Heritage Foundation: Systemic Racism Can’t Exist Because Racial Discrimination Is Illegal

Detail from cover of Heritage Foundation eBook "Critical Race Theory: Knowing It When You See It, Fighting It When You Can."

Right-wing groups continue to resist honest teaching about racism in American history and the country’s institutions while inflaming and mobilizing right-wing voters with wild claims and dire warnings about the march of “critical race theory.” The Heritage Foundation, a mammoth right-wing think tank and marketing operation, has packaged its anti-critical race theory material into an eBook entitled “Knowing Critical Race Theory When You See It and Fighting It When You Can.” The 18-page “eBook” is little more than a glorified pamphlet that builds on Heritage Action’s “toolkit” for opposing critical race theory.

Critical race theory is an academic approach to the study of systemic racism. Since last summer, right-wing activists and organizations have sounded alarms about the supposed threat of critical race theory to white people and to the future of the United States itself. Right-wing groups are using such manufactured fears to drive conservative voters to the polls in school board races and in future elections.

The new Heritage Foundation eBook is being promoted via Facebook ads claiming that critical race theory “is invading our K-12 schools, workplaces, state and federal governments, and even the military.”

If you missed this invasion, Heritage says, it’s because you didn’t recognize it. “There’s a good chance that you—and your children—have encountered it,” the Facebook ad claims. “And there’s an even better chance that you didn’t realize it.”

The Heritage Foundation eBook claims that it can help people identify when critical race theory is being stealthily employed. One way to identify critical race theory, according to the Heritage Foundation, is to watch for curricula or training sessions “that teach that racism is systemic and structural” and “demand that Americans work to dismantle laws, traditions, norms, institutions, and free-market enterprise—the entire American system itself.”

The eBook quotes as an example of “CRT at work” this statement from a Michigan State University professor: “It’s important to try to help youth understand how bias and oppression are institutional, structural and systemic, and not simply interpersonal.”

Heritage contrasts that statement with a section labeled “THE FACTS,” which states, “Racial discrimination is illegal in America,” and suggests that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 cleared things up on that front. “There is not evidence to suggest that our social order is oppressive and dangerous,” the eBook declares. In reality, the well-documented impact of systemic racism is evident in disparities that exist in “every facet of America life, including employment, wealth, education, home ownership, healthcare, and incarceration,” in the words of a Business Insider article published last year.

Heritage also highlights the concept of “white privilege” and warns its readers about the supposed threat of any “curricula or diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program that compels students or employees to accept their white privilege and/or work to abandon it.”

Another warning sign, according to the Heritage Foundation, is any reference to “equity,” which the Heritage eBook claims has become the “functional opposite” of “equality.” Here’s how Heritage explains the dangers of equity, using language that echoes rhetoric used by right-wing activists opposed to progressive taxation: “Attempts by government officials to take the fruits of your achievements and give them to those who did not earn it will hurt those whose rewards are diminished as well as the intended beneficiaries.” According to Heritage, “This betrays the idea that the American dream belongs to all of us, and everyone should have the same opportunity to pursue success.”

Among the action steps recommended in the section on how to stop critical race theory are to “engage” with local school boards and to report examples of critical race theory trainings to the Heritage Foundation’s “news” service, to anti-critical race theory activist Christopher Rufo, or to Parents Defending Education, a group launched earlier this year that is promoted by right-wing media. Readers are also urged to become a “Heritage Action Sentinel,” a member of what Heritage Action describes as “a grassroots army of committed conservative activists who are the front line against the liberal agenda.”

Melody Clarke, a senior regional coordinator for Heritage Action, spoke at a Tuesday evening protest organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom and other right-wing groups outside the Loudoun County school board meeting. Clarke promoted saveourschools.com, a Heritage Action website that urges people to report evidence of critical race theory in schools, including “pictures of books, handouts, assignments, etc.”