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Joel Modiri claims critical race theory (CRT) is being “demonised” by ignorant and “intensively aggressive” right-wing whites who feel threatened by its rise and are mobilising to protect white supremacy and prevent “any form of racial equality and racial justice” (“Critical race theory is being attacked as the need to take racism seriously can no longer be ignored”, June 24).

He dismisses the many CRT critics who are black as nothing but the “junior partners” of whites who like to pretend that “race and racism have ... declined in significance”. Yet that is precisely what has happened in the US, the UK and SA itself, where “nonracialism” was made a founding value of our inclusive democracy in 1994.

Moreover, contrary to Modiri’s emphasis on racism as “a deeply embedded reality”, only tiny proportions of black and white South Africans — evident from Institute of Race Relations (IRR) opinion polls over many years — see racism as a particularly important policy priority. 

In the most recent poll only 3% of black respondents identified racism as a key unresolved issue — whereas 56% saw unemployment as the most pressing problem.

Modiri’s stigmatisation of CRT’s critics has little foundation in fact but is typical of how CRT seeks to intimidate and silence its opponents through a “cancel culture” that persistently demeans, de-platforms, and even dismisses them. This helps suppress alternative views and establish the “hegemony” of the CRT perspective. It also glosses over just how facile and simplistic CRT’s analysis is.

The CRT mantra is that every liberal democracy is divided into two unbridgeable groups: a white, privileged group that uses its control of the “system” to oppress a black, disadvantaged group. That not all whites are prosperous and not all blacks are poor is irrelevant to CRT because it takes the view that there is no such thing as “objective truth”.

To end “oppression” by whites CRT demands race-based policies aimed at achieving equality of outcome in every sphere. Yet persistent racial disparities in income, employment, home ownership and elsewhere have complex causes extending far beyond this alleged oppression. These include bad education, often made worse by lax discipline and uncaring teachers, and widespread family breakdown, which now sees about 70% of black children growing up without the presence and support of both their parents.

CRT nevertheless demands that whites and blacks achieve the same outcomes in schooling, qualifications, employment, incomes and asset ownership. To achieve this impossible demand, it insists on an extraordinary degree of racial engineering. 

But CRT’s real goals have little to do with helping disadvantaged black people. Instead, one of its overarching aims is to bring about the collapse of liberal democracy. This is anathema to CRT because it puts the individual before the group; upholds equality before the law; promotes the free flow of information; rejects totalitarian state control over society; encourages voluntary exchange via the market — and has brought about the greatest liberation from poverty the world has ever known.

CRT’s second and most important overarching aim is to end capitalism, which Modiri fails to mention. Stripped to its essence, CRT is simply Marxist dogma dressed up in the language of race instead of class, with the oppressor group framed as the white population with its overweening “supremacy” and “systemic power”, which must be overthrown.

CRT is coy about explaining what it wants in place of liberal democracy and capitalism. Modiri, for example, refers to “dismantling hierarchies” and “building a just and humane society and world”. Yet socialism has failed dismally — generating harsh repression, hunger and shortages, millions of avoidable deaths, bureaucratic rigidity, personality cults around supposedly infallible leaders, and gaping inequality between the party elite and the population.

CRT ignores all this evidence. Instead, it seeks to weaken capitalism in favour of socialism by, among other things:

  • promoting polarisation between racial groups;
  • demanding ever more race-based laws that help the black elite and harm the poor black majority;
  • using coercive laws to price unskilled black people out of the labour market;
  • building dependency on state welfare among the millions left unemployed; and
  • undermining property rights in the name of reparations.

In SA interventions of this kind have long been implemented by the SACP/ANC alliance in pursuit of a national democratic revolution (NDR) that likewise seeks a socialist future, and is simply a local variant of the wider CRT ideology. These NDR interventions, made worse by bungled Covid-19 strategies, are increasingly making the country uninvestable, crippling its economy and pushing unemployment to staggeringly high levels compared to global norms.

It is these things — not alleged white oppression — that are the real barriers to upward mobility for millions of black South Africans.

Dr Anthea Jeffery, Head of policy research, Institute of Race Relations

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