Jay Kiskel and his supporters have plenty to say about Unitarian Universalist flaws on his Fifth Principle website. When questioned on some of his statements, however, they often respond by condemning the questioner, shutting down comments on the whole page, or providing non-answers which cherry-pick one phrase while ignoring the question itself. So let’s look at some of the questions, responses, and non-responses.
I DON”T WANT TO BURY THE LEDE, SO HERE IT IS: Kiskel has made problematic statements about what’s called Critical Race Theory, for example in a Zoom conference with a reactionary UU splinter group awhile back. Now he doesn’t want to talk about it.
These are just a few:
“I object to critical race theory because it displaces UU values.”
“’Critical race theory is not compatible with UU values.”
“’Critical race theory’ is not appropriate for a UU institution that lives on liberal values.”
“’Critical race theory’ is the most illiberal ideology that has come around in a long time.”
His website also features a web magazine article titled, “The Anti-Semitism in Critical Race Theory.
This is problematic to me, because it parallels conservative pundits and politicians, who are using Critical Race Theory as a bogey-monster to distract from real issues. It’s unlikely any of them actually know what it is. That apparently includes Mister Kiskel.
So let’s start there, with a quick look at what Critical Race Theory (CRT) actually is. Spoiler alert: at the end I’ll link to an American Bar Association explanation of what it is and how it’s used. But for now, just a couple of helpful quotes from that ABA article:
“CRT is not a diversity and inclusion ‘training’ but a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship. . . .”
“CRT grew from Critical Legal Studies (CLS), which argued that the law was not objective or apolitical. CLS was a significant departure from earlier conceptions of the law (and other fields of scholarship) as objective, neutral, principled, and dissociated from social or political considerations. Like proponents of CLS, critical race theorists recognized that the law could be complicit in maintaining an unjust social order. Where critical race theorists departed from CLS was in the recognition of how race and racial inequality were reproduced through the law. Further, CRT scholars did not share the approach of destabilizing social injustice by destabilizing the law. Many CRT scholars had witnessed how the law could be used to help secure and protect civil rights. Therefore, critical race theorists recognized that, while the law could be used to deepen racial inequality, it also held potential as a tool for emancipation and for securing racial equality.”
Like CLS, then, CRT is partly an analytical tool—like, say, a microscope or X-ray machine. Unlike CLS, though, CRT is also partly a tool that can help fix things, like a wrench or a screwdriver. In a democracy, laws can be changed through a variety of strategies. CRT’s uses can range from exploring the United States’ racist past, to lobbying and legal advocacy in the present. It’s only “incompatible with UU values” if UU values have no interest in understanding justice, history, or how our society functions–or working to make the present more just, through advocating better laws. Wanting to understand things and seeking justice are as Unitarian Universalist as you can get.
After all, our Second Principle affirms and promotes “justice, equity and compassion in human relations,” while our Sixth Principle affirms “the goal of world community, with peace, liberty, and justice for all.”
But, like conservative politicians and pundits, the Fifth Principle Project condemns CRT–either because they don’t understand it, or they’re looking for a wedge issue and they don’t think you understand it. Which brings us to the magazine article posted on the 5PP website: “The Anti-Semitism in Critical Race Theory.”
In the “comments” section of that page, I asked:
Is this author (and also 5PP) truly concerned about anti-Semitism? Or simply “concern trolling” as a way to attack social justice activism?
This is a fair and important question. One can find numerous articles by conservative pundits attacking Black Lives Matter, Palestinian rights activists, and Democrats in general as being “anti-Semitic,” while giving a total pass to the Charlottesville demonstrators chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
So it’s totally fair to call for clarification. This piece is more slickly written than most. But its editor, Bret Stephens–while not a M.A.G.A.-grade conservative–is definitely conservative, and given to “concern trolling” as a strategy.
Here’s a link to a guest editorial by law professor Frank Rudy Cooper and his (Jewish) wife, Daniella Etel Courban, saying precisely the opposite: “Critical Race Theory Is Not Anti-Semitic.”
I hope Mr. Kiskel will read this article. I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
And please help me understand how your attitude toward Critical Race Theory differs from Republican Congresspeople, state legislators, and pundits (such as this article’s editor, Bret Stephens) who are simply using it as a wedge issue against Democrats?
I waited, unsuccessfully, for an answer. None came. So a day or so later, I posted this:
I don’t see that my previous question got answered or addressed. I understand. There’s a lot going on.
While we wait, though, I have another article that’s an easy read–not too time consuming: “Why The Panic over Critical Race Theory Is the Perfect Right-Wing Troll” from Salon-dot-com.
This article asks another worthwhile question. “What can liberals do to fight back against the spread of conspiracy theories about ‘critical race theory’ that misrepresent both what critical race theory is and what is actually being taught in public schools?”
Mister Kiskel, would it be possible for you to address that–either answer it or explain how the “conspiracy theories” are not conspiracy theories?
This returns us to my previous question, still unanswered. Considering that “Critical Race Theory is the perfect right-wing troll,” can you help me understand how you differentiate between your own misgivings about it and the way the right wing is using it as a “troll” against liberals?
A couple days later this reply to my first set of questions was posted by “Tom C.”
“My problem here is that you criticize people and not their ideas. While I don’t often agree with Bret Stephens, I always consider what he writes/says and evaluate those ideas on the merit of his arguments.”
