Is Critical Race Theory Racist?

John Carlos and Tommie Smith

Is Critical Race Theory (CRT) itself racist?

I’ve heard this about CRT often lately. But quite clearly, visibly, and overtly, CRT scholars reject the “myth of inferior peoples” (Dr. King’s description of racism); that is, CRT rejects the claim that races can relate as superior or inferior, whether according to body, mind, morals, culture, or behaviors, and therefore even current social and economic maldistributions are not primarily attributable to supposed racial difference. According to CRT founders Mari Matsuda, Charles Lawrence, Richard Delgado, and Kimberlé Crenshaw,

as critical race theorists we adopt a stance that presumes that racism has contributed to all contemporary manifestations of group advantage and disadvantage along racial lines, including differences in income, imprisonment, health, housing, education, political representation, and military service. Our history calls for this presumption. (Words That Wound, p. 2)

And, according to CRT scholars, every group is capable of sharing in and participating in this racism, though certainly not in the same way or to the same degree:

Americans share a common historical and cultural heritage in which racism has played and still plays a dominant role. Because of this shared experience, we also inevitably share many ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that attach significance to an individual’s race and induce negative feelings and opinions about nonwhites. To the extent that this cultural belief system has influenced all of us, we are all racists. At the same time, most of us are unaware of our racism. We do not recognize the ways in which our cultural experience has influenced our beliefs about race or the occasions on which those beliefs affect our actions. (Charles Lawrence III, “The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection,” p. 322)

Alternatively, what I think is meant when critics level the charge of racism against CRT is that it is race-conscious, which, unfortunately, has become nearly synonymous with racism ever since the White tide turned against the grass-roots popularity of the Black Power! and Black nationalist movements of the late 1960s. “Seeing race,” or, more importantly, “allowing race to count” for anything, has itself become the hallmark of racist violation in our modern era.

But this was manifestly not the case prior to the close of the civil rights era. Seeing race, allowing race to count for something, even decision-making based on race was always understood to be a necessary part of the diagnosis of the problem, as well as central to its remedy; for, according to Dr. King,

The dilemma of white America is the source and cause of the dilemma of Negro America. Just as the ambivalence of white Americans grows out of their oppressor status, the predicament of Negro Americans grows out of their oppressed status. (p. 109)

And nearly 140 years ago, Frederick Douglass understood that the solution was not to pretend that there is no “color line,” to minimize color, or to make it invisible, but to change society to the point that the color line carried no social weight, rendering it “harmless” to black Americans, by changing the subordinated circumstances of Black Americans. Douglass spoke the following to “The Convention of Colored Men” in 1883, responding to a “reverse racism” claim of his own day; it is worth an extended reading:

We are asked not only why hold a convention, but, with emphasis, why hold a colored convention? Why keep up this odious distinction between citizens of a common country and thus give countenance to the color line? It is argued that, if colored men hold conventions, based upon color, white men may hold white conventions based upon color, and thus keep open the chasm between one and the other class of citizens, and keep alive a prejudice which we profess to deplore. We state the argument against us fairly and forcibly, and will answer it candidly and we hope conclusively. By that answer it will be seen that the force of the objection is, after all, more in sound than in substance. No reasonable man will ever object to white men holding conventions in their own interests, when they are once in our condition and we in theirs, when they are the oppressed and we the oppressors. In point of fact, however, white men are already in convention against us in various ways and at many important points. The practical construction of American life is a convention against us. …

