Published below are the full and unedited remarks of NC Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, on the threat to critical race theory to American society and its founding principles. Berger offered up the remarks on July 14.
Certain Enlightenment Era concepts have defined American culture since our nation’s founding. Sometimes referred to as “classical liberalism,” they include freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, freedom of debate, and rationality.
From these concepts stem the scientific method; technological advancement; innovation; the peaceful existence of a multiethnic society and its ability to adapt, improve, and survive.
For a long time we took these concepts as a given – they’re there, and they always will be, so we needn’t pay them much mind.
Debates over matters of public policy would reduce to appeals to commonly held principles. We’d debate how a policy choice impacts freedom of speech, for example, but we wouldn’t debate the value of freedom of speech. This is America, and in America we have freedom of speech. That’s it.
But what do we do when confronted with a doctrine that “questions the very foundations of the liberal order”? That’s how leading legal scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic describe critical race theory, the school of thought they helped found.
That requires us to go deeper than traditional public policy debates. It requires us to investigate principles previously taken as immutable laws, and consider whether we still should accept them.
We can’t simply respond, “That doctrine violates our Constitutional principles of equality,” because of course it does – that, according to Delgado and Stefancic, is the point and the goal: to change those principles.
They seek to replace the existing order with a new order, one that preaches “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination,” and that everything we see and do boils down to race and a racial hierarchy – the intersection of race and power.
This doctrine is ascendant in American culture and in parts of North Carolina.
I oppose it, and I will combat it with everything that I have, because I believe the doctrine undoes the framework that produced the most successful ongoing experiment in self-government in the history of mankind.
There are, I think, two separate but related questions at hand.
The first is the narrower question of how, if at all, the public school system should consider this doctrine. The second is the broader question of whether this doctrine will succeed in displacing pillars of America’s liberal order, an outcome the doctrine’s founders openly pursue.
I think the path to finding the larger answer to both questions is to remain true to the American ideals we seek to defend.
We can, and hopefully will, pass a law to prohibit indoctrinating students while preserving the inviolable principle of freedom of thought.
Children must learn about our state’s racial past and all of its ugliness, including the cruelty of slavery to the 1898 Wilmington massacre to Jim Crow.
But students must not be forced to adopt an ideology that is separate and distinct from history; an ideology that attacks “the very foundations of the liberal order,” and that promotes “present discrimination” – so long as it’s against the right people – as “antiracist.”
And we can, and hopefully will, put to the voters a Constitutional amendment that reinforces the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and places in our state’s foundational text the principle of equality before the law.
When we see somebody every day, we don’t notice their physical changes over time. Only by looking back at old photographs can we truly grasp a transformation.
As I considered how to approach “critical race theory” in public education, I thought it made good sense to look back to truly put into perspective the transformation that’s underway right now.
Then-Senator Barack Obama told us in 2004, “There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.”
To those who heard those words, America’s first black president was saying there is no white or black or Latino or Asian America – there is only one America, undefined by color.
Today, Ibram X. Kendi, the author of “How to Be an Antiracist,” says, “the language of color blindness is a mask to hide racism.”
While Obama affirmed our founding motto and said that “we are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes,” Kendi tells his flock “there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of our country’s greatest advancements toward realizing the promise of America’s founding principles, prohibits discrimination against a person “because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Today’s antiracist literature, embraced by some school districts in North Carolina, preaches that discrimination by race is “not inherently racist [and]…The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.”
Indeed, this creed has a policy objective to create a U.S. Department of Antiracism with the power to supersede all federal, state, and local policymakers and instill what they define as “equity” across the land.
Over just the past few years, then, Obama’s description of America undefined by color became racist and violating the Civil Rights Act became antiracist.
Call the doctrine that underlies this transformation what you will: Critical Race Theory; neoracism; illiberalism; Successor Ideology. Its substance has taken root among America’s elites and institutions, and efforts are being made to incorporate it into K-12 education.
Durham’s city government, for example, authorized and endorsed a “racial equity task force report” that’s steeped in the ideology.
It tells us that the current education system “is working as it was designed: to indoctrinate all students with the internalized belief that the white race is superior.”
If government officials really believe that, one needn’t think too hard about what kind of steps they’re taking to fix that problem.
