Why The Great Awokening Isn't Allowed To Have a Name

It doesn't matter what you think Critical Race Theory "really" is.

One of the more significant milestones in America’s culture wars is the relatively recent convergence on the term “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) as the label to describe the collection of concepts and ideas associated with American liberalism’s cultural “awokening” on the issue of race.

It’s a significant milestone for a few reasons. The most obvious is that being able to accurately and collectively name a topic of discussion is a prerequisite for actually having that discussion (a point I recently made in an essay on the related topic of cancel culture). And until now, nothing has really stuck. Terms like intersectionality, social justice, and identity politics have had their place in certain contexts, but none have ever been specific or accurate enough to debate the actual ideas of this particular ideological turn in American liberalism. And as for “wokeness,” the term has referred more to a general political disposition or personality (often in relation to issues that go beyond race) and it, too, suffers from a lack of definition or association with a specific set of ideas. And besides not being a very sophisticated term, it’s now most often used derisively, which isn’t a sound or honest place from which to have any sort of good faith debate.

But the other reason CRT’s adoption is an important development is that as these ideas have matured and spread among America’s class of elites and professionals, they’ve begun to make their way into the actual workings of America’s public and private institutions. That’s had the effect of upgrading what has been largely a philosophical debate, whose political dimension has been mostly relegated to the confines of culture war, into a very concrete policy debate. And in the realm of policy and legislation, having words to describe what you are legislating on is important, to say the least.

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