Critical race theory
Critical race theory (CRT) is an academic movement made up 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. CRT examines social and cultural issues as they relate to race, law, and social and political power.[page needed]
CRT originated in the mid-1970s in the writings of several American legal scholars including Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Cheryl Harris, Charles R. Lawrence III, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia J. Williams. CRT emerged as a movement by the 1980s, reworking theories of critical legal studies (CLS) with more focus on race. As the word "critical" suggests, both theoretical frameworks are rooted in critical theory, a Marxist social philosophy which argues that social problems are influenced and created more by societal structures and cultural assumptions than by individual and psychological factors.
CRT is loosely unified by two common themes:
- First, that white supremacy (societal racism) exists and maintains power through the law.
- Second, that transforming the relationship between law and racial power, and also achieving racial emancipation and anti-subordination more broadly, are possible.
Roy L. Brooks defines CRT in 1994 as:
A collection of critical stances against the existing legal order from a race-based point of view.
A collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.
The view that the law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of color.
Principal figures of the theory include Derrick Bell, Patricia J. Williams, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Camara Phyllis Jones, Angela Harris, Charles Lawrence, Alan Freeman, Neil Gotanda, Mitu Gulati, Jerry Kang, Eric Yamamoto, Robert Williams, Ian Haney López, Kevin Johnson, Laura Gomez, Margaret Montoya, Juan Perea, Francisco Valdes, Dean Carbado, Cheryl Harris, Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Tom Ross, Stephanie Wildman, Nancy Levit, Robert Harman, Jean Stefancic, andre cummings, and Mari Matsuda.
Early analysis that later consolidated into CRT developed in the 1970s as legal scholars, activists, and lawyers tried to understand why civil rights era victories had stalled and were being eroded.
In the early 1980s, students of color at Harvard Law School organized protests regarding Harvard's lack of racial diversity in the curriculum, among students, and in the faculty. These students supported Professor Derrick Bell, who left Harvard Law in 1980 to become the dean at University of Oregon School of Law. During his time at Harvard, Bell had developed new courses that studied American law through a racial lens. Harvard students of color wanted faculty of color to teach the new courses in his absence.
However, the university ignored student requests, responding that no sufficiently qualified black instructor existed. Legal scholar Randall Kennedy noted that some students felt affronted by Harvard's choice to employ an "archetypal white liberal...in a way that precludes the development of black leadership". In response, numerous students, including Kimberlé Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda, boycotted and organized to develop an "Alternative Course" using Bell's Race, Racism, and American Law (1973, 1st edition) as a core text. They included guest speakers Richard Delgado and Neil Gotanda.
The first formal meeting centered on CRT was the 1989 "New Developments in Critical Race Theory" workshop, an effort to connect the theoretical underpinnings of critical legal studies (CLS) to the day-to-day realities of American racial politics. The workshop was organized by Kimberlé Crenshaw for a retreat entitled "New Developments in Critical Race Theory" that effectively created the field. As Crenshaw states, only she, Matsuda, Gotanda, Chuck Lawrence, and a handful of others knew "that there were no new developments in critical race theory, because CRT hadn't had any old ones – it didn't exist, it was made up as a name. Sometimes you gotta fake it until you make it." Crenshaw states that critical race theorists had "discovered ourselves to be critical theorists who did race and racial justice advocates who did critical theory." Crenshaw writes, "one might say that CRT was the offspring of a post-civil rights institutional activism that was generated and informed by an oppositionalist orientation toward racial power."
One manner in which CRT diverged from CLS post-1987 was CRT's stress on the importance of race. Though CLS criticized the legal system's role in generating and legitimizing oppressive social structures, it did not tend to provide alternatives. CRT scholars such as Derrick Bell and Alan Freeman argue that failure to include race and racism in its analysis prevented CLS from suggesting new directions for social transformation.
