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Opinion | DeSantis May Have Been Right


For example, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article “The Case for Reparations,” which appeared in The Atlantic in 2014 and focused on the injustice of redlining policies in mortgage lending until the late 1960s, stimulated a nationwide discussion. It was initially listed as a “source for consideration” in the course. However, for all the impact of that intelligent, influential and well-written article, the idea that reparations are owed is open to wide dispute. It is a proposal and one that many Black people reject. (Useful examples of that, from long before the Coates article was published, are here).

Some think that despite the injustices of the past, people in the present should achieve via their own efforts. Others contest the causal link between past discrimination and Black America’s current problems — a key plank in today’s reparations arguments. Some observe that Blackness alone is too ambiguous a concept in our endlessly hybridized society, i.e., they acknowledge what almost all believe, which is that our concept of race is a messy, contingent fiction. I think the Great Society programs, affirmative action, the loosening of welfare programs in the late 1960s, the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 and other significant policies have already been conceived of as a form of reparations, if not under the name itself. Reparations advocates have some answers to those objections, but even they fail to establish reparations as a moral absolute. The issue remains a controversy.

Intersectionality is a similar matter, in part as it seems a stand-in for the more openly controversial critical race theory. The very definition of C.R.T. has become a shifting target, rather like the term “neoliberal” or what it means to say that two people dated. However, the implication in much discussion — that C.R.T. is a mere matter of the legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality, documenting that race, gender and other factors condition how people process life — is coy. No school of legal or academic thought could consist solely of that unexceptionable and even rather obvious observation. What worries many about C.R.T. are the conclusions its advocates draw from this intersectionality.

The original draft did not explicitly mention C.R.T., as opposed to intersectionality. However, it is reasonable to suppose that many teachers would use intersectionality as a springboard for instructing students, for example, that white people can be conceived as a single mass of domination and that racism is baked into America’s very essence in ways inescapable and unending. We must note that criticism of Crenshaw’s removal from the course — which took place in the College Board’s modified draft — often claims that detractors don’t want students to know the truth about America, something that overshoots the mere excision of the term “intersectionality” and implies a sanctioning of students being taught something broader and more judgmental.

Some C.R.T. advocates, for example, conclude that systemic oppression means that views from those oppressed via intersectionality must be accepted without question, as a kind of group narrative that renders it egregious to quibble over the details and nuances of individual experience. As the C.R.T. pioneer Richard Delgado put it, nonwhite people should protest based on a “broad story of dashed hopes and centuries-long mistreatment that afflicts an entire people and forms the historical and cultural background of your complaint.”

But this perspective, called standpoint epistemology, while intended as social justice, also questions empiricism and logic. Who really thinks that its absence from an A.P. course constitutes denying that slavery happened or that racism exists? C.R.T. advocates too often discuss white people as an undifferentiated mass, as in claims that white people resist letting go of their power, a view memorably promulgated by the legal scholar Derrick Bell. There is a rhetorical power in this sociological shorthand, but it also encourages a shallow classification of American individuals as bad white people and good everybody else. Fact this is not.

To pretend that where Blackness is concerned, certain views must be treated as truth despite intelligent and sustained critique is to give in to the illogic of standpoint epistemology: “That which rubs me the wrong way is indisputably immoral.”

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