Televangelist Pat Robertson is generating controversy after calling critical race theory (CRT), an academic discipline that examines the effects of racism on legal and cultural institutions, a “monstrous evil” which encourages Black people to take the “whip handle” away from white people.
The 91-year-old Mr Robertson said on CBN’s 700 Club earlier this week that, according to his understanding of CRT, “people of colour have been oppressed by the white people and that white people begin to be racist by the time they’re 2 or 3 months old, and therefore the people of colour have to rise up and overtake their oppressors and then – having gotten the ‘whip handle,’ if I can use that term – then to instruct their white neighbours how to behave. Now that’s critical race theory.”
Mr Robertson has a history of making racist remarks, including implying that the Haitian revolution, where enslaved people overthrew their white French oppressors, was a “pact to the devil” which caused its devastating modern earthquakes, and calling Black Lives Matter “anti-God.”
As Princeton history Kevin M Kruse pointed out on Twitter, Mr Robertson’s father was also a prominent opponent of civil rights legislation while in Congress.
"Pat’s father, Sen A Willis Robertson (D-VA), signed the Southern Manifesto, which urged southern legislatures to ignore Brown [v Board of Education] and maintain segregated institutions," Kruse tweeted. "It’s no shock Pat doesn’t want us to think too hard about how officials used state power to entrench racism."
In recent months, CRT has become a major cultural bogeyman on the right, a sort of catch-all insult and scare tactic Republicans attach to anything involving the discussion of racism that they find threatening, which they often then link to the wholesale destruction of America.
“The press is circling the wagons around critical race theory because they know it is critical for their plan to go over,” far-right radio host Glenn Beck said in June. “If they can’t finish the indoctrination of the next generation, America survives. If they continue the indoctrination, America is over. It is just that simple.”
These understandings of CRT are both incorrect, and ironically prove many of the points the discipline set out to examine. CRT emerged from a group of Black legal scholars at Harvard University who wanted to study the lingering impacts of racism and slavery on the law, even after formal legal segregation ended in the 1960s.
Various right-wing intellectuals have admitted to using CRT as a way to whip up controversy, and now Republican legislatures across the country have introduced and passed bills ostensibly banning CRT, which critics say really penalise discussion of racism and current events in the classroom and in state education curricula.
Critics argue that the idea that groups of conservative white men around America would use the education system to bury discussion of racism is actually the sort of thing a critical race scholar might investigate.