A Short Guide to Critical Race Theory

The categorization of race in the societies and cultures has been in the circle of questions after the civil rights movement of the 1960s in the USA. Racism is a term used for the belief of superiority that one race assumes over the other and has been criticised by many scholars of equal civil rights and liberty. So, criticism against the discrimination and prejudice started shaping itself as “Critical Race Theory and developed to a great extent in the mid-1970s.

The base of this ideology is the practice and idea that humans are originally divided into several groups based on the color and race, ethnicity and locations. It believes that people can be classified into the superior or inferior race based on the social development, behavior, capacity, and way of living. There are many examples of organized racism including the segregation in the USA, racial discrimination in South Africa and Slavery in the pre-colonial time in Latin America.

The movement in law schools of America in the mid to late 1980s is the base of theory. The studies of racial issues have been among the main concerns of this theory. There are two types of themes associated with this criticism, i.e. the first is about the superiority of white people and racial powers which takes their effects over time and the laws have a significant effect on this process. The other is about observing the possibilities the racial issues and discrimination can be removed from the society by transforming the interconnection between the law and racial beliefs.

What is racism?

Racism means the state of being racist with the behavior and acts of discrimination and prejudice by the people of one race towards the people of other race. This type of behavior is done by a community or a group of people believing themselves superior to the other community and is the result of the differences in race, physical characteristics and the place of origin between them.

The scientists in the 19th century recognized the concept of dividing the humans into the races. This led to the motivation at political level which contributed to the distribution of the rights and privileges based on the categorization of race based on the accepted classification of races based on the abilities and characteristics.

The race theorists, in the beginning, were believing that the discrimination and the biased treatment at political, economic and social levels are justified due to the belief that some races are superior to others and are created that way by nature for a certain purpose.

In the modern world, the scholars in anthropology, biology, and sociology are against the view and concept by considering the criteria verifiable like ethnicity, endogamy, and geography. The researchers have indicated that there is no strong outcomes or findings that can be used to consider the race as a base of genetic classification of humans.

Racism is seen in many countries of Europe and America and is mainly towards the people from the African and Asian origin. In recent times, the reason for racism is also the assumed threat to the economic conditions of native people as the people from outside are taking jobs and are also very successful in businesses. The hate towards the outsiders has been increasing and resulting into the physical harms to them and destructions of their properties.

Racism according to the scientific studies and literature

Racial classification of humanity was suggested by the scientific racism in the 19th century when racism was prevailing. Christoph Meiners, a polygenist split the humans into two divisions, i.e. one division is of white and beautiful race and the other division is the ugly black race. According to him, the main characteristic of a person is either beauty or ugliness which he has claimed in his book “Outline of the History of Mankind”. So he considered only the white people as beautiful and thus superior to the inferior black race. He also considered the black race as immoral and like animals.

On the contrary to Christoph who believed that the white race is the pure race, Hans Petter Steensby said that no race can be claimed to be the purest race as they are having the mixed origins. He claimed in 1907 that the classification and pure race can be traced in a far time, but if there is any purest race, it is Australians Aboriginals. Anders Retzius has also stated strongly that no race is the purest race today, be it from European races or from other races.

However, the discrimination and prejudice lasted till the 1990s in many areas of the world. The era of Apartheid in South Africa and the practice of keeping black people from some facilities and basic amenities or providing them the separate facilities of sub-standard qualities are the evidence of racism that almost lasted till the early 1990s.

Racism in North America

When white European settlers of rapidly growing colonies of North America, in the 17th century, needed the labor that is cheap as well as available in a large number, they looked towards the African slaves. Before that, the white people were dependent on the contractual servants. African slaves were cheaper and not in the position to demand the contractual terms.

The spread of slavery in North America can be traced to the arrival of a Dutch ship containing 20 Africans as slaves. It arrived at the British colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1969. After this event, the use of cheap African slaves became very popular in the North American colonies. According to the statistics and estimations by the historians, about 7 million slaves were brought to the developing new world, especially, North America during the 18th century. This trend negatively affected the African continent as the healthy and fit human resource of the African countries were taken out for the slavery of white people.

The residents of colonies considered the oppression of black African American people as a result of their own oppression by the British people. This began after the American revolution. Some great American leaders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson took some but careful actions in order to limit the slavery in the nation which had achieved the independence recently since they both were having black slaves. The constitution of the newly declared nation was also allowing the slavery by acknowledging the right to repossess the slaves previously held in the same way.

By the end of the 18th century, the slavery was abolished by many Northern states. But it continued as an institution in the southern states where the black people were in minority in the population and were used in the production of crops like cotton and tobacco on which the economy was heavily dependent.

