The New York Times Sours on CRT
In a novel experiment, institutional pillars of American culture chose to gamble their credibility on reinterpreting American history through the lens of neo-Marxist ideology. Now we learn that the shelf-life of the scam is about three to four years. On Thursday, New York Times columnist Pamela Paul published a piece titled, “‘Antiracism’ Was Never the Right Answer.”
Paul’s piece cited reputable scholars who criticized author Ibram X. Kendi’s reductive antiracist ideology as “incorrect … because there are obviously many other remedies,” or “presented a more nuanced assessment” of past racism in America. “A person can oppose racism on firm ethical or philosophical or pragmatic grounds without embracing Kendi’s conception of antiracism,” Paul concluded. “No organization can expect all employees or students to adhere to a single view on how to combat racism.”
The publication of such a view in The New York Times represents a remarkable repositioning for the left-wing media giant, which had already fortified its antiracist credentials and burnt all its bridges to normalcy.
In 2019-2020, The New York Times sponsored Nikole Hannah-Jones’s “1619 Project,” which was an attempt to recast American history as irredeemably racist by defining it in terms of race-based slavery. Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, published in the Times, even as experts criticized its many factual and historical inaccuracies.
Hannah-Jones, Kendi, and other antiracist best-selling authors essentially popularized critical race theory (CRT), a neo-Marxist ideology that framed society as a struggle between oppressive (white) and oppressed (black, Latino, etc.) racial groups, based on skin color alone. They argued that white people were inherently racist, that white people bore collective guilt for sins committed by their ancestors, that black people as innocent as white people were guilty, and that “the only remedy for past discrimination is present discrimination,” as Kendi controversially put it. This ideology contradicts some basic biblical teachings, such as the truths that everyone is a sinner, that everyone is accountable to God for their own sins, and that God will save people from all nations and tribes through his grace alone.
The 1619 Project helped catalyze the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement during the summer of 2020, which provoked widespread rioting, looting, and even efforts to erase prominent members of America’s founding generation. “It’s an effort to try not only to rewrite history, but now to act as if history didn’t happen,” Southern Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler said on “Washington Watch” in September 2020. “Were [Washington and Jefferson] slaveholders? Yes. Do we need to reckon with that honestly? Yes. Does history need to deal with that straightforwardly? Of course. But can you even tell the American story without Washington and Jefferson? No.”
The New York Times further burnished its antiracist credentials in June 2020, when its employees threw a fit after the outlet published on op-ed by U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), which called for the use of federal troops to suppress BLM rioting. The newspaper published a five-paragraph apology as an “editor’s note” on the op-ed and forced out the editor who had agreed to publish it. The message was clear: the nation’s largest newspaper would tolerate no criticism of the “antiracism” movement — until this past Thursday, that is, when the newspaper did exactly that.
Apparently, the antiracism movement became a victim of its own success. Paul’s column mentioned the “turmoil” at Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research (CAR), run by Kendi. After launching in June 2020 to much fanfare, CAR has faced complaints of poor output and mismanaged funds. An associate professor who then worked for CAR complained anonymously in 2021 of a “pattern of amassing grants without any commitment to producing the research obligated to them.”
Despite raising $55 million, CAR was in financial trouble and had blown through $30 million in just three years. In September 2023, news broke that CAR was laying off 20-30 of its 45 employees. Boston University (BU) tried to spin the unheard-of collapse as a deliberate restructuring to a “fellowship model.” However, BU has also launched an investigation into CAR’s “culture and its grant management practices.”
“With little administrative experience, Kendi may simply have been ill-equipped to deal with a program of that magnitude,” Paul hypothesized. “He may have been distracted by a nonstop book tour and speaking engagements. Or maybe he just screwed up.”
Yet Kendi’s Center for Antiracist Research is not the only antiracist organization or figure to stumble prominently in the past few years.
The Black Lives Matter organization received $90 million in 2020, but only a third ($30 million) went to charities, while millions of dollars went to the organization’s leaders. As Americans’ support for the BLM waned (from 67% in June 2020 to 51% in April 2023), donations dried up. BLM activists have also sued the organization for misusing funds. The organization ended the last fiscal year with a $9 million deficit.
1619 Project founder Hannah-Jones has also suffered from shaken prestige. After negotiating a five-year teaching position at the University of North Carolina, she demanded a fully tenured position right off the bat. Amid political criticism of her work, the university’s Board of Trustees took no action to approve the tenure, and Hannah-Jones rejected the teaching position and opted to go to Howard University instead.
Between the 1619 Project and the BLM riots, an antiracist industry sprung in 2019-2020 from nowhere to national prominence. Suddenly, its icons found themselves commanding a national reputation, a multi-million-dollar allowance, and newly-founded institutions they had no experience handling. In a few short years, they squandered these windfalls.
One possible explanation is professional. “Just because you’re a good scholar in your field doesn’t mean that you know how to run an organization, and that’s why lots of people don’t do that,” said Phillippe Copeland, an assistant director at CAR who believed in its mission but described the center as “a real mess.” “I don’t know if it’s a disciplinary issue as much as just a leadership ability issue.” Writing books and fulfilling speaking engagements does not necessarily help one develop the skills to successfully manage a multi-million-dollar research institution. This illustrates the Proverb, “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it” (Proverbs 13:11).
Another possibility is that reality has caught up with the fad. The claims of antiracism seemed cool for a couple years, but its basis in the data was always weak. Despite “many investors” who “were interested in quantitative research about racial disparities,” the CAR reportedly struggled to recruit and retain data scientists and produced next to no findings on the subject.
We can recognize the pattern: the weaponized press (including Big Tech, which not coincidentally sponsored CAR) blares out a narrative, denounces any dissidents as haters or conspiracy theorists, then eventually “discovers” a reason to change their mind. This pattern is evident in the Russia collusion hoax, COVID lab leak theory, and Hunter Biden’s laptop. It is beginning to assert itself — or will eventually — on men in women’s sports and locker rooms, the harmfulness of gender transition procedures, parents’ rights in schools, and the harmfulness of chemical abortion.
Sometimes the truth wins sooner, sometimes it takes longer. The New York Times fired the editor who published Cotton’s op-ed in four days, but it took four years to acknowledge that the antiracist narrative might be flawed — the Grey Lady has not entirely abandoned the antiracist cause, as it had published a defense of Kendi the previous day. Sometimes lies seem to multiply faster than the truth can disarm them. Even exploded lies continued to do harm — consider the ongoing crime wave and bad racial policies proliferating as a result of the now-collapsing anti-racist movement.
Jesus warned his followers, “See that no one leads you astray” (Mark 13:5). Some false narratives will cause those who credit them to make foolish decisions. Some narratives like antiracism are more dangerous and promote a false, worldly gospel — the NYT columnist called Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist” a “bible” for newly committed antiracists — promising a salvation without grace, God, or eternal life.
As Christians, we are best equipped to recognize, resist, and rebut false narratives because we have the Word of God. “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Proverbs 30:5). If we really believe it, we will take care to know what it says and how it applies to life. Knowing the truth is the surest antidote to being led astray by falsehoods. People who represent what the world calls wisdom must revise their opinions every few years, or even admit, “Yeah, we got that wrong.” Such people might mock Christians for believing the Bible now, but we can rest assured that God’s truth will remain as unchanging as he is.
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.