SOURCE: When asked by CNN’s Soledad O’Brien about the definition of critical race theory (CRT), Emory Law Professor Dorothy Brown offered the following: “Critical race theory seeks to explain judicial decisions by asking the question, What does race have to do with it?” CRT simply “looks at race in America,” professor Brown stated. That’s a bit like saying that a religious zealot just “looks at” theology.
Critical race theorists do not merely look at racial questions. Like zealots, they give answers; they preach a doctrine, seek converts, and condemn nonbelievers. Indeed, CRT is the primary source of Orwellian “hate speech” proposals.
On CNN, O’Brien next asked Professor Brown whether CRT is “all about white supremacy,” as Joel Pollak of Breitbart.com asserted previously. Brown replied, “No, it’s nothing about white supremacy.”
Yet Professor Brown should know precisely what role white supremacy plays in CRT. In her own published work on CRT, Brown wrote that CRT “seeks to highlight the ways in which the law is not neutral and objective, but designed to support White supremacy and the subordination of people of color”1. She then cites Emily Houh, who defined CRT thusly:
First, critical race theory seeks to expose the entrenchment of White supremacy and the reality of the continued subordination of people of color in the United States (and throughout the world).2
CRT, as Prof. Brown wrote and cited, certainly does have something to do with white supremacy.
As a law student at Emory University, I was assigned CRT readings in several elective courses — namely, courses in hate speech and feminist legal theory. According to the Derrick Bell Reader, edited by CRT proponent Richard Delgado, CRT’s “founding members” are professors Delgado, Derrick Bell, Kimberle Crenshaw, Mari Matsuda, Charles Lawrence, and Patricia Williams3. Following is just a flavor of the doctrine they transmit to countless students every day. Keep in mind that these are relatively tame assertions, by CRT standards, and are all taken from assigned readings.
The late Derrick Bell, a Harvard and NYU law professor tied to the president, wrote that CRT “goes well beyond civil rights, integration, affirmative action, and other liberal measures”4. What is “beyond” those measures? Specifically, Bell calls for a “commitment to radical emancipation by the law”5. He describes the unifying theme of CRT: “We use a number of different voices, but all recognize that racial subordination maintains and perpetuates the American social order”6. Bell proudly writes that CRT is characterized by “an orientation around race that seeks to attack a legal system which disempowers people of color”7. What does it mean to “disempower people of color”? If an institution does not provide for explicit racial preferences and favoritism, it will be deemed to “disempower people of color.”
Kimberle Crenshaw, a UCLA law professor, provides the much-needed feminist branch of CRT, because focusing on race alone neglects the “multidimensionality of Black women’s experiences”8. Black women are “multiply-burdened” since patriarchy is yet “another source of domination to which Black women are vulnerable”9. Of course, “the social experience of race creates both a primary group identity as well as a shared sense of being under collective assault”10. In response to the awful “collective assault” of living in America, Crenshaw has a policy recommendation at the ready: she calls for “economic or social reorganization that directly empowers and supports” her most favored group: “single Black mothers”11. Not just mothers, not just single mothers, but single black mothers.
For Richard Delgado, Seattle University law professor, “American society remains deeply afflicted by racism”12. Delgado writes that “[b]ecause they constantly hear racist messages, minority children, not surprisingly, come to question their competence, intelligence, and worth”13. Indeed, “racial insult” and “mere words, whether racial or otherwise, can cause mental, emotional, or even physical harm to their target”14. Delgado argues that hate speech is a severe social problem and that such speech, along with other tools of racism, keeps minorities in an inferior position15. Thus, words that are “highly insulting” and have a “racial component” should be grounds for a lawsuit against the speaker16.
Mari Matsuda, Georgetown law professor, also insists that “[p]art of the special harm of racist speech is that it works in concert with other racist tools to keep victim groups in an inferior position”17. Matsuda posits “three identifying characteristics” of hate speech which she proposes to regulate: the “message is of racial inferiority,” the fact that said message is “directed against a historically oppressed group,” and the fact that said message “is persecutorial, hateful, and degrading”18. Just what kind of speech will be considered racist? One clue comes from Matsuda herself, who claims that “righteous indignation against diversity and reverse discrimination” is one of the “implements of racism” for upper-class whites19.
The nightmarish possibilities of hate speech codes are obvious to anyone with the slightest grasp of human nature and politics, yet such codes are seriously considered as a legal reform in universities and particularly law schools.
To Georgetown law professor Charles Lawrence, there are “structures of subordination” existing in society20. Inferior social standing and inequality of access to resources are deemed the products of racist structure — never the outcome of freely chosen and avoidable decisions, and never the outcome of cultural pathology21. Instead, society is always to blame.
Finally, Columbia law professor Patricia Williams offers a disturbing glimpse into the logic of CRT. Williams recounts the story of a hypothetical question that she was once asked to consider, where X and Y apply for a job with firm Z, which is all white. X and Y are equally qualified. One is black; the other is white. The questions asked: Who should get the job? Williams’ answer is worth repeating at length, as a window into an ideology that is not taken as seriously as it should be:
The black person should get the job. If the modem white man, innocently or not, is the inheritor of another’s due, then it must be returned.
… [I]f a thief steals so that his children may live in luxury and the law returns his ill gotten gain to its rightful owner, the children cannot complain that they have been deprived of what they did not own. Blacks have earned a place in this society; they have earned a share of its enormous wealth, with physical labor and intellectual sacrifice, as wages and as royalties. Blacks deserve their inheritance as much as family wealth passed from parent to child over the generations is a “deserved” inheritance. It is deserved as child support and alimony.22
So whites should collectively be treated as the children of thieves, and blacks collectively deserve to have returned to them what was stolen from their black forebears by those white thieves. This is the seething, irrational ideology at the foundation of CRT.
While in law school, Barack Obama told an audience, “Open up your hearts and your minds to the words of Professor Derrick Bell.” Bell is the same man who famously said, in a recorded television interview, “I live to harass white folks,” and proudly advocated what he called a “radical” ideology. Even if Bell exerted no influence on Obama’s thinking, which is unlikely, it should be a national scandal that critical race theory is so widely sermonized at American colleges.
John T. Bennett (MA, University of Chicago, Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences ’07; JD, Emory University School of Law ’11) is a writer living in Atlanta, GA.
1Dorothy A. Brown. Fighting Racism in the Twenty-First Century. 61 Wash & Lee L. Rev. 1486.
2Id. at 1486, n.6.
3Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2005). The Derrick Bell Reader. New York: New York: University Press, 83.
4Id. at 78.
5Id. at 79.
6Id. at 80
7Id. at 79.
8Kimberle Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race & Sex: Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, Antiracist Politics.” U. Chi. Legal F. (1989) 139.
9Id. at 140, 162.
10Id. at 162.
11Id. at 165.
12Richard Delgado, Words That Wound: A Tort Action For Racial Insults, Epithets, and Name-Calling, 17 Harv. C. R.-C. L. L. Rev. 133 (1982), 135.
13Id. at 146.
14Id. at 143.
15Id. at 133.
16Id. at 180.
17Matsuda, Mari J., Public Response to Racist Speech: Considering the Victim’s Story, 87 Michigan Law Review. 2320, 2362 (1989).
18Id. at 2357.
19Id. at 2334.
20Charles R. Lawrence III, Crossburning and the Sound of Silence: Antisubordination Theory and the First Amendment, 37 Vill. L. Rev. 787, 792 (1992).
21Id. at 797.
22Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights 101 (1991).