Table of contents
- Introduction to Critical Race Theory
- Origins and Evolution of Critical Race Theory
- Core Components and Concepts
- Critiques and Debates Surrounding Critical Race Theory
- Critical Race Theory’s Significance in Law and Society
- Conclusion and Reflections
Introduction to Critical Race Theory
Critical race theory scrutinizes a paradox; how does racial subordination prevail despite international denunciation through state rules and norms of a moral society? (Harris, 2012, 1). This paper will argue that the main tenets of critical race theory maintain that one’s race, religion, culture, gender/sex and economic standing all intersect together to further oppress individuals (Harris, 2012, 1). Critical race theory is pivotal to the study of law and society as it establishes a framework for understanding, identifying, and advocating for remedies to inequalities within law and society. The paper will first prove this through a discussion on the main components of critical race theory, focusing on the phrase “racism is ordinary”, intersectionality, anti-essentialism, color-blind/formal equality, interest convergence, and material determinism, and, the social construction of race. Second, the paper will depict this argument through an analysis of different debates and criticisms of the critical race theory. Lastly, the paper will discuss the importance of critical race theory to the study of law and society, positing that this theory creates a framework for a better understanding of how the law, societal norms, and institutions influenced by law, disproportionately impact and disadvantage individuals from racialized, segregated communities.
Origins and Evolution of Critical Race Theory
Critical race theory focuses on the transformation and relationship between race, racism, and power (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 2). More simply, critical race theory is an analysis of hegemony, and how dominance can be perverse without coercion- it is a theory that encompasses intersectionality, that one’s race, religion, culture, gender/sex, and economic standing, all function together as an intertwined wed to further oppress individuals, specifically those with multiple forms of “disadvantage” as the ones stated above (Harris, 2012, 1). Critical race theory emerged in the mid-1920s composed of lawyers, activists, and legal scholars who had begun to realize that the civil rights era of the 1960s was coming to a halt, and many of the values were being lost (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 3-4). The theory is often paralleled with conventional civil rights and ethnic study discourses, as they share many of the same values, but critical race theory diverges by adopting a broader, more inclusive context, which expands to include the often-excluded components such as; economics, history, experience, group and individual interests, even feelings and unconscious experience (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 3). Dissimilar to the civil rights and ethnic movements, which focus on incrementalism- adding to a project through small changes, the critical race theory encompasses ideas from equity theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and impartial principles of constitutional law (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 3). Critical race theory began as a theory in the analysis of law but is soon adopted into many other disciplines such as; issues of school discipline, hierarchy, tracking, controversies over curriculum and history, and IQ and achievement testing (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 3). The popularity and easy adaptation of this theory is derived from its activist component, which many individuals are drawn to (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 3). This is due to the fact that critical race theorists not only try to understand social circumstances but legitimately change them (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 3). Aiming to expose the assembling of society around racial lines, but positively dismantle such hierarchies, by building on equity and diverging from focusing on white supremacy (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 3).
Core Components and Concepts
The main components of critical race theory surround the phrase “racism is ordinary, not extraordinary” this encompasses the ideas of intersectionality, anti-essentialism, color-blind/formal equality, interest convergence and material determinism, and, the social construction of race. The notion “racism is not ordinary” eludes the idea that racism is normalized and permeates through all components of society. The intersectionality theory posits that racialized individuals, in particular, have intersecting forms of oppression such as; race, culture, religion, and gender/sex, which all operate together to further disadvantage individuals and communities (Hodes, 2017, 71). For example, intersectionality can be used to describe the experience of a black, impoverished, woman as the categories of race, gender and economic standing all operate together to further oppress such individuals, in comparison to a white woman (Grillo, 199, 18). In addition to intersectionality, critical race theory encompasses ideas of anti-essentialism, which is defined as the idea that there is a single woman’s experience, single racialized individual experience, or any other group which can be described without consideration of other aspects the individual may possess (Grillo, 1995, 19). Critical race theorists reject the idea of essentialism due to their belief that every individual’s experience is unique and must be considered as such, or else there is a risk that individuals are unfairly grouped into a stereotype that would dismantle the central belief of this school of thought. In order to dismiss accusations of racial inequalities, many individuals will adopt the concept of color-blind or formal equality. Expressed within the legislation, rules, and norms, this can be described as the equal or same treatment of all individuals, across all platforms, which with consideration of the broader picture can and will only protect against superficial forms of bigotry (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 8). Another component of critical race theory is the interest convergence of material determinism. It is the idea that racism advances the interest of white elites, materially, and working-class people, psychically. More simply, interest convergence and material determinism can be understood as white individuals only supporting movements of racial justice if it also advances their own personal interests, or a “convergence” between interests (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 9). The final and most crucial part of critical race theory is that race is a social construction, which posits that race and racism are fabricated based on social thought and relations (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 7). The social construction thesis diverges from the idea that race is not inherent or static, but instead, races are invented and manipulated through society and societal norms (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 7).
