A little too much coffee and Roberts' Rules.


19 January 2021

Bullet points: Brad Mason on Carl Trueman 1

by Jon

Brad Mason launches a six-part fisking of Trueman on CRT. A quick rundown of part one shows it probably won't go anywhere useful.

Brad's Word Count: 2,669

Brad's claim: Trueman makes three false claims: (a) that CRT has “basic claims,” (b) among them are “racism is systemic” and (c) “being non-racist is impossible.”

  1. Brad's Argument 1: CRT is undefinable, therefore Trueman is wrong about claims a, b, and c.

    • Response:
      • It's impossible to argue an undefinable concept. We certainly can't prove Trueman is wrong, if there's no definition. But Brad recognizes this is just preening, and admits in the next section that there really is some consensus about some claims.
      • Scholarly language refutation: Just like "critical legal studies," it is widely accepted both within and outside critical movements that "scholars share sufficient themes, arguments, and approaches "to permit intelligent discussion of the movement as a whole." Johnson, Do You Sincerely Want to Be Radical?, 36 STAN. L. REV. 247, 249 (1984). (Yes, Johnson is writing before CRT proper, but this is fair for all the "critical" theories).
  2. Brad's Argument 2: Trueman "shows little awareness" of either Critical Race Theory itself or the broader tradition, because scholars of CRT don't use the words Trueman uses in b or c.

    • Brad's Evidence for the Argument: Brad shows 11 bullet points and a paragraph, and none of them contain the exact words used by Trueman.
    • Response:
      • Most of this "argument" is spent claiming Brad's target lacks sufficient knowledge, reading, credentials, or training. This is Brad's most frequent 'argument,' but it is not really an argument.
      • Brad's eleven bullet points and a paragraph from Crenshaw do not show that Carl has "little awareness" or unfairly characterized or summarized CRT. Failing to use the same words or phrasing does not tell us whether Trueman understands or misundertsands CRT. The question is whether the words Trueman does use fairly describe the theory.
      • In showing how "aware" scholars would describe CRT, Brad proves he was wrong about Argument 1. CRT has some intelligible claims that educated people fairly describe as claims of Critical Race Theory. Trueman is right about claim a.
  3. Brad's Argument 3: CRT does make claims about systemic racism, but Trueman is wrong that such claims are exclusive to CRT.

    • Response:
      • Brad admits that CRT makes claims about systemic racism. "A way of understanding [systemic racism] is certainly included within CRT." Trueman is right about claim b
      • Trueman does not say systemic racism is exclusive to CRT, and Trueman never says his argument depends on describing things "exclusive" to CRT. Argument 3 was a straw man.
  4. Brad's Argument 4: CRT does not make a claim about "being non-racist is impossible," so Trueman is wrong about claim c.

    • Brad's guess: "My guess is that Trueman gets this idea from a marginal awareness of Ibram X Kendi’s work ... these definitions are peculiar to Kendi and not particularly reflective of CRT scholarship."
    • Response:
      • Notice that Brad again engages in ad hominem attacks, assuming that the opponent has not read as widely as himself. Even Kendi is put down as not a real CRT scholar, despite running BU's
      • Is it true that Kendi makes an argument about 'being non-racist is impossible'? Yes, Kendi makes this explicit argument.
      • Is it true that Kendi's argument is not shared with CRT? No. Kendi is applying a hard critique of neutrality. Here's what Kendi says:

        But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle...One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is not in between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.

      • So when Kendi says "being non-racist is impossible," he is framing a critique of false neutrality in the fight against racism.
      • What field claims to be the home for academics to criticize false neutrality in discussions of race? Critical Race Theory. I'm sure some scholars caveat their neutrality claims more than Kendi, but they frequently start in a similar place: suspect all neutrality. But Kendi is critiquing neutrality in race discussions, and that's the thing CRT is known for. This is the "verb" CRT claims to do; this is the field it wants to cover. I don't think you would find CRT scholars to say Kendi's outside the bounds of CRT.
      • Kendi is a little closer to unusual in saying that minorities have some power, and concluding they can be racist with that power. The CRT consensus about minorities was that they are relatively-out-of-power, and so unable to be racist. Kendi is comfortable calling minorities "racist" if they fail to be anti-racist. I can imagine a debate about this within CRT circles, but, again, discussion of power and race is the CRT neighborhood.
      • I assume it is not necessary to show that CRT critiques neutrality, or that critiques of neutrality are "core" to CRT.
      • Therefore, Trueman is right about his claim C.
  5. Brad's claim: "What CRT offers, as mentioned above, is a specific approach to understanding and explaining systemic racism, predominately as a function of law."

    • Response: At the top of this essay, Brad said: "it is debatable whether CRT does in fact have any set of basic claims—it certainly has no strict agreed upon definition, nor list of “tenets” that are both necessary and sufficient." Now we have a claim that CRT is specificaly a function in the field of law. At least one of these claims isn't true!
    • Brad's wrong if he means CRT is "predominately" a field that criticizes law. CRT started out in the law, true enough. But it was stymied in the law, because of the Constitution's anti-discrimination and equal protection provisions. So CRT scholars turned to academic areas where law might reach. And those scholars' ideas about interdisciplinary law are ... expansive. For a good recounting by a CRT scholar, you could read Gloria Ladson-Billings (1998) Just what is critical race theory and what's it doing in a nice field like education?, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education. And that article was written in 1998. I suspect there is far more "CRT" scholarship and thinking outside the law now. It is no longer a parochial subfield of legal theory.
    • I suspect Brad's claim here is wrong in the broader sense. Does CRT say racism is understood and explained "predominately as a function of law?" Bell made assertions about how racism manifested in the law, but I don't know of any scholars that say racism is understood and explained mostly through the law.
  6. Brad said a lot, with some scholarly preening -- but Trueman was right about a, b, and c. This is a common feeling after reading his essays.