Eight Problems With Critical Race Theory

A critique of Critical Race Theory from an Afro-European perspective

Politically Speaking
16 min readAug 19, 2021


Thanks to the global nature of the ongoing “culture wars”, many American movements/ideologies have gained large international audiences— one of them being Critical Race Theory (CRT).

As a person of color living in Europe, CRT fascinates and terrifies me in equal measures, not least because the debate around it is so polarized. As a result, objective information about it is hard to come by, and I’ve really had to dig deep to gain even a basic understanding of what CRT is, as opposed to what its opponents say it is.

What is CRT?

Harvard University (Unsplash)

CRT as a movement started at Harvard University in the 1970s and is based on the idea that the “race” is a social construct, created to uphold the interests of white people. It has since developed in several different directions, and while it’s important to acknowledge that not all modern critical race theorists share the same beliefs, the core tenets most of them agree on are the following:

  1. Racism is intrinsically linked to “white supremacy”
  2. Racism is the normal, not aberrational, state of affairs in America
  3. Racism is embedded in policies, institutions and structures of governance rather than being a result of intentional, individual bias or prejudice

CRT’s goal is therefore to rectify the “outcomes” of systemic racism in American society, not to eradicate racial prejudice in individuals. As a result, it places little importance on denouncing personal racism, and even less on promoting racial unity.

While I don’t doubt that the intentions behind CRT are (mostly) good, the movement itself has, in my humble opinion, developed into an inferior, and more tabloid version of its original incarnation — a version that is no longer fit for purpose. Its main deficiencies, as I see it, are as follows:

CRT is divisive

Despite its American focus, CRT has emerged as a focal point for the international anti-racism movement. In the UK, a number of organizations now use CRT-inspired methods to address racism — even hiring American “race experts” as advisers and consultants. What these organizations have failed to understand is that CRT was not created to promote racial unity and healing. Instead, it’s likely to make people more focused on their racial differences — thereby increasing the risk of importing American-style racial divisions to the UK and other countries. What are American-style racial divisions, you might ask? The stats below should give you an idea:

Inadvertent racial divisions is one thing, but some critical race theorists take it further and advocate racial segregation as a deliberate strategy for combating systemic racism (including separate curriculums for non-white students, with “culture relevant” and “decolonized” teaching). Is this a problem? Well, yes. For starters, it’s taken straight from the supremacist playbook, where keeping “superior” and “inferior” races/cultures apart is a key strategy. Another problem is that many people don’t want to be separated or divided. Racial separation might be a white supremacist or critical race theorist’s wet dream, but that doesn’t mean it’s everyone else’s.

Racial separation also reinforces our tendency to categorize people into “us” and “them” — us being a group we consider ourselves to be members of, and them, people we consider different from ourselves in some way, whether it’s based on race or something else. Sociological studies suggest that we think of them as “less human” than us. When that happens, we become desensitized to their emotions, and lose our ability to empathize. A lack of empathy might seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, but ask yourself this: Could Derek Chauvin (George Floyd’s killer) or Robert Aaron Long (the Atlanta Spa shooter) have killed their victims if they were sensitive to their emotions, or better still, had empathy with them?

The us and them mentality can also affect our behavior in other ways. We often stereotype people from other groups (“outgroup homogeneity bias”), and can also become somewhat indifferent to their suffering — especially when compared to the heartfelt empathy we have with our own people. It’s therefore no surprise that those who gathered for rallies after the Atlanta spa shootings (where six women of Asian descent were killed), the police killing of Adam Toledo (a 13-year-old Hispanic boy) and Derek Chauvin’s sentencing (George Floyd’s killer) were mostly from the same race as the victims — something the statements below shed further light on:

“This could have happened to anyone in my community, including the ones I love and care most about.” (an attendee at a march against Atlanta spa shootings and anti-Asian hate)

We consider all Latinos family. That was one of mine. Once I saw that video, I literally started crying because it could have been any of us.” (an attendee at a protest against Adam Toledo killing)

“…when I look at George Floyd I look at my dad, I look at my brother, my cousins, my uncles, because they’re all Black” (a witness to the murder of George Floyd)

“What if that was one of my family members, what if that was my little brother, my little sister, my dad, my mum, my uncle… what it if was myself” (a childhood friend of George Floyd)

Statements like these make it seem like injustice only matters when the victims “could have been us” or someone we love. While perfectly natural, this kind of tribal mentality will neither bring us unity, nor justice.

