10 Reasons Why Critical Race Theory is Perfect for Confronting Racism
Emerging in the early 1908s, Critical race theory (CRT) was used to study the emerging identity politics in which people identified with personal characteristics rather than a movement or a political party. Later on, the theory was extensively discussed in the context of the strengths and weaknesses in the social fabric of modern American society. The approach has become controversial amidst the country’s struggle with race, civil rights, immigration, and civil conflict (McPheeters, 2021). De LA Garza and Ono (2016) describe CRT as an intellectual movement seeking to understand the reproduction and maintenance of white supremacy as a cultural, legal, and political condition in the U.S. context. Moreover, they state that CRT is a unique approach. Since its origins are traced back to legal studies; it intends to be an agent for political and social change; it has an interdisciplinary utility including education and is often used as the umbrella term for race and racism studies.
Despite being in the discussion domain of academic and law circles, a considerable amount of ambiguity still lingers over the exact meaning and definition of the theory, which is one of the prime reasons why the theory’s strengths are alien to a majority. Another major issue with the theory is that it is perceived with a seemingly stereotypical approach which advocates that the theory: is gainst free societies; limits racial issues to socially constructed groups; doesn’t trust anti-racism initiatives; associates science and reasons with white people and storytelling with black people; and as a totalitarian theory that considers itself as the only honest approach. This essay offers the reader ten reasons why CRT is not any of the things mentioned above and why it can treat the race issue perfectly.
Defining Critical Race Theory
Critical Race Theory is based on the thought that the concepts of race and racism are produced by social thought and power relations (Rollock & Gillborn, 2011). CRT can also be described as a framework that can be used to examine the practices of racism in the society that disadvantage people for being black or a minority and, in turn, privilege whiteness. The theory challenges the concept of race-neutrality in policy, practice, and values the usually marginalized “black voice” (Hylton, 2008). Stovall (2005) refers to CRT as a multidimensional discipline since it draws from several relevant disciplines to incorporate an interdisciplinary approach in developing theory and practice in the context of racism in society.
According to Zalaznick (2021), CRT is based on the following concepts:
- Race is a sociological construct and not biological.
- Racism is a systemic mechanism through which racial profiling and racial inequalities are maintained in society.
- Race and racism privilege the dominant class. So only those measures of racial equality or racial advancement will occur that cater to the interest of the prevalent course.
- Racial identity changes according to the needs or interests of the dominant class. This means that different racial groups are radicalized in different ways for various reasons at other points in time.
- Because of this dynamism, marginalized and radicalized people develop a unique perspective about the nature of the structures, systems, and institutions used to oppress them.
Having established how scholars define CRT and its conceptual base, it is important to show what the theory is not and what it does not imply.
According to Gray (2021), CRT does not assert any of the following:
- A race or sex is superior to another race or sex by default.
- People are privileged, oppressive, sexist, or racist because of their race or sex.
- People should receive adverse treatment, be marginalized, or be discriminated against because of their race or sex.
- People’s race or sex has anything to do with their moral character.
- People bear responsibility for the past actions of members of the same race or sex.
- People should feel guilt, discomfort, anguish, or psychological distress because of their race or sex.
This essay identifies and elaborates on why CRT is relevant and a perfect discourse of dealing with racism.
- CRT confronts the omnipresence of racism
CRT asserts that racism has become a part of everyday life and is taken normally. This behavior and “acceptance” creates situations where people, white or black, can unintentionally fuel racism by making certain choices. Racism is so deeply rooted in American culture that it is taken as natural and normal, and the legal and political systems are plagued by the concepts of White supremacy (Taylor, 1998). As a result, the norms of the White, Cristian, and the dominant middle-class group have become the yardsticks used to judge others, to determine the definition of right and wrong, and other groups are expected to follow them as standards (Goodman, 2011). Thus, racism is not only about the prejudicial attitudes and actions of individuals but is also a state of mind deeply entrenched in the culture, psyches, systems, and institutions (Bonilla-Silva, 2015).
Essed (1991) argues that racism is pervasive in society because it has become a convenient occurrence in our daily life, especially for people of color. Additionally, incidents of racism and radicalization are experienced by all members of society and are affected by it regardless of their racial identity or affiliation.
CRT emphasizes the real-world impact of Race and Racism. CRT openly challenges the racist discourse and highlights the effects of race and racism on the identities, bodies, and life experiences of people of color. That way, it also explains the magnitude of the impact of racism because it, as a social condition, goes above ad beyond the scope of individual and intentional acts of racism and must, therefore, be understood at social, institutional, political, economic, and historical levels (De La Garza & Ono, 2016).
