Home Voices The Exchange Pat Sawyer: What Is CRT and Should We Be Concerned? Part 1

Pat Sawyer: What Is CRT and Should We Be Concerned? Part 1

CRT has grown and evolved considerably since its inception. It is important to note that while CRT began as a movement in legal theory, it has spread to other fields and disciplines. Today, its expanded form gives considerable fuel to the critical social justice (CSJ) movement, which itself takes notable liberty with how it applies ideas from CRT in its discourse. This liberty is so significant that pronounced forms of CSJ (think DiAngelo, Kendi) have only minimal resemblance to early CRT.

It is crucial to keep in mind that while there are unifying themes/elements (early CRT), core principles/key features/key concepts/tenets (as CRT has aged) that give meaningful, accurate explication of CRT, CRT resists essentialism. That is, there is no static, fixed canon of doctrines or methodologies of CRT that every CRT scholar adheres to or in the same way. To some extent the knowledge area is a reflexive, fluid, and contested space. For instance, recently a colleague and I discussed Derrick Bell’s contention that “racism is an integral, permanent, and indestructible component of this society” and that “racism lies at the center, not the periphery; in the permanent, not in the fleeting; in the real lives of black and white people, not in the sentimental caverns of the mind” (Faces at the Bottom of the Well, 1992, pp. ix and 198). My colleague and I have scholarship (both individually and jointly) where we have employed aspects of CRT. While we were in large agreement as to what we believe Bell to be saying, we have some divergence of opinion as to what Bell meant by “this society” and his locating of racism (in this instance) to individuals, to “real lives of black and white people.” My only point here is that we are two academics working with CRT, who both have legitimate perspectives to offer to discussions about race that at times genuinely draw from CRT, yet we are not fully aligned on how we understand CRT. One only has to attend academic conferences where CRT is a focus and go to lunch with fellow academics to see this dynamic loudly at work. Disagreements abound. In addition, part of the challenge of understanding CRT is that its definitions and descriptions have to be understood in their historical context and evolution and not in mere abstraction. Failure to understand this often has passionate but ill-informed advocates and adversaries of CRT talking (read yelling) past each other.

Unifying Ideas of CRT

Bearing in mind all I’ve said, I want to now articulate a number of ideas (also designated as themes, elements, key features, key concepts, core principles, and tenets, among other descriptors) that CRT scholarship identifies as unifying ideas and concepts that buoy the field. A serious literature review of CRT scholarship will uncover upwards of 20 ideas (from here on, tenets, for ease of discussion) comprehensively drawn and defined notwithstanding that individual critical race theorists may reduce the tenets to as little as five or six. When they do this, they are often combining aspects of multiple tenets or writing from a different place in the history of CRT. In my work I usually explicate CRT via 15 elaborated tenets that afford some combining of tenets but not too much so as to ensure fidelity to the evolution of the knowledge area.

I should note that CRT cannot be fully reduced to an abbreviated explication of its unifying ideas in a series of articles this size. CRT is a knowledge area of millions of words. Nevertheless, what follows are primary ideas permeating CRT that are having a serious impact on the Church as well as society at large.

The primary and peer-reviewed sources I have provided collectively demonstrate the tenets I offer but understand the number of sources supporting these tenets and their attendant ideas could be multiplied. Space has its constraints. With that said, in abbreviated form the tenets are as follows:

1) CRT contends that race as a concept is a social construct and not rooted in human nature or biology (there is only one race – the Human race) and was created for the express purpose of disenfranchising people of color, especially Blacks.

2) CRT claims racism is endemic, permanent, pervasive, and often hard to recognize.

3) CRT contends that racism is much more than individual attitudes and actions; it is systemic to societal institutions, sectors, and systems, and is best understood as white supremacy (broadly redefined and not its narrow definition tied to white power and white nationalists hate groups)

4) CRT rejects a ‘colorblind’ society claiming it provides cover for less overt forms of racism and serves to erase important racial and ethnic distinctions that should be emphasized.