Why Critical Race Theory Should Matter To You
Sociology Professor Dr. Monita Mungo has said that "racism affects the choices and chances of individuals, I believe the only way to confront systemic racism is to confront the systems and structures that uphold it. And to do that means telling a complete history." If you've heard recent debate about critical race theory in education, you may have asked yourself, why should critical race theory matter to me? For many people, continuing to follow the norm when it comes to racial consideration is easy, but likely isn't best. To learn the importance of wholistic racial education, it's vital to know the role that each person plays in racial awareness.
What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical Race Theory, abbreviated as CRT, has several key tenets which guide understanding of racial issues. here are some of those key tenets:
- Race is a social construction that has significant social impacts, despite the fact that science typically refutes biological racial differences.
- Racism is commonplace in society and entrenched in our institutions, which perpetuate inequity between races.
- "Colorblindness" ignores the systemic barriers for people of color.
- Research and understanding of the lives of people of color should come from people of color, not observers.
- Racism is often cloaked in stereotypes and can often appear neutral on paper.
- The law is not objective, nor it is apolitical.
In general, CRT is about assessing the continual impact that racism has, and recognizing the many ways racism is perpetuated and replicated. If it's difficult to think of an example, consider the education system: segregation in schools was legal until 1954. Even after schools were integrated, practices such as redlining (the denial of financial opportunity, such as mortgage loans in certain neighborhoods) encouraged minorities to gather in separate areas.
Without the opportunity to gain generational wealth, properties were often less extravagant and held less value. Because schools traditionally receive funds from income tax on the community members, minority communities often receive less funding for education and schools, which translates into less opportunity and resources. Even though separation and inequity is not explicitly codified into law, the institutional structure and history continue to have a major impact on the experience of people of color.
CRT, in other words, emphasizes acknowledgement of the real experience of people of color, rather than delegating racial issues to the history books.
What Does It Have To Do With Me?
Even once you understand CRT, you still might be asking: why should critical race theory matter to me? CRT recognizes that institutions replicate racism which is embedded in our society. For individuals who are not people of color, that typically means that they enjoy use of and protection by these institutions without concern for their race being a factor in their experience. Even if you aren't in charge of these institutions, awareness is the beginning of change.
It's important to learn CRT now because it is likely that your education on racial issues has largely been based on a white-oriented, two dimensional understanding of race. Recognizing our own educational shortcomings is important for two reasons: it reminds us that we likely aren't experts, and it reminds us that there is work to be done. Being open to challenging what we know is vital to finding genuine understanding. If you don't know where to start, seek out writings on issues from the perspective of people of color rather than an "objective" point of view.
Additionally, the idea that "colorblindness" is a solution to racial inequity starts and ends with everyday people. CRT urges people to recognize that even if everyone is equal in your eyes, people of color still face challenges that affect their daily lives, creating a unique experience that should not be ignored. Although it might seem admirable to see everyone as your equal, it discounts the unique struggles that each person faces.
Vigilance is also a task for everyone under CRT. Because policies can be facially neutral but have a disparate impact, it's important to fully analyze the possible effects of a vote or decision. What communities might this impact? Could this lead to the blaming, glamorizing, or shaming of a racial group? These questions may seem easy to ask now, but foresight is key when making real decisions. Even if you can't always anticipate the domino-effect before a decision, remember to continually assess intended and unintended impacts after it is made. Don't be afraid to say to you've made a mistake or recommend a change. The focus should be on fixes, not the fact that our past attempts were imperfect.
Support CRT Education
If you're still wondering, should critical race theory matter to me? The better question to ask is, should critical race theory matter to me, or you, or anyone at all? While an individual may not see racial awareness and education as their personal duty, taking individual initiative is how everyone becomes more aware of the implications of race.
Every single person can improve racial awareness in their setting. Whether you're in school, in an office job, or anything in between, consider what the experience for people of color would be in your place. What barriers might be present? If your setting isn't diverse, is there a reason? In virtually any space, it is beneficial to understand the perspective of people of color in order for things to run optimally. human-centered design requires consideration of all humans, not just the majority or those who hold authority.
Acknowledgment and improvement of racial inequity requires effort from everyone, even if it does not benefit them personally. If race isn't something that you consider during your everyday life, consider that your comfort may come at the expense of other's discomfort. Simple awareness is an easy way to encourage change, and many resources exist to help individuals learn. But remember: CRT should matter to everyone because we as a society should strive to continually improve for everyone. When our friends and neighbors thrive, so do we.
© 2021 H C Palting