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Critical race theory is an intellectual approach to understanding and analyzing the relationship between race, racism and other forms of oppression. Racism is a deeply ingrained and institutionalized oppression that perpetuates racial inequalities, such as denying privileges and opportunities to thrive based on racial affiliations. In addition, the US laws and social systems are designed in ways that discriminate against other races. Thus, the critical race theory was developed to create a legal framework in various fields to guide how to overcome various forms of oppression such as class, gender, race and sexuality common in the US.
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Construction of the Theory
Critical race theory sprang up in the 1970s after the advances of the civil rights era stalled. The activists, scholars and lawyers noted a need to develop new theories and strategies to combat the rising forms of racism. Several proponents of the critical race theory believe that race has been artificially constructed to fit the physical characteristics that are imagined to fit psychological and behavioural tendencies, which are viewed as either positive or negative based on the system’s perspective (West, 1995).
In the United States, racism is regarded as normal, opposed to aberrational and is mostly experienced by people of color. However, there has been a drastic decrease in racist attitudes among whites, including laws that were regarded as extremely racist. These include those that advocated for racial segregation, resulting in the denial of civil rights to African Americans who lived in the south (Tomas De La Garza & Ono, 2016). However, there are still instances of unfair treatment among people of colour, even in the current society. For example, it has been observed that it is much easier for a white person to acquire a loan than an African American or a Hispanic American. Also, African Americans are likely to be given longer jail terms or lethal force used against them compared to Americans of white descent. The majority of racism instances appear in the form of microaggressions which have been observed to be done unintentionally or unconsciously (Sawchuk, 2022). This communicates the aspect of negative attitudes towards people of colour, resulting in implicit bias, which is based on race. The frequent occurrence of racist microaggressions demonstrates the prevalence of racist attitudes, even among those who consciously reject racism. The cumulative effects can be psychologically devastating.
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How Critical Race Theory Ensures Equality in the Society
Critical race theory helps address issues about race and racism in society. Critical race theory proponents argued that racism is not an individual attitude or act of discrimination but embedded in systems and institutions. Therefore, it is the collective responsibility of society to ensure structural changes in institutions to achieve equality in service delivery (West, 1995). Critical race theory helps in identifying how racism has been embedded in society and provides insights on how to overcome the challenges associated with racism.
The primary goal of critical race theory is to promote equality and justice for all people regardless of color, ethnicity and religion. The theory challenges and deconstructs the white supremacy systems by eliminating the structural barriers and maintaining equality in privileges and opportunities for whites and people of color (Garza & Ono, 2016). One perception of the critical race theory is that racism is part of our daily life. It is not our intention to be racist, but we find ourselves making choices contributing to racism. Most people view critical race theory as the advocacy for discrimination against whites to achieve equity (George, 2021). The majority of this criticism is for policies that have considerations for race. The emphasis that is advocated by the theory is based on the outcome rather than an individual’s belief. This results in the rectification and examination of these outcomes. This has caused enormous debates among professionals and even policymakers in the United States. In a case of school assignment in K-12 schools, the chief justice thought, “The way to stop discrimination based on race is to stop discriminating based on race” (Sawchuk, 2022). A different opinion was observed during an oral argument by Justice Bader Ginsburg, who believed, “It’s very hard for me to see how you can have a racial objective but a non-racial means to get there.” Critical race theory grew out of postmodern thinking that tends to be sceptical of universal values, liberalism, individual merit and wise rationalism. These tenets are held dearly by those that consider themselves conservative.
Critical race theory has been used for social justice activism in various contexts. First, it leverages insights into achieving equal opportunities among whites and other races. Second, critical race theory has been used to develop laws and policies to accommodate people of different races and cultures without discrimination. Third, critical race theory has led to the emergence of different movements that advocate against various forms of discrimination. Finally, it has a multifaceted approach to recognizing the complexity and intersectionality of race and racism, providing an effective approach to addressing race-related issues comprehensively and holistically.
- Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory (Third edition). Foreword by Angela Harris. New York University Press, NY.
- Garza, A. T. D. L., & Ono, K. A. (2016). Critical Race Theory. The International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy, edited by Klaus Bruhn Jensen et al., John Wiley and Sons.
- George, J. (2021). A lesson on critical race theory. American Bar Association. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/civil-rights-reimagining-policing/a-lesson-on-critical-race-theory/
- Sawchuk, S. (2022, October 28). What is critical race theory, and why is it under attack? Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-is-it-under-attack/2021/05
- Tomas De La Garza, A., & Ono, K. A. (2016). Critical race theory. The International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118766804.wbiect260
- West, C. (1995). Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement. The New Press. https://blogs.law.columbia.edu/revolution1313/files/2022/01/Crenshaw-Thomas-et-al.-Introduction.pdf