Considering Discrimination

Review of Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s Book

Critical Race Theory

Review by Joseph Langen

Initial impressions and getting started

I have heard quite a bit about Critical Race Theory and am also aware of conservative ire about the term and what it means. I have heard from conservative parents that this is now part of the school curriculum and is designed to get people to hate whites and love blacks. I thought there must be more to it than that and decided to find out for myself.

I ordered the book from the library but in the meantime was able to download a sample from Amazon which did not leave me any more enlightened. What I found seemed unclear and not very helpful to my understanding of what this is all about.

I also read the Amazon reviews which seemed almost evenly divided between those by people who loved the book and those who hated it. Nobody seemed neutral.

Then the book arrived from the library. At first, I feared that I would be similarly disappointed as I was with the summary. Yet I was not disappointed and found the book very helpful in understanding what is involved and what its goals are in discussing Critical Race Theory.

The nature of Critical Race Theory (CRT)

First of all, what is Critical Race Theory? The authors point out that it is a graduate school level of discourse among scholars about “race, racism and power.” It is a consideration of these three factors with regard to economics, history, setting, group and self interest as well as how we feel about all this and how we feel about it. From this description, it is clear that this not a finalized teaching but an area of inquiry regarding race, racism and the effects on society.

The first consideration was that no person has a single unitary identity. Nobody is just white, nobody just black or other shade of skin. Everyone has other identities such as gender, sexual orientation, occupation, parental status, and many other complementary and sometimes contradictory contributors to their overall sense of identity. In light of this, the conversation includes people of all colors, both genders, all sexual orientations, the variety of immigrants, the poor, and the disadvantaged. 

There are some common understandings among those who are exploring the implications of this theory. They include the following:

  1. Racism is not just in the mind of individuals. It affects “the usual way society does business.” In other words, racism is part of the fabric of American society with far-reaching implications.
  2. There seems to be general agreement that white dominance has significant benefits for those who enjoy being part of that class of people.
  3. Those who study CRT profess that the idea of race is not based on genetics or biology but is a social construct favoring the dominant group.
  4. The dominant group considers “lower” groups in terms of the labor market at any given time in terms of how to take advantage of them.
  5. No person has an identity with just one facet.
  6. Minority groups have an understanding of their condition and its implications which whites are not likely to understand but could learn through dialog.

The book goes on to describe this history of institutional racism and its effect on society. It also addresses limitations in how both conservatives and liberals have often missed the point in considering racism and what is needed to remedy it. One thing we can do is to study what it means to be white for people identified as white and what it means to be in categories other than white as well as everyone learning to respect each others’ experience.

Areas of concern and the future

  1. Race, class, welfare and poverty.
  2. Policing and criminal justice.
  3. Hate speech, language rights and school curricula.
  4. Affirmative action and color blindness.
  5. Globalization and Immigration.
  6. Voting rights.

The authors suggest three possible outcomes in the future:

  1. A bleak outlook until a non-white majority emerges in the next few decades.
  2. The critical race agenda may lead to a violent confrontation such as in South Africa.

They also suggest likely responses to the Critical Race Theory (CRT) movement:

  1. CRT may become the New Civil Rights Orthodoxy.
  2. CRT theory could be marginalized and ignored.
  3. CRT could be analyzed and then rejected.
  4. CRT could be partially incorporated into the way we conduct the future of our society.

You should be able to conclude after reading this book that CRT is not an effort to get anyone to hate people who identify as white. Hopefully you can see that CRT is an ongoing discussion about the significance of “racial” considerations in forming the future of America. This is something we need to study carefully as we share our wants, needs and difficulties across groups in our society. The goal is benefit all of us in order to insure the future of our democracy.

Personal thoughts

In my opinion, the term Critical Race Theory has become controversial and raises people’s hackles. I wonder whether a different term might be more useful in leading us away from fighting with each other in favor of dialogue. We need to have something to bring us together as a nation rather than something to fight about. Could this be our opportunity?

About Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory: A Brief History

Photo by lilartsy on

Written by Jacey Fortin and published in the New York Times July 27, 2021

About a year ago, even as the United States was seized by protests against racism, many Americans had never heard the phrase “critical race theory.”

Now, suddenly, the term is everywhere. It makes national and international headlines and is a target for talking heads. Culture wars over critical race theory have turned school boards into battlegrounds, and in higher education, the term has been tangled up in tenure battles. Dozens of United States senators have branded it “activist indoctrination.”