[I]n all the relations of life and death we are met by the color line. We cannot ignore it if we would, and ought not if we could. It hunts us at midnight, it denies us accommodation in hotels and justice in the courts; excludes our children from schools, refuses our sons the chance to learn trades, and compels us to pursue only such labor as will bring the least reward. While we recognize the color line as a hurtful force, a mountain barrier to our progress, wounding our bleeding feet with its flinty rocks at every step, we do not despair. We are a hopeful people. This convention is a proof of our faith in you, in reason, in truth and justice—our belief that prejudice, with all its malign accompaniments, may yet be removed by peaceful means; that, assisted by time and events and the growing enlightenment of both races, the color line will ultimately become harmless. When this shall come it will then only be used, as it should be, to distinguish one variety of the human family from another. It will cease to have any civil, political, or moral significance, and colored conventions will then be dispensed with as anachronisms, wholly out of place, but not till then. … When we consider how deep-seated this feeling against us is; the long centuries it has been forming; the forces of avarice which have been marshaled to sustain it; how the language and literature of the country have been pervaded with it; how the church, the press, the play-house, and other influences of the country have been arrayed in its support, the progress toward its extinction must be considered vast and wonderful.

… But until this nation shall make its practice accord with its Constitution and its righteous laws, it will not do to reproach the colored people of this country with keeping up the color line—for that people would prove themselves scarcely worthy of even theoretical freedom, to say nothing of practical freedom, if they settled down in silent, servile and cowardly submission to their wrongs, from fear of making their color visible. (“Address to the People of the United States,” 1883, pp. 672-673, 674-675)

Even Lyndon B. Johnson, at the height of the civil rights movement, spoke the following:

You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.

You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “you are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.

Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.

This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result. (“To Fulfill These Rights”)

That is, the goal of the civil rights movement was not just to destroy legal segregation, bring about more racial “mixing,” and to eliminate race-consciousness; it was, rather, to substantively address the subordinated circumstances of a long exploited and marginalized people-group.

The White “Race Relations” Discourse: Liberal Integrationism

But a shift had occurred in the predominantly White mainstream civil rights discourse of the late 60s and 70s. CRT scholar Gary Peller details the rise of this ideology in his 1990 “Race Consciousness,” dubbing it “liberal integrationism.” He explains:

[I]ntegrationism should be understood to comprise a set of attitudes and beliefs for perceiving the meaning of racist domination and for identifying the goals of racial justice. The concepts of prejudice, discrimination, and segregation are the key structural elements of this ideology. Each idea embodies a different manifestation of what is seen as the central aspect of racism—the distortion of reason through the prism of myth and ignorance. (p. 767)


Racism, according to liberal integrationism, is seated in consciousness. It consists primarily of according any weight or significance to the “arbitrary fact of skin color,” contrary to universal reason.

The mental side of racism is accordingly represented as either “prejudice”—the prejudging of a person according to mythological stereotypes—or “bias”—the process of being influenced by subjective factors. (p. 767)

The problem, at root, is a matter of knowledge and enlightenment. The problem with Southern segregationists, on this account, is that they were backward hicks who held irrational and unjustifiable beliefs about Black people. They assumed there were important characteristics connected with color—like laziness, dullness, and hyper-sexuality vs. industriousness, intelligence, and moral piety.

The cure, therefore, is knowledge. One must clear away this backward, archaic way of thinking and recognize the falsehood of these stereotypes. In fact, according to integrationism, one must see no significance in “race” whatsoever; it’s best not to notice it at all—if you’re going to be enlightened, that is.


Prejudice translates into social action as “discrimination”; that is, allowing race to count in social action, decision making, policy, etc. It is, according to integrationism, racist to allow race to enter into social calculations. If one has overcome prejudice, one will not allow himself to make decisions based on race, for race is only skin deep and makes no actual difference in any sense to the enlightened. Therefore, the solution to discrimination is to make race neutral-decisions and create race-neutral decision procedures and policies. This, for most integrationists is perfectly possible, for “integrationists assumed that fair, impersonal criteria simply would be what remained once the distortion of race consciousness was removed” (p. 799). That is, once consciousness of race is removed from interpersonal and social decision making, neutral categories were already present, intact, and ready to be applied, including assessment of individual “merit,” objective “value,” and neutral “standards.” These latter guaranteed equal treatment would be achieved so long as prejudice and race-consciousness were removed from the social calculus; that is, so long as people were treated as individuals rather than racial group members.


