Expanded Glossary

Critical Race Theory

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A DEFINITION:
Critical Race Theory: A framework to understand the relationships between race, law and power in the United States. Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founding scholar of CRT, defines it as “an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it” (source).

CONTEXT & HISTORY:
In their seminal book, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Delgado and Stefencic introduced critical race theory to the social sciences more broadly. Delgado and Stefencic claimed that critical race theory is based around the following premises:
1. Racism is ordinary, not aberrational.
2. Racism serves important purposes.
3. Race and races are products of social thought and relations [and] categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient
4. Intersectionality: ‘No person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity […] everyone has potentially conflicting, overlapping identities, loyalties and allegiances.’(Global Social Theory)

CRT originated among legal scholars like Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, who argued that racism and white supremacy were defining elements of the American legal system—and of American society writ large. (Thought Co.)

The view that the law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of colour. According to critical race theory, racial inequality emerges from the social, economic, and legal differences that white people create between “races” to maintain elite white interests in labour markets and politics, giving rise to poverty and criminality in many minority communities. (Tommy J Curry, Britannica

Critical race theorists came to understand law as an ideological support system for inequalities of all kinds. Law allocates wealth, power, life itself. As Woody Guthrie said, some kill you with a six gun, some with a fountain pen. Understanding how law worked as an ideological system, what lies it told, how the lies seduced, how they were resisted, was our work. (Contemptorary interview with Mari Matsuda)

MEDIA LINKS:
Kimberlé Crenshaw discussing the development of CRT and “Whiteness As Property” (Part 1, 10-minute video; Part 2, 6-minute video)

“Whiteness as Property” by Cheryl I Harris (3-hour read)

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