Critical Race Theory
by Chris Doyle
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a school of legal and political scholarship that analyzes the survival of white supremacist hierarchy in legislative, judicial, and social actions in the United States. The second pillar to CRT is the ambition to change the intertwinement between racism and law. CRT grew from the Critical Legal Studies (CLS) movement that sprung as an intellectual response at law schools to Richard Nixon moving the judiciary rightward after decades of the courts expanding civil rights and political participation. CLS rejected the consensus that jurisprudence should be apolitical. The rift between CRT and CLS came from the dissatisfaction amongst people of color with mainstream definitions of racism that don’t examine the systemic inequities that trace their origins to racial prejudice (Crenshaw et al., xix). Derrick Bell at Harvard Law School taught a course called “Race, Racism, and American Law”. Professor Bell’s was the first class that examined race at the center of original law, rather than as a mere factor. His “race-conscious” perspective gave students the opportunity to think critically on the place of racism in the legal system (Crenshaw et al., xix-xx). This broke with the acceptable notions of racism to the centrists who saw racism only in vivid acts of passion, and didn’t believe in dramatic means of creating a more equitable society. After Professor Bell became the Dean of Oregon Law School, Harvard refused to hire another Black legal scholar because of what they claimed was a lack of qualified Black attorneys, and had a white professor teach the class without the race-conscious elements.
The failure to recognize the shadow prejudice that haunts policymaking and jurisprudence in the United States led to the schism in CLS that created CRT. Racism has persisted through American law and politics from the Three-Fifths Compromise and Slavery to Jim Crow to indirect housing discrimination and voter suppression. Other critical race theorists include Particia Williams, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Mari Matsuda, who look beyond the polity to see racialism in cultural institutions of music, film, and literature. Crenshaw has taken CRT a step further with the study of Intersectionality, how not only race, but gender, is a blindspot of prejudice embedded within the day-to-day order.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé, et al., editors. Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement. The New Press, 1995.
Williams, Patricia J. Seeing a Color-Blind Future: the Paradox of Race. Noonday Press, 1998.
Bell, Derrick. Faces at the Bottom of the Well: the Permanence of Racism. Basic Books, 2018.
Davis, Angela Y. Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture. ReadHowYouWant, 2010.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press, 2010.
“Kimberlé W. Crenshaw.” Columbia Law School, 1 Jan. 1970, www.law.columbia.edu/faculty/kimberle-w-crenshaw.
Purdue Writing Lab. “Critical Race Theory // Purdue Writing Lab.” Purdue Writing Lab, Purdue University, owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/literary_theory_and_schools_of_criticism/critical_race_theory.html.