Segregation is, of course, the institutionalization of prejudice and discrimination. Paradigmatic examples of de jure segregation include South African apartheid and the Jim Crow South. These represent institutionalized prejudice in the form of White supremacy. Simply enough, the solution is integration. Integration at the level of consciousness means overcoming “bias” and sweeping away mythologies and stereotypes and seeing that there is no difference at all between “races.” At the level of discrimination, it means treating everyone as an individual, as un-raced, as equal, “according to neutral norms.” At the institutional level, integration means what the segregationists called “race mixing”; that is, the dismantling of “the social system of racial segregation” (p. 769).

In sum, the cure for racism would be equal treatment on an individual level and integration on an institutional level. In any event, integrationists believed the two would go hand in hand. Once neutrality replaced discrimination, equal opportunity would lead to integrated institutions; experience in integrated institutions would, in turn, replace the ignorance of racism with the knowledge that actual contact provides. (p. 770)

Thus, the social problem of racial domination is understood to stem from ignorant prejudices and “bias,” leading to irrational “discrimination” and partiality, institutionally manifested in segregation. In order to address the social problem of racial domination, according to the integrationist ideology, one must overcome prejudice through knowledge, overcome discrimination through “neutrality,” and overcome segregation through integration. This ideology contains a theoretical and practical framework to not only diagnose the social ill, but also to address it.

But—and this is immensely in important for social theory in general—like every other ideology, the ideology of liberal integrationism was not found in the pages of the Bible, the imprint of nature, conscience, common sense, or what have you, but was forged in the furnace of history. It needn’t have been so; there were other analytics available, much more traditional analytics, in fact. No, the ideology of liberal integrationism, which had become the standard view of proper “race relations” in America by the mid 1970’s, was an historically contingent product of two powerful convergences: (1) the mainstream absorption of the civil rights discourse into the prevailing ideology of White liberalism and (2) an unstated compromise between White progressives and the Black elites to reject the discourses of “Black Power” and Black nationalism.

Integrationism: Absorption of the CRM Discourse into Liberalism

In the first place, progressive White Americans were able to absorb the message of the civil rights movement into their existing ideals of liberalism, casting it as part of a broader social movement from particularism to universalism. Racism, according to this analysis, is just a specie of the general mythological, backward, and irrational emphasis on the particularities of humanity, as opposed to the more enlightened, universal understanding of humanity, human nature, and the attendant ideals of transnational/transhistorical normative social relations.

Liberals take social justice to mean the right of individuals to be treated neutrally and objectively when subject to collective power (through law or any other state act). The liberal conception of justice is one of transcending bias and prejudice in the name of rationality—one of neutral and “equal rights.” The regulative ideal is to achieve neutrality in order to guarantee individual liberty. (Peller, “History, Identity, and Alienation,” p. 1483)

Consequently, the civil rights movement was folded into the general liberal ideal of raceless, and thereby universal, individualism as the goal of social progress.

[T]he vision underlying integrationist ideology is of American culture working itself pure by overcoming the distortions of various kinds of prejudice in favor of the increasing rationalization of institutional forms, which in turn provides greater individual liberty to choose, free of coercive social power. Freedom from racial discrimination is but one instance of the historical move from status to contract, from caste to individual liberty. (“Race Consciousness,” p. 774)

“Racial integration” then becomes “one part of a web of meaning that constitutes the dominant ideology of the nature of social progress itself.”

The meaning of race has been grafted onto other central cultural images of progress, so that the transition from segregation to integration and from race consciousness to race neutrality mirrors movements from myth to enlightenment, from ignorance to knowledge, from superstition to reason, from the primitive to the civilized, from religion to secularism, and, most importantly, the historical self-understanding of liberal society as representing the movement from status to individual liberty. In other words, integrationist ideology comprehends the issue of racial domination by viewing race relations through stock images about the nature of progress in liberal society….

