Critical Race Histories: In and Out
30 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2015 Last revised: 8 Nov 2015
Date Written: 2004
This Article contributes to the completion of some “unfinished business” within Critical Race Theory by engaging insufficiently examined external and internal critiques of critical race scholarship. The external critique of critical race nihilism and the new insider critique that dichotomizes identity theories and material harm warrant extended reflection because there are critical deficiencies that problematize these arguments. The nihilism critique, for example, falsely associates CRT with more radical forms of postmodernism and overlooks leading works in CRT which demonstrate that Critical Race Theorists inhabit an admittedly contradictory space. Critical Race Theorists radically deconstruct the racial hierarchies that law constitutes and reinforces, and simultaneously, they utilize both law and reason to advocate for racial justice. Whether or not Critical Race Theorists can sufficiently balance these conflicting positions exists apart from the false charge that CRT is ultimately fatalistic. Furthermore, CRT's cynicism exists, in part, because the problem of racial injustice seems intractable; yet, the law, rather than offering solicitude to disadvantaged groups, largely reflects majoritarian interests. While Critical Race Theorists have persuasively unveiled the “whiteness” of United States legal institutions, they could fortify their claims by using empirical research in political science scholarship which demonstrates how legal institutions -- particularly the Supreme Court -- cater to majoritarian, rather than minority, interests. If this research is accurate, then the conservative critics' animosity toward CRT's cynicism is misplaced; the Critical Race Theorists have reason to express alarm.
Insider critiques of CRT also require critical assessment. Recent internal critics complain that racial identity discourse, including multidimensionality theory, marginalizes more important attention to material, class, or economic issues. If their claim holds true, the material harm critics serve a vital purpose: because racial injustice causes and interacts with economic deprivation, any progressive racial justice movement should interrogate class and economic inequality concerns. Nevertheless, the analysis of the material harm critics suffers because it dichotomizes class and multidimensionality. Although these critics bifurcate multiplicity and class analysis, multiplicity theories relate to class analysis in two important respects. First, poverty has multidimensional sources. Gender, sexuality, race, and other factors contribute to economic disadvantage. Accordingly, an accurate account of economic inequality must consider the multidimensionality of structures of subordination. Second, poverty (alongside race, gender, class, and sexuality) is a source of identity construction and social group experiences; as such, any comprehensive analysis of identity should take class into account.
This Article explicates my thesis in three parts. Part II sets forth an “intellectual history” of CRT, isolating the central historical and social forces that gave rise to its development as a body of jurisprudential research. Part III discusses both historical and recent insider and external critiques of CRT and relates these critiques to the development of critical race methodologies. Part III offers new perspectives on outsider critiques that describe CRT as nihilistic and on insider critiques that bifurcate multiplicity theories and class. Part IV “introduces” the works of this Symposium and connects them to ongoing theoretical projects within CRT.
Keywords: Critical Race Theory, racial injustice, racial subordination, identity theory, nihilism, economic inequality, racism, Adarand Constructors Inc. v. Pena, colorblindness, disparate impact, equal protection, intersectionality, multiplicity
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