of making this happen, too. Just ask Asch, or Lifton, or Mao. 

Progress does not look like Critical Race Theory or anti-racism. Yet this is fast becoming the only lens through which our children are being permitted to view our world with all of its nuance and complexity.

Progress does not look like ideological totalism.

I said that I would like to answer three questions in this essay. How could a school recommend a book like Me and White Supremacy to children? Have we lost our minds? Is collective guilt back in fashion? 

The answer to the first is because it offers a simple solution to a complex problem. A solution presented in a way that exploits good intentions. A solution predicated on non-thought and advanced by people who see that as something noble and will stop at nothing to spread the good news. 

To the second, sure, but only the parts involved in thinking. 

To the third, it would certainly seem so. And doing it in service of some noble cause doesn’t make it any less palatable to those who take history seriously. If a stranger in a van offers you sweets – say no. 

Parents need to start asking questions of school administrators and social justice committees. Teachers need to speak out if they do not agree with the transformation agenda at their school. Schools need to organise debates about social justice where heterodox opinions are encouraged instead of frowned upon. I think that Critical Race Theory ideology will lose in the end. But the question remains, how much damage will this latest iteration of ideological totalism cause in the meantime? The answer depends on the willingness of people to stand up for liberal values. Values that have created the most peaceful, prosperous, and non-racial societies the world has ever seen. 

Nelson Mandela said that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’

If education looks anything like Me and White Supremacy, it might just be the weapon used to unmake the world the West has created. 

 

References:

Hunter, J. (2017). Stress-induced hypomania in healthy participants. PhD, University of KwaZulu-Natal. 

Lifton, R. (1961). Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. North Carolina: W.W. Norton & Co. 

ISASA (2018). A Guide to Effective School Transformation and Diversity Management.

ISASA, Statement on Anti-Racism

 

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