Five Ugly Truths About Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory is currently getting a ton of attention on the national and international stage, which is long overdue, but there are also many misconceptions about it. Here are five questions that many people are asking about Critical Race Theory along with straight answers, explanations, and a raft of proofs from the Critical Race Theory literature itself. My hope is that people will be able to use these proofs to show people that Critical Race Theory is every bit as bad as its critics contend.

Since these proofs run rather long in some cases, here are the questions and answers as a summary:

  1. Is Critical Race Theory racist? Yes.
  2. Does Critical Race Theory advance the vision and activism of the Civil Rights Movement? No.
  3. Does Critical Race Theory say all white people are racist? Yes.
  4. Is Critical Race Theory Marxist? Yes and no.
  5. Is Critical Race Theory an analytical tool for understanding race and racism? No, not really.

Question: Is Critical Race Theory racist?

Answer: Yes.

Critical Race Theory begins by asserting the importance of social significance of racial categories, rejecting colorblindness, equality, and neutrality, and advocating for discrimination meant to “level the playing field.” These things lead it to reproduce and enact racism in practice. It also explicitly says that all white people are either racist or complicit in the system of racism (so, racist) by virtue of benefiting from privileges that they cannot renounce.

Examples:

“We all can recognize the distinction between the claims “I am Black” and the claim “I am a person who happens to be Black.” “I am Black” takes the socially imposed identity and empowers it as an anchor of subjectivity. “I am Black” becomes not simply a statement of resistance but also a positive discourse of self-identification, intimately linked to celebratory statements like the Black nationalist “Black is beautiful.” “I am a person who happens to be Black,” on the other hand, achieves self-identification by straining for a certain universality (in effect, “I am first a person”) and for a concommitant dismissal of the imposed category (“Black”) as contingent, circumstantial, nondeterminant. There is truth in both characterizations, of course, but they function quite differently depending on the political context. At this point in history, a strong case can be made that the most critical resistance strategy for disempowered groups is to occupy and defend a politics of social location rather than to vacate and destroy it.” From “Mapping the Margins,” Stanford Law Review, by Kimberlé Crenshaw, p. 1297.

“The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist. … The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” From How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi (pseud. for Henry Rodgers), p. 19.

“Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” From Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, first edition, p. 3.

“Critical race theorists (or “crits,” as they are sometimes called) hold that color blindness will allow us to redress only extremely egregious racial harms, ones that everyone would notice and condemn. But if racism is embedded in our thought processes and social structures as deeply as many crits believe, then the “ordinary business” of society—the routines, practices, and institutions that we rely on to effect the world’s work—will keep minorities in subordinate positions. Only aggressive, color-conscious efforts to change the way things are will do much to ameliorate misery.” From Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, first edition, p. 22.

(See also below, in proofs for the question of whether Critical Race Theory says all white people are racist.)

Question: Does Critical Race Theory advance the vision and activism of the Civil Rights Movement?

Answer: No.

Critical Race Theory refers to that vision as “traditional approaches to civil rights” and calls it into question. The Civil Rights Movement called for living up to the foundational promises of the United States (and other free nations) and incrementally changing the system so that those original ideals were met. Critical Race Theory rejects incrementalism in favor of revolution. It rejects the existing system and demands replacing it with its own. It rejects the liberal order and all that goes with it as being part of the system which must be dismantled and replaced. It is therefore fundamentally different than the Civil Rights Movement (and is explicitly anti-liberal and anti-equality).

Examples:

“Crits are also highly suspicious of another liberal mainstay, namely, rights.” From Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, first edition, p. 23.

“Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” From Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, first edition, p. 3.

“We all can recognize the distinction between the claims “I am Black” and the claim “I am a person who happens to be Black.” “I am Black” takes the socially imposed identity and empowers it as an anchor of subjectivity. “I am Black” becomes not simply a statement of resistance but also a positive discourse of self-identification, intimately linked to celebratory statements like the Black nationalist “Black is beautiful.” “I am a person who happens to be Black,” on the other hand, achieves self-identification by straining for a certain universality (in effect, “I am first a person”) and for a concommitant dismissal of the imposed category (“Black”) as contingent, circumstantial, nondeterminant. There is truth in both characterizations, of course, but they function quite differently depending on the political context. At this point in history, a strong case can be made that the most critical resistance strategy for disempowered groups is to occupy and defend a politics of social location rather than to vacate and destroy it.” From “Mapping the Margins,” Stanford Law Review, by Kimberlé Crenshaw, p. 1297.

Question: Does Critical Race Theory say that all white people are racist?

Answer: Yes.

More specifically, Critical Race Theory says that all white people are either racist or that they are complicit in a “system of racism” (so, racist) that they wittingly or unwittingly uphold to their own benefit unless they are “actively antiracist” (and usually even then). Those benefits of “whiteness” are labeled “white privilege” in general and are said to be outside of the scope of things that white people can intentionally renounce. The most they can do is “strive to be less white” and to become aware of and condemn “whiteness” as a system.