But C.R.T., as it is often abbreviated, is not new. It’s a graduate-level academic framework that encompasses decades of scholarship, which makes it difficult to find a satisfying answer to the basic question:

What, exactly, is critical race theory?

The person widely credited with coining the term is Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a law professor at the U.C.L.A. School of Law and Columbia Law School.

Asked for a definition, she first raised a question of her own: Why is this coming up now? “It’s only prompted interest now that the conservative right wing has claimed it as a subversive set of ideas,” she said, adding that news outlets, including The New York Times, were covering critical race theory because it has been “made the problem by a well-resourced, highly mobilized coalition of forces.”

Some of those critics seem to cast racism as a personal characteristic first and foremost — a problem caused mainly by bigots who practice overt discrimination — and to frame discussions about racism as shaming, accusatory or divisive.

But critical race theorists say they are mainly concerned with institutions and systems.

“The problem is not bad people,” said Mari Matsuda, a law professor at the University of Hawaii who was an early developer of critical race theory. “The problem is a system that reproduces bad outcomes. It is both humane and inclusive to say, ‘We have done things that have hurt all of us, and we need to find a way out.’”

Critical race theorists reject the philosophy of “colorblindness.” They acknowledge the stark racial disparities that have persisted in the United States despite decades of civil rights reforms, and they raise structural questions about how racist hierarchies are enforced, even among people with good intentions.

Proponents tend to understand race as a creation of society, not a biological reality. And many say it is important to elevate the voices and stories of people who experience racism.

But critical race theory is not a single worldview; the people who study it may disagree on some of the finer points. As Professor Crenshaw put it, C.R.T. is more a verb than a noun.

“It is a way of seeing, attending to, accounting for, tracing and analyzing the ways that race is produced,” she said, “the ways that racial inequality is facilitated, and the ways that our history has created these inequalities that now can be almost effortlessly reproduced unless we attend to the existence of these inequalities.”

Professor Matsuda described it as a map for change.

“For me,” she said, “critical race theory is a method that takes the lived experience of racism seriously, using history and social reality to explain how racism operates in American law and culture, toward the end of eliminating the harmful effects of racism and bringing about a just and healthy world for all.”

Opponents of the academic doctrine known as critical race theory protesting outside the Loudoun County School Board office in Ashburn, Va., on June 22.Credit…Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

Like many other academic frameworks, critical race theory has been subject to various counterarguments over the years. Some critics suggested, for example, that the field sacrificed academic rigor in favor of personal narratives. Others wondered whether its emphasis on systemic problems diminished the agency of individual people.

This year, the debates have spilled far beyond the pages of academic papers.

Last year, after protests over the police killing of George Floyd prompted new conversations about structural racism in the United States, President Donald J. Trump issued a memo to federal agencies that warned against critical race theory, labeling it as “divisive,” followed by an executive order barring any training that suggested the United States was fundamentally racist.

His focus on C.R.T. seemed to have originated with an interview he saw on Fox News, when Christopher F. Rufo, a conservative scholar now at the Manhattan Institute, told Tucker Carlson about the “cult indoctrination” of critical race theory.Use of the term skyrocketed from there, though it is often used to describe arange of activities that don’t really fit the academic definition, like acknowledging historical racism in school lessons or attending diversity trainings at work.

The Biden administration rescinded Mr. Trump’s order, but by then it had already been made into a wedge issue. Republican-dominated state legislatures have tried to implement similar bans with support from conservative groups, many of whom have chosen public schools as a battleground.

“The woke class wants to teach kids to hate each other, rather than teaching them how to read,” Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said to the state’s board of education in June, shortly before it moved to ban critical race theory. He has also called critical race theory “state-sanctioned racism.”

According to Professor Crenshaw, opponents of C.R.T. are using a decades-old tactic: insisting that acknowledging racism is itself racist.

“The rhetoric allows for racial equity laws, demands and movements to be framed as aggression and discrimination against white people,” she said. That, she added, is at odds with what critical race theorists have been saying for four decades.

In 1980, Derrick Bell left Harvard Law School.

Professor Bell, a pioneering legal scholar who died in 2011, is often described as the godfather of critical race theory. “He broke open the possibility of bringing Black consciousness to the premiere intellectual battlefields of our profession,” Professor Matsuda said.His work explored (among other things) what it would mean to understand racism as a permanent feature of American life, and whether it was easier to pass civil rights legislation in the United States because those laws ultimately served the interests of white people.

After Professor Bell left Harvard Law, a group of students there began protesting the faculty’s lack of diversity. In 1983, The New York Times reported, the school had 60 tenured law professors. All but one were men, and only one was Black.

