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Understanding CRT Research: Creating a Nuanced Perception of Racism in America

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Published on: December 18, 2022

Nothing will drive a person crazy on a Sunday morning like reading up on some good old Critical Race Theory research. I find it both fascinating and disturbing at the same time. Fascinating in the sense that the theory itself has become so adept at turning everything into an issue of structural racism, and troubling because there is nothing they will not twist out of proportion to prove their point. Racism itself has become such a convoluted topic that believing in equality between Blacks and Whites is now an act of covert discrimination. I happen to believe that Americans need to pay attention to this issue beyond the elementary school level. While it may feel good to advocate for policies that ban race-based lessons in K-12 education, those lessons are not CRT, even if the name is being used. Critical Race Theory itself is a research model used to examine how “structural racism” operates within systems. Its use in elementary school is no different. Children in fifth grade are not learning how to do racialized research within the framework of the CRT model. Rather, the model is being used to examine how the school’s policies and practices marginalize minority students. For example, an article entitled A Racialized Perspective on Educational Leadership: Critical Race Theory in Educational Administration suggests that CRT is a valuable tool used to examine policies and administrative procedures to help administrators create new ways to fight for racial justice.  Some of the topics being taught to students may be the result of CRT-based research, however, banning those topics from being taught will not stop the researchers from doing what they do – looking for ways to prove racism exists where it really doesn’t. Unfortunately, much of this research isn’t taking place at the elementary school level. It is being conducted within the halls of higher academia where race has become the dominating factor driving almost everything.  In this article, I will be discussing a research paper entitled The Fifth Frame of Colorblind Ideology: Maintaining the Comforts of Colorblindness in the Context of White Fragility.

First, I want to draw a correlation between the previously mentioned paper and The Fifth Frame of Colorblind Ideology. Just as the former notes that CRT is a useful tool for examining policies and administrative procedures, so too does the latter state that the research for their paper was conducted through a CRT lens. They state their methodology is driven by a “critical race praxis for educational research, which is rooted in Critical Race Theory.” Being a research model, CRT is driven by certain, pre-existing beliefs that guide and shape the research itself. CRT scholars admit that they reject traditional notions of what they call “the liberal order,” or “abstract liberalism,” in favor of their own subjective view that racism has and continues to dominate American law and social policy. What do they mean by abstract liberalism? Traditional notions of equality under the law. This has led to what CRT scholars call colorblindness. This is the insistence that race is no longer a problem in America, and white people, in order to justify their privilege, ignore systemic racism on the grounds that overt discrimination was rectified during the civil rights era. There are four aspects of colorblindness. Cultural racism is the idea that minorities are in the position they are in because of their own lifestyle choices. Naturalization normalizes cultural racism by detaching these lifestyle choices from the social structures that, according to CRT scholars, work to uphold white supremacy. Minimization of racism ignores the structural practices which work to uphold white privilege while placing racism on the individual, as opposed to, the systemic level. Finally, Abstract Liberalism posits the idea previously mentioned, that white people can openly advocate for a discrimination-free society, hiding behind their so-called anti-racist attitudes, while ignoring the real systematic racism that, according to CRT, takes place every day in contemporary American society. When conducting research from a CRT lens, these are some of the driving ideas which frame and shape the perspectives of the researchers. To put it in more simple terms, the researchers are starting from a position, not of neutrality, but one where they already believe white people are privileged and America practices systemic racism. There is no possible way they could come to any other conclusion.

In my book, A Critical Look at CRT in Education, Research and Social Policy I cite an article entitled Understanding The Why of Whiteness, which was published in the book Understanding Critical Race Research Methods and Methodologies. The author states that the goal of CRT in education is to not simply articulate the continuity of white racism in education but to offer a more nuanced conception of white racism, while also accounting for public declarations of racial diversity. What does that mean? To put it in simpler terms, they are setting out to not only prove racism exists in American education, but they are seeking to explain it in terms where racism is an inescapable conclusion. This is where it becomes important for people who are really interested in fighting this at the educational level to understand that this is a mindset that drives all racial research in education. They are looking to prove racism exists despite the fact that many Americans harbor no racist feelings toward anyone. Even people who jump on board the racial diversity argument, while taking the side of the CRT movement, are considered to be “racist” unless they fully commit themselves to participate in social action to fight discrimination on the systemic level. This is known as the activist disposition. This is where people readily commit to any social action necessary because they are of a higher morality where they understand the types of changes that need to take place to alleviate systemic racism. The activist disposition is one of five psychological dispositions of white people and their attitudes toward racism. To develop a better understanding of these dispositions, see my article, Exploring the Biased Methods of Critical Race Research: Naturalistic Inquiry and the Psychology of White Racism.

