The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


EPISODE # 364

Christopher Rufo Decodes Cultural Shifts in America

Title (book cover)

In this conversation based on his new book, America’s Cultural Revolution, Christopher Rufo exposes the inner history of the intellectuals and militants who slowly and methodically captured America’s institutions. With profiles of Herbert Marcuse, Angela Davis, Paulo Freire, and Derrick Bell, Rufo shows how activists have profoundly influenced American culture with an insidious mix of Marxism and racialist ideology.

Through deep historical research, Rufo shows how the ideas first formulated in the pamphlets of the Weather Underground, Black Panther Party, and Black Liberation Army have been sanitized and adopted as the official ideology of America’s prestige institutions, from the Ivy League universities to the boardrooms of Walmart, Disney, and Bank of America.

Shermer and Rufo discuss:

  • race as America’s original sin
  • race relations over the centuries and decades
  • civil rights movement then and now
  • liberalism vs. illiberalism
  • intellectual origins of the cultural revolution: Herbert Marcuse, Angela Davis, Paulo Freire, Derrick Bell, Eldridge Cleaver, Huey Newton
  • Black Lives Matter origins in the Black Liberation Army and the Black Panthers
  • critical race theory (CRT)
  • diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)
  • lumpenproletariat
  • equality vs. equity
  • political correctness
  • cancel culture
  • identity politics
  • postmodernism
  • overt racism vs. systemic racism
  • Why do Blacks make less money, own fewer and lower quality homes, work in less prestigious jobs, hold fewer seats in the Senate and House of Representatives, run fewer Fortune 500 companies, etc.?

Christopher Rufo is a writer, filmmaker, and activist. He has directed four documentaries for PBS, including America Lost, which tells the story of three forgotten American cities. He is a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of the public policy magazine City Journal. His reporting and activism have inspired a presidential order, a national grassroots movement, and legislation in 22 states. Christopher holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and a Master’s of Liberal Arts from Harvard University.

Show Notes

Further insight into the problem may be gleaned from the writer and regular Skeptic contributor Stephen Beckner, who penned one of the best articles ever written on postmodernism (“Straw Man on a Slippery Slope: The Case Against the Case Against Postmodernism,” Skeptic, Vol. 24, No. 1) who, when I invited him to write an overview of CRT and related topics, replied:

Unfortunately, I don’t think I am the right person to steel man CRT. These days I regard all of this as an altogether too narrow application of the precepts of postmodernist ideas. The aims of CRT proponents and what is more broadly termed wokeism are clearly tactical, not scholarly. The currency of that realm is moral indignation, loyalty testing, virtue policing, scolding, in-group status, preemptive condemnation, and political maneuvering. The only currency I have to offer is logic and rational argument, such as it is. Unfortunately, there is no recognizable exchange rate between these currencies.

We have reached a point where the very definition of CRT has become a political hot potato. You have the sympathizers arguing disingenuously that there is no trace of CRT in our culture outside college level academia, and on the other side the alarmist detractors claiming equally disingenuously that CRT is a cultural poison that destroys the very idea of Americanism. Meanwhile CRT—the original one, not the left or right bugaboo versions—is actually a fairly limited, perhaps anticlimactic call for a type of affirmative action within the justice system. Who doesn’t want that?

All of it feels like a divisive distraction from more thorny and intractable problems. I just don’t see this as much of a culture war among the working classes. They have been racially and socially diverse for a long time out of necessity (most can’t afford to quit a job just because a co-worker has some identity that they don’t like, for example). It’s the elites who are deploying this as a wedge issue in order to draw moral distinctions that enhance their status and justify their economic privilege.

Notes from the Skeptic article (Vol. 27, No. 3): “Systemic Racism—Explained

by Mahzarin R. Banaji, Susan T. Fiske & Douglas S. Massey

Race is baked into the history of the U.S. going back to colonial times and continuing through early independence when slavery was quietly written into the nation’s Constitution. Although the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution ended slavery and granted due process, equal protection, and voting rights to the formerly enslaved, efforts to combat systemic racism in the U.S. faltered when Reconstruction collapsed in the disputed election of 1876, which triggered the withdrawal of federal troops from the South.

From 1876 to 1900, 90 percent of all African Americans lived in the South and were subject to the dictates of the repressive Jim Crow system; 83 percent lived in poor rural areas, occupying ramshackle dwellings clustered in small settlements in or near the plantations where they worked.

Between 1900 and 1970, millions of African Americans left the rural South in search of better lives in industrializing cities throughout the nation. As a result of this migration, by 1970 nearly half of all African Americans had come to live outside the South, 90 percent in urban areas. It was during this period of Black urbanization that the ghetto emerged as a structural feature of American urbanism, making Black residential segregation into the linchpin of a new system of racial stratification that prevailed throughout the U.S. irrespective of region.

In 1924, the National Association of Real Estate Brokers adopted a code of ethics stating that “a Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”

Redlining through the 1960s

By 1970, high levels of Black residential segregation were universal throughout metropolitan America. As of 1970, 61 percent of Black Americans living in US metropolitan areas lived under hypersegregation, a circumstance unique to Americans. Although in theory, segregation should have withered away after the Civil Rights Era, it has not.

In 2010, the average index of Black–White segregation remained high and a third of all Black metropolitan residents continued to live in hypersegregated areas. This reality prevails despite the outlawing of racial discrimination in housing (the 1968 Fair Housing Act) and lending (the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act).

In the early 1960s, more than 60 percent of White Americans agreed that Whites have a right to keep Blacks out of their neighborhoods. By the 1980s the percentage had dropped to 13 percent.

Although overt discrimination in housing and lending has clearly declined in response to legislation, covert discrimination continues. Rental and sales agents today are less likely to respond to emails from people with stereotypically Black names or to reply to phone messages left by speakers who “sound Black.” A recent meta-analysis of 16 experimental housing audit studies and 19 lending analyses conducted since 1970 revealed that sharp racial differentials in the number of units recommended by realtors and inspected by clients have persisted and that racial gaps in loan denial rates and borrowing cost have barely changed in 40 years.

Audit studies, conducted across the social and behavioral sciences, include a subset of resume studies in which researchers send the same resume out to apply for jobs, but change just one item: the candidate’s name is Lisa Smith or Lakisha Smith. Then, they wait to see who gets the callback. The bias is clear: employers avoid “Black-sounding” names.

No other group in the history of the U.S. has ever experienced such intense residential segregation in so many areas and over such a long period of time.

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This episode was released on July 18, 2023.

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