Commentary: Racism is Wrong, But ‘Anti-Racism’ Does Not Belong in Schools

Commentary by Ryan Bangert originally published by RealClearReligion.org

Modern “anti-racism” ideology is now pretty well known. And on the surface, it sounds like a good idea. After all, who doesn’t want to be against racism?

The problem is that “anti-racism” is a linguistic trick. Instead of condemning all forms of racism, it seeks to combat one form of racism with another. By doing so, it only perpetuates racial division and strife, harming everyone.

How should Christians understand the difference between a common sense opposition to racism and the ideology of anti-racism? Let’s compare two ways of addressing this issue.

In 2007, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts authored an opinion in a case that addressed the legality of plans used by two public school districts to assign students to specific schools. Both schools employed racial quotas to make the assignments. In striking down the quotas, Roberts memorably stated, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

Contrast that to another memorable line, this time from author Ibram X. Kendi. In his 2019 book “How to Be an Antiracist,” Kendi, a well-known scholar and proponent of anti-racism ideology, opined, “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.”

I think both Roberts and Kendi would agree that racism – harboring animosity and hatred for others based on their race and treating them differently based on race – is a great moral evil. Not only that, I think both would agree that racism continues to afflict American society, and that work must be done to end it. They part company, however, on how to combat racism. One would call for an end to all racial discrimination; the other would “fight fire with fire,” so to speak, by meeting one form of bigotry with another.

Unfortunately, several public school districts across America are rejecting Roberts’ vision in favor of Kendi’s. Take, for instance, Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, which adopted an “Anti-Racism Policy” in February 2019. During a staff orientation, a district leader who helped develop the policy made its implications clear. He told staff to think about whether they were on the “anti-racism school bus,” whether they “need help finding your seat and keeping your seat,” or whether “it’s time for you to just get off the bus.”

So, what does it mean to be “on the anti-racism school bus” in Albemarle County? The answer given by the district has been simple and direct. For white students, it’s becoming aware of and repenting for “white privilege.” And for everyone, it’s fighting against and dismantling “white-dominant culture.”

Through its implementation of this policy, the district has indoctrinated staff and students alike in a bizarre understanding of racism and race relations. Staff were told that racism is “the subordination of people of color by white people.” Students, in turn, were taught that racism is “the marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.”

Moreover, students were told that “people who are white, middle class, Christian, and cisgender” comprise a “dominant culture” who “chose the damage and rules,” while “black, brown, indigenous people of color of the global majority, queer, transgendered, non-binary folx, cisgender women, youth, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, non-Christian folx, neurodiverse, folx with disabilities, [and] folx living in poverty” were all part of a “subordinate culture.”

Anti-racism, then, means fighting against the “dominant culture” by contesting “white supremacy, white-dominant culture, and unequal institutions and society.” Some of those racist institutions include such things as believing in “colorblindness,” “remaining apolitical,” believing there are “two sides to every story,” and holding the wrong views on political issues like border security, immigration, criminal justice reform, and school financing.

There is much more, but these examples drive home the point.

The philosophy expressed in these materials is, in the words of Columbia professor John McWhorter in his book “Woke Racism,” “a form of racism in itself.” In his words, they teach white people to “do ‘the work’ of becoming ‘antiracist’ in their every waking moment and to despise themselves for lapses in doing so, despite that it is a work they are condemned never to finish.” And just as perniciously, it teaches that “to insist that black people can achieve under less than perfect conditions is ignorant slander,” which McWhorter rightly condemns as “disempowering.”

McWhorter is right. And his critique alone is a sufficient reason to reject the racism embedded in Albemarle County Public Schools’ “anti-racist” curriculum.

But the problem goes even deeper, especially for the Christians singled out by the school district. The ideology at play in Albemarle County is an affront to the Gospel. Christians understand that racism directly contradicts the teaching of Scripture that we are all equally fallen in God’s sight, equally loved by Him, and have equal access to redemption through the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ. Those truths obligate us to reject racism and condemn it as a moral wrong.

And that same duty compels us to reject and condemn the Albemarle County Public Schools curriculum. Why? Because it labels, divides, stigmatizes, and condemns students based on race. For some, they are labeled and condemned, solely based on their race, as part of a “dominant” culture that perpetually oppresses others. For others, they are labeled and stigmatized as part of a “subordinate” culture that is perpetually oppressed. For both, their race becomes the defining characteristic in their life. Not their moral character. And certainly not their status as infinitely valued creations of a loving God.

At its core, anti-racism, which draws heavily upon modern critical race theory, locates evil outside the human heart, in institutions and “hierarchies” of oppression. And it locates the solution in “dismantling” those structures. That won’t work, of course, because, in the timeless words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts.”

We must reject anti-racism ideology, then, because it advances a lie – that discrimination can be cured with more discrimination, bigotry with more bigotry, and that society can be changed if we dismantle enough institutions and bludgeon our students into accepting their place in anti-racism’s twisted hierarchy of oppression.

So what are we to do? Stand for truth wherever we can. For example, just recently, my law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a lawsuit against the Albemarle County School Board on behalf of a courageous group of parents and students challenging the district’s new curriculum. The parents hail from diverse racial backgrounds and diverse branches of Christianity. They are united, however, in teaching their children that all people should be treated with equal dignity, love, and respect, regardless of their race, color, or creed.

Those brave parents and students are taking a stand for truth. And that stand will make all the difference.

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Ryan Bangert is senior counsel and vice president of legal strategy with Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal), which represents parents and their children who have filed suit against the Albemarle County School Board.