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A CRT of State: A New Area of Critical Race Research

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Published on: October 31, 2022

Here I sit once again, a typical Sunday morning where I spend a great deal of time reading and writing. While I generally have no problem coming up with topics that interest me, conveying the message to readers in a way they would find not only interesting but helpful, is the challenge. I am often told that my writing is “too academic” and that I should simplify it to the lowest common denominator. Personally, I find that insulting, as it insinuates an audience that can’t follow along. I also happen to believe that because topics like CRT are very academic in nature, with much of the racial research being conducted in the highest halls of academia, it is imperative for people to understand the research itself and what drives it. Critical Race Theory goes way deeper than most people can imagine. While many people are focused on elementary school, and race-based lessons which focus on racism as an individual problem, CRT scholars are researching racial issues on an entirely different level. They are driven by the belief that whites will never see minorities as equal, and all their efforts at meaningful reform were only done because they benefitted white people first. These are but a couple of the major tenets which drive CRT scholarship.

Critical Race Theory is a method of framing research from the perspective that institutional, systemic racism drives American politics. Looking at the term itself, “Critical” Race Theory, and understanding its relationship to the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory, it can be understood that its purpose is to offer a societal critique in the pursuit of social change. CRT scholars, under the tenet they refer to as the “critique of liberalism” reject as a matter of their philosophical underpinnings, the very ideals of western civilization. Equal rights, equality of opportunity, and personal responsibility are rejected in favor of what they admit to being, their own subjective viewpoints. These subjective views are Marxist in nature and driven by a pre-existing belief that white supremacy dominates the United States.

A good example of this type of research is a paper entitled Toward a Critical Race Theory of State (2015). This paper is like William Tate’s Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education, published in 1995, where he argues that race should be the primary determining factor in any education research. Tate also goes as far as rejecting much of the work of so-called CRT scholars in the sense that he claims they have focused on race much the same way White Marxists have focused on class. CRT scholars argue that race issues have been minimized in their own efforts because the research is being conducted within the oppressive confines of the white supremacist system. This is the primary argument being made in Toward a CRT Theory of State as well. The paper contrasts the current perspectives of CRT researchers to the previous research that has been done under something called Racial State Theory, or RST. The paper provides an excellent example within the text of how CRT rejects any other perspectives in favor of its own.

What is Racial State Theory? This is a general belief that the state promotes racial policies because “every state action has racial consequences and because the state itself is established to accomplish racial goals” (Bracey II, 2015). Proponents of RST argue that racial social norms are perpetuated by a state which is run by racial actors (white people) that push their own interests in the form of state power. These actors also define the legitimate functions of the state which, in turn, normalize white privilege. Much of this sounds strikingly familiar to the ideas of CRT. Both Critical Race Theory and RST are driven by the idea that racism is a normal, everyday part of American society and that the state is always acting out of a sense of racial superiority no matter the intentions of the actors involved. Both theories also reject the idea that the Civil Rights Movement was a successful attempt to right the wrongs, so to say, concerning America’s racist past.

This is where it becomes imperative to understand what CRT is, and why focusing on elementary school will not have an effect in any way. As I continue to mention in all my articles, William Tate stated that “CRT is not something to be taught to the undergraduate student. It is a framework used in law school and in Ph.D.’s education to better understand how laws are formulated and the influence of law on everyday life.” In this case, CRT is used to critique the tenets of RST and establish their own, based on their preconceived biases. While there are many similarities between the two theories, CRT clings to the perspective that white people are deliberately formulating policies that support and spread their own power and privilege.

Toward a Critical Race Theory of State describes this in terms of how both perspectives view state autonomy. This is defined by Bracey (2015) as the amount of power the state is able to exert when opposed by other social interests. In the Marxist view, the state seeks to uphold the interest of the capitalist class against all opposition. In this case, CRT researchers are highlighting the inconsistencies of the RST perspective in terms of how they view and research racism from a state autonomy perspective. For example, Bracey (2015) points out the differing perspectives of RST when it comes to state power. RST argues that the state is an independent actor that is reactionary to outside attempts to force racial issues. In one instance, RST proponents suggest that the state resists outside influences or social movements in the interest of preserving the racial status quo. On the other hand, the inconsistency in this view is shown when RST proponents take what is referred to as a pluralist view. They argued that the so-called “Reagan Revolution” was an attempt by outside racial reactionaries to force the state to undo the so-called reforms of the Civil Rights Movement. In this instance, the state doesn’t resist outside movements. Though, if you view this closely there isn’t much of an inconsistency beyond applying a pluralist or instrumental view of state autonomy. Both examples suggest the state itself is upholding white supremacy. The RST position, however, ultimately argues that the state is fluid and in control of what issues it chooses to pursue.

The CRT of State position argues the exact opposite. It rejects any notion that RST made suggesting that the state is anything but an actor working to purport its own interests, even if racial in nature. The state is nothing but a useful tool used to maintain white supremacy. According to Bracey (2015), the state is used by those in power to arbitrate agreements between different groups of white people to do nothing more than maintain white dominance. Looking at this through one of the primary tenets of CRT itself, interest convergence, Bracey (2015) argues through the CRT view that the Civil Rights Movement was nothing more than the acceptance of certain reforms because it benefitted the white majority, or the autonomy of the state first. Whereas the RST perspective would have argued that the groups pushing Civil Rights Reforms were successful in doing so against the autonomous state and that it was again, the efforts of outside groups influencing the independent state, at a later time, to reverse those reforms. If it can even be argued they were reversed at all. To CRT scholars, including requirements to work as a condition of receiving state aid is reversing reforms made during the Civil Rights era. That is a very subjective viewpoint.

While all of this is very interesting, it isn’t really the bigger point of this article. I don’t think the majority of people who are interested in fighting CRT on the educational level understand how deep it goes. Many argue that banning CRT in school is a solution. It may be on some levels. Looking at this from the perspective of Tate’s Towards a CRT of Education, it can definitely be argued that educators are putting race at the forefront of every issue, just as Tate suggested. Banning the use of race-based topics may be a good start. Tate’s essay, however, was written in 1995. How deeply embedded are his theories? Can parents seeking to challenge school boards even begin to make an effective argument without understanding the theoretical underpinnings of Tate’s paper? He is, after all, the one who brought CRT into education. The argument I am trying to make in my writing is that it must be understood that CRT is not a fixed teaching. It is a research model used to frame the research from the perspective that racism dominates American culture. Towards a Critical Race Theory of State, for example, concludes by saying that this particular aspect of CRT, a new research perspective if you will, allows CRT scholars to address questions pertaining to racism and the state in a more direct manner than previous theories. It does so because the tenets which drive it are already based on preconceived ideas of white supremacy and racism driving all aspects of American culture. In other words, it is my belief that if you want to understand CRT, you have to understand the manner in which they frame their research.

Check out my latest book on Critical Race Theory Now available in paperback.  

Also, check out Without a Shot Indeed: Inducing Compliance to Tyranny Through Conditioning and Persuasion.

Article posted with permission from David Risselada

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