On Racism and Cancel Culture

Amid high racial, social and political tensions in America today, Catholic parents and educators are eager to teach students about race, gender, justice and human dignity. That’s a good thing.

But adopting divisive and ideologically driven innovations like “critical race theory,” “woke-ism,” “gender ideology” and the “cancel culture” is not the way of faithful Catholic education.

The Newman Society has studied these topics and published new guidance at our website to hep educators confront sins of racism, unjust discrimination and bullying while rejecting dangerous ideologies. Instead of adopting new and popular approaches to difficult topics, Catholic educators should rely on faithfully Catholic materials including the clear instruction in Vatican documents, U.S. bishops’ pastoral letters and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Critical race theory 

“Critical race theory (CRT) asserts that America’s legal framework is inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of color,” explains Dr. Denise Donohue, the Newman Society’s vice president for educator resources, in her recent Catholic World Report article that summarizes a more substantial backgrounder on critical race theory published at the Newman Society website.

CRT rests on a view of society as oppressors and oppressed, with emphasis on imbalances of power instead of the inherent dignity of each individual and the complexities of a pluralistic society. Donohue’s backgrounder explains the development of CRT from “critical theory” and its foundation in Marxism, which the Church has rejected as a dangerous political ideology. CRT’s introduction in the classroom therefore manipulates education for political ends. The theory calls for dismantling and rebuilding American legal and social structures, and its critique of Western society sometimes charges the Church and Christian notions of God, marriage and gender as inherently racist.

“Students taught with critical race theory materials can become racists in the literal sense of the word: they may treat others (the perceived oppressor race) unfairly because of skin color or background,” Donohue warns. “Division into categories of good and bad based on skin color is a reversal of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and antithetical to a Catholic understanding of human dignity and equality.”

Cancel culture

Another concern is the “cancel culture,” which hastily labels even the most rational and sympathetic commentary on topics like gender and race as either “bigoted” or “leftist,” often with severe social consequences. In an increasingly secular society, Catholics are especially at risk of unfair judgment—even among fellow Catholics.

Catholic education must not fall into this trap.

“Authentic Catholic education does not cancel culture; it elevates, redeems and transmits culture,” writes senior fellow Dr. Dan Guernsey at The Catholic Thing. “It seeks out and celebrates truth, beauty and goodness, wherever they are found—and if they are missing, Catholic education points that out as well.”

Guernsey’s helpful list of things that Catholic educators can do to counter ideology and division (see the full list at TheCatholicThing.org) include:

  • Relate discussions to a Catholic understanding of the human person through a clear and convincing Christian anthropology, which affirms our creation by God as male or female and the union of our bodies and spirits, as well as our common humanity and destiny.
  • Teach students to analyze the morality of human acts (including separating the sin and the sinner), properly attribute degrees of culpability based on individual awareness and freedom, ascribe sin (in the proper sense) to individuals not groups, and affirm the possibility of repentance and forgiveness.
  • Help students discover the religious dimension in human history and compare the actions of peoples according to Catholic morality and virtues, but also according to the level of development of a person or culture and the impact of surrounding conditions, knowledge, and understanding of the time.

Bottom line: Catholic educators already teach authentic Catholic moral and social doctrine and Christian charity. By confidently teaching and witnessing to the Gospel, Catholic educators provide an outstanding education and formation for their students under every circumstance.

Copyright © 2021 The Cardinal Newman Society. Permission to reprint without modification to text, with attribution to author and to The Cardinal Newman Society, and (if published online) hyperlinked to the article on the Newman Society’s website. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Cardinal Newman Society.