For starters, the more good, ethical people push back against my critique of Critical Race Theory, the more invested I am in its study. Not because I wish to prove these good folks wrong, but because I am really trying to find the good in the framework, to see what it is they must know, which I am missing. The cycle, then, persists, because the more I investigate the theory and its practice, the more suspicious I become of its widespread acceptance and use across disciplines and social communities.
After engaging in dialogue with a few individuals about the Voice of Color Thesis, I discovered an analogy for said thesis, which I would like to present to you today. It will take the shape of a metaphor, or a parable, per se.
Let us begin:
Symposium on Grief
In the famed Emerald City, the Great Wizard organized a Symposium on Grief. He selected, as panelists, persons with the following qualifiers: one who grieved the death of a child, one who grieved the death of a parent, one who grieved the death of a sibling, and one who grieved the death of a spouse. There was contention over whether or not to include a fifth panelist, one who grieved the death of a pet.
In former periods of the Emerald City’s history, a panel in this fashion would have been composed only of those who lost pets, as this type of grief was privileged over all of the others. Those mourning human relationships would have been barred from participation in such a symposium in the most egregious discrimination, predicated on the belief that to speak of human morbidity is to hasten it for the living. Such discrimination would certainly foster an incomplete discussion of the topic of grief.
Thus, in the current scenario, the Wizard must determine how the injustice of the past should affect his present choice. Of course, the voices of those long silenced must now not only be heard, but privileged in the conversation, especially because, he assumed, the grief over the loss of a human loved one must exceed that of a pet in magnitude. The question was whether, since the voices of those who’d lost pets were formerly dominant, it was prudent to even include them in the current panel.
The four selected panelists felt convinced that the inclusion of the individual who grieved the loss of a pet would be foolish. “We cannot presume their competence! Their loss is incomparable with ours! We’ve been silenced for so long. It is their turn to listen and not speak!” So the wizard had much to consider.
Grief is grief. Surely loss of a loved one is painful. We, in our society were wrong, in the past, to ignore the pain of those affected by the loss of human loved ones. Nevertheless, a conversation on grief would certainly be incomplete if we exclude those affected by the loss of a pet, today. There still may be insight we can glean from they who’ve lost a pet, and by excluding this panelist, we also alienate those in the audience who’ve experienced the same.
In the end, the wizard chose to include the panelist who’d suffered the loss of a pet. His reasoning was as follows:
Yes, it is true that we can assume competence to speak on the topic of grief by those who’ve lost human loved ones, but the assumed competence of these should not imply the assumed incompetence of the other. While the grief over the loss of a pet is not the same as the grief over the loss of a human relationship, it is the pain of grief, as opposed to the form, that unites all in the panel. We were wrong to privilege some voices over others in the past, and it is for this very reason that I refuse to do so now.
The panel on grief, in the parable, represents the conversation about race and racism in social communities. They who’ve lost human loved ones represent “black, Indian, Asian, and Latino/a writers and thinkers” as privileged by Delgado and Stefancic in Critical Race Theory: an Introduction. They who’ve lost a pet represents white contributions to the conversation.
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.Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, Introduction, Page 9
I would like to bring the reader’s attention to some key words in the language of this thesis. For starters, the authors specify that it is because of their “experiences with oppression” that POC “may be able to communicate…matters that whites are unlikely to know.” This statement is replete with generalization. It assumes, first, that white people have not experienced oppression, and second, that POC have secret knowledge inaccessible to white people. From a psychoanalytic perspective, Delgado and Stefancic are imbuing POC with social authority over white people. In psychoanalytic theory, the Big Other is the authority “presumed to know.” Those subject to such authority lose autonomy as agents over their own lives.
Ultimately, there is no pure and perfect authority on any issue or ideal. It is through the act of assuming authority’s perfection that we, as subjects, yield to all forms of psychological oppression. As Žižek states, of the Other, in The Sublime Object of Ideology:
The Other itself “hasn’t got it,” hasn’t got the final answer.Slavoj Žižek
Additionally, the Voice of Color thesis disregards any possibility of white discrimination by POC on the basis of race. While we can all agree that culturally, white discrimination of POC on the basis of race has prevailed throughout American history, it is absurd to deny the possibility–the lived experience–of white people who have endured discrimination within communities of color, on the basis that they are white. Just because there have been historical trends of discrimination in one direction does not invalidate–should not–must not–invalidate the actual experiences of people who are exceptions to the predominant rule.
Finally, the historic oppression of one collective must not form the basis of exclusion of the historic “oppressor” group.
I am not my ancestors.
Take for example, the symposium on grief described above. Should the individual who lost a pet be excluded from the conversation on the basis that others who lost pets dominated the discussion in the past? That particular individual had nothing to do with the former discourse. Similarly, are we to reinforce the privilege of the other panelists on the basis of the former suppression of others from their group? These individuals weren’t suppressed. They’ve been given an opportunity–they’ve been given privilege. Is it truly ethical for them to withhold the same from another, on the basis of past grievances between the groups?
Ultimately, I feel the problems inherent to CRT are the application of sweeping generalizations to entire people groups. This framework dictates terms by which we are to categorize behavior, people, and relationships. It’s foolish. The universal application of any belief system–any codified list of assumptions–is unethical and damning to progress.