I hope for this to be the first in a series of essays outlining a number of tactics used by the Critical Social Justice (CSJ) movement. This essay contains the first two. But first, a word about how Critical social Justice operates.

    1. The Punch

You cannot argue with a punch in the face. If you are intent on having a reasonable discussion with someone, and the other person is intent on punching you in the face, no matter how much energy and effort you put into building your arguments and gathering your evidence, it will not matter. You still need to deal with the punch to the face. Once the punch is being thrown, you can’t debate the punch, or invalidate the punch with logic, or provide evidence that the punch is unwarranted; you need to dodge, block or punch back.

There are situations where reasonable arguments and truth-seeking work, and situations where they do not. Obviously, we should be trying to create situations where truth-seeking matters. However, when someone has rejected truth-seeking efforts and is trying to punch you in the face, getting away from them, knowing how to punch back, or having a very large friend come to your aid are tactics which will be far more effective for dealing with that situation than attempting to discuss the science of punching or the logic of an uppercut to the jaw.

The principles at play in a street fight are a world away from the principles at play when trying to discover truth. If the goal is to discover truth then the person you are engaging with has to be willing to engage with you on truth-seeking terms and accept the outcome. If you are playing the truth game while someone else is playing the punch-you-in-the-face game, well, you’re going to get punched in the face.

You need to know which game is being played and set your tactics accordingly, even if that means walking away and refusing to play.

2. Social Moves

CSJ is a worldview: an entire system for how to look at and understand the world. That means CSJ has a way of understanding people, the universe, society, truth, ideas, beliefs, politics, religion, and anything else you can think of, built right into it. This means the CSJ worldview will have its own internally consistent methods for spreading its ideas. The tactics used by the advocates of CSJ are a product of the CSJ worldview and operate on the assumptions of CSJ. In other words, the worldview of CSJ comes complete with a set of instructions for how to spread CSJ and how a CSJ advocate ought to engage with anyone who pushes back: CSJ has its own social rules of engagement.

One of the more frustrating aspects of trying to push back against CSJ for me has been to watch people attempt to engage in a dialogue with a CSJ advocate, only to walk away frustrated and humiliated, sometimes with their reputation in tatters after a public thrashing. This happens for a very simple reason: the advocates of CSJ are not playing the same game the rest of us are and do not follow the same rules or employ the same tactics.

You see, CSJ advocates think we are all hopelessly biased, and that we hold our views for social reasons: we want to fit in, or we want to have the beliefs that make us popular, or we’ve been socialized by society to believe them. Consequently the way that they argue for their view is going to operate on a social level, not an intellectual level.

To put the strategy into simple terms: CSJ advocates are not trying to defeat you intellectually with evidence and arguments, they are trying to defeat you socially using power moves and social maneuvering. That sentence is worth reading again.

There is an old idea that says you can win a debate but lose the crowd, that even though people are capable of rationality, they are not purely rational creatures and are easily led astray by emotions, interests, group think, social pressure, confusions, logical fallacies, and other such things. We must be aware that if the truth is packaged poorly, and a lie is presented beautifully, people can be led astray by the appearances and side with the lie over the truth.

This is an unfortunate fact about our psychology: we are not perfect.

Where Enlightenment liberals believe this unfortunate fact can be mitigated by a commitment to truth and by putting checks and balances in place, CSJ advocates see this as an inescapable fact about the world. For the CSJ advocate, the way to spread their worldview is to use whatever methods work, and since the social method of argumentation works, social methods are what CSJ advocates use.

Again, to put it bluntly: the CSJ advocates are not going to try to win an intellectual battle with you by presenting the best evidence, reasons, and arguments; the CSJ advocate is going to try to defeat you socially by winning the crowd, getting you removed from a position of authority, destroying your reputation, attacking your motives, creating tremendous social pressure, and generally using whatever tactics they think will be effective at getting people to join their side. This means that any tactic that advances the goals of CSJ is the tactic they will use. Truth, fairness, and objectivity are not the point.

I’m not saying that the CSJ advocates are always lying. I’m saying the tactics they use game the natural social and psychological proclivities of human beings in order to get people to join their side, and that they think this is not only acceptable, but the correct way, indeed the only way, to operate.

3. Woke Tactics

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the tactics CSJ advocates use when trying to spread their worldview. For this essay I’ll be sticking to the first two of their argumentative tactics and strategies. Let’s begin.

A. The motte and bailey

This is a tactic where the CSJ advocate will make some very bold, controversial claim and when they are challenged on it, they will claim they were actually arguing for some simple, obvious, uncontroversial claim.

The tactic is so named after a medieval defense system composed of a motte and a bailey. The motte is an impregnable fortress which is almost impossible for the enemy to take. The motte is a small, cramped, ugly area that you really don’t want to have to be stuck in. It only exists so that you have a place to retreat to if you are attacked. The motte sits in the middle of the bailey. The bailey is a large area of rich farmland where all the food is grown, livestock are raised, and fruit is picked. The bailey is the area where all the productive economic activity occurs. It’s where you do all the things you really want to do: grow crops, pick fruits, and raise animals. The idea of a motte and bailey system is that all the things you want to accomplish occur in the bailey, and you only retreat to the motte when you are under attack.

So, when a CSJ advocate states some controversial opinion loudly, boldly, and publicly, that is the bailey. When they are challenged on it and retreat to some other position that is not controversial, the position they retreat to is the motte.

For example, a CSJ advocate might argue that gender and sex are both socially constructed and all the differences we see are the product of social conditions, social biases, and systemic sexism. However, when someone challenges this idea using facts about human biology (for instance pointing out that men are on average bigger and stronger than women), the CSJ advocate will retreat from that position and claim that they only meant the uncontroversial position that society constructs ideas about men and women and sometimes this can lead to stereotyping.

Again, the goal is to proclaim the arguments in the bailey, and then retreat to the motte when challenged. Once the challenge has passed, or the facts used to challenge you are no longer immediately evident, you emerge from the motte and go directly back to arguing for the positions that are to be found in the bailey.

In practice this means that CSJ advocates make the radical claims they really believe (the bailey) until they get challenged on it, at which point they claim that they really mean some far less radical position (the motte). They will claim that the motte is their position only until the challenge passes, then it’s straight back to the bailey to argue for the radical positions they really believe.

B. Attacking motives

A common tactic used by CSJ advocates is to cast doubt on the motivations and good faith of the person who is arguing against CSJ. As I am sure you all know, attacking the character of a person making an argument does not make their argument wrong. If I argue 2 + 2 = 4 you cannot say that I am wrong based on the fact that I robbed a bank. 2 + 2 = 4 regardless of whether or not I am a scoundrel. I think this is obvious to everyone.

The CSJ version of a character attack has a particular shape and feel to it as they do not go after the character of the person the way most other people do. They will not accuse you of being a drunk, or a drug addict, or a womanizer. They will attack your motives by claiming that your arguments against CSJ are not genuine, but rather a smokescreen for the fact that you benefit from the status quo and so you argue for the status quo because you benefit from it. In other words, you oppose justice because you benefit from injustice, and all the intellectual reasons you give are just a cover for your selfish motives.

Most of the time CSJ advocates won’t straightforwardly say your motive makes you wrong. What they will do is launch the attack so as to suggest that your motives for arguing against CSJ advocate are bad, and for that reason you are not to be trusted. What the CSJ advocates want is for people to look at the thing you say with hostility and suspicion, and to create the impression that you are bamboozling other people, or otherwise hoodwinking them in some way. The effect they are trying to create is to cover you with a cloud of suspicion and distrust so that people won’t believe you or take you seriously.

These attacks can happen in number of ways:

    1. They just assert it: “You are only saying that because you benefit from a racist system and you refuse to give up your benefit.”
    2. They insinuate it with a certain amount of plausible deniability: “I have heard a lot of white people say that before, but I’m not sure you would be saying that if you were a person of colour.”
    3. They can ask a question that implies you have bad motives: “Well, you oppose our CSJ policies, but don’t you benefit a lot from the way things are now?”
    4. They can assert that all people in your positions think the same way and are trying to preserve their privilege: “You know what they say: to a person who is used to having privilege, equality can feel like oppression, and that is why you are against CSJ.”

Again, the goal is to create a cloud of suspicion around what you say in order to get people to turn their skeptical dials up when you speak. They want to remove from you the ability to have what you are saying taken at face value and instead get people to see what you are saying as merely you attempting to get what you want. Needless to say, people rarely take advice from those they are suspicious of.

4. Understanding: The First Step

The theme that runs through these tactics is that the CSJ worldview progresses not through clarity and truth, but by muddying the intellectual waters and making power moves. I won’t lay out an exhaustive program for fighting back here as that is beyond the scope of this essay. I am, however, hoping that becoming aware of these tactics will allow you to see them coming and understand the way in which CSJ advocates are engaging with you.

In my next essay I’ll bring to light three more tactics which CSJ activists use as they work to make their worldview dominant in society.

Mike Young is a Canadian thinker, writer and essayist. Follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/wokal_distance.

More than 300 years ago, humanity emerged from the feudal dark ages and entered the Age of Enlightenment. For the first time in human history, logic, reason, and the concept of individual liberty entered the culture and became the standard orthodoxy of Western democratic society. In the early 21st-century, a new orthodoxy emerged that challenged the legitimacy of Western civilization. While the new orthodoxy has permeated Western culture and its institutions for generations, it came to prominence around 2010 through the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) cultural movement. In the past decade governmental institutions (including public education), corporations, and communities have adopted this new cultural standard: Orthodox Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI). The dogmatic application of ODEI is often referred to as wokism or being woke.