Thus, the radical message of the civil rights movement was successfully absorbed into the broader liberal ideology already present within White Americans’ social tool kit. And not only was this radical edge lost, but the stage was early set to substitute the ideals of neutrality, formal equality, and color-blindness for the ideals of genuine substantive change in the subordinated circumstances of people of color in America.

Integrationism: The Compromise to Reject Black Nationalism

Next, the ideology of integrationism was a compromise between White liberals and the newly enfranchised Black elites to reject both White supremacy and Black nationalism as two sides of a single bigoted coin. There had, of course, been a long tradition of Black nationalism among abolitionists and civil rights activists, going back more than 100 years. But most all of these movements seemed to coalesce, for a time, in the peaceful, though confrontational, direct action movements led by Dr. King. As Peller notes,

At one time, the idea of racial integration represented a powerful, spiritually-rooted social resistance movement that threatened to destabilize the status quo of American institutional life in profound ways. Under the banner of integrationism, hundreds of thousands of people mobilized to challenge the political, economic, and cultural power relations in cities and towns across the country, employing tactics that included mass protest, economic boycotts, civil disobedience, sit-ins, and strikes. (p. 767)

By the late 1960’s, however, this alliance had thoroughly fractured, and Black nationalism and Black Power soon became the dominant movements among the Black masses.

The Ideology of Black Power and Black Nationalism

Though legal integration had become the norm throughout the South and the federal government had imposed civil rights reforms throughout the nation, the majority of African Americans saw little change in living circumstances. Even more, they had begun to see their own institutions being destroyed, their talent and leadership absorbed by the White community, and were witnessing, according to Robert S. Browne, “a sort of painless genocide.” Stokely Carmichael—who originally popularized the slogan, “Black Power!”—and Charles Hamilton captured these popular sentiments well in their 1967 book, Black Power : The Politics of Liberation:

“Integration” as a goal today speaks to the problem of blackness not only in an unrealistic way but also in a despicable way. It is based on complete acceptance of the fact that in order to have a decent house or education, black people must move into a white neighborhood or send their children to a white school. This reinforces, among both black and white, the idea that “white” is automatically superior and “black” is by definition inferior. For this reason, “integration” is a subterfuge for the maintenance of white supremacy. It allows the nation to focus on a handful of Southern black children who get into white schools at a great price, and to ignore the ninety-four percent who are left in unimproved all-black schools. Such situations will not change until black people become equal in a way that means something, and integration ceases to be a one-way street. Then integration does not mean draining skills and energies from the black ghetto into white neighborhoods. To sprinkle black children among white pupils in outlying schools is at best a stop-gap measure. The goal is not to take black children out of the black community and expose them to white middle-class values; the goal is to build and strengthen the black community.

“Integration” also means that black people must give up their identity, deny their heritage. We recall the conclusion of Killian and Grigg: “At the present time, integration as a solution to the race problem demands that the Negro foreswear his identity as a Negro.” The fact is that integration, as traditionally articulated, would abolish the black community. The fact is that what must be abolished is not the black community, but the dependent colonial status that has been inflicted upon it. (pp. 54-55)

Hence, Black nationalists, drawing on the works of Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Oliver Cox, Malcolm X, Frantz Fanaon, and many others, offered a different approach to “race relations.” As, we have seen, integrationism came to analyze racial domination in terms of prejudice, discrimination, and segregation; Black nationalists, alternatively, had come to see racial domination in terms of “power, subordination, and colonialism” (“Race Consciousness,” p. 829).


According to Black nationalists, an extreme power differential between two communities was at the heart of racial domination. Their analysis began with race-consciousness, the recognition that there are somewhat stable entities that we can call the Black community and the White community. Black nationalists did not come to this conclusion based upon any racial biology or the like, but rather by contextualizing present circumstances within the actual history of American society, economics, and politics.

