Critical Race Theory for Beginners

Tracy Chapman at 2024 Grammy Awards

Tracy Chapman at 2024 Grammy Awards


I must confess, as someone who hasn’t lived as a person of color in America, I am often a little unsure about how to support or celebrate Black History Month.

It seems almost odd to even need to point out the innumerable achievements of people of color, when such things should be obvious to anyone with open eyes.

But alas, we live in a world where wilful ignorance is not only common, but on the increase.

Much of this wilful ignorance centres lately on the subject of Critical Race Theory, with a section of our citizenry choosing to believe that Critical Race Theory is a form of “woke indoctrination” specifically designed to make “white people” feel bad about their history, their ancestors, and by extension, themselves.

For a start, Critical Race Theory is an outgrowth or sub-branch of a way of thinking called simply “Critical Theory“.

Critical Theory grew out of a movement which began with The Frankfurt School, a group of philosophers, sociologists and intellectuals who gathered at the Institute for Social Research, part of the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany during the 1920s and 1930s.

Put simply, in the aftermath of The Great War, these people (and many political dissidents), were alarmed at the rise and excesses of fascism, inflexible communist ideologies, and unbridled capitalism.

The idea was to critique these flawed systems through a variety of lenses – Marxist economic theory, sociology, philosophy, psycho-analytical studies – and to formulate a framework seeking nothing less than full human emancipation from unjust power structures.

Put another way, early Critical Theory looked for ways to formulate and introduce a non-doctrinal form of socialism in which all humans can be treated as truly equal.

American capitalism (and its media and propagandists) have worked overtime for decades to conflate Marxist critiques and democratic socialism with Leninist or Maoist style communism, meaning that Critical Theory gained less of a foothold in the USA than in other developed countries.

Critical Pedagogy is the educating of students in the actual practice and method of employing Critical Theory.

Because Critical Theory encourages the examining of social problems and injustice through multiple lenses, thinkers and practitioners of Critical Pedagogy often focus their energies on one area, which can then be added to the greater pool of expertise.

Some focus on feminism.  Some focus on class systems.  Others focus on socio-economic questions.  Environmental issues.

And some focus on race-based injustice.

“Critical Race Theory” is not a “system” to be put in place.  It did not spring fully-formed into life with a set doctrine to be imposed.

“Critical Race Theory” is simply a branch of “Critical Theory”, a way to examine the social injustices arising specifically from racism, structural racism, and systemic racism.

“Critical Race Theory” attempts to use every available metric and tool to show the ways in which racism, past and present, affects many people in multiple aspects of their daily life, today.

Economics.  Wage inequity.  Educational access.  Job access.  Sociology.  Legislation.  Health.  Hunger.  Crime.  Political representation.  Housing.

Perhaps every public school in the USA should be made to teach “Critical Theory”, with semesters being dedicated to different subjects.  Feminism.  Race.  Ethics. Capitalism.  Ideology.

Then maybe certain people would “get it”.

But in a country in which politics and the media have become an extension of the corporatocracy, I won’t be holding my breath.

I’ll leave the final word to the Critical Pedagogue Ira Shor, who defines Critical Pedagogy as:

“Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse.”

Now what’s not to like in that?

And here’s to Black History Month!

(with a photo of Tracy Chapman because I adore her, and she happened to write one of the greatest songs in American history about hope and desperation)

#criticalracetheory #blackhistorymonth #tracychapman


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