On the face of it, ODEI might sound like a good cause. After all, who doesn’t want to move toward a world that promotes inclusion and diversity? However, over time I started noticing that ODEI was more intent on replacing the pillars of Western civilization than on improving the human condition. Specifically, “diversity” is the replacement for “individualism”, “equity” for “meritocracy”, and “inclusion” for the belief that all humans are created equal. ODEI teachings also proclaim that individualism, meritocracy, and the belief that all are created equalthe pillars of Western civilizationare responsible for upholding white supremacy. Many of these movements initially advocated for a type of liberal humanism (individualism, freedom, and peace) but quickly turned against it. The logic of individual autonomy that underlies liberal humanism (the idea that people are free to make independent rational decisions that determine their own fate) was viewed as a mechanism for keeping the marginalized in their place by obscuring larger structures of inequality.

Not only is ODEI’s epistemological foundation a repudiation of Western civilization, but it also strengthens the neural networks associated with humanity’s most malevolent traits, tendencies, and inclinations. A truth regarding humanity is that within our survival wiring are capacities for prejudice, aggression, cruelty, and a propensity for tribalistic behaviours. These capacities are strengthened when we do not or cannot see others as we see ourselves. A 2010 study by the UK-based Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the psychological basis for prejudice is more likely to develop and persist when people see their identity in terms of belonging to particular groups, groups have different or conflicting key values, people view others as different, and their groups discriminate against others. These developments are the modus operandi of ODEI and illustrate how it cultivates bigotry in the hearts and minds of individuals.

July 2020 study of three extreme political attitudes shows that those who endorse the dogmatic application of DEI are more likely to have Dark Triad traits: Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy. The same study also revealed that the psychological makeup of individuals attached to ODEI is closer to individuals attached to white identitarianism than those attached to liberalism. This gives credence to Nietzsche’s warning: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster; for if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes back into you.”

Humans might be hardwired for prejudice, aggression, and cruelty; however, we are also hardwired for altruism, compassion, and empathy. In Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society, Nicholas A. Christakis describes these evolutionary biological traits as “the social suite”:

At the core of all societies, is the social suite: (1) The capacity to have and recognize individual identity (2) Love for partners and offspring (3) Friendship (4) Social networks (5) Cooperation (6) Preference for one’s own group (that is, in-group bias) (7) Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism) (8) Social learning and teaching.

Therefore, we ought to design systems and structures that consider humanity’s “social suite” and strive to cultivate our most positive traits while mitigating the malevolent ones. Examining the negative social-emotional impacts of ODEI on the human experience highlights the need for heterodox solutions. Compassionate Humanism was designed with this in mind and aims to become the new orthodoxy for communities that wish to engage with each other as the unique, conscious beings we are rather than the stereotyped, primitive reductions of our whole selves ODEI offers. Compassionate Humanism prioritizes human dignity over identity by cultivating mindsets of inquiry and compassion over those of fear and judgment by engaging in three Pathways of Practice:

    • Practices that build awareness and equanimity. S.N. Goenka states, “The bird of wisdom needs two things to fly. They are awareness and equanimity.” Gaining insight into ourselves, others, and the world around us allows us to choose thoughts and behaviors that best serve us and our communities rather than responding with predictable and often negative evolutionary determinants. Noticing the narratives we create about the world and individuals in it (including ourselves) is an essential awareness practice for mitigating harm and increasing human potential. Equanimous individuals are less likely to harm others and can make informed decisions during chaotic situations. Not only does ODEI not provide practices to mitigate or prevent harmful human behavior, but it also fosters narratives of fear and judgment. Authentically incorporating practices that build awareness and equanimity into daily habits strengthens neural pathways associated with empowerment and resilience.
    • Practices that celebrate our common humanity and break the walls of indignity A study on in-group and outgroup behaviors noted, “As soon as you place anyone outside of the circle of ‘us’ the mind/brain automatically begins to devalue that person and justify poor treatment of him.” ODEI scholarship prioritizes intersectional identity over our common humanity. Therefore, ODEI’s modus operandi is institutionalizing and normalizing dehumanization. Celebrating our common humanity is a practice designed to break down the walls of indignity built by ODEI theory and practice. Embracing our common humanity means understanding that pain and failure are unavoidable aspects of our human experience, as are love, joy, and the desire for social connection and friendship. Practices that celebrate our common humanity also include identifying commonalities between individuals rather than driving division. Authentically incorporating practices that celebrate our common humanity and break the walls of indignity into daily habits strengthens the neural pathways that allow us to see each other as we see ourselves rather than cause harm to each other.
    • Practices that build kindness and compassion for self and others. Linked to older mammalian systems in the brain related to caregiving, which involves the release of oxytocin and feelings of secure attachment, practicing self-compassion strengthens neural pathways responsible for love, affection and the capacity for emotional awareness, empathy, motivation, and social engagement. ODEI delegitimizes this healthy human need by raising suspicions that kindness and compassion are in fact practices designed to conceal bigotry. Not only does ODEI distance itself from kindness and compassion; it also justifies the mistreatment of individuals according to their assigned group identity. Acts of kindness are large, small, planned, and spontaneous demonstrations of selflessness that can transform individual hearts and minds while connecting communities through empathy and cooperation. Extending kindness to alleviate another individual’s suffering is compassion. Authentically incorporating practices that build kindness and compassion for self and others into daily habits strengthens the neural pathways that allow us to open our hearts and connect in previously unimaginable ways.

At the core of our humanity is the desire to pursue our well-being in our own unique ways. We also share two fundamental drives: to make meaning of our world and to feel a sense of belonging within it. ODEI prohibits individuality and is counterproductive to the intuitive drives of our species. Compassionate Humanism is designed to fortify the individual and inform our fundamental drives by strengthening neural networks linked to compassion and resilience. In the scope of human history, Western democracy is a relatively new concept and has only aligned its theory and practice relatively recently. While no system is perfect, Western democracy has extended individual freedoms and advanced humanity more than any other philosophical/governing system to date.

The health and continuation of Western democratic societies have been dependent on its citizenry challenging the orthodox standards that are contrary to Western democratic philosophy. Over time, this generational obligation has extended human rights, increased innovation, and uplifted the human condition. It is once again time to engage in this generational obligation of abandoning standards counterproductive to Western democratic philosophy while adopting practices that procure and protect individual rights. I hope the Compassionate Humanism framework can serve institutions and individuals interested in fortifying the individual and strengthening our shared humanity by centering human dignity over tribalism, compassion over judgment, and equanimity over fear.

Jason Littlefield is an educator passionate about the health and well-being of individuals and the preservation/restoration of Human Liberalism. He is the Executive Director of EmpowerED Pathways and author of the Compassionate Humanism framework for life, leadership, and learning.

I am often asked if I know of any liberal diversity training programmes or whether I could develop one. I know of some excellent programmes to address diversity issues that are compatible with liberalism. See here, here and here, for example. But I don’t know of any specifically liberal diversity training programmes. And there’s a good reason for that.

Liberals don’t tend to train people in what they should think.

Liberalism is committed to the freedom of the individual including their freedom of belief. It also values pluralism: the position that many different moral frameworks and belief systems can and should exist and that this is beneficial to the development of knowledge and moral progress. This is often referred to as ‘viewpoint diversity’ or ‘the Marketplace of Ideas.’ Therefore, there could not really be a liberal training session in ethics because it is not liberal to train people to have (or pretend to have) any specific moral, political, religious, or philosophical views. There could, however, be a liberal discussion group.

In places of employment, it is utterly reasonable and, indeed, necessary for there to be rules against displaying prejudice or hostility to people or discriminating against them because of their race, sex, sexuality, nationality, religion (or lack of religion), gender identity, disability, weight, etc. It is also entirely in keeping with liberalism to see this as something that is important enough to have a meeting or series of meetings about because prejudice and discrimination are illiberal. There is nothing illiberal in an employer making sure that everybody knows it is unacceptable to behave in prejudiced ways or in encouraging them to give thought to how they can contribute to fostering an inclusive and friendly working environment.

What might such a meeting or series of meetings look like? I will suggest one way this could work. First, they would be led by a facilitator in a liberal fashion.

Time could be set aside for the workforce to get together as a whole or in groups to discuss how to achieve and maintain an inclusive working environment. It would thus begin with the assumption that racism and other forms of bigotry are unacceptable in the workplace and must be combatted. It would also begin with the assumption that there are many moral frameworks from which it is possible to oppose bigotry and that a large part of diversity is the diversity of viewpoints. It would understand that inclusion requires the consideration of all viewpoints, whether they are held by the majority or the minority.

The facilitator of the discussion group could begin by asking people how they understood a certain issue. For this hypothetical scenario, we will take racism as the issue. Everybody would be encouraged to contribute their own definition of racism. People would also be free not to share their views on it because it is illiberal for an employer to demand to know the inner values, thoughts, and beliefs of their employees. The individual may consider their own religious, political, or ethical views to be private or they may not have any well-thought-through positions on these issues and therefore would not feel confident articulating their views.

These definitions could then be written up on a board and members of the group invited to discuss the pros and cons of each one. Realistically, the strongest difference of opinion is likely to be over whether racism consists in individual prejudice on the grounds of race or in a largely hidden system of oppressive power that operates throughout society along the lines of race. The merits of these two definitions could be discussed with the aim of finding some common ground or overlap. For example, some people who believe racism to be an individual attitude may concede that such attitudes can create systems of power that disadvantage racial minorities. Others who believe racism to be a system of power may concede that individuals do have some agency to reject racist ideas. But nobody should be compelled to concede either of those and it would be accepted that different ideas about how racism works exist among the group. Anyone who asserted that different opinions should not be permitted to exist would simply have that belief added to the list of different opinions but would not be allowed to derail the meeting.

The meeting could then move on to inviting members of the groups to describe the ethical framework from which they oppose racism. A liberal might say that evaluating people by their racial category rather than as individuals is likely to result in both factual error and illiberal stereotyping. They may also say that the best way to combat racism is simply by opposing judgements based on race. A Marxist, on the other hand, might say that social class is the major cause of inequality. They may argue that a primary focus on race divides the working class and makes remedying class-caused disparities harder. A Social Justice advocate would be likely to say that opposing racism requires all of society to become aware of the unconscious racial biases that they believe we are all socialised into and that we should work to dismantle them.