Critiques and Debates Surrounding Critical Race Theory
Upon the inception of critical race theory media and scholars reacted relatively lightly to the new theory, but as it grew in popularity and substance individuals felt more empowered to criticize what seems to be an all-inclusive theory (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 87). Some of the areas which generate the most resistance are a critique of storytelling, truth and objectivity, and voice (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 87). The first critique of the theory surrounds the matter of voice, people challenged that racialized individuals speak from an experienced and distinctive voice about issues regarding race and that popular scholars disregarded submissions to the movement from people of color (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 87). This criticism is derived from questions of if racialized scholars have any form of expertise simply from the nature of who they are, as some minorities have little to no interest in the liberation of racialized communities (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 88). Scholars were not the only individuals taking issue with this theory, many mainstream newspapers and magazines also began to question the substance of the theory (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 89). Many articles began to emerge discussing issues within this theory, one is an article by Daniel Farber and Suzanna Sherry which brought issues to the theory, stating that it was inciting a new form of anti-Semitism and indecent racial essentialism (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 89). They maintain that the critical race theory compartmentalized, all blacks for example. Farber and Sherry posited that Asians and Jews are minority groups but are unsuccessfully represented within this theory (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 90). Furthermore, storytelling is among the problematic tenets of the theory, critics stating that storytelling within law often distorts public discourse, due to the fact that the stories critical race theorists tell may not even be cohesive with the actual experiences of the groups (Delgado and Stefancic, 2017, 91). The storytelling component of critical race theory is problematic because it lacks analytical stringency, as they can be read in a way to convey a feeling or reaction and are left open to interpretation instead of being concrete facts (Bell, 1995, 907).
Critical Race Theory’s Significance in Law and Society
Law and society is the study of the intertwined relationship between law and society, it is the study of how certain laws, norms, and rules all affect the society in which these factors govern, in discussing the relationship between law and society it is only natural for individuals to subsequently question, how do all these factors manufacture and maintain unequal treatment of minorities within society? Critical race theory establishes a skeleton for understanding, identifying, and advocating for remedies to inequalities within law and society. In addition to this, the main components of critical race theory are directly parallel, if not identical to the aims of the study of law and society. The study of law and society aims to reveal how the law affects individuals within society, and critical race theory strives to reveal how one’s intersecting forms of oppression are maintained and largely fabricated through law and all of the law’s tenets, such as media, education, and other institutions, as these components of society are apparatuses of conferring dominance to the majority (whites) and disadvantaging minority experience.
Conclusion and Reflections
This paper has argued that the main tenets of critical race theory maintain that one’s race, religion, culture, gender/sex, and economic standing all intersect to further oppress individuals (Harris, 2012, 1). The paper first proved this argument through a discussion on the main components of the theory; normalization of racism, intersectionality, anti-essentialism, color-blind/formal equality, interest convergence and material determinism, and the social construction of race. Second, the paper proved this argument through an analysis of the main critiques of critical race theory, emphasizing issues with storytelling and voice. Lastly, the paper discusses the importance of critical race theory to the study of law and society, positing that critical race theory establishes a framework for understanding, identifying, and advocating for changes to inequalities established within the law and permeating throughout society.
- Bell, D. A. (1995). Who's Afraid of Critical Race Theory? University of Illinois Law Review, 893-910. Retrieved from https://sph.umd.edu/sites/default/files/files/Bell_Whos Afraid of CRT_1995UIllLRev893.pdf.
- Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory: An introduction, 2-91. New York: New York University.
- Grillo, T. (1995). Anti-Essentialism and Intersectionality: Tools to Dismantle the Master's House. Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice,10(1), 16-30. Retrieved from https://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/bglj/vol10/iss1/4/.
- Harris, A. (2012). Critical Race Theory (Third Edition), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 1. California: University of California. https://works.bepress.com/angela_harris/17/
- Hodes, C. (2017). Intersectionality in the Canadian Courts: In Search of a Decolonial Politics of Possibility, 71. Retrieved from http://journals.msvu.ca/index.php/atlantis/article/view/4765