Examples of Critical Race Theory and What Scares Conservatives
For clarity and accuracy, and a full understanding of Critical Race Theory, we must insist that concrete examples of institutional racism are necessary and be included in any description. It is not enough to “define” CRT. It is necessary to put meat on the bones of the definition. Here’s a way to do it:
E.g. #1. We know that African Americans are stopped by police (on foot and in cars) in disproportionate numbers when compared to whites. Why? One’s first instinct is to suggest that the police in question are racially profiling, per se, in making the stop. Racial profiling may be in the mix, but that’s not WHY the police are acting; it’s not racial profiling per se. When making a racially charged stop, the police are acting within a very narrow band of their own, personal self-interest. The police are looking to make an arrest. In order to make rank, gain promotion, improve their pay rate, police have to demonstrate that they are actively, and with initiative, doing hard-charging police work. In our society, demonstration of hard-charging police work means piling up the arrest numbers. Police are very much aware that of all socio-economic groups it is the underclasses who are most likely to have outstanding warrants, driving an unregistered car, be intoxicated, lapsed auto insurance, etc., and be a quick arrest, boosting their numbers. Are the police in this question racists? Maybe, but that’s irrelevant to their motives. In the frequent rousting of civilians, police are motivated by a self-interest engineered into the situation by the institution who employs them. It may well be that there is no badge toting racist present, yet we see racism playing out through institutional arrangements, and that’s the kind of institutional study CRT takes aims at: not the individual, but the institution!
E.g., #2. Take a school district where teacher’s salaries are tied to student performance. In poorer sections of American cities, where minorities tend to be majority population, teachers, to protect their salaries, have been caught changing answers on tests. This creates a false reality for many minority students and sets them up for later failure. An individual racist here is unnecessary for the functioning of an institution that encourages behavior damaging to minority students in at these low preforming schools in low-income areas. Racism becomes the structural byproduct of teachers attempting to save their salaries. Again, it is not the individual, but the institution.
E.g., #3 We know that minority individuals are disadvantaged in court. They receive longer sentences for minor offenses and longer probations, they plead guilty more often in plea deal arrangement — even when they are innocent of all charges. Is the judge who sentences the defendant under such circumstances a racist — the prosecutor, the Public Defender? These individuals may be racist, or maybe not — but again, that’s irrelevant to the effects of a system of institutions tilted against the poor, of which a considerable proportion are minorities.
Of course, you probably noticed that there are two central features that stand out in all these examples. The first is race, obviously, but the other is economic class. This is what really scares the Right. By “the Right” I don’t, in this case, necessarily mean the skinhead, pipe swinging, knuckle-draggers that stormed the capital on 1/6. I mean the other Right, the 1 percenter — the Armani suited, Princeton educated, Hampton living American aristocracy that will stop at literally nothing to maintain their historically granted, privileged station in life.
For this American aristocracy, race is useful cover in maintaining class position. Race is a prime distraction for a rapidly increasing income inequality and wealth disparity. Oddly enough, in this sense Critical Race Theory is a gift to the Right. While CRT is a valuable approach to study the kinds of institutional racism exampled above, it is also a complicated topic that is easily distorted into forms never intended. Often these distortions are immensely useful to deflect questions of poverty and class conflict. Focus on race not class, for race is political theater and can be easily managed by the apparatchik stagehands of political flim-flam. Class is a concrete, economic issue and not easily distorted — except by race baiting. Details are not really necessary as we know that CRT is made to look like an attack on white people; this is convenient for the Right. Scaring the wits out of naive and uninformed whites is proving to be useful in misdirecting their fear and anxieties. In other words, while poor white folks are busy wailing that they aren’t racists, the true villain, the 1%, riding a wave of class exploitation and oppression, go unnoticed.
What CRT might do through a steady and scholarly focus on history and its institutions, and what frightens the Right, is to lay bare the ugly realities of class domination, of which racism is a classic symptom — not a cause. Such studies would also make clear that behind institutional racism is a time-line revealing the development of a class structure whose continued existence dependents on a crippled consciousness among the working class. By focusing on history and institutions, CRT is one avenue of study that has the potential to weaken false consciousness among the working class. This is why CRT scares the crap out of the Right. It might awaken the working class.