I did not set out to study Critical Race Theory. However, my unfortunate experiences with the online woke have led me to realize I must educate myself on this ideology which has recently become a political point of contention.
Left-wing spokespeople insist that Critical Race Theory is crucial in dismantling systemic racism. Right-wing politicos insist that it is toxic ideology, creating division between the races. Prior to my recent online humiliation (I’ve a few posts about it, but I have not yet detailed what I refer to as The Nightmare on Auti Street in full in this space–you will have to check my Instagram for more information on that), I knew absolutely nothing about CRT. When the Nightmare began, I knew nothing of CRT. I assumed the campaign against me was the consequence of my opposition to a person who likely has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, who lashed out against my convictions in order to save face.
While I still think that was the true source of their cancellation project, I understand that the ideology put forth by CRT played a role. Perhaps, the sergeant ordering the attack simply used the ideology as a weapon against me, yet the soldiers committed to the cause were entirely invested in their beliefs. Because of this, I find myself very much at odds in the debate between liberals and conservatives about the value of CRT as a tool for activism toward social change. On the one hand, I feel social pressure to support CRT because I do subscribe to liberal values, and I do feel like a traitor to my party for even considering a critique of the study. On the other hand, I have had first hand experience with the toxic dogma that’s evolved from the discipline, and I can see how this academic and legal framework, once popularized and simplified within the minds and hearts of the masses (which is how it would play out if CRT became a guiding principle in lower level curriculum) develops as its very own tool of oppression.
With that said, I have begun to read the text, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic for myself. I haven’t even completed the introduction, but I’ve already discovered what I believe is a glaring blind-spot in the theory, which I feel is precisely why this ideology, when universalized as the primary framework for analyzing racial tensions, is likely to lead to further division between the races.
The blind-spot exists within the space between the tenet that race is a social construct and that which proposes a privileged voice of color. Delgado and Stefancic posit:
The “social construction” thesis, holds that race and races are products of social thought and relations…categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient. People with common origins share physical traits…But these constitute only an extremely small portion of their genetic endowment, are dwarfed by that which we have in common, and have little or nothing to do with distinctly human, higher-order traits…That society frequently chooses to ignore these scientific facts, creates races, and endows them with pseudo-permanent characteristics is of great interest to critical race theory.Critical Race Theory, Introduction, Page 8
Honestly, the social construction thesis is my favorite part of CRT. I wholeheartedly agree with this thesis. It is unfortunate because the “voice-of-color” tenet undermines the universalizing effects of the social construct theory. Delgado and Stefancic write:
The voice-of-color thesis holds that because of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, Indian, Asian, and Latino/a writers and thinkers may be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that whites are unlikely to know. Minority status, in other words, brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism.Critical Race Theory, Introduction, Page 9
The “voice-of-color” theory bypasses the premise that what we have in common, as humans, dwarfs that which we do not. This “presumed competence” of minorities distinguishes their lived experiences from those of white people, further alienating the “races.” This ignores the universality of oppression because white people do, in fact, experience oppression–in family dynamics, religious spaces, and any other relationships wherein there exists an imbalance of power. It is only through the shared understanding of oppressive experiences that we find motivation to dismantle systems that oppress the other. It is only the point at which I can identify with the other that I am compelled to assist in their cause. However, when the “oppressed other” insists that I cannot possibly understand–that they’ve had it so much worse than I have–I build my defenses in the face of this overt invalidation of my lived experiences and I reject their appeal.
I know what oppression feels like. I endured a two year long relationship with a sexual deviant. For two years, I was manipulated, abused, and de-humanized. This experience carved out a space for grace within my soul. I learned not to judge others because I, myself was debased, and this is only one example, of many, from my own life, of the universal human experience of oppression. When people insist I cannot understand oppression because I am white, I balk. Racial minorities do not corner the market on oppression. Oppression is a human experience. Perhaps, because I am white, I do not fully comprehend racial oppression, but to me, the cause of oppression really has little impact on the way it feels to be oppressed.
We all know grief. Grief is universal. Sometimes grief has death as its cause–sometimes sexual violence is the cause–sometimes something positive like an “empty nest” is its cause. It doesn’t matter. Grief is grief. It hurts, regardless of the cause.
In the same light, oppression is oppression, regardless of its cause. White people know oppression, and white people are more likely to join in solidarity with minority groups against oppressive systems, when the universality of the human experience serves as a bridge to unite us.
This blind-spot in Critical Race Theory is limiting, and as it stands, I find little cause to support the initiatives insisting on applying this framework to social justice activism.