CRT deprioritizes personal racism

Many critical race theorists either deprioritize the fight against personal racism, or accuse those who prioritize it, of having a narrow focus. They justify this by arguing that to focus on personal racism is “not a good use of energy” because it takes attention away from institutional racism — as if that’s not an equally narrow focus. Pitting personal racism against institutional racism would only make sense if they existed independently of each other, which they don’t. Say, for argument’s sake, that you applied for a job and didn’t get it because your surname was deemed too “exotic”. Is this institutional racism, personal racism on part of the person who reviewed your CV, or maybe a bit of both? Sometimes it’s hard to say, but it’s plain to see that racist institutions exist because racist people in positions of power made/make them that way.

CRT claims that it’s the other way around, and author Ibram X. Kendi suggests as much when he says that white support for desegregated schools in the 1960s (after segregation laws were abolished), is proof that “racists don’t make racist policies, racist policies make racists”. Kendi conveniently fails to mention that personal racism persisted in this period (and beyond), and also doesn’t acknowledge the many countries that are not institutionally racist (compared with the US), but where personal racism is now on the rise. Additionally, he seems to forget about Nazi Germany, where Hitler’s personal anti-Semitism was instrumental in creating the most extreme example of institutionalized racism the world has ever seen. If history has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t afford to let personal racism go unchallenged — it’s really that simple.

CRT perpetuates racial stereotypes

CRT reduces individuals to racial categories, and largely ignores distinctly human traits such as personality, intelligence, and moral behavior. Categories like white, Black and people of color therefore become loaded with pseudo-permanent value connotations, for example that white people are inherently racist because they are beneficiaries of unearned privilege, and play a part in perpetuating systemic racism. But does CRT really see white people as inherently racist, or is this just something critics say to make it look bad?

I’ll answer that question with an anecdote from a diversity training seminar Coca Cola recently arranged for its staff. One of the slides in the training presentation included the line “white people are socialised to feel that they are inherently superior because they are white”, while others implied that whiteness equaled ignorance and arrogance, and that people should try to be “less white”. It was later revealed that the material for the session was provided by Robin DiAngelo, the prominent critical race theorist who coined the phrase “White Fragility” and authored a bestselling book with the same title. Although DiAngelo only speaks for herself, the following excerpt from her book White Fragility represents a pretty mainstream view among CRT-supporters I’ve interacted with: “…a positive white identity is an impossible goal. White identity is inherently racist; white people do not exist outside the system of white supremacy.

For a movement that supposedly wants to improve life for people of color, CRT seems excessively focused on white people. In CRT, whiteness isn’t simply a skin color however, it’s also the beliefs, values, behaviors, habits and attitudes that white people have. This is one of things I find most baffling about CRT, especially since it also teaches that “to be an antiracist is to realize there is no such thing as Black behavior” (as Ibram X. Kendi writes in his book How to Be An Antiracist). So, Black behavior isn’t a thing, but white behavior is? As a person of mixed Black and white heritage, I know intimately well that this isn’t true. I therefore take great personal offence when CRT tries to convince me otherwise — for example by perpetuating ignorant stereotypes like this astonishing, CRT-inspired poster from the African American History Museum (if you think the content of this poster is perfectly reasonable, you need to get out more).

Photo: National Museum of African American History and Culture

CRT’s fixation with White people, racial stereotypes and seeing race as the defining feature of someone’s humanity has resulted in a rather bizarre vocabulary, full of jargon (e.g. counter-narrative, racial literacy, decolonization, intersectionality, ally, allyship, microaggressions), expressions associated with “whiteness”, and much-maligned phrases like “naming your reality”, “speaking your truth”. Like for most other people, I suspect critical race theorists use jargon because they think it makes them sound smart. Whether it actually does is not for me to say, but there’s always a risk it could have the opposite effect.

CRT is making it difficult to have meaningful conversations about race

Instead of facilitating open and honest dialogue, CRT-supporters tend to ridicule people who disagree with them, and censor unwanted opinions and viewpoints. It might not look like this to the casual eye, especially with CRT-inspired books like Ben Lindsey’s We Need to Talk About Race giving people the impression that we’re all in this together. This is not the case however, and Reni Eddo-Lodge, an author Lindsey was inspired by, makes that abundantly clear in her own book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race (I suspect the real reason she stopped talking to white people about race, is that she only wants to engage with people who agree with her).

In any case, these two book titles neatly encapsulate CRT’s rather confused approach to talking about race. You have an “inclusive” group that wants everyone to participate, as long as they agree with the basic premise that racism = white privilege. You then have a “semi-inclusive” group that believes that only people of color (i.e. those who have experienced racism) should speak about race, but that white people, rather like ignorant children, should listen and be educated. Finally, you have an “exclusive” group that wants white people excluded from the conversation altogether, presumably on the assumption that they’ll respond with defensiveness, argumentation, and other forms of push-back because they want to preserve white supremacy.