[N]ationalists articulated what might be seen as an “historicized” view of social relations. In opposition to the universal vantage point used by integrationists to identify bias and prejudice, nationalists presented the time-bound, messy, and inherently particular social relations between nations as the central ground from which to perceive race. In opposition to the essentializing of race engaged in by white supremacists, nationalists located the meaning of race in history, in the social structures that people—rather than God or some objectified nature—have created. (“Race Consciousness,” p. 794)

Thus, nationalists saw the particularism of racial difference, and the particularity of racism itself, as historically rooted realities that could not simply be ignored or absorbed into broader neutral categories. The problem of racial domination was not, contrary to integrationism, some general lack of liberalism, viz., too much ignorance, irrationality, and inability to “progress.” If anything, by the 1960’s, it was too much liberalism and integration. And the solution, in short, was Black Power!


Just as White men had enslaved African peoples, separated them from the rest of humanity, obliterated their disparate heritages, erased their family names, enshrined their social status into law, beat, lynched, and raped their wives, mothers, and daughters—all with the intention to exploit them for personal gain and psychological superiority—so the White power structure continued to dominate and subordinate African people-groups in America. There was simple continuity. The “race problem” in America was not primarily a matter of consciousness, psychological and internal, but rather material and external.

In contrast to the integrationist image of discrimination as the social practice of racism, the nationalist image was subordination, the hierarchy of the white community over the black community. (p. 808)

Accordingly, Carmichael and Hamilton defined “racism” as “the predication of decisions and policies on considerations of race for the purpose of subordinating a racial group and maintaining control over that group” (Black Power, p. 3).

The solution, then, is to break the White power structure, liberate Black people and Black communities from White control, and to allow Black people to control their own social institutions, determining their own fate in America. The solution was not to let the dominant White community absorb the subordinate Black community—destroying the latter’s identity, institutions, and culture—but rather to build a table of equal power brokers, wherein African Americans could explicitly and unapologetically control and effect the interests of Black lives.

The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity—Black Power—is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people. (Carmichael and Hamilton, Black Power, p. 47)

This, of course, directly contradicted the vision of integrationism, which presumed the objective, neutral, “race”-less character of “integrated” White institutions.


Finally, the predominate metaphor of Black nationalism was colonialism. Black Americans, according to nationalists, were functionally a conquered, dominated, and subordinated nation within a nation. Thus, American society was not seen as an un-raced set of neutral laws, institutions, and people-groups into which Black Americans could be integrated without loss; rather, the predominating culture, society, and institutions in America constituted an imperial White nation who had committed countless crimes against a colony within, the Black nation. Again, the solution was not to let the dominant nation absorb the subordinate nation, but rather to transfer power from the oppressor nation to the oppressed nation within. Thus, a reparation model, a transfer of power and resources from one nation to another, for past and continued crimes and injustices, was the properly “historicized” means to a peaceful and civil society for both Black and White Americans.

The Black Nationalist Critique of Liberalism

An important part of this nationalist critique of integrationism was its rejection of the liberal assumptions which had undergirded the ideology. Nationalist sociologists rejected integrationists’ supposition that “neutral” practices and policies were replacing “discriminatory” practices and policies. This included broad critiques of the categories “knowledge,” “merit,” “qualification,” and, of course, the concept of “neutrality” itself. For nationalist sociologists,

[t]here could be no neutral theory of knowledge—knowledge was itself a function of the ability of the powerful to impose their own views, to differentiate between knowledge and myth, reason and emotion, and objectivity and subjectivity. In the historicizing perspective of black nationalists, knowledge was necessarily a social construct. Understanding what society deemed worthy of calling “knowledge” depends on a prior inquiry into a social situation. …


[T]he nationalist approach challenged the objectivity of the category of merit by viewing it in terms of the particular social practices by which whites historically distributed social goods. … The concepts of merit and qualifications have a function only in relation to existing social practices; black nationalists insisted that the existing social practices should not be taken as the standard since those practices were created by a culture that considered it normal to exclude blacks—that is, a culture itself in need of transformation. …

In short, the nationalist approach emphasized and criticized the self-justifying character of meritocratic assumptions about qualifications. Once we consider the possibility that existing social practices might reflect the domination of particular racial groups, those practices can no longer provide a neutral ground from which to defend existing definitions of either qualifications or merit as functionally correlated with necessary social roles. (“Race Consciousness,” pp. 806 – 87)

Like the ideology of integrationism, Black nationalism also presented a complete ideology—complete with both diagnosis, remedy, and challenging philosophical underpinnings.