Examples:

“Wildman and Davis, for instance, contend that white supremacy is a system of oppression and privilege that all white people benefit from. Therefore, all white people “…are racist in this use of the term, because we benefit from systemic white privilege. Generally whites think of racism as voluntary, intentional conduct done by horrible others. Whites spend a lot of time trying to convince ourselves and each other that we are not racist. A big step would be for whites to admit that we are racist and then to consider what to do about it.”” From Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy, by Barbara Applebaum, p. 15.

“The relevant point for now is that all white people are racist or complicit by virtue of benefiting from privileges that are not something they can voluntarily renounce.” From Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy, by Barbara Applebaum, p. 16.

“The white complicity claim maintains that all whites are complicit in systemic racial injustice and this claim sometimes takes the form of “all whites are racist.” When white complicity takes the latter configuration what is implied is not that all whites are racially prejudiced but rather that all whites participate in and, often unwittingly, maintain the racist system of which they are part and from which they benefit.” From Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy, by Barbara Applebaum, p. 140.

“The white complicity claim maintains that all whites, by virtue of systemic white privilege that is inseparable from white ways of being, are implicated in the production and reproduction of systemic racial injustice.” From Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy, by Barbara Applebaum, p. 179.

“Here we find a claim about complicity that is addressed to all white people regardless of and despite their good intentions. What I refer to as “the white complicity claim” maintains that white people, through the practices of whiteness and by benefiting from white privilege, contribute to the maintenance of systemic racial injustice. However, the claim also implies responsibility in its assumption that the failure to acknowledge such complicity will thwart whites in their efforts to dismantle unjust racial systems and, more specifically, will contribute to the perpetuation of racial injustice.” From Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy, by Barbara Applebaum, p. 3.

“White privilege protects and supports white moral standing and this protective shield depends on there being an “abject other” that constitutes white as “good.” Whites, thus, benefit from white privilege in a very deep way. As Zeus Leonardo remarks, all whites are responsible for white dominance since their “very being depends on it.’” From Being White, Being Good: White Complicity, White Moral Responsibility, and Social Justice Pedagogy, by Barbara Applebaum, pp. 29–30.

“Many critical race theorists and social scientists alike hold that racism is pervasive, systemic, and deeply ingrained. If we take this perspective, then no white member of society seems quite so innocent.” From Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, first edition, pp. 79–80.

“…a positive white identity is an impossible goal. White identity is inherently racist; white people do not exist outside the system of white supremacy.” From White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo, p. 149.

Question: Is Critical Race Theory Marxist?

Answer: Yes and no.

It is accurate to say that Critical Race Theory is mostly Marxian but not specifically Marxist. It is more accurately adapted from neo-Marxism, which is in turn adapted from Marxism.

The main difference is that Marxism is concerned primarily with economic class and rejects racial categories in favor of workers’ solidarity. What this means is that Critical Race Theory operates like Marxism but using race instead of economic class as the line of “social stratification,” above which people are “privileged” or “oppressors” and below which people are “marginalized” or “oppressed.” This social order is assumed in Critical Race Theory as “the ordinary state of affairs” and analyzed in the same way Marx analyzed across class stratification. Namely, Marx’s “conflict theory” (a.k.a. “critical philosophy,” so Critical Theory of Race, i.e., Critical Race Theory) is the tool for analyzing society, which is assumed to be totally racialized (by white people).

For those who understand Marxism, where Marxism sees capitalism as a superstructure that organizes society and determines the outcomes of the privileged (bourgeoisie) and oppressed (proletariat) classes, Critical Race Theory sees “white supremacy” as a superstructure that organizes society and determines outcomes of the privileged (white) and oppressed (BIPOC) classes. From there, it is functionally identical except that it operates primarily in the realms of cultural production rather than in the realm of economic and material production.

Critical Race Theory is most accurately “critical constructivist,” which is to say a form of race-based neo-Marxism (Critical Theory) with some postmodernist (social constructivist) characteristics.

Examples:

“The critical-thinking tradition is concerned primarily with epistemic adequacy. To be critical is to show good judgment in recognizing when arguments are faulty, assertions lack evidence, truth claims appeal to unreliable sources, or concepts are sloppily crafted and applied. For critical thinkers, the problem is that people fail to “examine the assumptions, commitments, and logic of daily life… the basic problem is irrational, illogical, and unexamined living” (Burbules and Berk 1999, 46). In this tradition sloppy claims can be identified and fixed by learning to apply the tools of formal and informal logic correctly.