Durham’s report warns of pervasive “whiteness,” a whiteness that “embodies all [all!] of our systems” and “oppress[es] people of color.”
They say conditions today, months after North Carolinians elected their first black lieutenant governor, “are not very different from those in 1925,” a period when people of color were beaten, hanged, and mutilated in the streets. “Black people are still enslaved” because they’re black, Durham’s task force reports.
This government-sanctioned manifesto calls on its citizens to “actively learn from seasoned white antiracists” and, fully embracing Kendi, rejects “race-neutral solutions.”
The report recommends a “racial equity fund,” which mirrors a race-based grants program federal courts recently found unconstitutional.
Durham’s report calls for teachers to host “in-class conversations about…white privilege and how white people can be supportive of antiracism.” The public schools “must be actively and intentionally antiracist as part of the struggle to create a just society…”
In Mecklenburg County, the school system tells its students “it is no longer enough to be passively ‘not racist.’ We are called to be antiracists…As a society and a school, we are all compelled to do our part.”
Recall that to be an antiracist, one must accept that “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.”
When the doctrine’s proponents say they’re not teaching about the ideology, that may well be true. However, they’re clearly teaching in the ideology.
They seek to promote in students a theology, a belief system, that is fundamentally at odds with the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It teaches children to view the world, and everyone in it, always through the lens of race – that race and power define everything.
It’s an either/or proposition: You either agree with them, or you’re racist.
It perverts America’s founding motto – “out of many, one” – and teaches “there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power;” that an America divided by race is all that’s ever existed; that our country’s “true founding” was 1619, when the first slaves arrived.
I call it a theology because it has all the tenets of a religion. The premises that govern its view of the universe are unfalsifiable and self-reinforcing. Its adherents see dissenting arguments as evidence of the doctrine’s provenance, diagnosing dissenters with subconscious white guilt or white rage or some other term found in the doctrine’s scripts.
Kendi says dissidents suffer from an “addiction”: “So we can’t lecture them out. They literally have to come to that themselves, and we have to of course assist them in that process, but it’s much harder and longer.”
Parents who see the same doctrinal rhetoric appearing in their children’s school materials or their district’s website (“intersectionality,” “whiteness,” “antiracist,”) are showing up at school board meetings and calling their legislators. They’re concerned that their children might be inculcated with a radical new way of viewing the world.
Can you blame them?
And those who question the doctrine are told that it either doesn’t exist or is urgently needed to combat an epidemic of white supremacy.
Well, both of those things can’t be true.
When pressed, its followers present the orthodoxy as unassuming, even gentle – “we just want to learn about America’s past.”
Yet the doctrine’s foundational scripts present a radical endgame: “Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”
The very foundations of the liberal order. Equality theory. Reasoning. Rationalism. Neutrality.
These are how the authors of Critical Race Theory: An Introduction describe their own doctrine.
But central to the American liberal order we seek to defend is openness to, and skepticism of, new ideas.
We don’t burn books with radical ideas; we read them, discuss them, and either accept or reject the ideas they present. We teach students how to think, not what to think.
To tell them they can’t think a certain way is the same as telling them they mustthink a certain way. Both violate an inviolable principle of American culture: freedom of thought.
How, then, do we defend intellectual freedom without sacrificing it?
The key, it seems to me, is threefold.
One, expressly prohibit overt indoctrination. The bill the Senate will hear forbids public schools from promoting certain discriminatory concepts (e.g., “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex”), and it defines “promote” as “compelling students to affirm or profess belief in” those concepts.
Two, grant parents the right to access the materials used in a classroom so they can know what kind of curriculum their tax dollars are providing.
And three, talk about it relentlessly. This is the only avenue – informing, debating, reasoning – to truly combat an illiberal doctrine. To this end, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson’s school indoctrination task force offers a central clearinghouse for students and parents to share what’s happening in the schools, and the Senate is considering open hearings to learn from both proponents and opponents of the doctrine.
And finally, to reinforce where we as North Carolinians stand on the question of discrimination, we intend to put to the people a Constitutional amendment affirming our commitment to the principles of the Civil Rights Act: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”
Whether you acknowledge it or not, this doctrine seeks to recast the foundational principles of American society. We must not let that happen.