Having dark skin doesn’t necessarily mean that CRT-supporters will tolerate what you have to say about race (or CRT) however, something UK politician Kemi Badenoch became painfully aware of when she accused certain CRT-writers of wanting a segregated society. This sparked a furious reaction from the CRT-community, including a highly publicized letter of condemnation signed by 101 prominent Black authors, as well as a slew of abusive tweets where Badenoch was referred to as a house negro and race traitor. For what it’s worth, I agree with Kemi Badenoch’s claim that certain CRT-writers want racial segregation. They may not use the S-word, but their vision of a perfect society seems eerily similar to segregation-era US (minus the white privilege of course).

CRT discourages people from taking responsibility for their racial prejudice

CRT’s (re)definitions of the terms racism and racist are as follows:

Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices. (drWorks & RET)

A racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. ‘The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality. By this definition, people of color cannot be racists, because as peoples within the U.S. system, they do not have the power to back up their prejudices, hostilities, or acts of discrimination. (Dr. Shakti Butler)

With definitions like these, it’s easy to envisage scenarios where people of color believe their racial prejudice is inconsequential (since people of color can’t be racist), or where white people believe their commitment to anti-racism is pointless (since white people are inherently racist). This is obviously not a good thing, so why does CRT use these definitions instead of a more traditional one?

The answer is, it doesn’t really have a choice. According to the traditional definition of racism (the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another), CRT is itself racist because it divides people into groups by race, and suggests that different races have different moral qualities and behavioral traits. To get around this paradox, CRT has asserted that racism must involve an element of institutional privilege or power, something an oppressed group can never have. This idea was further popularized by the movie Dear White People, where the main character says: “Black people can’t be racist. Prejudiced, yes, but not racist. Racism describes a system of advantage based on race. Black people can’t be racist since we don’t stand to benefit from such a system”. A narrative, where only the dominant group can be considered racist, allows critical race theorists, who are mostly people of color, to define racism in a manner that conveniently excludes themselves.

While this is crafty, it’s also detrimental to the fight against racism (which CRT is supposedly committed to) — something the following example illustrates: In the Euro 2020 final, England lost to Italy on penalties after three England players (who all happened to be Black) missed their penalty kicks. Predictably, these players were bombarded with abhorrent racial abuse on social media — abuse that was condemned by the wider public. But, what does CRT have to say about this? Well, according to CRT the white people who stood up against the abuse are as racist those who took part in it. People of color on the other hand, are not racists even if they were among the abusers, simply because they’re not white. CRT also says that denouncing individual racism is not a priority. In other words, it implies that exposing racists, holding them accountable, or even addressing this kind of racism, is not all that important. Words can’t really describe how nonsensical this is, but what’s abundantly clear is that anti-racism deserves better than to be spearheaded by a movement that:

  • trivializes personal racism,
  • argues for a more racialized society, and
  • accuses people who disagree with this approach of “colorblindness” — an adorable trait in kids, but not in adults, apparently.

Coincidentally, I happened to discuss colorblindness with a critical race theorist on Twitter just recently. During this “discussion” I suggested that racism can only be eradicated by challenging the idea of race itself, but I was immediately shut down and accused of colorblindness. For me, this was not the devastating insult my opponent intended it to be, and undeterred, I tried to explain that not viewing the world through a racial lens, is not the same as being colorblind; I see race, I just don’t define myself (or others) by it. My rationale fell on deaf ears; as far my adversary was concerned, she had won the argument the moment she dropped the C-bomb (colorblind that is). She therefore had no interest in hearing what else I had to say, and promptly proceeded to block me (which is pretty much Twitter in a nutshell).

CRT is Americentric

At this point I may as well mention that my claim to fame on Twitter was when Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, wiped the floor with me during a heated debate about her 1619-project. I’m not a Twitter-troll per se, but my many tense interactions with critical race theorists on Twitter have taught me that the CRT-movement struggles with the idea that there’s a world outside the US. For writers like Hanna-Jones, Kendi and DiAngelo, racism started with the transatlantic slave trade, and exists solely in an American context. What happens in the rest of the world might as well have happened in another galaxy.

While this is their prerogative, the rest of us should be conscious that CRT was developed in America, by Americans, and for Americans. Assuming that CRT can simply be imported to Europe (or other regions), therefore ignores the uniqueness of US history. Unlike Europe, whose institutions predate the transatlantic slave trade by hundreds, sometimes thousands of years, the US was literally built on the backs of slaves. The first shipment of slaves to Jamestown, England’s first colony in North America, arrived just 12 years after the settlement was founded, and on top of that, the racial categories we use today were “invented” just a few decades later. Institutional racism has always been a part of American society, and because of this, many Americans are blissfully unaware of its existence. I therefore concede that CRT, despite all its obvious flaws, can play a useful role in America, even if only to keep institutional racism on the agenda.

