So much smoke and so many mirrors! The mainstream media and dumb politicians bark incessantly about “critical race theory” and never take a moment, not even a small moment, to define what it actually is. I mean, if they’re looking to help the citizenry, wouldn’t that help?
Well, maybe they don’t even know. Do you? Take a moment and, in a few sentences, define Critical Race Theory for yourself.
Yeah…I know. It’s tough to breathe amidst such smoke let alone think cogently or learn anything. Fact is, most of us haven’t much idea what CRT really is. So maybe it’s worth an article to explain it.
Most who read this already believe in it and the debate around it in the public sphere is useless because it’s artificial. When screaming parents confront school boards about their white kids feeling bad about CRT, any chance of intelligent conversation is lost. Their kids aren’t learning Critical Race Theory (which is almost never taught in primary school ) and where oh where does it say that good education should never make you feel uncomfortable? In fact, education is supposed to add to our perspective and knowledge and so it will almost always initially make us feel a bit uncomfortable because it reminds us how limited and ignorant we are.
Human development is based on discovering our limitations.
Anyway, let’s clarify and dispel myths.
First of all, Critical Race Theory is an approach to understanding and analyzing the laws and legal institutions of the United States. Can it go broader than that? Sure. It can be applied more broadly but the venerable Kimberly Crenshaw, probably as central to CRT creation as anyone else, is a legal scholar and the theory she practically founded is a legal theory. It has always been taught as a legal theory and, for the most part, it was taught in law schools.
Here’s the truth of it, though. It’s not that all these “race theories” flow from CRT; CRT is the application to the history of U.S. law of “all these race theories”. In Dr. Crenshaw’s work, it’s an outgrowth of “intersectionality” which is actually her more prominent contribution. But we’ll take that up another time; let’s just do CRT for the moment.
Critical Race Theory starts with a premise (which I’ve mentioned before…lots of times): the concept of “race” is not based on any biological or natural distinction among groups of people. It’s a social construct or what others call a “cultural invention”. In other words, it’s made up.
Using it, a very few people exploit a lot of other people who are oppressed as a result. We’ve seen this throughout the history of capitalist society. So, I think we probably all agree with that. Right? Okay…now, *the point*.
CRT says that, throughout U.S. history, this idea of race has perverted all the laws and the practices of legal institutions. Everything about our laws and institutions is crippled by their dependence on the idea of “race” and is, effectively, racist. To illustrate: the law views itself as “race neutral” but the very concept of “race neutral” ignores the centuries of oppression of people of color, most prominently black people, and the impact that has on our behavior, attitudes, culture of interaction and response to authority.
If you want justice, you cannot judge a black person in a criminal proceeding. You would have to take into consideration centuries of devastating oppression and its impact on this one person. No court under this system can do that. As currently structured, the law and its institutions are unable to weigh the entire experience of a person when a crime is committed. So “justice”, which would take all that into consideration, is illusory.
How can we remedy that in the current system? Yeah…that’s the whole point. You can’t. Although CRT advocates (myself included) believe that much reform and improvement is possible in this system and worth pursuing and fighting for and value the enormous progress that has been made, you’ll never get rid of racism in a capitalist society. In this way, CRT is transformative and transitional: it makes sense in our current world but is possible only in another world we create. The struggle encompassed in Critical Race Theory is, effectively, the struggle for a very different society.
Which — ah ha!!! — is the problem these people have with it. Though their biased, brain-drained minds may not understand a darn thing about the theory or even care to understand, their reaction to anything that questions their culture of supremacy is quick, automatic and violent.
When vile and violent parents at school board meetings lump together CRT with wearing masks to combat the spread of COVID as they scream at and physically threaten teachers and school board members, some of us stand back stunned. What in the world is the connection between those two things?
Well, no connection if you’re honestly taking about those issues. But for these folks, the connection has nothing to do with the issues or truth or background. It’s not about what CRT is or what masks really do. It’s about who is in control of this society. These people see the world as a threat to their supremacy, the battlefield of a war against white control of the country. It’s why they elected Trump and why white reactionaries have done what they have done for my entire life. They never change and, while the issues change, the real point never does.
The difficulty in publicly discussing Critical Race Theory is that the debate isn’t about that. Any challenge to the racist paradigm that has dominated our national culture since its inception is viewed as a threat, labelled CRT and aggressively attacked.
The way to combat this nonsense is to see its roots and combat it at that level: to make it clear that belief in the social construct of race is a trap filled with poison and that the response to it is pursuing revolutionary change in this society. The response to reactionary garbage is revolutionary truth and we should be presenting it with greater confidence and aggressiveness than the right’s.