Meanwhile, a conservative or libertarian might argue that people need to take personal responsibility not only to treat all races equally but also for much of their own success and that placing too much responsibility on society is disempowering to individuals. Somebody whose primary ethical framework is religious might argue that racism is wrong because we are all God’s creations or draw on theological texts from their specific faith tradition as grounds for opposing racism. It is likely that most people would simply say that racism is stupid and hurtful and that we should be thoughtful and kind to our fellow humans generally, not only our work colleagues. The facilitator could write up the key points made by each person and then brainstorm the pros and cons of each approach.

There are many such questions that could be asked and a skilled facilitator would be able to encourage and moderate civil discussion and disagreement about the points raised, thus enabling employees to think about racism in ways they had not done before. This would not be a training session but an opportunity to think more deeply about race and racism by learning more about the diversity of views around racism. Anybody unable to express disagreement civilly would need to be asked to leave.

There would, of course, be some people who did not wish to take the opportunity to learn more about diverse viewpoints around racism and may, in fact, have ethical objections to being required to do so. Some of the objectors would likely be Social Justice advocates who believe that all but one viewpoint on racism is racist and also that having to hear other views is harmful to non-white people and makes them feel unsafe. Others might object from the position that there is already far too much talk about race and that racism is most likely to be overcome by ceasing to talk about it. These people could be encouraged to come along and make this case but if they repeated their objection on ethical grounds, it would be illiberal to force them to do so. Instead, they could be presented with a simple policy against exhibiting racial hostility, prejudice, or discrimination at work and required to commit to not behaving in that way.

This hypothetical liberal discussion programme sounds very simple and that’s because it is. However, there is a difference between simple and easy. In our current climate, it is unlikely that these kinds of sessions would proceed easily. It is much more likely that the very suggestion of holding meetings to discuss a variety of ways to understand racism and a range of frameworks from which to oppose it would provoke outrage. The existence of such sessions could even be asserted to be evidence that the company believes that the humanity of people of colour is up for debate even though the beginning assumption is that racism is unacceptable, and the purpose is to discuss ways to oppose it. Given the negative reception these sessions may produce, employers will need to be extremely brave to implement them and facilitators will need to be psychologically hardy individuals highly skilled in diplomacy and negotiation. I hope some will rise to the challenge.

Helen Pluckrose is the Founder of Counterweight and co-author of Cynical Theories. She is a liberal humanist.


Setting the stage

I think the only universally shared memory we have is the elementary school fire drill. We all remember the principal over the intercom, the loud buzzing of the alarm, and the teacher announcing that we are to put down everything, get in line, and walk single file toward the exit. Anyone who went to public school or worked in an office building has done this so often that for many of us the sound of the fire alarm means, “time for a fire drill” and not, “there’s a fire”. This has gotten to the point where when there actually is a fire, someone has to say “this is not a drill”; a phrase that is used with such frequency it has become almost cliché.

This is how I feel about discussing education.

Various theories about how our education systems are falling apart, being subverted by various interests, and failing our children, have circulated for years in various quarters. In fact, there is an entire industry of books claiming to know what is wrong in education.

In light of that, I have no idea how to write this essay without blending into the chorus of voices who think one thing or another is wrong with schools. In a world where “this is not a drill” is so cliché that it gets used to announce the arrival of the latest celebrity couple, I don’t quite know how to ring the alarm in education without sounding like, well, an alarmist.

With that said, I think there is a significant problem in education, and I would like to write about it without sounding like a conspiracy theorist. So, I will try to lay this out as clearly and carefully as I can, with an eye to being as level headed as possible. I will also cite relevant portions from the relevant literature. It is my hope that when all is said and done this is not treated as yet another fire drill.

A new theory emerges

There is a school of thought in education, which I will refer to as the Critical School of Education, and its proponents seek to use education as a vehicle for spreading their political ideology and worldview. Those who endorse the Critical School of Education do not think the goal of education is to teach children to read, write and do math while helping to prepare them for life in the world, but rather see education as a “site of political struggle” and a vehicle for radical social change. To put it bluntly, these thinkers believe the role of the teacher is not primarily to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, but instead to teach students Critical Social Justice. The theory of teaching they use to justify this is called “Critical Pedagogy”.

I realize this sounds like a conspiracy, but I can’t do anything about that. What I can do is to take you through a brief survey of the relevant literature so you can see exactly how this is happening. I do not mean to alarm you, but I do mean to raise an alarm. Critical Pedagogy, much like other Critical Social Justice literature, is difficult to read, full of jargon, beset by abstract theories, and in many places disconnected from the world. Its adherents sometimes admit as much. That said, I will quote them at length so no one can accuse me of misrepresenting them.

A wonderful and clear survey of how Critical Pedagogy developed comes to us in the 2016 book The Critical Turn in Education by Isaac Gottesman. What makes the book so useful is that Gottesman is not trying to provide a massive and exhaustive survey of the entire field of education, but rather a brief and readable survey of key concepts in Critical Pedagogy and how they fit together. This means the book is clear; it says the quiet part out loud.

Gottesman begins with the following quote:

“To the question: ‘Where did all the sixties radicals go?’, the most accurate answer,” noted Paul Buhle (1991) in his classic Marxism in the United States[sic], “would be: neither to religious cults nor yuppiedom, but to the classroom” (p. 263). After the fall of the New Left arose a new left, an Academic Left. For many of these young scholars, Marxist thought, and particularly what some refer to as Western Marxism or neo-Marxism, and what I will refer to as the critical Marxist tradition, was an intellectual anchor.

He continues:

The turn to critical Marxist thought is a defining moment in the past 40 years of educational scholarship, especially for educational scholars who identify as part of the political left. It introduced the ideas and vocabulary that continue to frame most conversations in the field about social justice, such as hegemony, ideology, consciousness, praxis, and most importantly, the word ‘critical’ itself, which has become ubiquitous as a descriptor for left educational scholarship. Initially sequestered in curriculum studies and sociology of education, today critical scholarship is frequently published in the journals of some of the field’s most historically conservative areas, such as educational administration and science education. The critical turn radicalized the field.

The initial claim of Gottesman’s book is that Critical Marxist thought has radicalized the field of education, and Gottesman is in favor of this development. Now, as you will see, it is not the case that the field of education has become straightforwardly Marxist, and I am not arguing that, but that is where the story begins.

The focus on Marxism in the Critical School was most pronounced in Paulo Freire, a Brazilian Marxist who also worked as an educator. Friere’s most influential contribution to the Critical School’s Critical Pedagogy comes in the form of his book The pedagogy of the oppressed. Freire argues that teaching is a political issue, teaching methods are a political issue, and that educational theories generally are also political theories. Freire thought that inherent in any education system are assumptions about people, authority, the use of power, and what counts as a good life. Freire thought that education was inherently political and that education is to be used as part of a program of radical social change.

Freire claimed that the role of the teacher is to bring political awareness into the classroom, creating in the student an awareness of politics and a critical awareness of where they were located politically according to Marxist political theory. In other words, the goal is to have students become critically aware of the political situation so they can create the revolutionary change the Marxists sought. As Gottesman puts it:

For Freire, being critical thus meant recognizing oppression, acting against it, doing so in solidarity with others who seek revolutionary change, and doing so continuously. It is this critical educational process that Pedagogy of the Oppressed [sic] articulates as the most important feature of constructing movements for radical social change.

In practice, this type of thinking gets put into practice in the form of radical teachers using their classrooms as places to teach radical fringe left politics to students. And Freire is no obscure scholar. His work has been cited more than 440,000 times. For some context, Albert Einstein has been cited around 137,000 times.

Freire took the first step towards the politicization of education, something which Henry Giroux, Freire’s greatest and most prolific disciple, would openly acknowledge. When Freire first wrote in the 1960s and ‘70s his work was ignored, but in the ‘70s and early 1980s it was Giroux who played a key role in bringing Freire’s work into mainstream education colleges.

Giroux first read Freire in the early 1970s when someone gave him a copy of Pedagogy of the Oppressed while he was working as a high school teacher. He then left teaching and went into the academy where he began making use of Freire’s work. He finally met Freire in 1983 and worked with him to help disseminate his work in North America. Giroux himself said Freire was his greatest influence and gives him credit for marking the moment when Critical Pedagogy came into its own. If Freire lit the match of Critical Pedagogy Giroux poured gas on the fire.

Giroux took the substance of what Freire was doing in Brazil and then adapted it in a more nuanced way to an American context. Giroux wanted to move away from the kind of economic reductionism of the Marxists who he thought were reducing complex social phenomena to the fallout of economic issues like poverty.

Giroux made two major moves which I think will help us understand what he was arguing. The first is to argue that teachers are not and should not be politically neutral and that politics is central to teaching. The second is to blend Critical Pedagogy with postmodernism and Critical Theory.

According to Gottesman:

Giroux sought to develop a Critical Pedagogy, an approach to education that, on the one hand, rooted itself in the critical Marxist tradition’s conception of the power of human agency and in its theoretical analysis of ideology and culture, and on the other hand, embraced, counter to the position of many in the Marxist tradition, the possibility of social reform and the realization of democratic socialism through complete engagement with the liberal public sphere and thus the institutions, including the modes of production, of the liberal nation-state. For Giroux, Critical Pedagogy was not a project committed to revolutionary Marxism, an intellectual and political tradition that deeply influenced Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed; rather, Critical Pedagogy was a project committed to socialism through radical reform.

So, according to Gottesman—who agrees with and affirms the use of Critical Pedagogy—Giroux wants to use education to bring about socialism through radical reform. The goal is to “free” people from having to live in a western capitalist democracy.

I would be tempted to say “this is not a drill” if it were not so clichéd.

Further, Gottesman isn’t taking Giroux out of context in his assessment. Giroux says explicitly in his 1988 book Teachers as Intellectuals: “The neo-Marxist position, it seems to us, provides the most insightful and comprehensive model for understanding the nature of schooling and developing an emancipatory program for social education.”

