Is Critical Race Theory “UnChristian” Part 5
If you’ve followed along with the earlier posts in this series, you’ll have a basic understanding of some of the core beliefs of Critical Race Theory (CRT) by now. In this post I will examine one last core belief of CRT and explain how CRT informs what people do.
What Do Critical Race Theorists Believe?
Intersectionality is the study of how different identity categories overlap. For instance, if structural racism oppresses black folks in the United States, someone interested in intersectionality would be drawn to the similarities and differences between the oppression of black men and black women, or between black people from the United States and black people from the Dominican Republic. In other words, how do race and gender or race and nationality “intersect”?
Proponents of CRT who study intersectionality typically believe that people living at the intersection of multiple oppressed identity categories face unique forms of discrimination that require equally unique forms of defense. You may even hear the word “intersectional” used as an adjective to describe “intersectional individuals” or “intersectional groups.” In addition to race, gender, and nationality, some Critical Race theorists are interested in categories such as class, religion, and sexual orientation. They might wonder how being impoverished affects a man and a woman differently or how black Christians and black Muslims are represented in American culture.
What Do Critical Race Theorists Do?
Proponents of CRT are committed to telling a more complete story of United States history than many of us learned in school. CRT holds that there is a familiar and comfortable narrative of U.S. history with which most of us are acquainted but which also obscures many important events and figures that can help us better understand the current racial disparities in our culture. With this in mind, many Critical Race theorists spend their professional lives providing expanded narratives of U.S. history that tell these stories.
We have already seen how CRT emerged, in large part, in opposition to the concept of colorblindness. People in a wide range of professions whose work is informed by CRT focus on revealing how stories, laws, customs, and decisions that seem to be neutral, or colorblind, are actually built on assumptions about race.
-Make the Legal System Fairer-
Proponents of CRT working in the legal profession or committing time to activism often focus on exposing disparities in policing, sentencing, and incarceration that disproportionately affect people of color. Examples of this would be Brian Stephenson’s Equal Justice Initiative in the legal profession and Black Lives Matter in the world of activism. This work is especially important for CRT because of its implications for political change. In the United States, there are major disparities in voting rights for people convicted of a crime from state to state. And from a CRT perspective, if political change is required to make the legal system fairer, then the disproportionate criminalization of people of color hinders the potential for change via the ballot box.
-Advocate for Voting Rights-
Whether it be through trying to restore voting rights for those convicted of crimes, fighting laws that make voting more difficult, or battling the gerrymandering of voting districts, Critical Race theorists are committed to fighting the disenfranchisement of minorities.
-Change Speech Norms-
Ranging from hate speech to microaggressions, CRT sees speech as a vital part of both perpetuating and battling racism. Hate speech is a category of speech that serves no other purpose than to demean and harm. Some proponents of CRT seek to criminalize hate speech, though this has been an especially contentious issue in the United States given the importance of the First Amendment to our Constitution. Even now, battles over speech codes, especially on college and university campuses, continue to rage.
A microaggression is an offense that seems minor to, or even goes unnoticed by, a member of the majority culture but which insults minorities. A classic example of a microaggression would be a white person in the United States asking a non-white person where they are from, or where they are “really” from. If the white person doesn’t know the non-white person and asks this question, the implication is that, based on the person’s appearance, he or she cannot be from the United States. In other words, to ask that question is to tell them that they don’t belong or to imply that, as we saw in the last post, normal Americans don’t look like them.
Hate speech and microaggressions are contentious because, to many, they seem entirely subjective.