Dr. Phil's Critical Race Therapy Session | Opinion

When a marriage deteriorates to the point where divorce starts to look like a real option, it can be helpful to seek couples therapy. Relationship problems are often rooted in miscommunication, and miscommunication in unacknowledged self-deception.

Two weeks ago, Dr. Phil hosted a critical race theory therapy session featuring some of the most influential and/or representative individuals on both sides. It made for great daytime TV drama, because the average viewer could quickly spot the real roots of America's profoundly divisive civil conflict.

Dr. Phil's first guest was Shaun Harper. Harper is the provost professor of education at USC-Rossier, where he also serves as executive director of its Race and Equity Center. He also served as president of the American Educational Research Association during the "racial reckoning" of 2020, and his research has been funded by more than $18 million in grants and cited in more than 18,000 studies. Harper began by defining the terms of debate: "Critical race theory is now more than four decades old. It was established by legal scholars in the 1970s. ...Lots of parents and uninformed Americans are conflating conversations about structural and systemic racism with critical race theory."

The next guest on Harper's side was Laura Cathcart Robbins. Laura is an author, podcaster, DEI consultant, founder of a "national memoirist collective" and freelance writer who is only allowed to speak through lawyers to her ex-husband, the chairman and CEO of Paramount pictures, but who still wrote about him and his new wife and baby in HuffPost. In her intro video, Laura assumed the dual role of a typical black mom and one of Harper's "uninformed Americans." She declared: "I am absolutely for critical race theory. ...I think the teaching of critical race theory does nothing but benefit all children." But when the show went live, Laura quickly took Harper's stage direction: "I did not understand that critical race theory was something that was taught at the university level only, so I just want to take that label off of what I'm addressing."

In the next segment, a white mom named Amy Henry declared: "What critical race theory is going to do, is that if we were in school together, they would teach me that I'm inherently racist. ...It's creating a box for people based on skin color."

Laura objected by playing dumb: "I'm really confused. Because it's not being taught in K-12 schools! ...It's only taught at the university level." Good thing this new-media entrepreneur had an education professor there to explain that the teaching she "absolutely" supports in K-12 schools isn't being taught in K-12 schools!

This linguistic shell game, emanating intentionally or through the natural collective ignorance of university professors and their corporate- and new-media DEI flaks, is the "critical" driver of America's communications breakdown and attendant civil conflict. When the university- and media-industrial complex unites to arrogate a moral monopoly on knowledge and language, mutual understanding and sympathy must inevitably break down. The result, framed and propagandized as moral "empathy," amounts to gaslighting. But gaslighting is not really empathetic or moral. It is, whether intentional or self-obsessively compulsive, deeply emotionally abusive behavior.

Dr. Phil McGraw speaks at his Star
Dr. Phil McGraw speaks at his Star Ceremony On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on February 21, 2020 in Hollywood, California. Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

But that was not the only problem this therapy session surfaced. Harper declared that parents and uninformed Americans who objected to critical race theory were being "intellectually lazy and disrespectful" to the work of brilliant black scholars like Derrick Bell and Kimberlé Crenshaw. And Harper does have a certain point here. Strictly academically speaking, it would indeed be more accurate for parents to say their objections regard observed epiphenomena that are the inevitable second- and third-order effects emanating from this hegemonic school of thought.

But Quisha King, a black mom and spokeswoman for Moms for Liberty, preferred straight talk. She began her remarks by saying: "So, the first tenet in Richard Delgado's book [Critical Race Theory: An Introduction] is that America is intrinsically racist and it cannot be undone."

Harper stared at Quisha while she spoke. He didn't respond to the citation provided by this very informed American mom. Rather, Harper rebutted with a non sequitur: "I am a person who lives and works in the land of evidence. There's way too much evidence that there are outcome inequities! It's a fact!" In response, Quisha intellectually outclassed Harper by disputing his premise: "It may be a fact that there are different outcomes, but that is not evidence that it is because of racism."

Gathering facts is elementary-level stuff. Trying to understand the meaning, value and limitation of those facts is what higher education is supposed to be all about. Quisha succinctly expressed a commonsensical comprehension of sociology that we should want all American high schoolers to be able to articulate. Unfortunately, it's a common sense that appears to have been lost on a powerful faction of the American professoriate.

But perhaps the most profound and deeply rooted divide that this therapy session surfaced was between conservative and liberal white mothers, who evinced fundamentally different conceptions of not only critical race theory, but even of motherhood itself.

On the Right: Amy Henry, mother of four from Atlanta. Amy said: "I am against critical race theory because I feel like it's abusive toward our children. Critical race theory is designed to divide and create hate. ...Dr. Martin Luther King said, the color of your skin shouldn't matter. It's the character. ...Critical Race Theory is the exact opposite of what Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement fought for." She also declared: "When you drop your kids off at school, they're being taught something extremely radical, that I would never agree to exposing my children to."

On the Left: Sarah Dean, mother of one from Seattle. Sarah said: "Here's what I know about raising an eight-year-old white son. He was born in America as a white male. It doesn't get better than that. ...I, as a mom, as a white woman, feel a huge sense of responsibility. ...I'm a white woman in a middle-class community. I don't feel only a sense of responsibility to my son. I feel a sense of responsibility to his black and brown friends."

The contrast of vision between Amy and Sarah is too spiritually profound a matter to delve into here, but it's well worth meditating upon. But a quick meditation suggests that the conflict over critical race theory is truly less a "question of race" than a fundamental divide over the meaning of childhood, family and morality. If you have the time, watch both parts.

In one half-hour of his daytime TV drama show, Dr. Phil did more to showcase the true nature of the CRT divide than the corporate media has done in a year and a half. He did so by neutrally moderating a conversation between both sides, something that used to be a common practice for journalists. He played it truly fair-and-balanced, and gave the last word to Tiffany Justice, a former Florida school board member and co-founder of Moms for Liberty, who said: "I think what America's parents are saying is: 'Before you activate our children as social justice warriors, can we teach them how to read?'"

Max Eden is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.