To be clear: Henry Giroux is arguing that the role of the teacher, whether in the university or in the public elementary school, is to use their classroom to teach revolutionary politics to the children so they grow up to create some kind of socialist society. He thinks that the goal of education is not math, writing, or reading (although those are useful tools). The real long-term goal of education is to teach children the politics and ideology of the radical left. This is what he is explicitly arguing.

Giroux wants to move away from the economically reductionist view of traditional Marxism and move toward something that operates directly on the social and cultural level.

The second major move Giroux made was to blend Critical Pedagogy with postmodernism and Critical Theory. Giroux wanted to use the tools of Critical Theory and postmodernism to attack and dissolve the assumptions of Enlightenment liberalism. He began his work by attempting to theorize Critical Pedagogy through the lens of Critical Theory, but eventually brought in the machinery of postmodernism as a way of trying to dissolve the assumptions of Enlightenment liberalism.

Giroux explains why he uses postmodernism in his 1992 book Border Crossings:

Rather than separating reason from the terrain of history , place, and desire, Postmodernism argues that reason and science can only be understood as a part of a broader historical struggle over the relationship between language and power. This is not merely an epistemological issue, but one that is deeply political and normative. Gary Peller makes this clear by arguing that what is at stake in this form of criticism is nothing less than the dominant liberal commitment to Enlightenment culture. He writes:

“indeed the whole way we conceive of liberal progress (overcoming prejudice in the name of truth, seeing through the distortions of ideology to get at reality, surmounting ignorance and superstition with the acquisition of knowledge) is called into question. Postmodernism suggests that what has been presented in our social-political and our intellectual traditions as knowledge, truth, objectivity, and reason are actually merely the effects of a particular form of social power, the victory of a particular way of representing the world that presents itself as beyond mere interpretation, as truth itself.”

By asserting the primacy of the historical and the contingent in the construction of reason, authority, truth, ethics, and identity, postmodernism provides a politics of representation and a basis for social struggle.

As you can see, Giroux wants to use postmodernism as a way of going after the Enlightenment liberal assumptions that our current society is based on. So he turns to postmodernism and in the process affirms two ideas:

    1. the postmodern idea that such things as knowledge, truth, objectivity and reason are not absolute and universal.
    2. that the Enlightenment liberal vision of truth, reason, knowledge, and objectivity has come to prominence only because liberals have exercised social power to make those ideas prominent.

In affirming those two ideas Giroux has fully imbibed the postmodern line of thinking that says the Enlightenment view that knowledge is obtained using reason, science, rationality, and objectivity is in fact false.

Further, Giroux thinks that in undercutting the assumptions of Enlightenment liberalism, postmodernism provides a framework for his political struggle against Enlightenment liberalism. It is clear then, that Giroux’s goal here is nothing less than the overturning of the Enlightenment liberal order in favor of some form of socialism that is informed by both postmodernism and neo-Marxism. If this sounds like what we often refer to as “wokeness” or “Critical Social Justice” that is because that is what this is.

What the theory looks like in practice

So far I have only discussed the work of two academics. I have not shown the entirety of the scholarly literature that justifies hijacking the education systems to indoctrinate children into Critical Social Justice because it is too large for a single essay to chronicle. However, there are literally thousands of published academic papers, studies, and books arguing that teaching is a political act and that teachers should teach politics. A brief snippet of news stories of this occurring in schools can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Now I’d like to show you an example of how this is actually implemented in the classroom

In the 2015 book edited by Todd Horton and Lynn Lemisko entitled Educator to Educator, Lynn Lemisko argues in an essay she contributed that it is the role of the teacher to “look past” the official curriculum in order to “trouble” dominant narratives.

What does it mean to look beyond the curriculum? Well, what she means is that she is going to use the mandated lesson plan to teach her political ideology and worldview. She is going to do exactly what Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux advocated for: she’s going to use her classroom as a place of politics. Now, she is not going to refuse to teach the curriculum, she is going to teach past the curriculum. She is going to add her opinion and editorialize the lesson according to her world view.

As an example, let’s look at how Lemisko takes a simple class exercise about the value of technology, and she shows teachers how to hijack it to make it about Critical Social Justice instead (emphases mine):

One of the more difficult approaches to ‘looking beyond’ involves teacher candidates in examining resources, curriculum documents and practices for their silences – that is, what is left ‘unsaid?’. That which is left unsaid arises from the taken-for-granted notions of dominant culture. These implicit notions are hard to uncover because societal or cultural presuppositions are so deeply embedded within our thinking that we do not recognize that which is left out. When educating for social justice, teacher educators need to help teacher candidates learn to focus on both what is explicit (said or visible) and what is implicit (not said or invisible).

So the first thing Lemisko is going to do is tell teachers to refocus their teaching from things that are in the curriculum, to things they think are being left out. That is step one. She continues (emphasis mine):

I have asked teacher candidates to critically examine social studies curriculum documents and suggested learning activities and resources using this double focus. For example, we have examined together a learning activity connected to exploring the concept ‘interdependence’ that is suggested in the Saskatchewan Grades 1 – 5: Social Studies: A Curriculum Guide for the Elementary Level (1995). The explicit purpose of this activity, titled “Doing without” (p. 28) is to have learners identify some specific technologies and contemplate what life would be like without these. However, what is silenced or unsaid in this learning activity is a set of classed attitudes about easy accessibility to wealth and resources

In this section she shows them how to further alter the focus of the activity for the children. The exercise was supposed to be about what life would be like without technology. Lemisko wants teachers to instead focus on what she thinks are attitudes about wealth and resources. She continues (emphasis mine):

In critically examining this suggested activity to find the ‘unsaid’ about socio-economic class, I ask teacher candidates to read the scenarios, think about the implicit assumptions that underpin the descriptions, and prepare to discuss questions such as the following:

What is assumed about accessibility to the resources and technology discussed in the scenarios?

What is assumed about what the families of grade four students must/should have if they need to imagine ‘doing without’?

Here Lemisko tells her teachers in training to ask questions about socio-economic class, rather than what life would be like without certain forms of technology. She wants them to read the activity through the lens of Critical Social Justice rather than through the lens of “what would life be like without this technology?” In getting her teachers in training to do this, she moves the purpose of the activity away from “find out what life would be like without technology” to “let’s talk about class, attitudes, fairness, and Social Justice.”

As you can see, what Lemisko is doing is trying to teach her teachers in training to use the curriculum in ways it was never designed. The goal of the technology activity was never to have a conversation about Social Justice, it was to make the kids aware of technology and its impact on them. It was never meant to be an activity to “make visible” various injustices that the Critical Social Justice movement blames on Enlightenment liberalism.

This is not what the curriculum was designed for, and it was not what the parent signed up for when they decided to send their kids to a public school.

Why the theory goes wrong

The current push to bring Critical Social Justice into education is a terrible idea. Let me explain.

The first point is a fairly straightforward one: it is immoral and illiberal for people to use the public school system to force a certain set of values on children behind their parents’ backs. Simply put, there is no justification for using public schools as a soapbox for a particular ideology. The liberal way is pluralist without being relativist, and that means that schools are places where we teach the children how to engage with each other on liberal terms with respect and civility. Liberalism admits of a wide swathe of values and seeks to equip children with the tools required to think clearly about the world. For a group of people to decide to embed themselves in the school system and use it as a platform to indoctrinate children is unacceptable.

There is a second point about the quality of education and how it suffers when politics are brought into the classroom.

One thing we all intuit naturally when we demand silence in order to concentrate, or we ask not to be distracted, or turn down the radio when looking for an address, is that in order to learn well we need to be able to focus and concentrate on the thing we are trying to learn. We must be able to pay attention. If our attention is divided we are liable to miss out on valuable information.

The modern world is a difficult one, and it requires that our children learn the skills necessary to get by in a world that is driven by technology. In a time when information is the coin of the realm, numeracy and literacy are incredibly important for flourishing. When someone takes a curriculum that is built to discuss technology and redirects the conversation toward their own political ideology, they are teaching their politics at the expense of preparing the child for the world.

It does no good for Lemisko, Giroux, and Freire to think they can weave Social Justice through the curriculum without compromising it. The resources in the classroom are not infinite and neither is a child’s attention span. In making space for Critical Social Justice, something else must be lost. To argue otherwise is to get something for nothing.

What we can do about it

To finish, I’d like to gesture broadly at what can be done.

First off, when this stuff makes it into the curriculum or classroom it is usually a small group of activists that are pushing it. Administrators who do not realize what is happening, or are easily swayed, can give in under the pressure. It is important to be involved in the school board, Parent Teacher Associations, and to make sure you know what children are being taught at school.

When a large organized group of parents makes themselves clear in rejecting this nonsense, that is very often enough to get the administrators to back down and remove the Critical Social Justice indoctrination from the curriculum.

It is important to get other parents who are concerned together. School board meetings, social media campaigns and school board elections are great places to make your voice heard and to let the people who make schooling decisions know this is unacceptable and to hold them accountable. Having organized groups that can carry out various tasks is important. Campaigns to get people onto the school board take time and volunteers, letters to teachers need to be coordinated, getting enough people at meetings to show the school board that the issue is important to parents takes planning. For all these reasons you must be organized.

In these matters the Critical Social Justice activists will not stop pushing. Their entire reason for being revolves around implementing Critical Social Justice in every area of everything in which they are involved. Their entire lives are devoted to this. If we are to be effective we must be as vigilant in our attempts to save our liberal democracy as they are in their attempts to tear it down.


To conclude, I want to simply say that I am not against justice, or fairness, or equality of opportunity. It is not my goal to tear anyone down and I realize that many of the people who teach Critical Pedagogy are well-meaning. One can’t help but listen to Henry Giroux speak and realize that he cares deeply about people. The problem is not that he doesn’t care, the problem is that his ideas are flawed. And for that reason we must keep Critical Pedagogy out of the school system.

