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Essays on Critical Race Theory – Part 2

Racism: The word nobody likes

Racism, the word nobody likes. Whites who don’t want to confront racism and who don’t name themselves “white” recoil in horror from it, shun it like the plague. To mention the word in their company disrupts their comfortable complacency . . . Racism is a slippery subject, one which evades confrontation, yet one which overshadows every aspect of our lives. (Anzaldua, 1990, p. xix)

At the same time and in reference to racism, Anzaldua maintained that racism is a word that “disrupts the comfortable complacency” of whites, because white people can afford to ignore racism because it does not happen to them. Perhaps the exhausting nature of race and racism came through to you while reading the quote from Gloria Anzaldua. Teaching, discussing and living racism is exhausting. One can only imagine the effects of living racism on an everyday basis…because it is permanent. Critical Race Theorists seek to define tenet number two of its five in the following manner:

Acknowledgement that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal and educational systems, that replicate racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.

Reading the previous definition of race, there can only be a recognition that Critical Race Theorists and tenet #2 are correct in the belief that “the permanence of racism” is manifest in the United States. I fail to understand why anyone would deny the existence of structural and systemic racism in the United States based on the definition provided above. As I wrote in my first essay on Critical Race Theory, CRT consists of five (5) tenets including: counter-storytelling; the permanence of racism; Whiteness as property; interest conversion; and the critique of liberalism (DeCuir & Dixson, 2004; Ladson-Billings, 1998; McCoy, 2006). This short essay on “the permanence of racism” seeks to provide a research-based response in order that we have an answer to those seeking to do away with CRT and especially, in this essay, the second tenet of “the permanence of racism.”

Research on CRT provides a definition indicating that Critical Race Theory analyzes the role of race and racism in perpetuating social disparities between dominant and marginalized racial groups. (DeCuir & Dixson; Ladson-Billings; Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995). As a person of color, I have seen and experienced the social disparities as pointed out by Critical Race Theorists. A response to White privilege in the educational system very often resulted in a denial that “privilege” exists. And yet, the number of teachers of color is dwarfed by the number of white, female teachers. Is this because people of color are not interested in teaching? I think not. It is mostly because the path to becoming a teacher is absolutely denied by an inequity in the education students of color receive beginning in kindergarten and continuing through the high school years. When does implicit bias begin in the educational system? There is little doubt that this bias begins as soon as students of color begin the schooling experience. This is a example of the “permanence of racism” of Critical Race Theory and is also an example of the fact that “race is socially constructed” and not biologically real. While recognizing the evolving and malleable nature of CRT, scholar Khiara Bridges outlines a few key tenets of CRT, including:

  • Recognition that race is not biologically real but is socially constructed and socially significant. It recognizes that science (as demonstrated in the Human Genome Project) refutes the idea of biological racial differences. According to scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, race is the product of social thought and is not connected to biological reality
  • Rejection of popular understandings about racism, such as arguments that confine racism to a few “bad apples.” CRT recognizes that racism is codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy. CRT rejects claims of meritocracy or “colorblindness.” CRT recognizes that it is the systemic nature of racism that bears primary responsibility for reproducing racial inequality

The permanence of racism suggests that racism controls the political, social, and economic realms of U.S. society. In CRT, racism is seen as an inherent part of American civilization, privileging White individuals over people of color in most areas of life, including education. (DeCuir & Dixson, 2004; Delgado, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1998; Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995). A few months ago I had the good fortune to do a small research piece with a local university on race and anti-racism and received this particular quote from Dr. Pete Flores, CLEAR’s Director of Equity regarding race as a system.

It is not an individual character flaw, nor a personal moral failing, nor a psychiatric illness. It is a system (consisting of structures, policies, practices, and norms) that structures opportunity and assigns value based on phenotype, or the way people look. It unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities. Yet even more profoundly, the system of racism undermines realization of the full potential of our whole society because of the waste of human resources.

Source: Center for the Study of Race, Social Justice & Health

I have noted over my years of teaching about race and racism that there are many individuals and groups who claim credit for the first real definition of race and racism. As such, I will leave it to others to help determine the actual time period that “racism” begin to take hold among humans. For my work, it is better to use current tools that help us see just how prejudiced we are in the present moment in order to impact our behavior towards others at the present time. One of the tools I most often used in my classes at Fresno State included “Project Implicit” https://www.projectimplicit.net/ which I believe everyone should participate in at one time or another. Should you choose to take one or more of the tests offered, please let me know what you thought of it.

Finally, as Social Justice educational leaders it is important to recognize the value of Critical Race Theory as a framework that is committed to a social justice agenda intent on eliminating all forms of subordination of people. We can begin to uncover our own forms of racism by first recognizing their existence in our life.

Stay Strong in Social Justice,
Dr. Ken