Is Critical Race Theory “UnChristian” Part 4

Written by: Dr. Matt Mullins (Assistant Professor of English and History of Ideas/Associate Dean for Academic Advising)

In the previous posts in this series I introduced Critical Race Theory (CRT), explained its origins, and began to explore some of its core beliefs. In this post I outline more of its core beliefs.

What Do Critical Race Theorists Believe?

-Colorblindness is a Problem, not a Solution-

Colorblindness sounds like a good idea. Adherents of colorblindness typically believe that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their personal backgrounds, religious affiliation, racial identity, and so on. But for CRT, the idea of treating people the same “regardless” of their histories is why racism persists.

If racism has evolved over time into an integral part of the structure of our society, and if that structure holds some people back and gives others a leg up, then to treat all those people the same is to maintain a status quo that disenfranchises some and privileges others. In other words, if two equally-matched people are running a marathon and you give one a head start, then no matter how similar their paths, no matter how equally hydrated, no matter that both are chasing the same goal, the person with the head start will always win. It wouldn’t be fair to say to the loser, “Well, you ran the same race, had the same amount of water, and crossed the same finish line, why didn’t you win?” For CRT, turning a blind eye to the disparity at the starting line is like claiming that we should be colorblind when it comes to addressing racial inequalities.

-Interest Convergence, not Pure Progress-

Interest convergence is the idea that dominant groups only acquiesce to minority interests when those interests converge with their own.  Derrick Bell developed this concept in an essay about the famous Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board of Education. In Brown vs.  Board, the Court outlawed the segregationist policies of “separate but equal” education in the United States. But Bell claimed that the ruling did not simply represent progress. Instead, he insisted that this landmark decision was reached because ending segregation was in the best interest of the dominant culture, not because it was truly just, fair, or best for minorities.

The Court had not had a genuine change of heart, Bell argued, and neither had the American people. Rather, for a number of other reasons it had become untenable to maintain segregation. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic summarize the argument, pointing out that African American soldiers returning home from World War II had glimpsed a different world and were not likely to go quietly back to Jim Crow America. The Court feared instability. They also note that the United States was in the midst of the Cold War and being a hotbed of racial unrest and white supremacist violence didn’t help the country win hearts and minds away from Communism. Interest convergence is a pessimistic feature of CRT. Critics of CRT often point to it as evidence of an unwillingness to acknowledge any kind of progress in race relations.

-Whiteness is Normative-

Another core belief of CRT is that whiteness has come to seem normal over time, making everything else non-normal, or other. To put it another way, whiteness and everything associated with being white has become the standard for how a person should be. You should hear echoes of colorblindness here because CRT criticizes the idea that we can be neutral, objective, or colorblind when it comes to race. If we are trying to be neutral, then we are inevitably reinforcing the status quo, or the norm, and the norm is to live and behave like white people.

Remember, most proponents of CRT also believe race is a social construct, so that means they don’t think there’s anything biologically superior about being white. Instead, they argue that whiteness has come to be dominant and desirable over time. In the colonial era and then in the early days of the Union, many people and groups from across the world who are now recognized as white were not considered to be white. People from Ireland and Italy were not white in the eighteenth century.  Benjamin Franklin maintained that the Germans were too “swarthy” to be white! And yet, over time these folks have become white, not because their skin color has changed, but because they have assimilated into the values associated with whiteness.

This is where skin color is important.  Such assimilation was impossible for people of African descent no matter how completely they adopted the values associated with whiteness because they were easily recognizable based on the color of their skin. And over time (especially in the seventeenth century), dark skin had come to be synonymous with slavery, an institution justified by pseudoscientific claims that skin color was a reliable indicator of inferiority or superiority.