Mike Young is a Canadian thinker, writer and essayist. Follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/wokal_distance.


Whether you’re scrolling through Twitter, listening to your favourite podcast, or sitting on Zoom for a university class, discussions surrounding race can be found everywhere. Oftentimes these are important conversations to have. Racism, although not nearly as prevalent as it once was, still remains an ugly blemish on Western civilization, a blemish most are interested in erasing for good. So, as an open-minded, sympathetic person, you believe that discussing the issues around racial discrimination is an honourable endeavour in which we should all participate.

But perhaps, like many others, you have started to grow sceptical of some of the arguments being espoused during these conversations around race. Maybe you’re beginning to question the pretty extreme ideas that are being expressed.

You’re not sure where all of these radical views on race and racism have come from, but you do notice a commonality between everyone advocating for them: they all subscribe to something called “Critical Race Theory”.

What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)? I mean, what is it really? You may have some idea based on what you’ve heard here and there, but perhaps you’re not entirely sure of its core tenets. Alternatively, it could be that you are aware of the principles of CRT, but you don’t know much about where it came from. To many, it seems that this theory — which, in reality, is much more akin to an ideology — sprouted out from nowhere. However, an evaluation of Critical Race Theory’s evolution demonstrates that this ideology is nothing new, and has slowly been infecting our universities over the last few decades.

Critical Race Theory’s Predecessor

To gain a true understanding of the origins of Critical Race Theory, it is important to understand that it evolved from an area of academia known as Critical Legal Studies (CLS), which came to prominence in the post-civil rights era of the early 1970s.

Although CLS would not be formally founded until 1977 at a University of Wisconsin-Madison conference, the 1971 appointment of Harvard University’s first tenured black professor, Derrick Bell, was an instrumental moment in the development of CLS. Bell, a fundamental figure in the creation of Critical Race Theory, used “storytelling and a more subjective, personal voice” in his lectures to discuss and critique how the law shaped the lives of racial minorities.

Bell’s reliance on subjectivity and anecdotal evidence, as opposed to the objectivity and empiricism which is commonplace within academia, is a theme that remains constant throughout Critical Race Theory. Rather than testing the theory’s claims through data analysis, CRT scholars, and CLS scholars before them, prefer to focus on the “lived experiences” (a popular CRT trope) of black and brown Americans.

Throughout the 1970s, Bell’s method of evaluating the law grew in popularity. Increasingly more academics adopted this approach in order to criticize American legal institutions and shaped their legal ideology by borrowing from an array of radical thinkers, including Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, and Karl Marx. Judging by this cast of characters that inspired Critical Legal Scholars, it should be no surprise that many of them have described CLS as “a critique of objectivism, meritocracy and the prevailing liberal vision.”

The importance of this point cannot be overemphasized. Critical Race Theory’s predecessor, Critical Legal Studies, is identified by its own scholars as a critique of liberalism and its fundamental principles. The abandonment of liberalism—the foundation of our democracies which has emancipated countless individuals, ensured the protection of their inalienable rights, and given them the ability to pursue happiness—is not a small part of CLS and CRT, then. Quite the contrary, it’s a selling point of this ideology. So, how did such an illiberal movement spread throughout our universities?

Critical Legal Studies’ Transformation

Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, individuals who had self-identified as “activist professors” (certainly a red flag) began to expand the application of CLS into areas of academia beyond law classes. These activists started introducing its tenets into sociology, theology, and political science, which only increased its following.

This growth coincided with the publishing of Derrick Bell’s 1980 article in the Harvard Law Review, which is widely considered an essential text in CRT’s expansion. Bell suggested in the article that the decision of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, which ended segregation in U.S public schools, was not decided for the interests of black and brown Americans; rather, the case was decided in order to serve the interests of white elites. This criticism is the foundation of one of Critical Race Theory’s key principles, which Bell called “interest convergence”.

The notion of “interest convergence” asserts that efforts to achieve progress towards racial equality are only possible when the interests of black and brown Americans converge with the interests of white Americans. Therefore, any effort by white Americans to combat racism, such as attending a Black Lives Matter protest, is not motivated by a genuine desire to help people of colour, but rather, must be inspired by selfish aspirations to advance their own white, racist agenda.

It doesn’t take someone with a PhD in psychology to see why this is a reprehensible notion. The message this sends to the students learning CRT is a troubling one: genuine progress towards racial equality is unattainable unless it serves to benefit white elites, and even when white people try to advance racial equality, they are only acting out of racist intent. More plainly, it tells white students they are racist regardless of their efforts to combat racism, and it tells black students that they need white people in order to enact change. Quite a far cry from the positive messages of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement.

The next vital moment in CRT’s evolution was when Bell resigned from Harvard to become the dean of the University of Oregon Law School in 1981. After Bell resigned, a well-respected white civil-rights scholar named Jack Greenberg was chosen by Harvard to teach Bell’s class on race. Despite the class having a majority white enrollment, the few black students in the class complained to the school administration, demanding that the school replace Greenberg with a black professor to teach the course.

Harvard stood its ground and refused to oust Greenberg in favour of a professor of color. The black students then boycotted the class and organized to have an alternative class to teach Bell’s course. The boycott was organized by another integral CRT scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Crenshaw is most famously known for coining the term “intersectionality”, which is the notion that people who belong to multiple marginalized groups suffer more discrimination due to their multiple identities. However, at a workshop she organized for the Harvard students in 1981, she was also the one to declare that Critical Legal Studies and the works associated with Bell’s original teachings would go by a new name: “Critical Race Theory”.

Critical Race Theory Expands

After the official creation of Critical Race Theory, it only continued to grow in popularity in the different areas of academia over the 1980s and 1990s. Two schools of thought developed amongst CRT’s scholars: “idealists” and “realists”.

Idealists believe that racism is manifested through images, words, attitudes, and social teachings within society. Therefore, racism can be dismantled by changing these elements within our world, so that the prevalence of ideas that suggest certain groups are superior or inferior to others based on their race is diminished. This perspective seems to be a rational one, so where’s the problem?

The problem lies in the fact that this school of thought is not the dominant one amongst Critical Race Theorists. The more prominent line of thinking comes from the “realists”. Realists believe racism is a means of allocating status and privilege, which all members of society constantly participate in. They also emphasize the notion that racism is not aberrant or abnormal — no, they claim that racism is typical, and is entrenched in our civilization.

In other words, racism is not an ugly blemish on our society that we can combat together. The dominant group in CRT claims that racism is perpetually embedded into all facets of the Western world, established within racial hierarchies that have been created and shaped over hundreds of years. This approach to CRT greatly outpaced the idealist school of thought and has essentially rendered the idealists a negligible faction within CRT.

Critical Race Theory experienced another milestone in 1988, when Crenshaw’s article in the Harvard Law Review criticized equal process for black and white Americans and expressed that it was “illogical” to treat members of different groups the same when some groups were treated unfairly historically.

This is no exaggeration: Kimberlé Crenshaw claimed that people should be treated differently in a court of law based on the colour of their skin, because of historical differences. This is starkly illiberal and contradicts the rule of law which is the bedrock of our civilization. It is even more concerning that Crenshaw also claimed that liberalism and its recognition of the human rights we all possess are inadequate to remedy racism because they endorse equality of opportunity, but ignore any assurance of “equality of results”. CRT openly advocates for the equality of results, the same disastrous principle which serves as the basis for communism, championed by some of history’s most hated despots, such as Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and Kim Jong-il.

CRT Today and in the Future

The completely illiberal principle of equality of outcome espoused by Crenshaw and other Critical Race Scholars throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s continues today, advocated most famously by Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, who make exorbitant amounts of money off of their ideology-ridden books such as How to Be an Anti-Racist and White Fragility, respectively. Diangelo also profits from the delivery of unscientific subconscious bias training, such as teaching Coca-Cola employees to “try to be less white” to the tune of thousands of dollars.

At the moment these words are being written, over 200 colleges and universities across all fifty of the United States are teaching CRT in one form or another. The number of U.S public schools teaching the content is uncertain, but CRT is increasingly appearing in K-12 education across the country.

This should have us all worried. However, courageous individuals are starting to fight back. More faculty members at universities and teachers in public school boards are combatting the toxic CRT epidemic that has plagued our education system. People like Jodie Shaw, Aaron Kindsvatter, and teachers in Loudoun County, Virginia are speaking out against the teaching of CRT in our schools. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis even came out recently and said that Florida would not be teaching Critical Race Theory in its schools.

This is uplifting news, but the war is certainly not won. Critical Race Theory will only be expunged from educational systems if more people have the courage to stand up against it, and express that it is not something we want to teach our children. It is absolutely necessary that we educate our youth about racism and how we must eradicate it in order to create a more just society. Racial equality is an endeavour that we should all seek to achieve, for the sake of all humanity and future generations. However, it is clear that Critical Race Theory is not suitable for tackling this problem, and we should stop its spread before it becomes any larger — and any more dangerous — than it already is.

Andrew Sansone is a freelance writer interested in politics, crime and culture. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AndrewSansone15 

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Hello Jen,

My ancestral connection to slavery is through my grandma’s grandfather Daniel Brown (1833 – 1885).

Daniel was a founding father for me and my sister and first cousins, second cousins and third cousins. He started from nothing and, over a lifetime, acquired over 500 acres of land in Chesterfield and Charlotte Counties, Virginia. Not only did he lift his children and grandchildren above the tumultuous fight for survival, his foresight and vision also ensured his grandchildren would not have to start from scratch as he did. My grandma and her cousins would take property holdings for granted and, like many Old Money families, this gave their descendants a head start in life.

When I read a book like Old Money: The Mythology of American’s Upper Class by Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr., I recognize stories of past ancestors and the elevating influence of the “Dead Hand” over generations.