“Critical pedagogy begins from a different set of assumptions rooted in the neo-Marxian literature on critical theory commonly associated with the Frankfurt School. Here, the critical learner is someone who is empowered and motivated to seek justice and emancipation. Critical pedagogy regards the claims that students make in response to social-justice issues not as propositions to be assessed for their truth value, but as expressions of power that function to re-inscribe and perpetuate social inequalities. Its mission is to teach students ways of identifying and mapping how power shapes our understandings of the world. This is the first step toward resisting and transforming social injustices. By interrogating the politics of knowledge-production, this tradition also calls into question the uses of the accepted critical-thinking toolkit to determine epistemic adequacy.” From “Tracking Privilege-preserving Epistemic Pushback in Feminist and Critical Race Philosophy Classrooms,” Hypatia, by Alison Bailey, p. 881.

“Our analysis of social justice is based on a school of thought known as Critical Theory. Critical Theory refers to a body of scholarship that examines how society works, and is a tradition that emerged in the early part of the 20th century from a group of scholars at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Germany (because of this, this body of scholarship is sometimes also called “the Frankfurt School”). These theorists offered an examination and critique of society and engaged with questions about social change. Their work was guided by the belief that society should work toward the ideals of equality and social betterment.

“Many influential scholars worked at the Institute, and many other influential scholars came later but worked in the Frankfurt School tradition. You may recognize the names of some of these scholars, such as Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse. Their scholarship is important because it is part of a body of knowledge that builds on other social scientists’ work: Emile Durkheim’s research questioning the infallibility of the scientific method, Karl Marx’s analyses of capitalism and social stratification, and Max Weber’s analyses of capitalism and ideology. All of these strands of thought built on one another.” From Is Everyone Really Equal?, by Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo, second edition, p. 50.

“As the reader will see, critical race theory builds on the insights of two previous movements, critical legal studies and radical feminism, to both of which it owes a large debt. It also draws from certain European philosophers and theorists, such as Antonio Gramsci and Jacques Derrida, as well as from the American radical tradition exemplified by such figures as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Black Power and Chicano movements of the sixties and early seventies.” From Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, first edition, p. 4.

Question: Is Critical Race Theory an analytical tool for understanding race and racism?

Answer: No, not really (there’s a tiny sliver of yes here, in a misleading sense).

Critical Race Theory describes itself as a movement of activists and scholars. This is not exactly what one would expect from a mere “analytical tool.”

More accurately, Critical Race Theory is a worldview, not a means of analysis. Critical Race Theory begins from the underlying operating assumptions that race is constantly being imposed by a “white supremacist” society (“systemic racism”) and that racism is therefore the ordinary state of affairs in society. It believes further that racism is effectively impossible to eradicate within the existing “white supremacist” system and therefore that it has merely hidden itself better, when it seems to be diminished or less impactful. Critical Race Theory is the tool that allows the people who have awakened to a “Critical Consciousness of race” (i.e., Critical Race Theorists) to detect hidden racism in everything. This is a way of viewing the world, however, not a way of analyzing the world as it is.

Examples:

“Racism exists today, in both traditional and modern forms. All members of this society have been socialized to participate in it. All white people benefit from racism, regardless of intentions; intentions are irrelevant. No one here chose to be socialized into racism (so no one is “bad’). But no one is neutral – to not act against racism is to support racism. Racism must be continually identified, analyzed and challenged; no one is ever done. The question is not ”did racism take place”? but rather “how did racism manifest in that situation?” The racial status quo is comfortable for most whites. Therefore, anything that maintains white comfort is suspect. If you are white, practice sitting with and building your stamina for racial discomfort” -Robin DiAngelo (Link)

“The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up, but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious.” From Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, first edition, pp. 2–3.

“First, [most critical race theorists assume] that racism is ordinary, not aberrational—“normal science,” the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country. Second, most would agree that our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material. The first feature, ordinariness, means that racism is difficult to cure or address. Color-blind, or “formal,” conceptions of equality, expressed in rules that insist only on treatment that is the same across the board, can thus remedy only the most blatant forms of discrimination … The second feature, sometimes called “interest convergence” or material determinism, adds a further dimension. Because racism advances the interests of both white elites (materially) and working-class people (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it.” From Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, first edition, p. 7.

“Many critical race theorists and social scientists alike hold that racism is pervasive, systemic, and deeply ingrained. If we take this perspective, then no white member of society seems quite so innocent. The interplay of meanings that one attaches to race, the stereotypes one holds of other people, and the need to guard one’s own position all power- fully determine one’s perspective. Indeed, one aspect of whiteness, according to some, is its ability to seem perspectiveless, or transparent. Whites do not see themselves as having a race, but being, simply, people. They do not believe that they think and reason from a white viewpoint, but from a universally valid one—“the truth”—what everyone knows. By the same token, many whites will strenuously deny that they have benefited from white privilege.” From Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, first edition, pp. 79–80.

The post Five Ugly Truths About Critical Race Theory appeared first on New Discourses.

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