How Critical Theory Ruined Anti-Racism

EDIT NOTE: This article was edited in May 2021, to clarify the concepts and terminology used.

Today, we’re going to talk about how critical theory ruined our efforts to move towards a truly color-blind society. Traditionally, liberals believe in equality of opportunity for every individual, regardless of any personal characteristics, and this includes race and cultural background. It is just part of the long running campaign by historical liberals to make sure every individual is treated fairly, and that factors outside of one’s control, like personal background, isn’t a factor in the opportunity one is given. When we say we are for moving towards a colour-blind society, this is what we mean.

In the second half of the 20th century, great progress was made towards the colour-blind society. Discriminatory laws based on race were removed. Interracial marriage became legal, segregation was abolished, and racial discrimination became illegal. I think it’s important to see that, while we’ve not become color-blind yet, we were getting there small step by small step. Things might not be great yet, but we were heading in the right direction. However, in recent years, our gains have been slipping away, and divisions based on race and cultural background have made a big comeback. From the idea of cultural appropriation to the label of White Feminism, it seems that many progressives no longer believe in the original mission of the anti-racist movement. And I think critical theory has a lot to answer for that.

How the Critical Theory Worldview Ruined Anti-Racism

The truth is, many critical theory based activists never believed in the classical liberal vision of a color-blind society. In the critical theory worldview, racism is seen as a system of oppression that arises from the class society of capitalism. Therefore, critical theory does not see any possibility of a color-blind society where the capitalist system still stands, as in the current Western world. Instead, as always, they believe the oppressed must struggle against their oppressors, and that this process will result in the dismantling of the oppressive systems. To achieve this state of struggle, they believe in raising awareness of oppression among the oppressed, and highlighting the contradictions in society. Therefore, critical theory effectively believes in working against our goal of reaching a colour-blind society through gradual reform and cultural consensus.

Divisive ideas, like how certain people should check their privilege and speak less, are a product of critical theory and associated ideas. In turn, these ideas have encouraged an identitarian movement on the far-right, leading to further erosion of the consensus that we should move towards a colour-blind society. The sad truth is, in the past decade, radical critical theory ideas have often been promoted as social justice, and naive social justice advocates have swallowed them without thinking about their origins and their implications. In truth, I am totally for social justice per se. Social justice has a long tradition going back to the early 20th century, and it used to have nothing to do with radical critical theory ideas. However, in recent years, radical criticalists have been able to use the language of social justice, and inject their ideas into popular social justice movements. But if you look at it objectively, radical criticalism is not real social justice. Critical theory is, at its root, all about power dynamics and identity or class-based power struggle, all of which leads to less justice for individuals, if you think about it.

To change things, liberalism must become more academic. In fact, what we are seeing now is the end product of at least several decades of development. A major problem we have is that radical critical theory worldviews have gained an upper hand in Western intellectual and academic discourse in recent decades. The psuedo-Marxist form of analysis core to critical theory has become the default system for analysing social relations and sociological reality. The fact that there have been very few prominent truly liberal intellectuals since around 1980 is illustrative of this. This must change. I propose that we call for the establishment of a new tradition of social analysis, where we analyse social relations based on the individual as the unit, and individual liberty as the highest good. The core Moral Libertarian principle of Equal Moral Agency for every individual would be a good starting point for this.

Let’s return to the core Moral Libertarian question: is there Equal Moral Agency for every individual? Using a moral libertarian analysis, we can develop a more individual-based, and hence fairer, perspective on inequality. For example, if we are concerned about racial minorities having a harder time in accessing education or in participating in politics, what we need to do is to listen to the real experiences of individuals in those fields. We need to listen to what barriers they perceive as being in their way, and if these barriers are proven to be real, we need to fix them. However, we look at situations on an individual level, and we have no reason to generalise everything into a systems of oppression view. For example, barriers to accessing a good education may have cultural roots that differ by ethnicity, and lumping non-whites as a group disregards these cultural differences, leading to ineffective solutions. Another example is, while blackface is considered offensive generally, as an Asian I don’t mind non-Asians wearing our traditional dresses, and every Asian that I know personally has the same view. The two cannot be equated in a category called ‘cultural appropriation’. Each situation is unique, and we need to fix the inequalities in a case-by-case manner, looking at individual experiences in every case.

Originally published at on October 26, 2018.

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter, independent journalist and author, who is passionate about free speech, liberty and equality. She is the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which focus on developing a moral case for freedom-based politics in the 21st century.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store


Author & musician. Moral Libertarian. Disrupting the woke vs anti-woke echo chambers and making the West truly liberal again.