I am disaffected by those who look at issues of race and racism through a purely “systemic” and “structural” lens since they are incapable of seeing my truth. Daniel was a founding father in the best sense of the term and his life story undercuts the force of institutional racism. There has always been a place for black foresight and vision. Why wouldn’t the woke be absolutely thrilled that a former slave – a man who could not read or write – bent the world according to his will for the benefit of generations into the distant future? The man died in 1885 and we still live in his wake over 135 years later.

When I share the tales of Daniel’s triumphs, the woke say Daniel was an outlier, an anomaly. They say his triumph against adversity is of no value to oppressed black people today in 2021!

Diminishing and discounting my ancestor doesn’t sit well with me. He’s not just my ancestor. For myself and a couple of hundred close and distant cousins, Daniel informs us on how to perceive and understand the world. How prejudiced must someone be to tell me my ancestor must be discounted and dismissed in the name of “social justice”?

Slave owners never saw the humanity in the descendants of slaves. When the woke turn a blind eye to a high-achieving black ancestor, it causes me to wonder if the woke are as incapable of seeing the humanity in black Americans as the old slavers were.

Before one can be an ally of black Americans, one must see the humanity in the descendants of American slaves.

Stuck in a snowstorm in Mammoth, California,


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I remember when I was very young, my mother had a rattan swinging chair. The kind that suspends from the ceiling. It was in my parent’s bedroom, next to the bathroom where she would spend time getting ready. I spent hours there as a child swinging back and forth and twirling around and around in much the same way as she twirled her blond hair around old metal curlers.

My mother, born into an era that applauded housewives as pinnacles of American morality, played her role dutifully, but you could tell there was an underlying tension. I believe she resolved it in the narrative she created for me. On a rather normal day that held no particular significance, I sat bouncing in the chair as my childlike mind explored my future. Maybe I’d be a nurse. After all, that was a profession many of my preschool playmates envisioned. Not one to buck the trend, it seemed good enough for me.

My mother did not have any problem with my pre-school nursing ambition. Still, she stopped her grooming to look at me. To pause and really see me, bouncing there in my underoos. She quietly, but with much determination, told me, “you can be anything you want to be. You can be president”.

I think that is the first time that I realized my own agency. Really? President? I had no idea.

Of course, being president was going to take some work on my end. My mother’s high expectations of my endless possibilities generated a determination on my part, not necessarily to be president, but to reach my full potential.

Soon after the idyllic days of the rattan chair, my dad decided to take a post as the Air Force Attaché in Rangoon, Burma. This was perhaps the second biggest development in my personal narrative. My little world expanded as I attended school with Koreans, Filipinos, the British and a cornucopia of other nationalities. My first two “boyfriends” were Thai and Filipino. I had the hots for the son of a Burmese Air Force liaison. I got in the most trouble with the Koreans.

At the age when stereotypes may usually develop and solidify, I was exposed to humanity across cultures. And ultimately, this exposure determined my trajectory, not to become a nurse or president, but to connect across disparate cultures in search of our common humanity.

Like you, the stories of oppression, systemic racism, and white supremacy, were just not a part of my experience. Granted, my experience was not your average American experience. However, having witnessed the brutality of the totalitarian Burmese junta, coupled with the commonality I found in the dreams and aspirations of my multicultural posse, I returned to America forever changed.

And perhaps this is why I am so uneasy with our current racial commentaries and discourse, or at least those that our media likes to highlight.

For example, in the past week, I’ve been reading a lot on a new trend that declares math is racist: one plus one may equal two, but if a child reaches a different conclusion and you correct them, you may be a racist. I read these stories in disbelief. I can’t help but wonder if the media is only picking up on fringe movements, or if this is really something that has wider appeal.

When I read such stories there is something that does ring true. We create narratives for ourselves from our experiences. If over time, some teachers teach down to students of color, assuming that math is not their strength, or if children were born into families that do not support educational pursuits, then this can have an impact on the story that starts to play into the minds of our children. They start to believe that they aren’t able to compete educationally, and this saying rings true – “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

What I’ve found in all my travels is that the principles of liberty and freedom are universal human values that transcend culture. I witnessed it in the yearnings of liberation that surfaced shortly after we left Burma, resulting in a massive crackdown in 1988. A year later, we saw it again in China in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Then again in the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe.

What I found so remarkable was that our country in particular, and other Western countries in general, birthed these ideas. It is due to these western values that the only foreigners we didn’t engage with during our time in Burma were the North Koreans. A despotic nation so fearful of value contamination, they were not allowed to co-mingle in the ex-pat community where Westerners were present. Heck, we even hung out with the Russians, and this was the height of the Cold War. In fact, it was a true Russian bear hug from the Russian military attaché that perhaps did the most to solidify our common humanity in my young mind.
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Although these values did not extend to everyone at our founding, it is because of them that we have evolved to expand rights to women, people of color, those of different sexual orientations, and so on. It is because of these values and the agency of abolitionists like Frederick Douglass that we fought a civil war and ended slavery. And these values spurred Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead the Civil Rights Movement. While not always timely, and often marred with bloody struggle, we continue to expand these values.

The challenge to these values is the institutionalization of a narrative of oppression. This emerging discourse locks us into patterns that are hard to unravel. Indeed, unraveling the institutions that upheld racism has been a historic challenge. Instilling the ethos of oppression and “learned helplessness” is akin to the dumbing down of students of color, and ultimately the most egregious of racisms. Oppression and helplessness instill a lack of agency.

Liberation, freedom and equality – which I assume are the goals of our new activists – are suffocated without agency. But we can change the narrative.

The stories of your ancestors are a start. The stories of daughters who were told they could be president are a start. The story of a black man who did become president is a start.

As we engage in a more honest review of our history, we must wrangle with oppression, but let us not forget the stories of uplift and strength, the stories of Daniel Brown and many others who blazed their own trails despite the truly gigantic obstacles they faced.

In transit from Hyderabad to Dubai,


J.D. Richmond is the founder of Truth in Between and the host of the Hold my Drink Podcast: navigating the news and politics with a chaser of civility. She is constantly searching for context through correspondence and conversation.

W.F. Twyman, Jr. is a former law professor in search of truth in the public square.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, with the help of White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo, recently released a few resources to assist conversations on race. More specifically, the idea was to promote a dialogue on whiteness. According to their resource, Talking About Race:“Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America’s history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal.”

Of course, there is no provision made for how nonwhite persons see themselves. As part of their effort to explain whiteness, they crafted a handy chart (see picture, sourced from the Talking About Race webpage). This chart has since been curiously removed from the Talking About Race webpage.

If we were to design a similar chart on blackness (not something we suggest as we don’t think these blanket identifications are very meaningful), what would be included? For example, if whites value hard work, are we to assume that other races don’t? Would it be considered racist to create such a chart? If so, why? We understand the argument that whiteness is “normative” and therefore something that needs more scrutiny. However, if the argument goes that (as the Smithsonian intimates) whiteness exists because of blackness, then a more thorough examination would allow for a contrasting chart for context.

Let’s examine just a few of these assertions, starting with Rugged Individualism.

  • The individual is the primary unit
  • Self-reliance
  • Independence & autonomy highly valued + rewarded
  • Individuals assumed to be in control of their environment, “You get what you deserve

The black American experience is replete with examples of individuals who lived by self-reliance:

  • Rev. Lemuel Haynes taught himself to read the Bible by candlelight and displayed such high intelligence that he was urged to attend college in the late 1700s. He became the first black man ordained as a minister in the United States.
  • Macon Bolling Allen, with no forerunner to light his way, left his home in Indiana, traveled to Maine and was admitted to the Maine State Bar on July 3, 1844. Allen was the first black lawyer and judicial officer in this country.
  • John Mercer Langston sought training in the law from an Ohio judge. Langston would later become the top lawyer in his Ohio county during the 1850s, the founder of the law school at Howard University, Acting President of Howard University, and the first black congressman from Virginia.
  • Mordecai Johnson had a strong vision for Howard University when he was appointed president in 1926. Johnson set upon his task to transform Howard and lobbied Congress relentlessly over the next two to three years and was to secure permanent congressional funding. For this achievement, he was awarded the Spingarn Award for outstanding achievement by a black American.

These are just four out of thousands, if not millions, of examples we could give of black rugged individualism, not white rugged individualism but black rugged individualism.

What about the Protestant Work Ethic?

  • Hard work is the key to success
  • Work before play
  • “If you didn’t meet your goals you didn’t work hard enough”

From Booker T. Washington to George Washington Carver and from William T. Coleman, Jr. to Charles Hamilton Houston and many more, a strand of the Protestant work ethic has always run through black American culture. It was perhaps this assertion that led to the chart’s removal. The suggestion that black Americans don’t, or shouldn’t, value hard work is anathema to many black Americans’ life stories. Whiteness doesn’t have a monopoly on hard work.

And this work ethic along with other “white” traits aren’t the sole domain of those in America. As just one example, take the Igbo people of Nigeria. The Igbo culture is distinguished by ambition, achievement and striving. Some notable Igbos that exemplify this spirit include:

Let’s look at one more disputed example from the Smithsonian’s chart, Future Orientation.

  • Plan for future
  • Delayed gratification
  • Progress is always best
  • “Tomorrow will be better”

The Black American experience is flush with examples of individuals who set their eyes on the future. In honor of Black History Month, let’s lift up just a few of those who ushered in a better tomorrow for black Americans.

  • Because of the “future orientation” of Bishop Richard Allen in 1794, millions of worshipers would come to know the warm embrace of the African Methodist Episcopal Church throughout the world today.
  • Due to the steadfast desire of Hampton Institute graduate Booker T. Washington to uplift his people from the aftereffects of slavery in 1881, the lives and careers of thousands of black teachers would be made possible through that graduate’s creation, the Tuskegee Institute.
  • Out of the nadir of the 1910s came a Dunbar high school graduate, Charles Hamilton Houston, who upon completing his education with an S.J.D. at Harvard Law School in 1923, returned home to fight public school segregation throughout the 1930s and 1940s. After his death, his labors bore fruit and the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1954 that public school desegregation was unconstitutional.