In this context, CRT adopts the strategy of exposing racism exactly the way it is. Critics, however, argue that people associate any disparity favoring the dominant class with racism and take CRT as a torch to look for racism in all walks of life. They also argue that teaching CRT in schools will profoundly affect the thought process of children who will look for racism in their daily interactions and situations. On the contrary, CRT emphasizes that racism is woven into the culture so that people don’t even realize that what they perceive as normal behavior is derogatory towards a certain race or ethnicity. The theory states that race is a social construct, not a biological reality, that forms the basis of racism.
- CRT challenges bigoted ideologies
CRT challenges all concepts, including meritocracy, objectivity, colorblindness, equal opportunities, and race neutrality. According to McCoy & Rodricks (2015), the proponents of CRT argue that these concepts camouflage the privilege, power, and self-interest of the dominant culture in America. Lindsay (2020), in his criticism of the theory, argues that CRT completely opposes the idea that racism is diminished when race is not in focus all the time. He argues that by challenging the concept of colorblindness, CRT encourages the practice of looking for hidden racism everywhere, including school, workplace, neighborhoods, food, hobbies, relationships, faith, and other aspects of life.
CRT challenges the concept of colorblindness and suggests that institutions are practicing a colorblind approach in tackling racism, create racial hierarchies that are as rooted as those established under slavery, apartheid, and colonialism. CRT scholars argue that even though intended as an answer to color-conscious racism, colorblindness has not only failed to uproot racial disparity but may itself be guilty of upholding it (Collins, 2015).
CRT unequivocally recognizes White supremacy as an oppressive and dominant force in society and emphasizes that it must be challenged. Generally, White supremacy is associated with Individual or group behavior and attitudes demonstrating White extremism. CRT, however, takes it further and incorporates the countless ways in which White supremacy is normalized, privileged, and given a center stage through social structures, policies, and cultural norms and values. For example, D’Rozario & Williams (2005) point out that redlining is a practice that systematically denies products and services to people residing in a particular area based on their race or ethnicity. They argue that such practices are doing no good and negatively affecting the lives of people of color.
Knowledge of Racism is based on the lived experiences of people of color. These experiences of oppression are critical to understanding and analyzing the dilemma of these groups disadvantaged by racism. The presupposition is common among the dominant class members that ethnic or racial inequality exists because of the cultural problems of the minority groups or the inadequate enforcement of the discrimination laws. However, moral and social realities are subject to interpretation from different standpoints because they are socially constructed. One way of demonstrating the difference between the interpretation of ethnic and social realities is to tell stories and present a narrative. CRT realizes the importance of the lived experiences of non-white people and advocates that they should be brought into the limelight through biographies, family histories, reports, and storytelling (Yosso & Solorzano, 2007).
CRT proponents use stories and counternarratives to oppose the claims of racial neutrality and to highlight that race and racism are neither frequent nor sporadic in the lives of people of color but rather deeply interwoven into their daily lives. Proponents of the theory thus use storytelling and counternarrative to raise awareness about the fact that racial biases have deeply penetrated the unstated U.S. culture and law (Brown & Jackson, 2013).
- CRT works well with Bell’s interest convergence theory
Proponents of CRT postulate that the interests of non-white people are only advanced when there is a convergence of the interests of those belonging to the privileged groups (McCoy & Rodricks, 2015). Interest convergence was coined by Derrick Bell, a law professor and a very strong proponent of CRT. His theory argues that black people are given their civil rights only when white people have a vested interest. The Brown vs. Board of Education case is a classic example of this argument. Bell argued that whatever gains were made in that particular case was only because it was also a way of advancing the white interests. Bell’s argument is strengthened because desegregation was pursued. After all, it promoted the country’s image during the Cold War and was abandoned when the interests diverged again. Bell also saw the subsequent triumphs of the black people in terms of civil rights as a convergence of interests (Shih, 2017).
However, critics of the theory do not share the same view. Lindsay (2020) believes that Bell’s interest convergence theory makes it impossible for any racially privileged person to do the right thing because anything they do will be seen as a way of advancing self-interest. He asserts that because of this particular thesis, CRT becomes manipulative and impossible to satisfy. However, his stance can be countered with the arguments of Goodman (2011), who stresses the concept of interest convergence and explains that the dominant culture is self-focused, consider others as threats, and feel superior and privileged because society encourages them to do so. Therefore, CRT proponents oppose and focus on eliminating racism, sexism, and the empowerment of non-white people (Yosso & Solorzano, 2007).
