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Stop Waving Away Critical Race Theory Critiques With Claims They’re Solely Based On Fear

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The Washington Post’s Christine Emba claims conservative opposition to critical race theory has less to do with intellectual concerns and more to do with emotivism and fear. She accuses conservatives of “disguising” their “discomfort with racial reconsideration as an intellectual critique,” asserting conservative skepticism of critical race theory reflects a “psychological defense, not a rational one.” The irony, however, is that Emba’s argument relies on a textbook logical fallacy.

That fallacy is the ad hominem, and more specifically “bulverism,” a term coined by C.S. Lewis. “The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly,” explains Lewis. To put it another way, it’s a speculative examination of the psychological condition of one’s intellectual sparring partner, rather than a rational consideration of his or her actual position.

This is precisely what we see in Emba’s and many other critiques of those skeptical of critical race theory. Emba writes:

On their face, these [conservative] arguments might sound considered. Concerned. Academic, even. There is plausible deniability — they aren’t about anyone’s personal discomfort with the changes racial reconciliation would take, they’re about preserving the best of the United States and protecting the children from bad ideas. But these are straw man arguments, the use of which highlights the discomfort underlying critics’ obsession with CRT in the first place: their fear of criticism itself, and an anxiety about what actually addressing racial inequality might look like.

According to Emba, conservatives who distrust critical race theory — which argues that racism is systemically embedded in American law and public policy and still shapes outcomes for black Americans and other people of color — not because they have legitimate, logical concerns with this Marxist-informed school of thought, but because they simply don’t like it. Thus she continues: “Objections to CRT are an emotional defense against unwanted change, not an intellectual disagreement.”

Emba’s critique is clearly bulveristic. Apart from a brief assertion that conservatives have misinterpreted and misrepresented it, Emba doesn’t substantively engage with conservative criticisms

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