The racial caricatures conveyed in charts and discussions on racism fail to move us towards a better tomorrow. Instead, the emphasis on race has created more division and has lumped humans together into homogeneous masses based solely on the color of their skin. In essence, this serves to not only erase black culture and achievement, but also to undermine the universal connection of our common humanity. It is this recognition of our humanity that is the drumbeat of true racial reconciliation and equality in a liberal society.

To the coming of a better time,

J.D. Richmond & W.F. Twyman, Jr.

J.D. Richmond is the founder of Truth in Between and the host of the Hold my Drink Podcast: navigating the news and politics with a chaser of civility. She is constantly searching for context through correspondence and conversation.

W.F. Twyman, Jr. is a former law professor in search of truth in the public square.

Image from Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination, and Self-Censorship, Eric Kaufmann, 2021.


A new report—the first of its kind—confirms that in the US, the UK and Canada, there is growing authoritarianism and political discrimination within academia. The report, Academic Freedom in Crisis: Punishment, Political Discrimination, and Self-Censorship, is based on research conducted by Eric Kaufmann, one of Counterweight’s affiliates, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, University of London and a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.

The report shows that even among those who do not actively favor the outright cancellation and discrimination of more conservative or heterodox scholars, not so many oppose it, even silently, as we might expect (and hope). This contradicts the “silent majority” thesis which hypothesizes that the majority of people oppose and dislike cancel culture even if they are unwilling to share these views publically. Whilst a significant proportion of those surveyed did oppose the dismissal of politically dissenting scholars, ranging from 31-76% across four hypothetical scenarios, the proportion of those unsure tended to be around 40-50%.

The report also shows that younger academics across the ideological spectrum are more likely to support authoritarian approaches and oppose the free expression of ideas compared to their elders. Whether this is a tendency that will stay with those academics as they mature is something that cannot be determined by the current research. However, given the steep generational divide on Critical Social Justice ideology, this finding suggests that the long term challenge of reinfusing the academy with the spirit of liberalism and free expression will be a difficult one, indeed. With a generation of ideological gatekeepers in place, diversifying the academy with young scholars who do not share the “party line” will be extremely difficult.

The report shows that a high percentage of academics favor discriminating against conservatives in hiring, promotion, grants, and publications. More than 4 in 10 would not hire a Trump supporter, and 1 in 3 British academics would not hire a Brexit supporter. Gender-critical feminist scholars, who accept the biological definition of sex, experience even more discrimination than conservatives. Only 28% of American and Canadian academics would feel comfortable having lunch with someone who opposes the idea of trans women accessing a women’s shelter.

The research undergirding the study was unique in that it surveyed both “mainstream” campus views and those of conservative academics. In the US, over a third of conservative academics and PhD students have been threatened with disciplinary action for their views, while 70% of conservative academics report a hostile climate for their beliefs. In the social sciences and humanities, over 9 in 10 Trump-supporting academics and 8 in 10 Brexit-supporting academics say they would not feel comfortable expressing their views to a colleague. More than half of North American and British conservative academics admit self-censoring in research and teaching.

A hostile climate plays a part in deterring conservative graduate students from pursuing careers in academia. Conservative and liberal graduate students differ far more in their perceptions of whether they fit into the current academic monoculture than they do on other issues of academic life.

The question going forward is: what can we do about this deep-seated academic bias? What cannot be disputed is the long-term toll that this ideological imbalance has taken on our social fabric, corporate culture, and intellectual life. The university is an engine of knowledge production in society. If it cannot be freed from the grip of an ideological monopoly, we will likely see a continued decline in commitment to the free expression of ideas, a corruption of both social and hard sciences, and an even more stifling intellectual culture. Will having such data give free speech advocates the backing they need to tilt the scales? Let us hope so.

David Bernstein is a freelance writer and nonprofit executive. Follow him on Twitter @Blogunwoke.


Update: Dr Kaufman’s response to queries about sample size:

1) Sample size is the total sample (in this case, 484) and *not* the minority in the sample who vary from the majority. For instance, in a sample of 100 US voters, with 15 black voters, if the 15 are 95% Democrat and the sample is only 45% Democrat, the coefficient for black will be statistically significant if their difference from other voters is large enough – even with a small sample.

Surveys can credibly use a sample to stand in for the whole. Most election polls are around 1,000 to represent 60m or 350m. And small samples have low margins of error in relation to the total population in question (our survey we estimate a 3% margin of error with a sample of 500 out of a total maximum population of 50k SSH academics:

https://goodcalculators.com/margin-of-error-calculator/). Note: most psychology papers work with sample sizes in the hundreds to test effects.

We run statistical models throughout the report to test statistical significance – so even if you want to query the 82% you cannot query that the effect is statistically significant. The predicted probability of under .2 (ie 20% chance of saying ‘comfortable’ if you are a Brexit voting SSH academic) appears below, even with controls.

2) When you have multiple surveys from different sources saying the same thing, and this being confirmed in statistical models, critiques of single surveys lose force.

Notice that self-censorship was high also in previous studies summarized in tables 4 and 5 below. At this point those who deny the results are just science denialists, pure and simple:

The 2020–21 US academic school year has been marked by many changes. The prominence of the so-called anti-racism movement—not to be confused with simple opposition to racism—is one of the most salient. The website Black Lives Matter at School offers resources “to challenge racism and oppression and providing [sic] students with the vocabulary and tools needed to take action” and proposed the first week of February as a “week of action.” Fairfax County public schools in Virginia celebrated “Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week” by hiring anti-racist scholar Ibram X. Kendi to talk to school leaders and teachers and assigning his book, How to Be an Anti-Racist as required reading. San Diego Unified School District overhauled its grading system as part of an effort to redress historic racism and change the racial imbalance in grades. The new system will emphasize mastery of content, not a yearly average, “which board members say penalizes students who get a slow start, or who struggle at points throughout the year.” These are just a few examples.

Anti-racist initiatives aim to combat racism, but they do this by focusing heavily on group identity over individuality, group hierarchies over pluralism and lived experience over other ways of acquiring knowledge. Group identity becomes the basis for labelling children and placing them into a hierarchy, with the goal of affirming group status. Instead of empowering young people to see their common humanity, anti-racism restricts them to their physical identity.

Anti-racism’s focus on racial, ethnic and gender identity is born out of intersectionality. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term to emphasize that “individuals have individual identities that intersect in ways that impact how they are viewed, understood, and treated.” While Crenshaw did not intend to create new hierarchies or confine people to labels, the way the framework is currently applied has expanded beyond its original conceptualization. As Irshad Manji writes in Don’t Label Me, the identity labels attached to one’s physical characteristics—not one’s intellect or potential—now determine one’s options.

Chloé Valdary has cited a scene from the movie The Great Debaters to illustrate how restrictive tying identity to the body can be. In the movie, Professor Melvin Tolson, played by Denzel Washington, relates how slaveowner Willie Lynch controlled his slaves by keeping them “physically strong but psychologically weak and dependent.” For Valdary, by focusing on the physical body and the labels attached to the body, the intersectional movement “gave away the mind.”

In his book A Critique of Anti-Racism in Rhetoric and Composition: The Semblance of Empowerment, Erec Smith terms this approach the “primacy of identity.” According to Smith, the movement gives the recognition and expression of identity precedence over other considerations, such as reason and evidence. It elevates selective lived experiences—those of marginalized groups, not individuals—over critical thought and advances essentialist notions of group identity, ignoring intragroup differences.

Manji, Valdary and Smith all argue, then, that humans should not be reduced to their physical bodies, since this limits individual potential, stifles intellectual exploration and suppresses the ability to talk across differences—all of which are hallmarks of education. Instead, they propose approaches to anti-racism that embrace the whole individual, encourage connection across differences and elicit critical thinking. Valdary advocates Theory of Enchantment, Manji advocates moral courage and Smith advocates an empowerment approach as alternatives to anti-racist initiatives that focus on identity.

Theory of Enchantment

Valdary distinguishes between cruel and compassionate anti-racist initiatives. The former promote division and discord, lead to more—not less—racial stereotyping and treat interactions as zero-sum power plays. Valdary’s Theory of Enchantment encourages human connection instead: “We’re trying to become enchanted by one another, to be full of wonder when we encounter one another, and this is really the step, the key to learning how to love ourselves and to love one another in the process.” She describes the three key principles: “Treat people like human beings, not like political abstractions; if you want to criticize, criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down, never to destroy; and try to root everything you do in love and compassion.” To develop these principles in a classroom, students must learn about the human condition, realize that we are all mortal, imperfect and vulnerable; understand the source of their judgments and learn to practice empathy and compassion towards their fellow humans, regardless of identity labels. Only then will students be equipped to incorporate these principles into their lives.

Moral Courage

Manji shows teachers how to teach and model moral courage, which “equips you to become socially constructive, mentally focused, and emotionally aware.” First, kids must learn the neuroscience behind what Manji calls the egobrain. The egobrain alerts one to danger, but can’t distinguish between mortal danger and mere discomfort. Instead of suppressing anything that causes them discomfort, young people should be encouraged to learn to figure out why they feel the way they do. Kids should also be encouraged to recognize that humans have both flaws and virtues. When discussing historical icons, teachers should point out their accomplishments and failings. Finally, Manji argues that students need to be coached in moral courage, as they might be in a sport. They need to practice acknowledging that they won’t be right all the time and they should be exposed to perspectives that differ from their own.

Empowerment Framework

Smith takes all this a step further: he proposes specific ways for teachers to encourage fair-minded critical thinking and teach young people to empathize with diverse viewpoints, commit to truth over self-interest, use rigorous standards of evidence to draw conclusions and avoid relying solely on feelings to make decisions. Smith argues that, although anti-racism claims to empower marginalized minority groups by silencing traditionally hegemonic voices, “allowing traditionally marginalized groups to forego intellectual accountability and well-reasoned responses to inquiry simply by virtue of being marginalized groups is not only an act of disempowerment; it is really infantilization.” Instead, Smith proposes a framework that combines empowerment theory and emotional intelligence. He considers lived experiences and individuality as first steps to empowerment, but does not see the recognition of one’s identity by others as the primary goal.