- CRT considers the intersectionality of oppression
Although CRT has race and racism at its core, it also considers other determinants of origins of experiences of privilege and oppression. According to McCoy & Rodricks (2015), intersectionality is an analytic framework attributed to CRT. It is based on the assumption that race is not the only reason people of Color experience oppression. It also happens because of other identity factors such as class, gender, disability, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation. It also suggests that pressure has other different forms, such as ableism, sexism, and homophobia. According to Poole et al. (2021), intersectionality captures the dynamism and fluidity of race by recognizing the importance and role of other social constructs in changing how race and racism are expressed, perceived, and experienced.
Another important aspect that is covered by intersectionality is how overlapping social stratifications underplay the way oppression and privilege are experienced. However, intersectionality is often grossly misinterpreted by its critics, believing that overlapping social stratifications only exaggerate and strengthen the experience of privilege and oppression. According to Poole (2020), the effect of overlapping social stratification on the lived experience can only be understood clearly through critically interrogating the underlying structural elements. This is important because otherwise, class, gender, race, and other social identities will become cemented, fixed, and mutually exclusive.
- CRT has an overwhelmingly positive impact on students
The impact of CRT has been a subject of debate for decades, with those in opposition to the theory making continuous efforts to get it banned in schools. According to Gertsmann (2021), In nearly half of the states, including Florida, the Republican legislators have successfully introduced bills intended to regulate the way race is taught in schools. He acknowledges that the way CRT is perceived is highly subjective and carries different meanings for different people. He defends the move by stating that states and local governments must push back excesses and determine the values that public education should instill in the students. He supports his argument by making a comparison between CRT and slavery as a positive institution. He says that the ban on CRT will be as justified as it will bar teachers from teaching slavery as one of the fundamental characteristics of the foundation of America. Proponents of CRT believe that racism is one of ten founding principles of America and that the country is racist in its very foundations.
The issue of how race should or shouldn’t be taught has been extensively debated lately. However, the debate has missed the critical point: the actual effect of exposure to CRT on the students in schools. Conner (2021), a researcher in youth activism, identifies three important outcomes from teaching CRT to young people.
5.1: Nurtures Passion
Contrary to popular belief among CRT critics, teaching CRT does not fuel divisiveness among young people but rather helps them apply the theory in the real world context and think critically. According to his findings, Conner (2021) states that CRT encourages the youth to collaborate and work towards achieving social change based on equity. Her research suggests that when youth find out about the origins of power and privilege and how they are transferred through generation by implementing radical policies such as housing discrimination, redlining, or school funding based on property taxes that favor schools in the upper class, they are motivated to take corrective actions to eliminate unfair conditions. Her study based on the youth of color concluded that youth of color realized that their life struggles were not their fault. That realization gives them hope that reforms are possible if the policymakers are convinced to adopt equitable policies. Hoping for positive social change, they set out to advocate for fair procedures.
CRT framework helps youth understand societal oppression and its effect on people, such as racial minorities. Individuals from these groups internalize the negative stereotypes and act accordingly, leading to further pressure, such as increases supervision and surveillance by the police and state violence. Students have been reported to express that learning about the CRT framework was empowering as it helped them make sense of what they saw happening, consider how they could break the wheel, and rather than seeing themselves as oppressors or victims, they saw themselves as agents of change who were committed to social change.
5.2: Academic Improvement
The second outcome is the significant academic improvement observed in youth organizers when they are taught CRT. Conner (2021) found in her studies that two-third of active youth organizers from the lowest-performing schools in Philadephia showed significant improvement in their grades. This is endorsed by the findings of other scholars who found that youth organizers mostly receive A or B grades in high schools and attend college for four years at a higher rate. Ironically, the more young people become aware of the prevalent inequalities at schools, the less alienated they are and more committed to academic excellence.
5.3: Lifelong benefits
Research shows that the third outcome for youth exposed to CRT is not limited to high school or college only, but the formative experiences that youth go through are instrumental in shaping their choices and lives as adults. Alluminies have reported that CRT education helps them adopt pro-social careers such as counselors and educators and participate constructively in civic life or their respective communities. Studies have also shown that former youth organizers are more likely than their peers to volunteer, work on issues challenging their community, participate in civic organizations and register to vote. These results imply that CRT, when taught well, can support long-term professional, educational, political, and civic outcomes.
