CRT Before the Formalized
Theory: Calling a Thing a Thing
by Aisha Johnson, PhD
It would come of no surprise to anyone that America has a long-standing history with systematically sweeping racial injustices under the Earth’s core, specifically towards Black and Brown persons. In all systems across the board, but especially in education. Oh, how America loves to use education, the most lifechanging tool, to restrict the platform for intellectual freedom to restrict individual thought. Thus, when yet another uproar against the notable Critical Race Theory (CRT) began, I rolled my eyes…in scholarship, of course.
As someone with a platform that advocates for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, equal access to libraries for expansion through literacy, and the value of the library in the life of the user, I am involuntarily pulled into such discussions. Unfortunately, these conversations are with those without key understanding. Instead of arguing with anyone against CRT, I would simply ask them “what is critical race theory?” See… there is one thing to argue with someone who already has their mind set and then there is a subtle way to challenge ignorance. I take that road. The conversation usually ends before it starts.
Critical Race Theory is not something that we should be debating as we should not be debating any racial injustices that have already been proven through lived experiences and documentation. This beautiful theory calls out the old world, if you will. A world that is going extinct without choice. Yet, we see its old world supporters struggling to hang on and work against everything and every person who is not a White male beneficiary. We must understand that while CRT may be the current dog whistle, it is not the root.
The root is a generation of old ways and thoughts of how society was in the “good ole days” where White male control was the top of the pyramid. White men had no struggle to achieving self-actualization in Maslow’s hierarchy of need as they have been granted this asset from birth but do not want to share “the wealth.” Critical Race Theory is about calling out and interrogating the role that race and racism has historically played in society. With this being the Bell Ringer’s inaugural blog post, let’s give a bit of a break down.
Luckily for us, it is such a necessary hot button (read: politically driven) topic and Khiara Bridges brilliantly lays out four key principles of CRT (George):
- Recognition that race is not biologically real but is socially constructed and socially significant. It recognizes that science (as demonstrated in the Human Genome Project) refutes the idea of biological racial differences. According to scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, race is the product of social thought and is not connected to biological reality.
- Acknowledgement that racism is a normalized feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicate racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.
- Rejection of popular understandings about racism, such as arguments that confine racism to a few “bad apples.” CRT recognizes that racism is codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy. CRT rejects claims of meritocracy or “colorblindness.” CRT recognizes that it is the systemic nature of racism that bears primary responsibility for reproducing racial inequality.
- Recognition of the relevance of people’s everyday lives to scholarship. This includes embracing the lived experiences of people of color, including those preserved through storytelling, and rejecting deficit-informed research that excludes the epistemologies of people of color.
Currently, we are in the hot button zone (again) concerning CRT. However, this time, society is shifting to increase the level of unacceptance. While we have fought for generations for equal access to everything and equity for anything, people are standing up for themselves and others. Others that specifically do not look like them. To oversimplify it, racism is going out, and diversity and inclusion are in. Yes, we must recognize when diversity was trendy and saying “we have one” was a simple way to avoid a potential lawsuit. But now — oh, now — diversity and inclusion are necessary.
In fact, it is critical to the success of an organization. Diversity of background, education, experiences bring a variety of perspectives, which is always a value. In addition, diversity and inclusion impact an organization’s longevity in society. A society where now, social media can easily cancel or economically damage a company for racism and/or a lack of inclusion. I have noticed that several organizations are having trouble attracting, recruiting, and retaining great employees. And the reality of it is, Black and Brown people no longer go or stay where we are not valued, heard, or seen; the basic needs of any human to feel like their mere presence matters.
So why would this phenomenon not extend to education? That is a rhetorical question. Education is, and always has been, political. And politics is about control. It is that simple. Hence, the attack on the use and platform of CRT in educational systems. The school is where people will learn about a variety of cultures and ethnicities creating a more natural tolerance for difference. As society grows, the current generations become distant from the level of exclusion and hate. Simply put, racism is not cool and the generation who uplifted it is now on the losing end (a minority). So, it is critical that we bring awareness to the need to acknowledge and highlight CRT in all areas, but especially education.
As an administrator I often say, “Outreach is everyone’s job.” I carry, hold, and spread this notion through all efforts. Therefore, my involvement in this collective is important. The CRT collective’s vision “is to provide an inclusive outlook on critical race theory with roots in historical representation and ethical considerations to engage and encourage continuous dialogue and scholarship. We hope to build a collaborative movement of intellectual advocates and activists addressing injustice.” This is outreach. This is awareness and advocacy. This is social responsibility and justice. This is the CRT collective.
George, Janel. “A Lesson on Critical Race Theory.” Human Rights Magazine, vol. 46, no. 2, 2021,www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/civil-rights-reimagining-policing/a-lesson-on-critical-race-theory. Critical Race Theory (CRT) emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship. George credits the highlighted tenets of CRT to Khiara Bridges.
Aisha Johnson, PhD
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Outreach, Georgia Tech
Dr. Aisha Johnson (she/her) serves as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Outreach at Georgia Tech. An educator and scholar experienced in academic program assessment and administration, curriculum development, and outreach, she stands on a soapbox of advocacy for underrepresented communities. Her scholarship focuses on the development of literacy in the African American community through the development of Southern public libraries. Dr. Johnson’s impact has been recognized with honors including Distinguished Alumni Award from Florida State University’s iSchool (2020) and the Freedom Scholar Award from Association for the Study of African American Life and History (2021)