Dr. Jonathan Perez
What Are We Arguing About? Critical Race Theory in Context
Over the past few months, educators, board trustees, and community members have seen proponents arguing against Critical Race Theory (CRT) in our educational systems. In fact, here locally in Fort Worth, Texas, there has been a small yet vocal group of individuals raising their voices against CRT or any work relating to racial equity. This predominantly white group has positioned CRT and racial equity work as the boogie man and will do anything and use anyone to make sure this work is stopped.
Why is this important to discuss? As a published scholar and practitioner, I feel it is my responsibility to provide our communities with clarity around the misinformation being spread by folks with political agendas. What makes me qualified to offer a rebuttal to the critics about their narrative around CRT and racial equity? To answer this, I will have to go back in my personal life and share a piece of me with you.
I am the son of an immigrant woman from Guatemala. My biological father passed away a month before I was born. My father who raised me was a drug addict. I can remember when I walked in on him during an overdose with drugs. I grew up in a neighborhood that was considered one of the top ten worst zip codes to live in the State of Texas in the 90’s. My best friend was shot next to me during a gang altercation. I dropped out of high school at the age of 17.
My life changed in 2005 when I came back to the church. I earned my GED, went on to complete college and graduate school. Then in 2020, I became a Doctor of Education with an emphasis in organizational leadership. As I wrote my dissertation, I had to use scientific data to argue the use of a CRT as a theoretical framework for studying leadership, rather than just calling it “woke” work (as some laypersons have suggested) and having no data to support it.
Now, where do we go from here?
In the 90’s, CRT emerged “as a way to engage race as both the cause of and the context for disparate and inequitable social and educational outcomes” (Dixson & Lynn, 2013, pp. 1). CRT challenges scholars and practitioners to make race the center of their analyses in a number of disciplines, including law, sociology, psychology, business, and educational fields.
The main feature of CRT is the fact that racism is the normal, everyday experience for most people of color here in the US (Delgado & Stefancic, 2017). For example, the emergence of the novel virus Covid-19 revealed both the deep racial inequities and class divisions and disparities within the United States (Solórzano & Pérez Huber, 2020). And in yet another example of the intersection of race and everyday life, in 2020, the world watched a black man, George Floyd, murdered by a police officer on TV.
And now, we watch on the news how differently refugees fleeing violence in their home countries are treated based upon the color of their skin - Ukranians seeking shelter in other European countries versus the families being torn apart and put in cages at our Southern border. If you're paying attention, you can easily see racism all around you. If you can't see it, it's because it feels normal or natural to be unaware or because you have wittingly or unwittingly designed your life in a way that insulates you from experiences outside of your own.
If none of this bothers you, I encourage you to ask yourself why. Take a good hard look at yourself in the mirror and ask “could I be racist”? If you find yourself uncomfortable even considering the question, that's a pretty good indication there's work here to be done. As Ibram X. Kendi wrote in his bestseller How to be an Anti-Racist, you either are a racist or anti-racist. There is no in-between.
In 2020, the U.S. Census showed major demographic shifts in the U.S. The future of the United States of America is Black and Brown. This creates an inherent sense of fear for white folks, the dominant group because along with demographic shifts we can expect shifts in power as well. The cries we see from the far-right (mostly white groups) show that they are acting out in fear, assumedly because of these changes.
For so long, we have seen white supremacy reign in this country, and now the birth pains of change are here. What does white supremacy mean? Scholars define white supremacy as “the assigning of values to real or imagined differences in order to justify the perceived inherent superiority of whites over People of Color that defines the right and power of whites to dominance” (Solórzano & Pérez Huber, 2020, p. 26.).
Because of my lived experience, I can say that when I walk into a room full of white people, I rarely experience feelings of belonging, psychological safety, or trust. Second-class citizenship in the U.S. is experienced by People of Color on a daily basis. If you don’t believe me, ask us. Our lived experience is truth. And CRT provides the theoretical framework for the exploration of that truth. Our knowledge is valuable.
The five tenets of CRT listed below form the basic perspectives, research methods, and pedagogy of CRT in education (Solórzano & Pérez Huber, 2020).
CRT foregrounds race and racism and challenges separate discourse on race, gender, and class by demonstrating how racism intersects with these and other forms of subordination, and how they impact People of Color.
CRT challenges traditional research paradigms and theories, therefore exposing deficit notions about People and Communities of Color and educational practices that assume “neutrality” and “objectivity”.
CRT focuses research and practice on the experiences of People and Communities of Color and views these experiences as assets and sources of strength.
CRT offers a transformative response to racial, gender, class, and other forms of discrimination by linking theory with practice, scholarship with teaching, and the academy with Communities of Color.
CRT challenges ahistoricism, acontextualism, and aracialism, expanding boundaries of the analysis of race and racism in education by using contextual, historical, and interdisciplinary perspectives to inform praxis.
These tenets guide us to uncover the everyday racism that People and Communities of Color encounter as we move through the world - from applying for jobs, checking in to an Airbnb, or grabbing a snack from the local convenience store. These tenets challenge the dominant ideologies of meritocracy and color-blindness prevalent in our society and acknowledge how white supremacy has historically and continues to impact the everyday experiences of People of Color.
I understand this may be a lot for some people to digest. Critical Theory at its root exists to challenge the way we look at society and interrogate our perspective of how the world works. If you want to learn, ask or research on your own. To argue against CRT and racial equity work without merit demonstrates the inability or unwillingness to seek to understand. What the world needs now is more people trying to understand and less blind reacting.
Lynn, M., & Dixson, A. (2013). Handbook of Critical Race Theory in education. Routledge, New York, NY.
Solórzano, D., & Pérez Huber. (2020). Racial Micro-Aggressions: Using Critical Race Theory to Respond to Everyday Racism. Teachers College Press, New York, NY.
Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (3rd Ed.). New York University Press.