What is Critical Race Theory and does it mean the end of the world?

Disclaimer: Critical Race Theory has been around since the 1970s and is a rather complex theory. I do not profess to be an expert on CRT nor will I attempt to cover every facet of a complicated theory. Everything written here is from a mix of my own education experiences with CRT and other research at credible sources. I encourage you to continue your own learning and education with sources who know what they are talking about.

The answer to the second part of the title: no.

I first came across Critical Race Theory during one of my classes for my Education degree. I was surprised to start seeing it in the news and seeing it portrayed as… a bad thing?

When people are offering up criticism for something, my first question to them is: do you understand what this thing really is, or are you just going along with what the people you already happen to agree with say about it? I make it a point not to speak on anything without 1) doing independent research to make sure I understand it and/or 2) clarifying I do not have the proper knowledge on this topic to make an informed opinion.

Too often we have become accustomed to perusing headlines and thinking that gives the whole picture. Or we believe a Tweet can give the whole story. We trust the news to be factual and unbiased – it is not. We live in a capitalist world, bestie – follow the money.

Anyway, with all that said, the criticism and outright fear of CRT that I’m seeing is disheartening to say the least. It seems to me to be people covering their ears like, “Nah I don’t want to confront my own ideas about race and white supremacy.” But here’s a couple points that are important to keep in mind as these debates rage on:

first, our societies are racist.

And if we can’t agree on this point, you may as well stop reading here.

I am hesitant to throw out a bunch of statistics because I think this fact is so obvious, so clearly a fabric of our society that I shouldn’t have to. Also, Google is free.

However, it appears this is an important point to expand on.

Our world is racist. Canada – racist. America – racist. The UK – racist. Is every single person in all of those places? Not overtly so. If asked, very few people would openly admit that they are racist but it comes through in some subtle, and decidely not so subtle, ways. I have had to fight against, undo, and unlearn many of the racist ideas that were passed on to me living in small town Alberta. I don’t want to paint a perfect picture that I am this perfect beacon of anti-racism: I am not. I am a white woman living in a society that, by default, affords me certain benefits that people of other racial identities do not receive.

For example, (pauses to wonder where to begin) . . . The murder of George Floyd. Yup, we’re starting there today. Someone tried to tell me once about George Floyd’s criminal record, and I just about imploded (99% sure I yelled). Since when were police allowed to kill criminals when they decided? What about all those times people screech about due process for alleged rapists? Do we only care about due process and fairness if they’re white? Floyd’s criminal record or anything he may or may not have done prior to his arrest is irrelevant.

Recently in Canada, a Muslim family was literally mowed down by a dude in a pickup (because of course it was a dude in a pick up) simply for the way they looked and who they choose to worship. A 9 year old boy lost his entire family. And a few years ago (2017), we had 91 primarily Conservative/Bloc MPs vote against a motion to condemn Islamophobia, systemic racism, and religious discrimination. I have to wonder, why? In fact, I wrote to my MP to inquire as to why (no response as of time of writing). What could anyone have against such a motion? This was only months after a man opened fire in a mosque in Quebec City, killing 6 and seriously injuring 5 more simply because they were worshipping. In a mosque. Careful loves, your racism is showing.

Research has been conducted into racism in the workplace. Applicants who submitted their resume with a “white-sounding” name got called for interviews significantly more than those with “non-white sounding” names.

It’s important that we realize that this doesn’t mean people are cackling evilly while shredding any resume with a non-White sounding name. They may not even realize they are doing it. Racism is embedded into our society. It is embedded in us. There’s overt racism, like white boy running over that family for literally no reason. But CRT also talks about the subtle ways racism is worked into our society.

White women were given the vote in Canada in 1918. Black women were not afforded the same right until 1922, followed by Asian women + men in 1948. Inuit women and men were not granted suffrage until 1950, while it took until 1960 for First Nations people to be able to vote in federal elections without having to forfeit their Treaty status. We could also compare wages for women of different races: white women make more (though still less than white men) than Black, Asian, or Indigenous women.

