What is Critical Race Theory?

Social Justice Usage of Critical Race Theory

Source: Delgado, Richard. Critical Race Theory, Third Edition. NYU Press. Kindle Edition, p. 3.

The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged 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, setting, group and self-interest, and emotions and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses 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.

Source: Thompson, Sherwood. Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition, p. 65.

Critical race theory (CRT) is a scholarly and political approach to examining race that leads to a consequential analysis and profound understanding of racism. It argues, as a starting point, that the axis of American social life is fundamentally constructed in race. As a result, the economic, political, and historical relationships and arrangements that social actors have to institutions and social processes are all race based. CRT also argues that, as a whole, this idea has been purposefully ignored, subdued, and marginalized in both the dominant and public discourse and that there are serious repercussions that arise from this structural blindness (Mills, 1997, p. 153)…. One of the important tenets of CRT is the assertion that race is socially constructed, yet it denotes explicitly and implicitly how power is used and appropriated in society.

For a more exhaustive explanation check out the New Discourses Social Justice Encyclopedia entry.

Critical Race Theory proceeds upon a number of dubious assumptions and by means of a variety of questionable methods, including:

  • Racism is ordinary: Critical Race Theory holds that “racism is the ordinary state of affairs in society,” thus the question in Critical Race Theory is not “did racism take place?” but “how did racism manifest in this situation?” Thus, racism is relevant to all interactions and everything else that happens according to Critical Race Theory, and it is everyone’s duty to investigate, expose, and “disrupt” this racism once identified.
  • Immanence of racism: As a corollary to the above, racism is believed to be immanent in society, which means hidden just below the surface and everywhere, always, according to Critical Race Theory. Therefore, all acts of racism are not to be understood as isolated incidents by individuals or institutions but as specific manifestations of a pervasive system that defines society. (This is why justice is not achieved by finding a police officer guilty; the system must be remade instead.)
  • Interest convergence: Critical Race Theory holds that dominant racial groups (whites) will not help more oppressed racial groups (blacks, in particular) unless it is also in their own self-interest to do so. Therefore, racism does not go away but is just reproduced in new ways, usually ways that hide it more successfully and require more work to identify in the future (through Critical Race Theory). Therefore, racism doesn’t get better and, in a sense, gets worse over time because it gets harder to identify and call out.
  • Motivated ignorance: Dominant racial groups (whites) are positioned as benefiting from the system of racism Critical Race Theory assumes pervades everything and therefore have little to no motivation to challenge or change it. Instead, they have motivation to intentionally ignore racism (“willful ignorance”) , to maintain it, and to rationalize it as justified (say, by claiming success is the result of merit). Refusal to “interrogate” one’s own “white complicity” in the racist system is often treated as a character flaw (e.g., “white fragility”) and a feature of white privilege. This trait, together with the above, gives racism a permanence, according to Critical Race Theory.
  • Structural determinism: Critical Race Theory holds that the systems of oppression in society determine one’s outcomes in life. Therefore, people of color (especially blacks) are positioned by the allegedly white supremacist system to be kept down, and it is the deterministic power of those power structures (rather than individual traits like character or merit) that determine success or failure in life.
  • Authentic racial experiences (engaging positionality): Critical Race Theory holds that systemic racism creates identifiable racial experiences for members of all racial groups. Further, Critical Race Theory is the only social theory in existence that properly understands how one’s racial social position with respect to these power dynamics can be rightly understood. Therefore, members of each racial category have an authentic racial experience as determined by Critical Race Theory that describes their lived experience within an allegedly white supremacist and systemically racist system that is, especially, “anti-Black.” When these perspectives are put forth by a member of the relevant racial category, they cannot be questioned. When a contradictory perspective is put forth by a member of the relevant racial category, that person is said to have some form of false consciousness, such as “internalized racism” or a cynical desire to “act white” for personal gain.
  • Unique voice of color: Corollary to the above, Critical Race Theory holds that critically conscious (Woke / Critical Race Theorist) members of minority racial groups possess a unique voice of color that speaks to the lived experience of systemic oppression by race, as Critical Race Theory defines it. This is another tool for asserting that Critical Race Theorists cannot be doubted in their declarations of their experience “as a” member of a particular race.
  • Identity politics: Critical Race Theory is unabashedly involved in identity politics in the sense of creating special interest groups and political coalitions out of racial identity groups. This tends to take the form of a small number of Critical Race Theory activists speaking for certain racial “communities,” using the points above as justification.
  • Impact over intent: Critical Race Theory holds that if a (critically conscious) member of a minoritized racial group has experienced racism in some word or deed, then that’s the correct explanation for what happened, and it cannot be questioned. This empowers hypersensitivity and a victimhood-seeking frame.
  • Anti-liberalism: As can be read in the quotes at the top of the page, Critical Race Theory holds that the philosophy of liberalism is, in fact, a racist system because it creates conditions under which existing inequities (inequalities in outcomes) increase while misleading people to believe that things are more fair than they are.
  • Narrative and counterstorytelling: Critical Race Theory favors the telling of stories, especially stories that challenge prevailing wisdom or reject established knowledge (usually resting in lived experience and/or statistical exceptions and outliers) as a means of challenging and rejecting facts in favor of politically useful statements and beliefs. Narrative is considered superior to careful, rigorous methodologies, which are believed to have been established from within the “white racial frame,” for example, and that therefore uphold white supremacy, either intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Revisionist history: Critical Race Theorists believe it is their obligation to rewrite history to tell it from the perspective of Critical Race Theory (even if factually inaccurate—because of the reliance on narratives and counterstories) rather than fact-based or official history, which is deemed to have been written from within the “white racial frame,” which is believed to uphold systemic racism and white supremacy. This is the role of the 1619 Project.
  • Intersectionality: All forms of oppression by all forms of identity are linked into one broad, pervasive “Matrix of Domination,” thus necessitating solidarity across all forms of oppression.

New Discourses Resources

  • Critical Race Theory (Translations from the Wokish encyclopedia entry)
  • Whiteness Studies (Translations from the Wokish encyclopedia entry)
  • A Principled Statement of Opposition to Critical Race Theory: An Excerpt from Cynical Theories (Link).
  • Eight Big Reasons Critical Race Theory is Terrible for Dealing with Racism (Link)
  • Do Better than Critical Race Theory (Link)
  • The Influence of Anti-racist Scholarship-activism on Evergreen State College (Link)
  • Teaching to Transgress: Rage and Entitlement at Evergreen College (Link)
  • The Problem with White Fragility (Link)
  • The Flaws in White Fragility Theory: A Primer (Link)
  • The Intellectual Fraud of Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” (Link)
  • 5 Reasons the Book “White Fragility” Is Shallow and Destructive (Link)
  • White Silence is NOT Violence (Link)
  • Liberal Reflections from the National Archives: Hope, Pride, and Two American Tales (Link)
  • James Lindsay: The Truth about Critical Methods (Link)
  • Should Universities Teach Conspiracy Theories as Knowledge (Link)
  • An Open Letter to Robin DiAngelo about “Anti-racism” (Link)
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