To get back on point, the paper, The Fifth Frame of Colorblind Ideology examines the perspectives of white people who have chosen to attend an HBCU (historically black college or university).  As previously mentioned, and this is something I discuss in all of my articles to some degree, there is an existing bias driving this research. For instance, the authors claim that the elimination of what they refer to as “overt discrimination” has led to the current colorblind attitudes which CRT scholars insist prevent people from taking racial differences into account when studying issues of equality and or equity. This is now referred to as “covert racism.” CRT scholars are actually arguing that the elimination of real racial discrimination, which we all know existed in the form of segregation, for example, led to this covert racism, and that individuals continue to perpetuate white supremacist attitudes by distancing themselves from overt racism, and hiding behind behind a colorblind attitude which makes them feel good about their own, covert racism. See what I mean when I say nothing will drive a person crazy like reading CRT research on a Sunday morning? The authors of this study claim that white people find comfort and safety in institutions that protect and uphold white privilege, while also protecting them from confronting their own racial biases. Having been in a public university that was predominately white, I can argue that this didn’t exist. I was forced to write a paper where I was supposed to admit my own racism and describe how my white privilege affected other people, but I digress. To prove white people practice covert discrimination, this study revolved around the attitudes of white students, who as mentioned earlier, chose to attend an HBCU.  The authors of this paper readily admit that the curriculums of these HBCUs, along with higher education institutions in general, work to “decenter whiteness.” This, the authors argue, forces white people into a defensive position where they work harder to maintain a colorblind perspective which protects them from admitting their racism.  This often leads to the term reverse discrimination being used in the academic environment. An interesting point to make here is that the authors state that a key component of colorblind ideology is white people not identifying with race in any particular way. CRT researchers would account for this by saying that is part of “white privilege,” where white people can go on about their daily existence without giving any thought to their race at all. They go on to say, in direct contrast, that Black students are constantly aware of their race and view everything in terms of racial assaults and micro-aggressions against them, making them feel vulnerable. Even in an HBCU.

I could go on and on about the findings of this research. It is a rabbit hole, that without reading the paper for yourself, would just twist in circles. The bigger point of this article, is again, to show the methodology and mindset of the researchers. The premise of The Fifth Frame of Colorblind Ideology is that the four frames of colorblindness which are commonly referred to in CRT research are not enough to prove, that even in an HBCU, white people are able to exercise their privilege, push white supremacy, and hide behind covert acts of racism while allegedly advocating for public declarations of racial diversity. To prove this, the researchers created the fifth frame and gave it a name unto itself. The Disconnected Power Analysis Frame. This is defined by identifying white people who “align with racially progressive theoretical understandings of structural racism, whiteness, and counternarratives that challenge racial hierarchy, while disconnecting from a critical analysis of their own positionality, personal narratives, experiences, and/or actions.” In other words, acknowledging that structural racism exists, and advocating for systemic reformation is not enough unless you admit that you, yourself, are aiding in systemic racism by failing to admit your own racist attitudes. They came to these conclusions by studying the attitudes of a few white people, who, for some reason of their own, chose to attend an HBCU. Must have been because they wanted the opportunity to push their own ideas of white privilege and racial superiority in an institution that exists to “decenter whiteness” and introduce new ideas and discussions on how to achieve racial equality. Something mind you, that most white people already believe in but cannot express because colorblindness is a covert act of discrimination. 

The truth is that racism is an inescapable concept because CRT researchers want it, and need it to exist. Race, as William Tate states in Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education, is to CRT researchers what capitalism was to the Marxist Revolutionaries. The root cause of all societal problems. William Tate’s essay was written in 1995, and one of its most dominating ideas was to make race a centralized theme. Not only in society but in education across the board. When CRT scholars state the goal of CRT in education is to offer a more nuanced view of white racism in America, they are essentially saying that they will take any attitude the white person has toward race and turn it into an issue of systemic racism. In The Fifth Frame of Colorblind Ideology, they examined the attitudes of white people who chose to attend an HBCU, which they admit – decenters whiteness. They noted that it made them feel uncomfortable, then called it overt racism because they became defensive and protective of their identities while calling it white fragility no less. How ridiculous. That is deliberately framing their research so they can make racism in America look more nuanced and complicated to understand, as opposed to just focusing, or articulating on what they call the continuity of white racism. Why? Because that isn’t enough to incite social action. Like always, I would encourage readers who intend to challenge CRT at the education level to become familiar with the sources linked. I can’t say I have any definitive solutions, but I do know banning race-based lessons in elementary school won’t change anything.

Works Cited

Adamian, A. S. & Jayakumar, U.M (2017) The Fifth Frame of Colorblind Ideology: Maintaining The Comforts of Colorblindness in the Context of White Fragility. Sociological Perspectives, pp. 1-25.

Donner, J. K. Understanding the Why of Whiteness. From Understanding Critical Race Research Methods and Methodologies (2018). New York. Routledge.

Parker, L. & Villalpando, O. (2007) A Race(cialized) Perspective on Educational Research: Critical Race Theory in Educational Administration. Educational Administrative Quarterly, 43(5) pp. 519-524.

Ladsing-Billing, G. & Tate, W. F. Toward a Critical Race Theory in Education. From Critical Race Theory in Education: All God’s Children Got a Song (2016). New York. Routledge

Check out the book, 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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