The Convergence Against Race-Consciousness

It was this nationalist movement which ultimately led to the convergence of White liberals and elite Black Americans around the modern ideology of integrationism. Black Power and Black nationalism struck at the very liberal foundations of White social and political liberal ideology.

The integrationists saw two problems with Black Power. First, the concept assumed that power should be distributed on a racial basis, thereby assuming that American society should be thought of in terms of separate white and black communities. Black Power thus violated both the integrationist principle to transcend race consciousness at the ideological level and the integrationist program to end the segregation of whites and blacks at the institutional and community level.

Second, the Black Power concept troubled integrationists because it assumed that power determined the distribution of social resources and opportunities, rather than reason or merit. It was not simply the theory of Black Power that engendered the charged reaction, but rather the resistance to the reigning liberal idea of progress through reasoned discussion and deliberation that the Black Power movement, for a time, embodied. The clenched fist of the Black Power salute and the militaristic affectation of many black nationalist groups were the overt physical manifestations of this dimension of the movement. (pp. 789 – 790)

Further, Black Power and Black nationalism also threatened the progress enjoyed, nearly exclusively, by the Black middle-class. It was seen by many as a destabilizing force, threating to undo the successful integrationist litigation programs, predicated on Brown v. Board Education and the more recent civil rights acts, especially from the perspective of the NAACP and LDF. As a result, both Black and White power brokers in America condemned Black Power as a “racist philosophy” and nationalists as “black neo-segregationists,” “advocates of apartheid,” and the like. “In fact; the virulent and extreme denunciation of Black Power symbolized the unity of what would quickly become the new center of American consciousness about race” (Peller, p. 789); that is, of course, the ideology of liberal integrationism.

And the historical upshot has been, and continues to be, “that the price of the national commitment to suppress white supremacists would be the rejection of race consciousness among African Americans” (p. 760). Once the ideology of liberal integrationism had been widely adopted, both Black nationalists and White supremacists could together be rejected as backward, prejudiced, unenlightened, anti-liberal enemies of racial progress in America—and, more realistically, enemies of the presumed “race-neutral” status quo. Rather than racial subordination or unequal distribution of power and resources, “color-consciousness” itself became the hallmark of racist violation, whether “perpetrated” by White or Black Americans.


So, is Critical Race Theory itself racist? Absolutely not. But it is color-conscious.

CRT understands racism as did the abolitionist and civil rights tradition—as the creation, subordination, and exploitation of racial-groups, specifically including the attendant ideological justification of racial inferiority. According to Dr. King,

Racism is a faith. It is a form of idolatry… In its early modern beginnings, racism was a justificatory device. It did not emerge as a faith. It arose as an ideological justification for the constellations of political and economic power which were expressed in colonialism and slavery. But gradually the idea of the superior race was heightened and deepened in meaning and value so that it pointed beyond the historical structures of relation, in which it emerged, to human existence itself.” (Where Do We Go From Here?, p. 73)

Accordingly, as mentioned at the opening, racism is at bottom “the myth of inferior peoples” (p. 75).

Frederick Douglass spelled this all out brilliantly in his 1881 article, “The Color Line”:

During all the years of their bondage, the slave master had a direct interest in discrediting the personality of those he held as property. Every man who had a thousand dollars so invested had a thousand reasons for painting the black man as fit only for slavery. Having made him the companion of horses and mules, he naturally sought to justify himself by assuming that the Negro was not much better than a mule. The holders of twenty hundred million dollars’ worth of property in human chattels procured the means of influencing press, pulpit, and politician, and through these instrumentalities they belittled our virtues and magnified our vices, and have made us odious in the eyes of the world. … Out of the depths of slavery has come this prejudice and this color line. It is broad enough and black enough to explain all the malign influences which assail the newly emancipated millions to-day. (Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, p. 652)