The 1989 CRT workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, attended by 24 scholars of color, marked a turning point for the field. Following this meeting, scholars began publishing a higher volume of works employing CRT, including some that became popular among general audiences. In 1991, Patricia Williams published The Alchemy of Race and Rights, while Derrick Bell published Faces at the Bottom of the Well in 1992. Both became national best sellers.:124
In 1995, Gloria Ladson-Billings and William F. Tate began applying the CRT framework in the field of education, moving it beyond the field of legal scholarship. They sought to better understand inequities in the context of schooling. Scholars have since expanded work in this context to explore issues including segregation, relations between race, gender, and academic achievement, pedagogy, and research methodologies.:366
As of 2002, over 20 American law schools and at least 3 non-American law schools offered critical race theory courses or classes which covered the issue centrally. In addition to law, critical race theory is taught and applied in the fields of education, political science, women's studies, ethnic studies, communication, sociology, and American studies. A variety of spin-off movements developed that apply critical race theory to specific groups. These include the Latino-critical (LatCrit), queer-critical, and Asian-critical movements. These other groups continued to engage with the main body of critical theory research, over time developing independent priorities and research methods.
In regard to CRT as being 'radical', Will Oremus argues:
[T]he theory [is] radical...in the sense that it questions fundamental assumptions.... And unlike some strands of academic and legal thought, critical race theory has an open and activist agenda, with an emphasis on storytelling and personal experience. It's about righting wrongs, not just questing after knowledge.... [M]any of their ideas are not radical today in the sense of being outside the mainstream: Critical race theory is widely taught and studied.
Developments in the early 2000s in critical race theory include work relying on updated social psychological research on unconscious bias in order to justify affirmative action; and work relying on law and economic methodology to examine structural inequality and discrimination in the workplace.
Major themes that are characteristic of work in critical race theory, as documented by such scholars as Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, include:
- Critique of liberalism: CRT scholars question foundational liberal concepts such as Enlightenment rationality, legal equality, and Constitutional neutrality, and challenge the incrementalist, step-by-step approach of traditional civil-rights discourse; they favor a race-conscious approach to social transformation, rejecting liberal embrace of affirmative action, color blindness, role modeling, or the merit principle; and an approach that relies more on political organizing, in contrast to liberalism's reliance on rights-based remedies.
- Storytelling, counter-storytelling, and "naming one's own reality": The use of narrative (storytelling) to illuminate and explore experiences of racial oppression. Bryan Brayboy has emphasized the epistemic importance of storytelling in Indigenous-American communities as superseding that of theory, and has proposed a Tribal Critical Race Theory (TribCrit).
- Revisionist interpretations of American civil rights law and progress: Criticism of civil-rights scholarship and anti-discrimination law, such as Brown v. Board of Education. Derrick Bell, one of CRT's founders, argues that civil-rights advances for black people coincided with the self-interest of white elitists. Likewise, Mary L. Dudziak performed extensive archival research in the U.S. Department of State and Department of Justice, including the correspondence by U.S. ambassadors abroad, and found that U.S. civil-rights legislation was not passed because people of color were discriminated against. Rather, it was enacted in order to improve the image of the United States in the eyes of third-world countries that the US needed as allies during the Cold War.
- Intersectional theory: The examination of race, sex, class, national origin, and sexual orientation, and how their combination (i.e., their intersections) plays out in various settings, e.g., how the needs of a Latina female are different from those of a black male and whose needs are the ones promoted.
- Standpoint epistemology: The view that a member of a minority has an authority and ability to speak about racism that members of other racial groups do not have, and that this can expose the racial neutrality of law as false.
- Essentialism vs. anti-essentialism: Delgado and Stefancic write, "Scholars who write about these issues are concerned with the appropriate unit for analysis: Is the black community one, or many, communities? Do middle- and working-class African-Americans have different interests and needs? Do all oppressed peoples have something in common?" This is a look at the ways that oppressed groups may share in their oppression but also have different needs and values that need to be looked at differently. It is a question of how groups can be essentialized or are unable to be essentialized.
- Structural determinism: Exploration of how "the structure of legal thought or culture influences its content," whereby a particular mode of thought or widely shared practice determines significant social outcomes, usually occurring without conscious knowledge. As such, theorists posit that our system cannot redress certain kinds of wrongs.
- Empathetic fallacy: Believing that one can change a narrative by offering an alternative narrative in hopes that the listener's empathy will quickly and reliably take over. Empathy is not enough to change racism as most people are not exposed to many people different from themselves and people mostly seek out information about their own culture and group.
- Non-white cultural nationalism/separatism: The exploration of more radical views that argue for separation and reparations as a form of foreign aid (including black nationalism).
White privilege is the notion of myriad social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race (i.e. white people). For example, a clerk not following a person around in a store, or people not crossing the street at night to avoid a person, are viewed as white privilege.