Smith argues that empowerment is a process as well as an outcome, and the process has three sequential components: intrapersonal, interactional and behavioral. He asserts that, to be empowered, young people must be emotionally intelligent. They must exercise self-awareness, social awareness, self-management and relationship management. Implemented together, the empowerment framework and the practices of emotional intelligence allow teachers to foster the critical thinking skills that will enable students to participate in discourse and inquiry without simply acting upon the impulses of the egobrain or invoking lived experience or group identity.

While embracing a group identity can make young people feel secure and comforted, strictly aligning oneself with a racial, ethnic or cultural identity label can also limit one to an assigned station in life and constrain one’s ability to recognize our common humanity. The Theory of Enchantment, moral courage and the empowerment framework all encourage both compassion and individuality—the principle that, by being one’s self, one can enrich one’s society. When young people understand the human condition and embrace their individuality, they feel empowered to interact within and outside their communities in ways that enact positive change. They would then have a better understanding of their relationships with others and of how they can contribute to our pluralistic society.

This article was first published at Areo magazine: https://areomagazine.com/2021/02/11/teaching-empowerment/

Samantha Hedges, Ph.D., is a scholar of the politics of education, Heterodox Academy Writing Fellow, and co-moderator of Heterodox Academy’s HxK-12Education Community. Learn more about her work by visiting her website.

It seems that the tenets of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) theory have now seeped into every well-known organisation. Billboards, TV adverts, and even our food packaging serve to remind us of the systemic racism, unearned privilege and unconscious bias etched into society’s subconscious.

As these “woke” ideas diffuse into mainstream thought, many companies feel compelled to act. Several have presented their employees with mandatory antiracism seminars, implicit bias training sessions, and concepts based in Critical Race Theory such as “white privilege” and “white fragility”. Following the tragic death of George Floyd, the gradual imposition of these ideas accelerated, with businesses grappling for redemption amidst the ideological reckoning.

Of course, few would dispute the importance of the corporate sector addressing discrimination and promoting inclusion. But the uncritical adoption of CSJ in the workplace goes beyond expected corporate social responsibility.

CSJ is a social and political ideology rooted in postmodernism and neo-Marxism. It holds that ubiquitous and invisible power structures, such as patriarchy and white supremacy, pervade our societies and govern our interactions. These systems benefit the dominant, “privileged” groups in society (e.g. white people) whilst oppressing minority groups (e.g. people of colour). Beyond race, critical theory also consigns individuals to identity groups based on their gender, sexuality, religion and a panoply of other personal attributes which “intersect” with one another to determine the degree of social privilege any given individual is purported to have.

Having adopted this worldview, corporate leaders seek to demonstrate their commitment to social change by prioritising diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. This can involve anything from educating their employees through anti-bias training to actively discriminating against members of “privileged” groups in their recruitment processes.

However, many of these “woke” corporations are not as devoted to equality, justice and humanitarianism as they at first appear. In fact, beneath their liberal veneer of unconscious bias training, diversity quotas and feminist campaigns, a slew of these companies are simultaneously engaged in deeply illiberal practices. Whilst lecturing the public on our unearned privilege and inherent racism, well-known brands continue to abuse human rights, facilitate modern slavery and support totalitarian regimes.

To demonstrate that “woke” is not synonymous with being ethical, I will discuss five examples of staggering corporate hypocrisy:

  1. BAE Systems

When choosing their lead sponsor for Gay Pride 2019, Pride in Surrey turned to none other than Britain’s largest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems. The multinational weapons contractor is ostensibly committed to furthering LGBTQ equality, insisting that “Love Conquers Hate”.

As well as supporting their LGBTQ and “Ally” employees, BAE reassures the public of their mission to “embrace cultural diversity and condemn racism, bigotry and violence”. Recently, BAE’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Ruchi Jalla revealed that the company is pursuing “solutions to structural racism”, by offering “privilege resources” to educate others about their undeserved advantages in society.

And yet, despite claiming to stand against violence and to support LGBTQ rights, BAE Systems remains the third biggest market for Saudi Arabia, a country in which homosexuality is punishable by death. Not only that, but the company has supplied the Saudi military with £15 billion worth of arms since 2015, fuelling a bombing campaign against Yemen that has led to over 60,000 civilian fatalities, as well as the death of 85,000 infants from starvation and other avoidable diseases.

2. Starbucks

In 2014, Starbucks launched its “Race Together” campaign, a movement which involved baristas writing “Race Together” on coffee cups and attempting to engage customers in conversations about race. Grounded in Critical Race Theory, the campaign featured in USA Today newspapers alongside an “unconscious bias” experiment.

In 2018, the multinational coffee giant also imposed a racial “bias training” programme on 750,000 of its employees, closing all its stores across the US for the day.

But are Starbucks as committed to social justice as they appear to be? While insisting that it is 99% ethical, Starbucks violated Brazilian law last year when inspectors discovered slave labour on their plantations for the second time in nine months. “Workers reported dead bats and mice in their food,” the Fair World Project reports, as well as “no sanitation systems, and work days that stretched from 6AM to 11PM”. Despite company values “based on humanity and inclusion”, Starbucks has been affiliated with five farms that use child labour and pay workers as little as 31p an hour. The Brazilian Labour Ministry reported that the number of workers enduring these slave-like conditions reached a 15-year high in 2018, the very same year of Starbucks’ groundbreaking anti-bias programme.

3. Nike

Last summer, Nike announced a $40 million commitment to the Black community in America in an effort to address racial inequality and fight systemic racism. In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, the athletic footwear company promptly changed its slogan to “Don’t Do It”, demanding the public not to stay silent over institutional racism.

And yet, seemingly unaware of their core values of “community and social responsibility”, Nike have been accused of using sweatshop labour since the 1970s. The brand has been linked to human rights abuses such as the employment of 12-year old girls working 70-hour weeks in Indonesian sweatshops and children picking cotton in Uzbekistan under the threat of torture and detainment.

Last year, the Washington Post also revealed that Nike’s factories rely on the forced labour of detained Uyghur Muslims in China. A local government report found that a factory affiliated with Nike is “equipped with watchtowers, barbed-wire fences and police guard boxes.” At least 80,000 Uyghurs are thought to work in these factories (which also supply Amazon, Samsung, H&M, Zara, Microsoft, et cetera). Sent to these factories by local authorities, workers toil away all day churning out shoes for lines such as Nike’s Air Max, before receiving “patriotic education” in the evening.

What’s more, in spite of numerous female empowerment campaigns over the years, investigations into Nike’s factories found that around 75-80% of the workers are girls in their teens or early twenties, often working 9-13 hours a day, 6 days a week, and reporting pay so low that they cannot meet their basic needs.

4. Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola is committed to putting their “resources and energy toward helping end the cycle of systemic racism.” To demonstrate their dedication, the soft drink manufacturer has introduced various educational programmes to its employees, including Diversity Training, a Diversity Speaker Series and a Diversity Library. Last summer, they also announced $2.5 million in grants to go toward criminal justice reform, recognising their duty to “speak up as allies to the Black Lives Matter movement”.

Failing to recall their pledge to “stand with those seeking justice and equality”, Coca-Cola has also been involved in the convenient forced labour of detained Uyghur Muslims. As a result, the company recently joined the likes of Nike and Apple in a push back against a bill prohibiting imports from slave labour in China. “Respect for human rights is a fundamental value of The Coca-Cola Company,” their website continues to claim.

5. Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry’s are fervently committed to the fundamental tenets of CSJ. “Silence is NOT an Option,” reads their website, asserting that “we must dismantle white supremacy”. The multimillion-dollar ice cream manufacturer argues that things won’t change “unless and until white America is willing to collectively acknowledge its privilege.” Ben & Jerry’s proudly support reparations for slavery, chronicling the history of racism in their new podcast and educating their audiences with articles such as “7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism is Real”.

But how socially responsible are Ben & Jerry’s? According to the Guardian, in 2018 migrant workers from the ice cream company’s dairy farms campaigned against the brand for its egregious work conditions. Workers were housed in barns and unheated trailers before being made to work 12 to 14 hour shifts without rest days.

Despite “calling for a cleaner, greener, fairer future for all”, Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever has been involved in several environmental scandals including links to illegal rainforest destruction and Indonesian forest fires. The corporate giant has also been accused of sourcing palm oil from plantations with slave labourers as young as eight years old.

Unsurprisingly, the list goes on. Beneath so many surface-level performances of progressivism lies a disturbing disregard for human welfare and real social justice. Whether these companies are suffering from severe cognitive dissonance, or consciously leveraging CSJ to distract from their dirty work and preserve their profits, the schism between their public politics and private misdemeanours is telling.

What their hypocrisy reveals is that adherence to CSJ does not necessarily signal that an organisation is truly ethical. It is therefore vital that we do not determine the moral values of a company simply by its degree of “wokeness” and start to distinguish between those sincerely committed to social progress and those simply posturing in adherence to a political orthodoxy.

It is also essential that we push back against those companies trying to dictate our ethics along ideological lines. We cannot allow authentic liberals to be considered amoral by their employers—and even fired from their positions—for having reservations about the assumptions of CSJ. Those who believe in equality of opportunity, fundamental freedoms for all and universal human rights should not have to live and work in fear of expressing their opinions, especially when so many organisations do not internalise their own public values.

Regardless of whether the company you work for is well-intentioned in its social justice aims or fundamentally dishonest, we all must retain the right to question the imposition of CSJ in the workplace. We cannot grant corporations the power to dictate what is ethical nor can we grant them the power to make us doubt our own morals.

Crucially, you are not inherently amoral if you stand against Critical Social Justice – and at the same time, you are not automatically moral if you stand with it.

Freya India is a freelance writer interested in politics, culture and psychology. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/freyafia