MY “problem here” is that this non-answer is disingenuous. It jumped on my passing remark about conservative columnist Bret Stephens, but ignored the article I cited, all the (relevant) questions I asked, and also my follow-up post.
Nor was I able to mention that fact, because AFTER THEIR “NO COMMENT” ANSWER, 5PP HAD TURNED OFF COMMENTS ON THAT ARTICLE!
a.) Uh. . . that’s hardly free speech or open discourse. b.) What would be the problem with addressing any of my questions, or commenting on either article?
Which brings us to the Fifth Principle Project’s most recent post (as of June 18), “To Return to the Point,” on lack of democracy within the Unitarian Universalist Association. (Their favorite scratching post.)
I posted a comment which contrasted democracy in the UUA 20 years ago versus democracy in the UUA today, and noted that neither was perfect. (My implication, though not stated and possibly not picked up on , was that democracy is *always* in need of improvement. In passing, I referred to Kiskel’s condemnation of Critical Race Theory.
“WEBMASTER” replied, in part:
As to our “rhetoric” around Critical Race Theory, it is unreferenced so we’ve no idea what you are referring to, particularly the charge that our view of CRT is indistinguishable from “rignt-wing Republican concern trolling.” If you have anything specific by which to back that allegation up, please post it. And while you’re at it, do the same with your last paragraph. It has just about the same lack of support as the rest of your accusations.
Makes me wonder whether these guys have been listening to their own candidate. Or if they’ve bothered to read what’s on their own website. Anyway, having been asked the question, I replied with the following:
Actually, I DO have something to back the contention that your rhetoric around Critical Race Theory reflects right-wing trolling on that topic. I already posted a link to one article. But you flagged it as being “off topic.” (Referring to a previous comment on that same page.)
Again, I would be *delighted* to have this conversation on the “Critical Race Theory Is Anti-Semitc” page. But the last time I looked, you had turned off comments–while avoiding my questions about it.
I then posted:
For the record, I only posted [about Jay Kiskel’s condemnation of Critical Race Theory] on this page because there were no responses to questions about it on the “CRT Is Anti-Semitic” page. I didn’t have much choice, since you had cut off comments on that page completely.
So—because you did ask the question, allow me to answer. Here are some citations you asked for.
This one from New York Times Columnist, Charles Blow, on “Demonizing Critical Race Theory.”
Because not everyone can access the NYTimes, here’s another from Salon. Not as well written, but still relevant. (Same Salon article.)
And finally, by a law professor and his Jewish artist wife: (Same article on why CRT is NOT anti-Semitic.)
I would simply like Mister Kiskel to read the above and share his opinions of them. That’s not too much to ask. If I’m making inaccurate statements, explain the inaccuracies to me in a straightforward enough way I–and other voters–can understand the differences between your position and the one the NYTimes and Salon articles describe.
“You must be referring to that piece from Salon? note: he had all three links right in front of him. I read that, and no, it does no such thing. note: Huh? Such as what? Besides, you first have to document what you mean by “our” rhetoric before you can claim that the Salon piece describes it.” note: I was talking about words that came out of your own candidate’s mouth, plus the magazine article you posted and your comments thereon. Oh–and I had multiple questions–one of which came from the Salon article itself.
We’ve entered that part of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest where McMurphy says, “These guys ain’t honest.”
Plainly, having held forth on CRT and posted a conservative’s accusation that it was anti-Semitic on his website, Jay Kiskel now refuses to answer questions about a topic he raised, or the parallels between Fifth Principle Project rhetoric on it and rhetoric by conservative pundits.
This begs the question: Is that the way he’s going to act if elected to the UUA Board of Trustees? Is that the kind of Board member we want?
Finally, here’s the American Bar Association explanation of what Critical Race Theory actually is. Mister Kiskel ought to read it.
For my part, I find the “anti-Semitic” claim troubling. As another person commented on that article, 5PP expresses no other concern about anti-Semitism, except as an attack on Critical Race Theory.
Yes, Critical Race Theory can analyze Colonial, Federal, and states’ laws through our nation’s history, from the Fugitive Slave Act through the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson decisions, then “jim crow” laws in individual states, and it is a breathtaking tour of just how deeply entrenched our culture’s exploitation of Black people is. We can look at current attempts in Republican-dominated states to pass new voting restrictions, in part, as an attempt to extend that exploitation.
But you can also use the exact same technique to analyze historic legal oppression of Jewish people in the United States. (And Universalists, as well.) For example, Article three of the post-Revolution Massachusetts State Constitution continued to fund Congregational Christian Churches until 1834. (The U.S. Constitution had no sway over state laws at that time.) Members of other Protestant traditions could apply for a certificate to have their tax money sent to their own church. But non-Protestants, such as Catholics, Jewish people, and Universalists—because the state held that, not believing in hell, Universalists were not pious enough to be a religion—had no choice. Their tax dollars went to the Congregationalists, as well.
You can use that kind of legal analysis to examine how embedded any form of injustice is in our history, including injustice against Jewish people. That’s hardly anti-Semitic.
Understanding our own history and the dynamics of injustice, as a tool toward creating a more just society for everyone, is hardly “incompatible with UU values,” or an “illiberal ideology,” as Mister Kiskel describes it. Quite the opposite. And sorry, but it is, in fact, political conservatives who are leveling the most persistent attacks on CRT.
I suspect someone has explained that to Mister Kiskel by now. Which is why he ignores questions about it, or has his minions issue non-answers.