You might think of CRT as an American idea. And it did start out that way. The theory’s two primary architects are Columbia University law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw and former New York University law professor Derrick Bell.
But CRT’s central premises will sound familiar to any Canadian who has paid close attention to our federal and provincial governments or the multinational corporations that do business in our markets. Critical race theorists have accumulated a significant amount of influence in Canada, as evidenced by the pervasiveness of such terms as “systemic racism” and “white privilege.”
Let’s first establish what CRT is. Crenshaw defined her theory to The New York Times as a world view focused on “the ways that racial inequality is facilitated, and the ways that our history has created these inequalities that now can be almost effortlessly reproduced unless we attend to the existence of these inequalities.”
“We must grapple with the assumptions and objectives of CRT
The phrase “almost effortlessly” is key to understanding CRT’s central premise that racism lives inside our laws and policies independently of our intentions. In the Capital University Law Review, Bell wrote that “racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society.” He concluded that “Black people will never gain full equality in this country.”
Needless to say, CRT doesn’t think highly of countries like Canada. The ideology demands radical, destabilizing change to our institutions. And CRT disempowers people of colour by defining us as perennial victims.
Examples of Canadian governments and businesses embracing CRT are countless. Last year, Global Affairs Canada incorporated the ideology into its training of government officials. Earlier this year, almost every member of Ontario’s provincial parliament voted in favour of Bill 67, which, if made law, would mandate the practice of CRT in the administration of public education. In March, Home Depot found itself in hot water after passing around a controversial flyer that informed its employees about “privilege.” And Bell Canada (BCE Inc.), Canada’s largest telecommunications company, regularly lectures its shareholders, employees and customers about how racist Canada is.
Of all the parts of Canadian life where CRT advocates and practitioners have established power, the most troubling place to find such divisive race politics is in our public schools. Parents in particular ought to be alarmed.
In Calgary, the Alberta Teachers’ Association has started an Antiracist Teachers Network Newsletter that pushes CRT material onto teachers who work with students as young as kindergarteners.
In southwestern Ontario, the Waterloo Region District School Board has censured its only Black school board trustee, Mike Ramsay, who has raised concerns about CRT in Waterloo public schools.
In Toronto, CRT is promoted to community members by administrators, such as the principal of Victoria Park Elementary School in the city’s east end. In her weekly email updates to parents, Victoria Park’s principal has distributed content from critical race theorist Robin DiAngelo, who was embroiled in controversy last year for telling Coca Cola workers to be “less white.”
I could go on with examples from every province. But the point is clear. CRT is a real problem in Canada. Adherents to CRT are actively pitting communities against each other on the basis of skin colour.
Thankfully, a growing number of Canadians are rising up to sound the alarm about the influence of critical race theorists.
A growing number of Canadians are rising up to sound the alarm
The Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) has published a series of essays aimed at helping readers understand what CRT is and why we should be concerned about it. The essays are written by a diverse group of Canadian parents, students, journalists and activists from African, Caribbean, Jewish, Middle Eastern and South Asian cultural backgrounds.
One of the highlights from MLI’s Speak for Ourselves essays is the contribution from father and business owner Sam Nagieb, who writes, “We need to have a comprehensive understanding of this ideology that public schools will introduce to my kids. Proponents of CRT argue it promotes progressive values. But I disagree. It’s more of a radicalization of a regressive thought process that’s passed as ‘progressive.’ This is why I, as a parent, have grown worried.”
CRT activists may assume that all people of colour would feel represented by their ideas, but MLI’s contributors affirm that people of colour are not a monolith. Indeed, writers from different ethnic and cultural communities challenge critical race theorists on varying grounds, and may also empathize with them for different reasons.
We owe it to ourselves and one another to become familiar with CRT. Only then might we truly challenge the ideology and replace it with something better.
Jamil Jivani is an award-winning lawyer and author, who serves as the Government of Ontario’s first-ever advocate for Community Opportunities. He also leads a youth-focused research nonprofit, Road Home Research & Analysis, which is supported by the Pinball Clemens Foundation, and hosts a weekly radio show, “Tonight with Jamil Jivani” on Newstalk 1010.