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An Introductory Essay on Critical Race Theory

Dr. Ken Magdaleno
Center for Leadership, Equity and Research (CLEAR)

The presentation of truth in new forms provokes resistance, confounding those committed to accepted measures for determining the quality and validity of statements made and conclusions reached, and making it difficult for them to respond and adjudge what is acceptable.

—Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well

Derek Bell is considered one of the originators of Critical Race Theory along with Richard Delgado, Charles Lawrence, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia Williams. Today we see examples of individuals with limited knowledge of CRT who have been provoked to their own form of resistance reaching conclusions that demonstrate little understanding of the five tenets of CRT which are: counter-storytelling; the permanence of racism; Whiteness as property; interest conversion; and the critique of liberalism (DeCuir & Dixson, 2004; Ladson-Billings, 1998; McCoy, 2006).

My introduction to Critical Race Theory was when I became aware that a member of my dissertation committee at UCLA, Dr. Daniel Solorzano, was known for his research in the area of LatCrit (Latino Critical Race Theory) and Counter-storytelling. It was a “tipping point” moment for me as up to that point, I was not aware of the presence of CRT. Dr. Solorzano, along with Dr. Tara Yosso, wrote Critical Race Methodology: Counter-Storytelling as an Analytical Framework for Education Research. For the authors, a critical race methodology provides a tool to “counter” deficit storytelling (Solorzano & Yosso, 2002).

Up to that point in my educational career I often wondered and often asked others, “where am I in these history books?” CRT helped me see “the other side of Latino history.” I do not exaggerate when I state that Latinos were very often seen in American history as the killers of Davy Crockett at the Alamo, gangs of Zoot Suiters in Los Angeles fighting the patriotic members of the U.S. Navy, or finally, a positive role model in Cesar Chavez who is celebrated with a holiday and Mexican food at school. In truth, counter-storytelling is a framework that legitimizes the racial and subordinate experiences of marginalized groups (DeCuir & Dixson; Ladson-Billings; Parker & Villalpando, 2007). DeCuir and Dixson stated that counter-stories are a resource that both expose and critique the dominant (male, White, hetero- sexual) ideology, which perpetuates racial stereotypes. Counter-stories are personal, composite stories or narratives of people of color (Delgado Bernal & Villalpando, 2002). It is my understanding of the importance that others hear the stories of people of color so that there is a new respect for what we have accomplished over the centuries since the United States was formed.

So why is there such a negative and frightened response from the Republican Party to the teaching of Critical Race theory? Why do they want to make sure that CRT is banned in schools? The article link that follows below provides an explanation as to why CRT has become such a flashpoint among conservative groups. Critical race theory is an academic framework centered on the idea that racism is systemic, and not just demonstrated by individual people with prejudices. Critical Race Theory holds that racial inequality is woven into legal systems and negatively affects people of color in their schools, doctors’ offices, the criminal justice system and countless other parts of life.

Remember that race is a “social construct and not biological.” In other words, humans developed the subject of race for their own benefit. As such race is embedded in systems in order to benefit one race over another. Most people think of race in biological terms, and for more than 300 years, or ever since white Europeans began colonizing populations of color elsewhere in the world, race has indeed served as the “premier source of human identity” (Smedley, 1998, p. 690).

 “What is critical race theory and why do Republicans want to ban it in schools?” https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/05/29/critical-race-theory-bans-schools/

It has been my experience that racism is definitely systemic as I have personally experienced it in our educational system, our governmental system and have seen the data from the criminal justice system (school to prison pipeline). For someone to deny that racism is not systemic means to me that they are failing to see the data for what it shows. If interested you may want to follow this link where there are various books and articles listed providing additional information on systemic racism https://mitpress.mit.edu/blog/articles-understanding-systemic-racism-and-social-justice

There are a variety of lessons to be learned through the teaching of Race and Critical Race Theory. Unfortunately, many people fear even speaking the word “race.” For years I have followed the career of Antiracist Tim Wise and close with a quote from him:

“Ignorance of how we are shaped racially is the first sign of privilege. In other words, it is a privilege to ignore the consequences of race in America.” For many of us, we cannot and will not ignore the consequences of race (and ethno-racism) in America. As Critical Race theorists believe, each day brings proof that systemic racism exists and only by recognizing and working against it will we be able to lessen its effect in the lives of following generations.

Stay Strong in Social Justice and Practice “Praxis,”

Dr. Ken