Cheryl I. Harris and Gloria Ladson-Billings describe a notion of whiteness as property, whereby whiteness is the ultimate property that whites alone can possess; valuable just like property. In this sense, from the CRT perspective, the white skin that some Americans possess is akin to owning a piece of property, in that it grants privileges to the owner that a renter (in this case, a person of color) would not be afforded. The property functions of whiteness – i.e., rights to disposition; rights to use and enjoyment, reputation, and status property; and the absolute right to property – make the American dream more likely and attainable for whites.
Karen Pyke documents the theoretical element of internalized racism or internalized racial oppression, whereby victims of racism begin to believe in the ideology that they are inferior to whites and white culture, who are superior. The internalizing of racism is not due to any weakness, ignorance, inferiority, psychological defect, gullibility, or other shortcomings of the oppressed. Instead, it is how authority and power in all aspects of society contribute to feelings of inequality.
Camara Phyllis Jones defines institutionalized racism as the structures, policies, practices, and norms resulting in differential access to the goods, services, and opportunities of society by race. Institutionalized racism is normative, sometimes legalized and often manifests as inherited disadvantage. It is structural, having been absorbed into our institutions of custom, practice, and law, so there need not be an identifiable offender. Indeed, institutionalized racism is often evident as inaction in the face of need, manifesting itself both in material conditions and in access to power. With regard to the former, examples include differential access to quality education, sound housing, gainful employment, appropriate medical facilities, and a clean environment.
Influence of critical legal studiesEdit
As a movement that draws heavily from critical theory, critical race theory shares many intellectual commitments with critical theory, critical legal studies, feminist jurisprudence, and postcolonial theory. However, some authors like Tommy J. Curry have pointed out that the epistemic convergences with such approaches are emphasized due to the idealist turn in critical race theory. The latter, as Curry explains, is interested in discourse (i.e., how we speak about race) and the theories of white Continental philosophers, over and against the structural and institutional accounts of white supremacy which were at the heart of the realist analysis of racism introduced in Derrick Bell's early works,[page needed] and articulated through such Black thinkers as W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and Judge Robert L. Carter.[page needed]
Critical race theory draws on the priorities and perspectives of both critical legal studies and conventional civil rights scholarship, while also sharply contesting both of these fields. CRT's theoretical elements are provided by a variety of sources. Angela P. Harris describes CRT as sharing "a commitment to a vision of liberation from racism through right reason" with the civil rights tradition. It deconstructs some premises and arguments of legal theory and simultaneously holds that legally-constructed rights are incredibly important.[page needed] As described by Derrick Bell, critical race theory in Harris' view is committed to "radical critique of the law (which is normatively deconstructionist) and...radical emancipation by the law (which is normatively reconstructionist)."
Scholars of critical race theory have focused, with some particularity, on the issues of hate crime and hate speech. In response to the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the hate speech case of R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992), in which the Court struck down an anti-bias ordinance as applied to a teenager who had burned a cross, Mari Matsuda and Charles Lawrence argued that the Court had paid insufficient attention to the history of racist speech and the actual injury produced by such speech.
Critical race theorists have also paid particular attention to the issue of affirmative action, whereby scholars have argued in favor of such on the argument that so-called merit standards for hiring and educational admissions are not race-neutral for a variety of reasons, and that such standards are part of the rhetoric of neutrality through which whites justify their disproportionate share of resources and social benefits.
Critics including George Will see resonances between CRT's use of storytelling and insistence that race poses challenges to objective judgments in the U.S., as exemplified by the acquittal of O. J. Simpson.[verification needed] Daniel A. Farber and Suzanna Sherry argue that CRT lacks supporting evidence, relies on an implausible belief that reality is socially constructed, rejects evidence in favor of storytelling, rejects the concepts of truth and merit as expressions of political dominance, and rejects the rule of law. Additionally, they posit that the anti-meritocratic tenets in critical race theory, critical feminism, and critical legal studies may unintentionally lead to antisemitic and anti-Asian implications.:9–11, 58 In particular, they suggest that the success of Jews and Asians within what CRT theorists argue is a structurally unfair system may lend itself to allegations of cheating, advantage-taking, or other such claims. A series of responses to Farber and Sherry was published in the Harvard Law Review. These responses argue that there is a difference between criticizing an unfair system and criticizing individuals who perform well inside that system. In the Boston College Law Review, Jeffrey Pyle argues that CRT undermines confidence in the rule of law, saying that "critical race theorists attack the very foundations of the liberal legal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of constitutional law."
Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals argues that critical race theory "turns its back on the Western tradition of rational inquiry, forswearing analysis for narrative," and that "by repudiating reasoned argumentation, (critical race theorists) reinforce stereotypes about the intellectual capacities of nonwhites.
Former Judge Alex Kozinski, who served on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, criticizes critical race theorists for raising "insuperable barriers to mutual understanding" and thus eliminating opportunities for "meaningful dialogue."
Critical race theory has stirred controversy in the US since the 1980s over such issues as:
- Deviation from the ideal of color blindness;
- Promotion of the use of narrative in legal studies;
- Advocacy of "legal instrumentalism" as opposed to ideal-driven uses of the law;
- Analysis of the U.S. Constitution and existing law as constructed according to and perpetuating racial power;
- Encouraging legal scholars to promote racial equity.
In 2010, the Mexican American Studies Department Programs in Tucson, Arizona were effectively banned due to their connection to CRT, which was seen to be in violation of a recently passed state law that "prohibits schools from offering courses that 'advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.'" The ban included the confiscation of books, in some cases in front of students, by the Tucson Unified School District. Matt de la Peña's young-adult novel Mexican WhiteBoy was banned for containing CRT. However, this ban was later deemed unconstitutional on the grounds that the state showed discriminatory intent. "Both enactment and enforcement were motivated by racial animus," federal Judge A. Wallace Tashima said in the ruling.
On 20 October 2020, the Conservative UK Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch stated that, in regard to teaching Critical Race Theory in primary and secondary school, "we do not want to see teachers teaching their pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt.... [A]ny school which teaches these elements of critical race theory, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law." Badenoch's remarks have been countered in an open letter, signed by hundreds of academics nationwide, that highlights Badenoch's alleged misapprehensions about CRT. On 30 October 2020, an open letter signed by 101 writers of the Black Writers' Guild condemned Badenoch for saying that some authors want racial division, including her criticisms of books such as White Fragility and Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race, saying that: "many of these books—and, in fact, some of the authors and proponents of critical race theory—actually want a segregated society."
In September 2020, President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing agencies of the United States Government to cancel funding for programs that mention "white privilege" or "critical race theory", on the basis that it constituted "divisive, un-American propaganda". He specifically called out the value of meritocracy. On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order rescinding and canceling Trump's previous executive order and once again permitted agencies to use such programs.
In mid-April 2021, a bill was introduced in the Idaho legislature that would effectively ban any educational entity (including school districts, public charter school, and public institutions of higher education) in the state from teaching or advocating "sectarianism," including critical race theory or other programs involving social justice.
Within critical race theory, various sub-groupings have emerged to focus on issues that fall outside the black-white paradigm of race relations as well as issues that relate to the intersection of race with issues of gender, sexuality, class and other social structures. For example, critical race feminism (CRF), Hebrew Crit (HebCrit), Latino critical race studies (LatCrit), Asian American critical race studies (AsianCrit), South Asian American critical race studies (DesiCrit), and American Indian critical race studies (sometimes called TribalCrit). CRT methodologies have also been applied to the study of white immigrant groups. CRT has spurred some scholars to call for a second wave of whiteness studies, which is now a small offshoot known as Second Wave Whiteness (SWW). Critical race theory has also begun to spawn research that looks at understandings of race outside the United States.
Disability critical race theoryEdit
Latino critical race theoryEdit
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Latino critical race theory (LatCRT) is a research framework that outlines the social construction of race as central to how people of colour (POC) are constrained and oppressed in society. Race scholars developed LatCRT as a critical response to the "problem of the color line" first explained by W. E. B. Du Bois. While CRT focuses on the Black–White paradigm, LatCRT has moved to consider other racial groups, mainly Chicana/Chicanos, as well as Latinos/as, Asians, Native Americans/First Nations, and women of color.
In Critical Race Counterstories along the Chicana/Chicano Educational Pipeline, Tara J. Yosso discusses how the constraint of POC can be defined. Looking at the differences between Chicana/o students, the tenets that separate such individuals are:
- the intercentricity of race and racism;
- the challenge of dominant ideology;
- the commitment to social justice;
- the centrality of experience knowledge; and
- the interdisciplinary perspective.
