"All white people are racist…"
"No, you're always going to be racist, actually…"
— James Lindsay, batshit sane (@ConceptualJames) June 13, 2021
In the tweet to which the video was attached, @ConceptualJames specifically drew a parallel between the clip and opposition to the concept of critical race theory, or CRT:
“All white people are racist…”
“No, you’re always going to be racist, actually…”
“I believe that white people are born into not being human…”
#CriticalRaceTheory #CriticalRaceTheoryIsRacist #FightCRT
This is CRT. pic.twitter.com/B9KiiQHY7m
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) June 14, 2021
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) June 12, 2021
A Very Brief History of Critical Race Theory
“Critical race theory” was a term thrown around a lot in May and June 2021, pushed by the right as something of a boogeyman in the political discourse but without much information to clarify exactly what it is.
The term originated in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2019 that the movement became a flashpoint of national debate. In August 2019, the New York Times launched the 1619 Project, intending “to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.”
Partly in response to the newspaper’s initiative, former United States President Donald Trump introduced the 1776 Commission in September 2020:
The 45-page report is a rebuke of decades of historical scholarship on the legacy of American slavery, but primarily was created as a response to the New York Times’ Pulitzer prize-winning 1619 Project, a deep unpacking of the origins and legacy of institutional racism in American history.
The commission, created in September, offered what they claimed to be a non-partisan review of American history.
However, that analysis included excusing the nation’s founders for owning slaves and defending the racist Three-Fifths Compromise – when in 1787 white lawmakers from northern and southern states agreed to count Black people as three-fifths of a person for congressional representation – as necessary to form a “durable union”.
Most of the authors listed at the commission lacked credentials as historians, and scholars noted the report was missing citations, bibliographies and scholarly references – resources typical of research commissioned by the federal government and its agencies, or regarded among academics.
In other words, the genesis of the 2021 critical race theory discussion was in September 2020, when Trump denounced the academic model and attempted to influence schools with “patriotic eduction.” At that point, “critical race theory” entered the lexicon and general discourse around racism.
In June 2021, the video shared by @ConceptualJames became social media’s shorthand for the manner in which they thought critical race theory might be taught in schools — predictably leading to outcry and angry tweets.
On September 9 2020, the YouTube channel “Grateful American” shared 49 seconds of the video featuring Shackelford. That same day, another channel uploaded the same clip and titled the video “Ashleigh Shackleford Teaching Critical Race Theory.”
However, a search of YouTube returned iterations of the video shared in October 2017, three years earlier than the videos uploaded in concert with the introduction of the 1776 Commission. That video’s title (“Ashleigh Shackelford gives a presentation on Racism”) was unrelated to critical race theory.
On August 21 2017, late-night television personalities Desus and Mero uploaded a longer version of the video to their official YouTube channel — making the clip at least that old, and possibly older. A title and description read:
“All White People Are Racist”
Ashleigh Shackleford gives a lecture titled “All White People Are Racist” to some white people.
Per that earliest version of the video, Shackelford was giving “a lecture titled ‘All White People Are Racist’ to some white people.” Not children; not teaching a class; and despite misleading descriptions years later, not demonstrating “critical race theory” as it related to primary education.
A larger controversy over critical race theory (which has been established and uncontroversially defined as “an academic movement of civil-rights scholars and activists in the United States who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice” for several decades at this point) dragged in a nearly four-year-old video of activist and artist Hunter Ashleigh Shackelford presenting a lecture. Shackelford’s “All White People Are Racist” talk had gone viral in August 2017 when Desus and Mero shared it to their YouTube channel. Critical race theory as it related to discourse in 2021 did not enter the lexicon before September 2020 and former U.S. President Trump’s 1776 Commission, which itself was an inauthentically organized response to the New York Times‘ 1619 Project. It was not true the clip depicted Hunter Ashleigh Shackelford “teaching critical race theory,” nor was it true that the clip was a representation of the concept in any classrooms.