Summary: An introduction to the concepts, critique and future of Critical Race Theory.
Opposition to Critical Race Theory has moved into the forefront of the critique of modern racial justice movement. It was specifically mentioned in the Dallas Statement on Social Justice as one of the aspects of the social justice movement that is incompatible with the gospel. But I suspect that many that are most critical of Critical Race Theory have little familiarity with it.
CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color.
But then Wikipedia cites Critical Race Theory: An Introduction and gives twelve themes such as: A critique of liberalism, storytelling focus, revisionist interpretations of civil rights law, intersectionality, bias toward white supremacy, etc to flesh out that simple description from UCLA School of Public Affairs.
Honestly, while I did find Critical Race Theory: An introduction very helpful, I do wish there were a simpler and clearer definition. But what was clear is that universal arguments against Critical Race Theory probably do not understand it fully, or at least are over generalizing.
I actually think that Al Mohler’s argument against critical race theory as a whole, but affirming aspects of it in his discussion about the Dallas Statement was helpful, although I did not agree with Mohler’s overall approach. As I read Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, I can certainly see aspects that I disagree with. But I also see a number of areas that I find very helpful in approach and that support Christian concepts of sin and theology.
The most helpful is the concept of intersectionality. This is often mischaracterized by opponents as trying to add up victimhood points. But as I understand it, intersectionality is simply the concept that different types of oppression work differently, and that when you layer oppressions together, the result is different in kind not just quantity. The classic origin is the intersection of race and gender. Black women working in an office or factory are discriminated against because they are black women. But traditional solutions that address their race or their gender separately may not be effective because the racial solution may be targeted toward Black men and the gender solution may be targeted toward White women and therefore neither address the particular concerns of Black women.
Said another way, a woman that is in a wheelchair will not be helped by addressing sexism if the solution does not address accessibility. If she needs a restroom for her office, but the only accessible restroom is the men’s room, then there has not been a solution that addresses the whole of her problem.
Inextricably tied to the concept of intersectionality is the concept of privilege. I think this is better described in the book So You Want to Talk About Race. Everyone has layered privileges. You may have had a two parent family, a good eduction, and a network within your church that has helped you find a good job. No one is only privileged or only oppressed. There is always a mixture. The point isn’t adding up privilege and oppression points to find a sum total, but clearly thinking about how aspects of privilege and oppression work together positively and negatively.
Critical Race Theory is critical. This is one of the critiques of it. The use of it is to break down historic systems of oppression. While I think there are real limits to critical approaches, constructive approaches cannot work in every situation if they do not acknowledge history and culture. We have a history where white supremacy has been upheld even when many want to say they are not personally and individually racist. The solution to that has to be critical in order to understand and dismember the aspects of legal, educational, and others systems that perpetuate white supremacy. Critical Race Theory will likely be of limited use in constructing a new legal, educational, health (etc.) systems that are intentionally against oppression of any sort. But we also cannot get to that constructive position without understanding the aspects of society that need Critical Race Theory.
Overall, I think that the concepts of Critical Race Theory are helpful as are many other frameworks that I cannot fully support in every aspect. I also think that the approach of Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, in trying to describe the framework, characterize how it has changed over time, where it is going in the future, and summarize the critiques of the framework is helpful. I also appreciate the frequent quotes in support or opposition to Critical Race Theory from legal opinions for context.