Institutional racism exists in the UK too of course, but CRT’s popularity here has less to do with its usefulness (in a UK context), and more to do with the misconception that the UK has something to learn from the US about anti-racism. People often point to Obama as proof of this, but as harsh as it might sound, Obama won the presidency despite being Black, not because of it. The fact that most Americans saw him as mixed race was also an important factor, as it made him “Black enough” for progressives and Black Americans to give him their unconditional support, but also “white enough” for white America to find him relatable, “palatable”, and thus, electable. Would Obama have won if he looked like George Floyd? No chance, but that’s hardly surprising. The US is the most divided, inharmonious, unequal and racially tense society in the Western world, and Obama’s election victory doesn’t change that.

CRT is illogical

The original CRT was an academic discipline concerned with highly complex questions like: Why does society ignore scientific truths about human biology, and instead rely on racial categories that it invents, manipulates, or retires as convenient? and Why does racial inequity in America persist even after civil rights and anti-discrimination laws have been passed? Just like today, CRT back then proposed radical, and sometimes controversial, solutions to these issues, but whereas the original critical race theorists were scholars and intellectuals (such as Kimberlé Crenshaw), many of today’s adherents are neither. Aysha Khanom, the founder of a UK-based race charity, is a prime example of the latter. On the one hand she diligently pays lip service to CRT-orthodoxy by stating that race is a social construct and that there’s only one human race; on the other, she insists that calling someone a “coconut” or “house negro” is justifiable, anti-racist even, if that person is not behaving in a manner she deems “Black enough” (with support from Kehinde Andrews, another critical race theorist from the UK).

How on earth can this view be reconciled with the idea that to be an antiracist is to realize there is no such thing as Black behavior? And while we’re at it, why are we even talking about Black behavior when race is nothing but a social construct? How can CRT claim that race is a social construct, yet attribute behaviors, traits and moral values to White, and now also Black people? Why are CRT-supporters complaining about racial abuse on social media, when the movement they support indirectly trivializes personal racism? Why, when white Americans make up less than a fifth of the world’s white population, is “white America” used to define whiteness in a global context? Why, when racism exists in every country, is the definition of racism based on power structures specific to American society?

In her blog, Reni Eddo-Lodge uses the terms “mental acrobatics’’ and “awkward cartwheels” to describe how white people justify a system that structurally benefits them at the expense of others. What she fails to mention are the logical gymnastics required to make sense of the illogicality and inconsistencies found within CRT itself, some of which I’ve mentioned above. To me this is CRT in a nutshell; a movement devoid of introspection, that’s more concerned with “pointing fingers” than with finding viable solutions.

CRT is subjective

You might wonder how CRT can be so popular if it’s as flawed as I make it out to be. The simple reason is that it offers an intoxicating mix of community, being right, and holding the moral high ground — based on a very subjective approach to truth. Unlike “the objective truth”, which doesn’t conform to ideology, personal opinion, ethnicity or the “emotion of the day”, the subjective truth can be whatever you want it to be. As nice as that sounds, it does little to promote unity — something the following survey results show:

  • 72% of Black Americans believe Meghan Markle’s race played a major role in how she was treated by the British royal family compared with 60% of Democrats, 34% of white Americans and 21% of Republicans (YouGov.com, YouGov.com)
  • 71% of Black Americans believe it was fair for Derek Chauvin to be convicted of second-degree murder compared with 68% of Democrats, 44% of white Americans and 23% of Republicans (Morning Consult)
  • 84% of Republicans trust the police to promote justice and equal treatment for people of all races, compared with 77% of white Americans, 57% of Democrats and 42% of Black Americans (Ipsos)
  • 77% of Democrats trust Black Lives Matter to promote justice and equal treatment for people of all races, compared with 75% of Black Americans, 42% of white Americans and 22% of Republicans (Ipsos)

These surveys do a good job of demonstrating how we (humans) conflate “stories we like” (or that fit into our worldview) with truth, and “stories we don’t like” with misinformation, thus believing narratives that portray our own group as “good guys” or “victims” and someone else as the “bad guy”. In many ways, this explains why Black and white people almost appear to live in alternate realities, where what’s considered true by one group, is dismissed as fake by another. Personally, I believe this lack of a shared, objective truth is a bigger barrier to racial justice and equality than we think it is.



Politically Speaking

“We are a hopeful species. Stupid but hopeful.” Curious, politically homeless, always hopeful. Hoping to bring fresh perspectives to topics like race & politics