'Don’t Hate the Playa': Critical Race Theory in the Mirror
Cleveland-Marshall Legal Studies Paper No. 09-175
Posted: 29 Apr 2009 Last revised: 30 Mar 2010
Date Written: April 27, 2009
Recently I offered a seminar on Critical Race Theory (CRT). It was an honor and a pleasure to engage the intelligent, thoughtful students who participated in this endeavor with me. When I began the course, I offered a rather tongue in cheek, reductionist view of the critical program in scholarly endeavors. You too, I joked, can be an adherent of CRT or of most any critical discipline just by throwing around some key vocabulary words such as anti-subordination, Foucault, deconstruct and intersectional. Jokes aside, there are significant, clearly articulable themes in this course, and these are the glue that binds the materials together. Here I focus on two such themes: First, critical race theory is just a small part of what I would call the critical program in the legal academy and in the broader academy. Hence, the criticality of CRT is defined not only in contrast to mainstream legal formulations but also by parallel critical movements across genres and disciplines. Next, the best way to understand the import and impact of CRT is to understand that the goal of many of its proponents is to challenge the “game,” or the existing hegemonic norms, by moving beyond the closed space which CRT all too often inhabits and incorporating it into the broader academic canon. The “game”, however, refers not only to mainstream norms in the legal academy but also to mainstream norms within the CRT movement itself. Hence, a program of inclusion must address the multiple discrete spaces both within and outside of CRT. A metaphor for understanding this type of inclusion is found in Michel Foucault’s essay “Des Espaces Autres” (“Other Spaces”) in which he argues that there are three distinct social spaces in society: real spaces, utopias, and heterotopias. What unites them, he suggests, is a space that includes elements of all of these spaces, a space that Foucault calls the mirror. I posit that CRT, both the explicit courses on the topic and the discipline itself, should function as Foucauldian mirrors in the law school classroom, in the law school curriculum and within the broader academic community. There are several barriers to such inclusion. Perhaps one of the most daunting barriers to such inclusion is found within the CRT movement itself: “playa hate” that threatens to undermine the coherence and vitality of the intellectual program that is CRT.
Keywords: critical race theory, race, law school curriculum, Foucault
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