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!
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 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!
I had a great conversation with Keith Haney on his Becoming Bridge Builders podcast! We discussed Critical Race Theory, what it is and is not, whether it is “Marxist,” how it differs from popular conceptions, and how we can engage against the perennial public distortions of culture warriors. Please have a listen and let us know what you think!
I had the great pleasure of discussing Critical Race Theory, its historical development, our current period of racial retrenchment, the ongoing anti-CRT “culture war,” and much more with Jen Kinney over at the Story Power Podcast!
Please have a listen and let us know what you think!
In the section titled “Thought Line” of Voddie Baucham’s new book, Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism’s Looming Catastrophe, Baucham attempts to identify and define his enemy: Critical Social Justice (I think). He correctly recognizes that failing to do this accurately will allow his critics to accuse him of “creating a straw man and labeling everything [he] disagree[s] with or that makes [him] uncomfortable as CRT” and “making things up, taking them out of context” (pp. XIV – XV). And in a much later chapter, he states that a common “white” response to his arguments is, “You just haven’t done your homework … , so you don’t know any better” (pp. 82 – 82). Well, I’m here to level all of these charges, though I would never claim that he doesn’t know any better. And I intend to level these charges based specifically on this section, “Thought Line,” which he claims sets the target and identifies “the subject of this book” (p. XI).
To keep it all relatively brief, I will simply quote claims made by Baucham and then list responses below.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is, at bottom, the radical abolitionist and Civil Rights tradition critically transformed to address a post-Civil Rights legal era rooted in the liberal ideology of “color-blindness” and “equal opportunity,” which have together preserved and legitimated the continuation of racially subordinated circumstances.
1. Racial Reform and Retrenchment: Why?
Just over twenty years following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Acts, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the stated goals of these historic legislative packages seemed further and further out of reach. The measurable disparity between Black and White Americans in wealth, income, education, home-ownership, and nearly every other social and economic category had not only proven persistent, but many hard-fought gains appeared to be in retrenchment. Further, with the rise of the “New Right” to national power and prominence in the 1980s, the civil rights philosophy of the majority of Americans had become clear: the work was complete, discrimination was illegal, and equality had been achieved through Brown v Board of Education and the subsequent national Civil Rights Acts. For the legislature and courts to intervene any further, it was commonly presumed, would cause more harm than would the very few remaining vestiges of racism. In fact, whatever racial inequality that remained in the 1980s would soon be understood as simply the natural fall-out of legally equal people-groups acting unequally in an open and equal society. Thus, the vast society-wide social and economic disparities seen throughout the nation were by then rationalized as legitimate, natural, and even just.
How, just twenty years following the passage of the Civil Rights Acts, had America come to such ideological and existential reversals?
Is Critical Race Theory (CRT) Marxist? I see this claim multiple times per day. On the one hand, there’s a sense in which nearly every modern social theory is working within a loosely “Marxist” sociological tradition; sociology itself is the intellectual legacy of, primarily, Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Émile Durkheim. On the other hand, Marxist social theory is far removed from Marx’s own metaphysical, economic, and political ideology—not to mention far removed from Leninism, Stalinism, or Maoism. Further, and as an added complication to answering this question, CRT scholars simply don’t write much about Marx or Marxism, despite being treated like his ideological puppets.
Nevertheless, there is a sense in which contestation with Marxism in the arena of law was formative in the development of Critical Race Theory. But in order to properly tell this story, and hopefully answer our question in the process, it is first necessary to understand how Critical Legal Studies (CLS) related to Marxism; for, as we’ve discussed elsewhere, Critical Race Theory might best be understood as a “spin-off” of CLS, having been distinguished as an unique movement by its alignment and misalignment therewith. In the words of Kimberlé Crenshaw,
[This article is a revised and expanded edition of “In Short, What is Critical Race Theory?”]
In 1989, when I was a boy of eleven years—born into an all-White church, attending an all-White elementary school in all-White town, well on my way to believing that racism was in the past, that America had achieved equality, and that inferiority of racial circumstance simply reflected inferiority of racial “culture”—more than twenty legal scholars met in Madison, WI to discuss how we ended up here and what should be done about it. This “Workshop” was titled “New Developments in CRT,” the first formal use of the now oft maligned acronym.
1. Civil Rights Retrenchment: Why?
Just over twenty years following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 1965 Voting Rights Acts, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the stated goals of this historic legislative package seemed further and further out of reach. Kimberlé Crenshaw, who spearheaded the first CRT Workshop along with Neil Gotanda and Stephanie Phillips, was sadly able to report in 1988 that,