LatCRTs main focus is to advocate social justice for those living in marginalized communities (specifically Chicana/os), who are guided by structural arrangements that disadvantage people of color. Social institutions function as dispossessions, disenfranchisement, and discrimination over minority groups, while LatCRT seeks to give voice to those who are victimized. In order to do so, LatCRT has created two common themes:
First, CRT proposes that white supremacy and racial power are maintained over time, a process that the law plays a central role in. Different racial groups lack the voice to speak in this civil society, and, as such, CRT has introduced a new critical form of expressions, called the voice of color. The voice of color is narratives and storytelling monologues used as devices for conveying personal racial experiences. These are also used to counter metanarratives that continue to maintain racial inequality. Therefore, the experiences of the oppressed are important aspects for developing a LatCRT analytical approach, and it has not been since the rise of slavery that an institution has so fundamentally shaped the life opportunities of those who bear the label of criminal.
Secondly, LatCRT work has investigated the possibility of transforming the relationship between law enforcement and racial power, as well as pursuing a project of achieving racial emancipation and anti-subordination more broadly. Its body of research is distinct from general CRT in that it emphasizes immigration theory and policy, language rights, and accent- and national origin-based forms of discrimination. CRT finds the experiential knowledge of people of color and draws explicitly from these lived experiences as data, presenting research findings through storytelling, chronicles, scenarios, narratives, and parables.
AsianCrit looks at the influence of race and racism on the experiences and outcomes of Asian Americans in US education, providing a foundation for discourse around the racialized experiences of Asian Americans and other racially-marginalized groups in education. Like LatCrit, AsianCrit is distinct from the main body of CRT in its emphasis on immigration theory and policy.
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- Cole 2007, pp. 112–13: "CRT was a reaction to Critical Legal Studies (CLS)....CRT was a response to CLS, criticizing the latter for its undue emphasis on class and economic structure, and insisting that 'race' is a more critical identity."
- Crenshaw et al. 1995, p. xix: "Critical Race Theory thus represents an attempt to inhabit and expand the space between two very different intellectual and ideological formations...[i.e. Civil Rights reform and Critical Legal Studies]"
- Crenshaw et al. 1995, p. xiii: "The first [common interest] is to understand how a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in America, and, in particular, to examine the relationship between the social structure and professed ideals such as 'the rule of law' and 'equal protection'."
- Crenshaw et al. 1995, p. xiii: "The second is a desire not merely to understand the vexed bond between law and racial power but to change it."
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- Delgado & Stefancic 2017, pp. 7–8.
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- Carbado & Gulati 2003 sfnm error: no target: CITEREFCarbadoGulati2003 (help); Kang & Banaji 2006.
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- Delgado & Stefancic 1993.
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- Delgado & Stefancic 1993; Delgado & Stefancic 2017, pp. 25–26; Dudziak 1993 sfnm error: no target: CITEREFDudziak1993 (help).
- Delgado & Stefancic 1993; Delgado & Stefancic 2012, pp. 51–55.
- Delgado & Stefancic 1993; Delgado & Stefancic 2017, pp. 63–66.
- Delgado & Stefancic 1993; Delgado & Stefancic 2012, pp. 26, 155.
- Delgado & Stefancic 2017, pp. 33–35.
- Delgado & Stefancic 2017, pp. 88–92.
- Harris 1993; Ladson-Billings 1998, p. 15.
- Pyke 2010, p. 552.
- Jones 2002, pp. 9–10.
- Curry 2012.
- Curry 2009.
- Harris 1994, pp. 741–43.
- Crenshaw et al. 1995, p. xxiv: "To the emerging race crits, rights discourse held a social and transformative value in the context of racial subordination that transcended the narrower question of whether reliance on rights alone could bring about any determinate results"; Harris 1994.
- Bell 1995, p. 899.
- Matsuda, Mari J., and Charles R. Lawrence. 1993. "Epilogue: Burning Crosses and the R.A.V. Case." In Words That Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech and the First Amendment, edited by M. J. Matsuda et al.
- Delgado 1995 sfnm error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFDelgado1995 (help); Kennedy 1990; Williams 1991.
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Therefore, the authors suggest, the radical critique of merit has the wholly unintended consequence of being anti-Semitic and possibly racist.
- Delgado & Stefancic 2017, pp. 103–04.
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