The demonstrators, including Professors Crenshaw and Matsuda, who were then graduate students at Harvard, also chafed at the limitations of their curriculum in critical legal studies, a discipline that questioned the neutrality of the American legal system, and sought to expand it to explore how laws sustained racial hierarchies.

“It was our job to rethink what these institutions were teaching us,” Professor Crenshaw said, “and to assist those institutions in transforming them into truly egalitarian spaces.”

The students saw that stark racial inequality had persisted despite the civil rights legislation of the 1950s and 60s. They sought, and then developed, new tools and principles to understand why. A workshop that Professor Crenshaw organized in 1989 helped to establish these ideas as part of a new academic framework called critical race theory.

OiYan Poon, an associate professor with Colorado State University who studies race, education and intersectionality, said that opponents of critical race theory should try to learn about it from the original sources.

“If they did,” she said, “they would recognize that the founders of C.R.T. critiqued liberal ideologies, and that they called on research scholars to seek out and understand the roots of why racial disparities are so persistent, and to systemically dismantle racism.”To that end, branches of C.R.T. have evolved that focus on the particular experiences of IndigenousLatinoAsian American, and Black people and communities. In her own work, Dr. Poon has used C.R.T. to analyze Asian Americans’ opinions about affirmative action.

That expansiveness “signifies the potency and strength of critical race theory as a living theory — one that constantly evolves,” said María C. Ledesma, a professor of educational leadership at San José State University who has used critical race theory in her analyses of campus climate, pedagogy and the experiences of first-generation college students. “People are drawn to it because it resonates with them.”

Some scholars of critical race theory see the framework as a way to help the United States live up to its own ideals, or as a model for thinking about the big, daunting problems that affect everyone on this planet.

“I see it like global warming,” Professor Matsuda said. “We have a serious problem that requires big, structural changes; otherwise, we are dooming future generations to catastrophe. Our inability to think structurally, with a sense of mutual care, is dooming us — whether the problem is racism, or climate disaster, or world peace.”

Does America Have a Future?

Review of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s book, How Democracies Die

Reviewed by Joseph Langen

It would be comforting to think that our American experiment in democracy can survive its current dangers as it has in the face of past threats. Yet our survival is not assured in today’s socially and politically turbulent climate.

How Democracies Die places our current challenge into the context of previous and more

current democracies which failed or at least struggled with their own crises. The authors report that in the past, democracies have collapsed in the face of violent attack.

More recently, democracies have crumbled due to insidious challenges from within. They see America as facing the second type of challenge.

They point out that the Constitution gives us basic rules to support the US democracy. Our society is further bolstered by unwritten norms, the most important being mutual toleration of rivals as a legitimate part of our society and restraint from attacking those with rival approaches to managing our society.

They note that American factions coexisted fairly well before the Civil War. Our country broke into open conflict during the Civil War and remained in conflict until the end of Reconstruction. After that we had another period of relative cooperation until the 1960’s Civil Rights Act. Cooperation has been declining since then, leaving us with racial equality on the books. Yet polarization has worsened over the years culminating in the Trump fiasco.

It appears that both sides cooperate better when racial equality is off the negotiating table, a sad state of affairs. Battles over civil rights, especially with regard to racial equality, have been joined by conflict over migration, religious beliefs and the nature and purpose of culture.

The book discusses three possible outcomes of our polarized society.

  1. First is a recovery of democracy. Trump and Trumpism fall or fade into irrelevance in the face of public disgust.
  2. Second is continuing and worsening of the divide with no tolerance or forbearance related to issues which divide us. At some point this trend would result in the death of a functioning democracy. This second possibility is on the horizon if Trumpian Republicans manage to control the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court with anti-democratic power.
  3. Third is continuation of polarization and disregard of unwritten conventions keeping a modicum of peace, resulting in political warfare with an uncertain outcome. Whether a blend of individual freedom and egalitarianism would survive remains to be seen.

For us to survive as a nation, we must restore the endangered guardrails of tolerance and forbearance as well as overcoming polarization and fair elections. This will require compromise and softening of stances by everyone on both sides, particularly with regard to political rhetoric in both the major political parties. We must also address the needs of those neglected in our society as well as developing social policies favorable to everyone rather than just those favored by the political side in power at the moment.

Will we be able to come together as a society despite our differences? That remains to be seen. Can we set aside our partisan ideals or at least soften them while we focus on building a society supportive of all its members?  This book clearly lays out the existential problems facing us, possible outcomes and what we need to do for our democracy to survive, Our future lies in the balance. Get ready to do your part.