This is racism.

what is crt anyway?

First of all, CRT is not new. It has been around for decades.

CRT proposes that race is socially constructed, in that there are no inherent biological differences between the races, so there must be another reason for the drastically different ways of life experienced by White people vs. racial minorities (spoiler alert – it’s systemic racism).

The differences we see with our eyes, such as hair texture and eye color or shape, are superficial and emerged over time as humans adapted to geography.

DiAngelo & sensoy

From Ladson Billings (1998): “Critical race theory begins with the notion that racism is normal in American society.” Okay, now I can see why people’s jimmies are rustled. People don’t want to believe that they are racist, the people they know are racist, or that the country they love was and is racist.

I get that this is an uncomfortable notion, but it is one we must accept. For example, Canada is literally founded on racism, ethnocentrism, and white supremacy. Settlers came, pushed the First Nations people out of their lands, stripped them of their rights, fought to demolish their way of life, stole their children and sent them to schools to be beaten and abused, covered this up, outlawed traditional ways of life for the First Nations people – need I go on? Oh wait, I will go on: As of November 2020, 41 First Nations communities were still under a drinking water advisory. They do not have clean water. If this was happening off the reserves, it would be a crisis and immediately rectified.

We need to stop dancing around the idea of racism being firmly embedded in our society if we ever have a hope of changing it for the better. It is, and anyone’s denial as such doesn’t change that. Racism does not magically dissipate if we pretend it isn’t there.

When I see (primarily White) people so vehemently arguing against CRT, I have to wonder why they fight so hard to maintain an incredibly unequal status quo. If you can ignore the presence of racism, you have White privilege and you must be part of ridding our society of racism.

but I’m not a white supremacist!

Good, I’m glad. However, in academic discourse, white supremacy does not always refer to white hoods and the KKK. White supremacy favours the maintenance and defense of white power and privilege – such as by banning discussions about race. By refusing to address our racism, we are maintaining the status quo which happens to work neatly in favour of those already in power (White people).

White supremacy does not refer to individual White people per se and their individual intentions, but to a political–economic social order based on the historical and current accumulation of structural power that privileges White people as a group.

Sensoy and diangelo, 2017

You, personally, may not have owned slaves, abused Indigenous folks, or run down a family, but if you do not speak out against racism, then you are benefiting from our racist systems and ensuring that they stay in place. How can anyone be okay with that?

Why is my kid learning about crt in school?

Alternate question: Why wouldn’t they?

Why are we so afraid of our kids learning that racism exists? They are not too young to learn because they are already seeing it. No one is saying we subject young children to material far out of their developmental range. But if we are to raise our kids in a racist society, shouldn’t they be aware of what it is, why it is, and how it manifests in our society?

By banning CRT from our schools, we are not curing racism, but I’m fairly confident the people wanting to ban CRT aren’t that interested in “curing” racism. We are raising ignorant, uneducated people who will go out into the world with no idea of how it really functions. Would we fight the same against critical logarithms theory? Critical grammar theory? These are all important to growing into the world (jury’s still out on logarithms tbh). When we ban CRT, we are saying we don’t care if racism exists (even though it does), we don’t care to educate the next generation, and if you’re not white, good luck.

Again, my education about my own country and its history was LACKING. I learned about the settlers coming to Canada and trading with the First Nations as a “good thing.” I made a fur trading fort out of Popsicle sticks like this was a fun thing. I learned about residential schools, apparently briefly and barely (if at all) making mention of the atrocities that happened there. I learned that settlers “allowed” First Nations students to become “educated”. I am mad FURIOUS that I was not properly informed and educated when I was young.

If you say that all are created in God’s image and knit together in their mother’s womb, then you better be first in line to learn more about CRT and support its use in our schools.

Anything else is a farce.

Resources:

To learn more, I recommend:

Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, 2nd edition – Ozlem Sensoy and Robin Diangelo

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism – Robin DiAngelo

“Just what is critical race theory and what’s it doing in a nice field like education?” (2010) – Gloria Ladson-Billings

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