When Barack Obama ran for president, he was a first term senator with no baggage, and his opponents created a controversy through his church pastor.
Obama’s pastor preached Black Liberation Theology. The majority of Americans didn’t care. They never heard of it. But Obama’s opponents said it was an offshoot of Liberation Theology, which originated in Latin America with priests who blended the New Testament with concepts of Karl Marx. Since Obama’s pastor preached a black version of this doctrine people wondered if Obama was as radical as his pastor.
Obama could have explained there was an academic form of Black Liberation Theology that was influenced by the Latin American doctrine, but there was also a form of Black Liberation Theology that developed independently on slave plantations. This organic version was based on the Old Testament story of God liberating his people from captivity, and it developed inside of black churches from Reconstruction up to the Civil Rights Movement. However, Obama’s campaign didn’t find it advantageous to make the distinction. It was easier for Obama to publicly distance himself from his pastor and condemn what his pastor preached. Afterwards, anything that went under the banner of Black Liberation Theology was regulated to the “wrong side of history”.
Many Americans were willing to dismiss Black Liberation Theology, regardless of its utility, because it could have damaged a politician they liked. Now, let’s examine a doctrine that was denounced by a recent politician that many Americans hated.
During President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, he issued an executive order that eliminated diversity training programs that taught Critical Race Theory. Once again, the majority of Americans never heard of it. Then it was brought up by the moderator during the first presidential debate.
The moderator asked the president why his administration “directed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity training that addressed white privilege or critical race theory?” President Trump called these ideas, radical and racist. The moderator asked, what was radical about racial sensitivity training? Trump said, “They were teaching people to hate our country.” Former Vice President Joe Biden replied, “Nobody’s doing that. He’s the racist.”
The presidential debate made the matter more confusing. The moderator treated Critical Race Theory and racial sensitivity training as if they were synonyms and President Trump’s assertions were inadequate. Since President Trump was hated and viewed as a white supremacist by a lot of Americans, these Americans assumed Critical Race Theory must have been beneficial to minorities and that was the only reason President Trump eliminated it. Joe Biden won the presidency and during his first week in office, he overturned Trump’s executive order concerning Critical Race Theory.
This time many Americans were willing to accept a doctrine, they knew nothing about, because it was dismissed by a politician they hated. Unlike Black Liberation theology, Critical Race Theory doesn’t have an organic version. It’s a direct descendant from a mid-twentieth century school of thought called Critical Theory. This school of thought attempted to explain the failures of traditional Marxism. Critical Theory departed from Marx’s class-based analysis of industrial societies to analyze other hierarchies of oppression which laid the foundation for “identity politics”. Critical Race Theory attempted to explain “rollbacks to the gains of the Civil Rights Movement” but Critical Race Theory completely departed from the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement.
The major departure was explained in Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. The authors wrote: Critical race scholars are discontent with liberalism as a framework for addressing America’s racial problem. Many liberals believe in color blindness and neutral principles of constitutional law … Critical race theorists hold that color blindness will allow us to redress only extremely egregious racial harms, ones that everyone would notice and condemn. But if racism is embedded in our thought processes and social structures as deeply as many critical race theorists believe, then the ordinary business of society will keep minorities in subordinate positions. Only aggressive, color-conscious efforts to change the way things are will ameliorate the misery.
Trump couldn’t articulate the harm of this departure, but President Biden is too color-conscious and too racially sensitive to realize a departure took place.