Though the import of new slaves was outlawed by the Congress in 1808, the population of slaves reached the number three times more in the next 50 years. It was near 4 million by 1860 and more than half of slaves were living in the states producing cotton in the South region of America.

Race and ethnicity as a field of study

In the United States, race study is an interdisciplinary study of difference and power in terms of various criteria including the race, gender, ethnicity and nation and covers various approaches. It is focused on the humanity and social sciences and emerged as an academic field of study in the 20th century second half.

It was developed in response to the conception that most of the traditional disciplines like sociology, history, literature, anthropology, cultural studies and others were mainly created and developed with the perspective that keeps Europe and its colonies in America in the center.

It was evolved from the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the 1960s that played an important role in bringing a self-awareness in colored people like Americans with African origins, Latino Americans and Asian Americans and the American Indians who are the original residents of America.

A movement and the longest students strike in the history of the United States demanding the establishment of a department for the ethnic and race studies was first started in 1968 and was led by the Third World Liberation Front. It was started as a joint effort by the Black Student Union, Asian American Political Alliance, Native American Students Union, Latin American Students Organization and Pilipino American Collegiate Endeavor at San Francisco State University. As a result, many universities established the ethnic study departments to encompass various disciplines.

Understanding the Critical Race Theory (CRT)

The emergence of this race theory is associated with two events. One is the alternative course on Race. It was started in 1981 at Harvard Law School that was taught by Derrick Bell and the second is the Critical Legal Studies Conference on silence and race held in 1987.

Key theoretical elements

Different elements of properties and perspectives are identified and proposed by many scholars that help understand the theory of race in a critical way. Some of the key elements of this theory are as below.

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Whiteness as a property:

This as an element is added by Gloria Ladson-Billings and Cheryl I. Harris and it means the whiteness is a valuable property and is possessed by the white people only. These people are entitled to some inherent advantages like their right to use the resources, to have and defend their reputation and their status in the society, etc. These rights and functions of whiteness as a property is assumed to be more likely to make the American dream a reality for the white citizens of America.

Internalized racism:

Documented by Karen Pyke, this theoretical element is related to the internalization of racism that is developed within the beliefs of victims of racism who starts accepting their own situations and the superiority of other race over their own race. The reason behind this is the authority and power that contributes to the feeling of inferiority and inequality.

Institutionalized racism:

This type of racism describes the differential or discriminated access to the facilities and opportunities by race resulting due to the policies, norms, and practices in the society as defined by Camara Phyllis Jones. Due to its legal form and normative nature, it has an inherent disadvantage. It can’t be identified as an offender as it is absorbed in the system, law, and practices institutionally, and often becomes an evidence of clearly visible inability to take action when needed.

Major themes

Knowing about some major themes will be helpful in understanding what is critical race theory. They can be considered as the characteristics of the work in this theoretical field and are developed and documented by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. They include;

The critic of liberalism – Liberalism takes a more cautious approach and therefore is criticised by the CRT scholars who believe in an approach that aggressively brings the social transformation.

Naming one’s own reality – Storytelling or counter-storytelling that brings forth and explores the racial oppression and people’s experiences in that context.

Criticism of American Civil rights law – Interpretation and criticism of the laws on civil rights and discrimination arguing that it goes in accordance with the interests of white people.

Essentialism – This philosophy emphasizes the customized strategy for each group of oppressed people classified in gender, class, race since the oppression varies despite the fact of commonality between the oppressed people.

Black nationalism – Taking as a radical view of the black people arguing that they are seeking to develop a separate identity as a community.

White privilege – This refers to the benefits and advantages a person gets as a member of a white race.

Micro-aggression – One type of small conscious or unconscious acts of racism that can’t be identified as such easily, but slowly makes the life of oppressed people difficult.

Emphatic Fallacy – An assumption that the listener’s empathy will be significantly affected by providing an alternative narrative to change another narrative.

Social construction – This means the concept of race is the result of social setup rather than biology or genetics,

Criticism of the theory

The CRT itself is not free from the criticism. According to some scholars, this theory is largely dependent on the scholars’ who ultimately depends on the stories of people experiencing the racism and discrimination

Some judges of the United States of America has described the critical theory of racism as a radical legal egalitarianism and a construction of philosophy that hinders the exchange of ideas and views between the different disciplines. According to some authors and historians like Daniel Farber claims that CRT is discriminative towards Jews and Asian community and has negatively affected the concept of democracy as it should work the same way for all people for their gender and social issues regardless of their racial affiliation.

CRT has started looking and researching the issues of races outside of the United States in recent years. Also, there has been an emergence of some sub-groups in this theory which are focused on the issues outside the basic black and white side of the racism. They also have brought the attention to the intersection issues of gender, class, sexuality and other social structures with race.