A practice of interrogating

Continuing the effort to pin down what Critical Race Theory actually is, I find an explainer from the American Bar Association (which I figure is establishment enough that it won’t be accused of Marxist postmodernism or modern postMarxism).

CRT is not a diversity and inclusion “training” but a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship. [ Kimberlé ] Crenshaw—who coined the term “CRT”—notes that CRT is not a noun, but a verb. It cannot be confined to a static and narrow definition but is considered to be an evolving and malleable practice.

Yeah that’s not a good start. It is a noun; if you want to have a verb for it then make one. And saying it can’t be confined to a static definition sounds like…what’s the word? Oh yes, bullshitting. [Updating to add: I took her too literally; see Harald’s reading in comment #12.]

It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers.

I see no problem there, and I certainly think that job needs doing. (On the other hand isn’t that something that activists and scholars have been doing for some time? Is it really particular to CRT?)

CRT also recognizes that race intersects with other identities, including sexuality, gender identity, and others.

Uh oh.

Notice that sex – the one that relegates women to the bottom tiers – is hidden in “and others.” Why isn’t sex important enough to be named while “gender identity” is? Maybe the ABA isn’t so establishment after all (or it’s a different kind of establishment).

CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation. 

But surely it’s not alone in that. The problem here seems to be not that CRT is wild and crazy but that there’s nothing particularly new about it.

Then it gets more specific.

While recognizing the evolving and malleable nature of CRT, scholar Khiara Bridges outlines a few key tenets of CRT, including:

Recognition that race is not biologically real but is socially constructed and socially significant. It recognizes that science (as demonstrated in the Human Genome Project) refutes the idea of biological racial differences. According to scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, race is the product of social thought and is not connected to biological reality.

What are they scholars of? Biology or something else?

Acknowledgement that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicate racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.

Is that wrong? It doesn’t seem wrong to me. Of course racism is embedded within systems and institutions (in the US at least); it would be strange if it weren’t.

Rejection of popular understandings about racism, such as arguments that confine racism to a few “bad apples.” CRT recognizes that racism is codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy. CRT rejects claims of meritocracy or “colorblindness.” CRT recognizes that it is the systemic nature of racism that bears primary responsibility for reproducing racial inequality.

Is that wrong? I don’t think so.

Recognition of the relevance of people’s everyday lives to scholarship. This includes embracing the lived experiences of people of color, including those preserved through storytelling, and rejecting deficit-informed research that excludes the epistemologies of people of color.

Oh yes that one – we’ve seen that one before. Standpoint epistemology yadda yadda. That I do think is a crock of shit. By all means embrace lived experiences and storytelling, but don’t claim they’re the same thing as systematic inquiry and testing.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Trying to Figure It Out.

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