- CRT is not a narrative; it’s rooted in critical legal studies
The recent controversy created around CRT and the drive to ban it in schools indicates how badly misunderstood the theory is. According to Collins (2021), the bill presented in the Rhode Island state legislature, which failed to pass, stated that it was intended to prohibit the teaching of divisive concepts intended to make any individual feel guilty, discomforted, distressed, or anguished on account of their sex or race. He argues that the bill reveals white fragility, the longing for myth-making, blatant denial, and an attempt to defend racism by stereotyping any anti-racism move as racist itself. As far as anguish and discomfort caused by teaching history are concerned, it is bound to happen because, unfortunately, U.S. history has an ugly side. The ban on CRT is not only baiting to label teaching inclusive U.S. history as racist. Still, it reinforces the divergence of interest argument because teaching CRT is not in the interest of the privileged white class; they are making every effort to get it banned.
Moreover, it also shows that the theory is grossly misunderstood as some believe it is just an attempt to infuse Black and other Indigenous histories into U.S. history. Contrary to this belief, CRT is a complex theory originating from law school critical legal studies. CRT was intended to expose the systematic racism woven in every aspect of American society, be it the law, policies at every level, and the customs and norms of the culture. CRT boldly questions the very basics and roots of American society through direct intellectual debate as well as allegory, biography, and storytelling (Collins, 2021).
- CRT exposes and examines institutional racism
The American youth needs to know about their history and how it has shaped their society. This is important because racism and the relevant discrimination practices can only be uprooted from American society once the origin of the problem is identified. As mentioned earlier, CRT is a way of understanding how and why racism and its aspects, including White supremacy, anti-Blackness, and other types of racialized inequality, are rooted in legal practice, policy, and social institutions (Alvarez, 2021). Linsey (2020) argues that CRT is against free societies and the idea of freedom at its center. Ironically, the current winds of labeling CRT as unprogressive and demanding banning it in schools is snatching freedom of speech from all. Lukianoff et al. (2021) argue that banning CRT makes no sense since ideas, right or wrong, have always been a part of the curriculum and that curricula have always been political. They suggest that instead of banning ideas like CRT, the opponents should let them stand the test of time and application. Bills intended to exclude concepts taught at schools will most certainly be challenged legally and are highly likely to be struck out.
Alexander (2021) elaborates that attempts to ban CRT are an open demonstration of the racist attitudes prevalent in society today. The theory works to incorporate the contributions of people of color into the history textbooks so that they can be recognized and given their due. In addition to that, it strives to emphasize that racism is present everywhere and an ongoing crisis. By banning the teaching of CRT in K-12 schools, only those who attend higher education will have an opportunity to be taught the theory, which will be detrimental to those who do not pursue higher education. This will have serious implications for students of color who are exposed to racism in one way or another in their life. They should know how to fend for themselves, and CRT gives them that ability.
Students who are taught CRT early on in their lives grasp it better and fight against racism and relevant discriminatory practices that they see or experience. CRT also had a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement, which is a testament to its importance and impact. Therefore, CRT is very useful to systematically introduce the complex history of the U.S. to the current generation.
- CRT questions history
The supporters of CRT opine that because they believe race to be a social construct and not a biological fact, they have science behind them. Scientists support this by stating that research on the human genome shows no difference between Europeans and Africans. CRT scholars believe that race has been used to create a power hierarchy, which has moved the debate from educational to political realms. Graham (2021) reports that Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, based in Washington, D.C., argues that CRT poses a threat to the status quo through its presuppositions which are at complete odds with the principles of individual freedom at the roots of the U.S. constitution. Kurtz also states that if most Americans accept CRT, the government’s constitutional system can not be sustained. Gonzalez at the Heritage Foundation asserts that CRT has penetrated the attention of mainstream America in part because white people feel guilt-ridden about what has been endured by Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities. They are increasingly made to evaluate and think about their white privilege (Graham, 2021).
- CRT does not promote division
CRT has been a victim of misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and even deliberate distortion. Those criticizing it and seeking to ban it can barely define the theory the way it is. Several Republicans accuse CRT of rewriting history, manipulating white people into thinking they are inherently racist, and feeling guilty for their privileges. In addition, critics of the theory continuously hold it responsible for spreading divisiveness and creating a wedge between races. Critical race theory is not anti-American, divisive, or hostile. This portrayal is a deliberately politicized misrepresentation of the idea intended only to stop and discourage any discussion about systemic racism, which is present in American society. What CRT does is highlight the cause and effect of slavery that are deeply embedded in the institutions of America and their role in ensuring that white dominance is maintained.
