It seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some rationalization to clothe their acts in the garments of righteousness. And so, with the growth of slavery, men had to convince themselves that a system which was so economically profitable was morally justifiable. The attempt to give moral sanction to a profitable system gave birth to the doctrine of white supremacy. (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here?, p. 76-77)
Just as the New Perspective on Paul (NPP) has—for all its potential faults, both real and imagined—reoriented modern New Testament scholarship away from shoehorning 1st century Jew/gentile conflicts into the interpretive paradigm of 16th century Catholic/Reformation conflicts, so I’d suggest a new perspective on Christian antiracism is needed to reorient modern antiracists away from shoehorning 17th to 21st century racial “conflicts” into the interpretive paradigm of 1st century Jew/Gentile conflicts. Though NPP scholars were seeking to rid New Testament hermeneutics of a much later distorting imposition, I’m suggesting many Christian antiracists are unintentionally doing the reverse, viz., distorting our understanding of modern racism by the imposition of very unlike circumstances recorded in the New Testament.
A discussion developed online the other day surrounding Neil Shenvi’s blog post, “Does ‘Systemic Racism’ Exist?” I don’t intend to directly address the piece as I don’t think it fruitfully interacts with the subject matter. But the discussion did point up the need for clarification on the history of the concept, its definition(s), and its current presence, or lack thereof, in Critical Race Theory (CRT) scholarship. I intend to be brief, but will be sharing many quotes.
Systemic “Race Prejudice” in Traditional Abolitionist and Civil Rights Discourse
To begin with, I think it’s clear that racism, or “race prejudice” as it was called prior to the 1940s, was understood to be intimately related to systems for as long as there have been abolitionists and civil rights activists. This is primarily because racism has always been understood by activists to be a symptom of social, political, and economic exploitation. Frederick Douglass spelled this out 140 years ago (1881):
As many folks continue to conflate Critical Race Theory (CRT)with Critical Theory (CT) proper, though they are quite different, I thought it might be helpful to gather some of my old writing on CT in one place to help distinguish.
Further, there may be some overall added benefit to understanding the “critical” in CRT, at least as it appears broadly in various traditions. As we’ve defined elsewhere, “CRT is, at bottom, the radical civil rights tradition critically transformed to address a post-Civil Rights legal era rooted in the liberal ideology of ‘color-blindness’ and ‘equal treatment,’ which have together preserved and legitimated the continuation of racially subordinated circumstances.” Given that CRT has inherited this “critical” edge from Critical Legal Studies (CLS), and CLS inherited it from Critical Theory proper, it might be helpful to better understand the latter in order to better understand the former, despite the many transformations the Critical has undergone.
My Lutheran brother Keith Haney was kind enough to invite me back on the show, and we had a great discussion on CRT. As before, he asks the questions and poses the objections that are in the forefront of many people’s minds regarding CRT, and I do my level best to answer!
In case you haven’t already seen it, I had the pleasure to return to Southside Rabbi along with CRT scholar Dr. Nathan Cartagena. In this episode, we each define CRT, discuss where our definitions differ on emphasis, together respond to the culture war on CRT and antiracism, and discuss the impact of colonialism on the Church. Also, are Kendi and DiAngelo CRT scholars? Such a good time!
Please have a listen and let me know what you think!
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is, at bottom, the radical civil rights tradition critically transformed to address a post-Civil Rights legal era rooted in the liberal ideology of “color-blindness” and “equal treatment,” which have together preserved and legitimated the continuation of racially subordinated circumstances.
Broadly speaking, two visions of civil rights law emerged out of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM). On the one hand, White progressives, along with the developing Black middle-class, centered their continued civil rights vision on the analytics of prejudice, discrimination, and segregation. That is, the social problem of racism was understood to be personal prejudice and bias due to irrationally allowing physical and ancestral difference to justify partiality; discrimination was thought to be the specific, individuatable, and intentional actions resulting from personal prejudice—in particular, allowing race to figure into decision-making; and, last, segregation was thought to be the social, legal, and political manifestation of prejudice and discrimination.
I hope no one missed this fantastic discussion with DeCruz on the Big Brown Army podcast! I particularly enjoyed the question and answer format, hitting several of the most popular questions/objections leveled at Critical Race Theory, and antiracism more broadly. Also, he didn’t misspell my name in the title!
Please listen, if you haven’t already, and let us know what you think!
I had the tremendous honor of joining Ameen and KB on the Southside Rabbi podcast! We discussed Critical Race Theory, Voddie Baucham’s book Fault Lines, racist policing, social doctrine and social responsibility, and so much more! It couldn’t have been more fun.
Please have a listen and let me know what you think!
Examples of systemic racism abound. Beginning in Colonial America, laws were passed explicitly to benefit the newly created category “white” at the expense of the newly created “negro and mulatto,” and such laws were carried on into the new republic. The ensuing Antebellum system of race-based chattel slavery is an obvious example of systemic or institutionalized racism—I would hope this is immediately clear. But we could go on from there to provide hundreds of examples from the abandonment of post-emancipation Reconstruction, to share cropping and penal slavery, Jim Crow laws, “ghettoizing” in the North, race-steering, redlining by the Federal Housing Administration, the racialized application of the GI Bill, the “legal” theft of land from Black farmers, the post-Civil Rights criminalization campaign, the “Southern Strategy,” the “Law and Order” movement, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, employment and wage discrimination, the ongoing retrenchment of civil rights legal reforms, and on and on and on. To find these examples simply requires us to care enough to look.
I had a fantastic discussion with Philip, Trevor, and Vincent over at The Substance podcast. We talked some truth about Critical Race Theory, the ongoing culture war, a little Voddie Baucham, and the many misrepresentations and characterizations of antiracism plaguing the Church.
I hope you will check it out and let us know what you think. So far we’ve heard a lot of great feedback!