The Corner

Pollak Beats O’Brien on Critical Race Theory

Yesterday on CNN’s Starting Point, as Charlie alluded to, anchor Soledad O’Brien asked BigGovernment editor Joel Pollak why he believed the recently released video of student Barack Obama embracing Harvard Law School professor Derrick Bell was a “bombshell.”

In response, Pollak noted that Bell was the main creator and proponent of “critical race theory,” which, in Pollak’s words, “is all about white supremacy. Critical race theory holds that civil rights laws are ineffective, that racial equality is impossible, because the legal and Constitutional system in America is white supremacist.”

O’Brien, as the moderator of the discussion, rather stridently intervened, suggesting that, “That is a complete misreading of critical race theory. That’s an actual theory. You could Google it and some would give you a good definition. So that’s not correct.” She later asserted that “Critical race theory looks into the intersection of race and politics and the law,” and “[Bell] would advance the theory about what exactly happened when the law was examined in terms of racial politics.”

Regardless of whether or not Obama’s association with Bell is scandalous, O’Brien was adamant in assailing Pollak, arguing that he was wrong, and critical race theory was an uncontroversial subject.

Was Pollak enough off-base to merit correction by the panel moderator, and was O’Brien correct in the definition she provided? No, and no.

Stephan Thernstrom, a professor of social history at Harvard, explains to National Review Online that he sees Pollak’s explanation as “a little crude but essentially right. O’Brien is simply blowing smoke.”

Thernstrom explains that “CRT does boil down to the assumption that white supremacy lives on, only in more subtle ways. Proponents would refer more often to ‘white privilege’ than ‘white supremacy,’ but I’m sure you could find them using the former term as well.”

He notes, however, that Pollak “certainly” went too far in his claims about what CRT proponents think about the civil rights movement: “They admire it greatly because it was a mass movement by blacks and led by blacks. . . . But they would maintain that the actual legislation and court decisions that resulted from it were very minor advances that made hardly a dent in the oppressive structures created by whites to keep blacks down.”

Thus, Pollak wasn’t (unsurprisingly) completely correct in his explanation of CRT, but he wasn’t nearly inaccurate enough for a moderator to try to correct him, as O’Brien was so eager to do. And, as Thernstrom notes, O’Brien’s definition for CRT, “the intersection of race and politics and the law,” is not just inaccurate, but is essentially meaningless.

Thernstrom also notes, though, that his “other comment on this whole matter is that no one is going to find any tapes of Derrick Bell sounding remotely like Jeremiah Wright. Bell certainly was radical, but he had a mild and gentle personal style, with a soft southern accent.” 

Patrick Brennan was a senior communications official at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Trump administration and is former opinion editor of National Review Online.


The Latest