Moreover, it scrutinizes the role of federal laws in the preservation of unequal treatment of people of color (Hobbs, 2021). While the theory does that, there is nothing anti-American about acknowledging that racism and inequality have always existed in American society. It is perfectly normal to love America and still be critical of structural racism in the community.
The longstanding inequities in economics, education, health care, housing, and the justice system are a testament to the truthfulness of the theory. Racism in America continues to be experienced by most people of color. This truth can not be changed by any effort of denial, distortion, rewriting, or other sweeping under the rug tactics.
The history of slavery and the inhumane treatment of the enslaved people is a genuine part of American history. The enslaved people were abused, raped, and forced into free labor, which was the bedrock of the economic prosperity of slave owners and their descendants. It is disheartening to see that the African Americans have toiled very hard to make right the wrongs of inequality for years, but their efforts have been countered with distortion and lies by those who felt their success might threaten them.
- CRT challenges the ability and neutrality of Civil Rights in Law
One of the most important aspects of CRT is its focus on revealing how traditional legal discourse understands racial subordination and racism is not neutral and not sufficient to nullify the effects of a very long history of discrimination, abuse, and oppression of people of color. In addition, because the definition of discrimination is very narrow, remedies can not account for all of its forms. CRT has triggered and influenced debates in fields outside the scope of legal studies, including women studies, gender studies, American studies, education, and sociology. CRT has also profoundly impacted Asian Americans, Muslims, LGBTQ, Latinx, and Native Americans, leading to spin-off movements. In the early 21st century, critical race theorists have focused on criminal justice, police brutality, hate speech and hate crimes, health care, affirmative action, poverty and the welfare state, immigration, and voting rights.
CRT lays the foundation of the discourse that sees racism as a much broader problem than individual bigotry and prejudice. It sheds light on the fact that racism, in reality, is a systemic feature of the American social structure and is present in every aspect of society. The theory emphasizes that racism is rooted in the social network to the extent that racial inequality is treated as a normal occurrence without anyone batting an eye. White supremacy is at the heart of the laws, policies, and social norms in America. This has created an environment where people can unintentionally be racist because racist practices and racial inequalities are normal and natural. CRT challenges racial prejudice by arguing that racial segregation is a social construct and not a biological fact. It is the norms, values, and practices prevalent in a society that assigns racial identities.
CRT stresses the importance of storytelling and counternarrative to present both sides of the picture. It uses counter-storytelling to highlight the experiences, truths, stories, and narratives of marginalized communities. A dominant cultural narrative shadows every society in the world. The dominant cultural narrative pushes the lived experiences of minorities to the background and centers history, textbooks, academia, movies, fiction, and media around the lives and experiences of the dominant culture. CRT adopts a revisionist approach so that the narrative is balanced and free of unilateral bias.
Another aspect of CRT is the interest convergence theory which states that the interests of people of color are only pursued when it is in line with the interests of the dominant White society. There are many instances in history where significant developments in the rights and interests of the non-white people were made because it also advanced the agenda of the privileged demographic. Once their claims were satisfied, the issues were put on the back burner.
CRT draws attention to other aspects of racist experiences that people of color go through, including being discriminated against based on class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and religious beliefs. CRT calls for examining these overlapping social stratifications to ensure that segregation based on gender, race, class, and other identities are challenged and softened up gradually.
The recent drive to ban the teaching of CRT in K-12 education is based on false assumptions and misinterpretations of the theory. The arguments put forward by the opponents are based on the fear of losing the privileged status rather than their claims that teaching the theory will promote divisiveness in society. Research suggests that teaching CRT in K-12 education helps young people develop a comprehensive understanding of their history and how it has shaped the community they live in today. It entices them to question what they observe and get motivated to eradicate social inequality and injustice from society.
Opponents see CRT as anti-American as it questions the way history is narrated. Scholars believe that CRT can not be banned just because it draws attention to some of the ugliest parts of American history. They argue that these facts have shaped culture and society in America, and that is why new generations should know the roots of their social institutions. They reject the presupposition that CRT makes the privileged class feel uncomfortable or guilty for their privileges. On the contrary, CRT wants people to see the inequalities in society and question why a certain type or race has more advantages than others.
To conclude, CRT encourages us to understand how races are translated into social hierarchies, the root cause of society’s unequal distribution of resources. In addition, it not only questions how history has embedded racism into social norms and values and the laws of the American judicial and governance systems. Despite its unapologetic and sometimes radical stance, CRT is integral to the discussion about race, racism, and its effects on the lives of people of color.
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