We see much the same succinctly stated by W.E.B Du Bois in 1940:

I think it was in Africa that I came more clearly to see the close connection between race and wealth. The fact that even in the minds of the most dogmatic supporters of race theories and believers in the inferiority of colored folk to white, there was a conscious or unconscious determination to increase their incomes by taking full advantage of this belief. And then gradually this thought was metamorphosed into a realization that the income-bearing value of race prejudice was the cause and not the result of theories of race inferiority; that particularly in the United States the income of the Cotton Kingdom based on black slavery caused the passionate belief in Negro inferiority and the determination to enforce it even by arms. (Dusk of Dawn, p. 65)

Economist and sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox likewise wrote in his magisterial, Caste, Class, and Race (1948), that,

If we had to put our finger upon the year which marked the beginning of modern race relations we should select 1493-94. This is the time when total disregard for the human rights and physical power of the non-Christian peoples of the world, the colored peoples, was officially assumed by the first two great colonizing European nations. Pope Alexander bull of demarcation issued under Spanish pressure on May 3, 1493, and its revision by the Treaty of Tordesillas (June 7, 1494), arrived at through diplomatic negotiations between Spain and Portugal, put all the heathen peoples and their resources—that is to say, especially the colored peoples of the world—at the disposal of Spain and Portugal.

This, then, is the beginning of modern race relations. It was not an abstract, natural, immemorial feeling of mutual antipathy between groups, but rather a practical exploitative relationship with its socio-attitudinal facilitation—at that time only nascent race prejudice. (Loc. 8548)

And, therefore, even Dr. King, who fiercely advocated for integration, parting with Black nationalists on this point of stratagem, nevertheless implicitly rejected the analytics of White liberal integrationism.

It is inaccurate to refer to Black Power as racism in reverse, as some have recently done. Racism is a doctrine of the congenital inferiority and worthlessness of a people. (Where Do We Go From Here?, p. 49)

Indeed, one of the great problems that the Negro confronts is his lack of power. From the old plantations of the South to the newer ghettos of the North, the Negro has been confined to a life of voicelessness and powerlessness. Stripped of the right to make decisions concerning his life and destiny, he has been subject to the authoritarian and sometimes whimsical decisions of the white power structure. The plantation and the ghetto were created by those who had power both to confine those who had no power and to perpetuate their powerlessness. The problem of transforming the ghetto is, therefore, a problem of power—a confrontation between the forces of power demanding change and the forces of power dedicated to preserving the status quo. … Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political or economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice. … There is nothing essentially wrong with power. The problem is that in America power is unequally distributed. (p. 37)

Therefore, for Dr. King, justice does not collapse into mere color-blind “equal” treatment:

The white liberal must affirm that absolute justice for the Negro simply means, in the Aristotelian sense, that the Negro must have “his due.” There is nothing abstract about this. It is as concrete as having a good job, a good education, a decent house and a share of power. It is, however, important to understand that giving a man his due may often mean giving him special treatment. I am aware of the fact that this has been a troublesome concept for many liberals, since it conflicts with their traditional ideal of equal opportunity and equal treatment of people according to their individual merits. But this is a day which demands new thinking and the reevaluation of old concepts. A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for him, in order to equip him to compete on a just and equal basis. (p. 95)

Hence, it is impossible to pigeonhole the problem of racism into the White liberal analytic of prejudice, discrimination, and integration, for it is fundamentally a problem of power, subordination, and colonization—even if not expressed in exactly the same terms as traditional Black nationalism. White Americans simply need to come to grips with the historical novelty of equating race-consciousness with racism; a novelty which has served to perpetuate racial subordination well into the 21st century; and a novelty which is used hundreds of times a day by CRT critics to silence righteous calls for relief and remedy.

4 thoughts on “Is Critical Race Theory Racist?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s