In Fall 2021, the Academic Senate of the California Community Colleges (ASCCC) voted to approve Resolution FA21 03.01: Resources for Racial Justice and Critical Race Theory. The resolution began with four declarations of fact, which we summarize as follows:
Whereas 1: Critical Race Theory (CRT) addresses systemic racism.
Whereas 2: Since its establishment in the 1970s by legal scholars, CRT has developed into racial justice and equity-minded theoretical framework for other disciplines.
Whereas 3: CRT challenges Eurocentricity in academia and encourages activism that addresses inequities at local colleges.
Whereas 4: Faculty introduce CRT to diversify curriculum with the “intentional goal” of showing how race and racism permeate all of society.
Though we do not challenge these facts, we are troubled that the resolution showed such limited and distorted understanding of the very remedy it proposed. A recent Rostrum article, “Getting to the Truth of It All: The Role and Impact of Critical Race Theory on Community Colleges,” explored additional arguments in support of CRT, but it too offered an incomplete analysis.
These stated descriptions of CRT fall short of the whole truth. CRT is not simply a theoretical framework that provides a racial justice and equity-minded lens. Rather, CRT is an exclusionary belief system about Eurocentric power structures, whiteness, and white people, who it claims systematically oppress all non-whites. Concomitant with the conceptual bifurcation of society into oppressor and oppressed roles, a CRT framework also invokes mandatory “work” that metes out “justice” accordingly and vilifies alternative conceptualizations and solutions for engaging racial issues. Moreover, the praxis reinterprets apathetic or skeptical responses as proof of its fundamental claim of pervasive racism.
Such a dogma runs contrary to basic reasoning and open inquiry; it is functionally intolerant of alternative interpretations. Consequently, the ASCCC should publicly and officially reject efforts to center CRT as the defining explanation for disparities and inequities in the California Community College system. Instead, the ASCCC should promote broader inquiry and academic freedom to explore all aspects of race, inequality, and potential correctives.
The Whole Truth
Issuing directives without defining one’s terms amounts to sowing the wind. In order to standardize an operational definition of CRT, ASCCC should let the specialists in the field define the terms they themselves use. With that in mind, we list a few commonly accepted definitions of CRT and related terms from leading figures and sources in the field.
Critical Race Theory
- “Unlike some academic disciplines, critical race theory contains an activist dimension. It tries not only to understand our social situation but to change it, setting out not only to ascertain how society organizes itself along racial lines and hierarchies but to transform it for the better.”1
- “CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color. CRT also rejects the traditions of liberalism and meritocracy. Legal discourse says that the law is neutral and colorblind, however, CRT challenges this legal ‘truth’ by examining liberalism and meritocracy as a vehicle for self-interest, power, and privilege.”2
- “Critical race theorists embrace subjectivity of perspective and are avowedly political. Our work is both pragmatic and utopian, as we seek to respond to the immediate needs of the subordinated and oppressed even as we imagine a different world and offer different values.”3
- “The notion of being fair and impartial as an individual engages with an organization or system, particularly systems of grievance. ‘Equity’ is often conflated with the term ‘Equality’ (meaning sameness). In fact, true equity implies that an individual may need to experience or receive something different (not equal) in order to maintain fairness and access. For example, a person with a wheelchair may need differential access to an elevator relative to someone else.”4
White Supremacy / Whiteness
- “[By] ‘white supremacy’ I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic, and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily re-enacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.”5
- “White Fragility may be conceptualized as a product of the habitus, a response or ‘condition’ produced and reproduced by the continual social and material advantages of the white structural position.”6
- “When liberal whites fail to understand how they can and/or do embody white-supremacist values and beliefs even though they may not embrace racism as prejudice or domination (especially domination that involves coercive control), they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they profess to wish to see eradicated.”7
- “From a critical social justice perspective, the term racism refers to this system of collective social and institutional white power and privilege.”8
CRT in the ASCCC
Based on the academic literature, we propose a more holistic definition of CRT:
Critical Race Theory originates from critical theory, and critical legal theory specifically, and is a belief system based on the unproven assumption that racial disparities are chiefly products of pervasive structural inequalities caused by a political, cultural, and economic whiteness. CRT uses equity and anti-racism as the mechanisms for the institutionalization of its assumptions, which demand policy changes to ensure equal group outcomes. Put another way, CRT is a belief system that views society as fundamentally racist, views our institutions as perpetuating structural racism, views our faculty as either allies or antagonists, views our students as either oppressor or oppressed, and aims to equalize outcomes through the instrument of equity.
CRT is highly divisive and effectively forces everyone—adherent or not—into a totalizing framework as either oppressor or oppressed, thus stifling any alternative explorations of race and inequality. Here we agree with the authors of Getting to the Truth of It All: The Role and Impact of Critical Race Theory on Community Colleges, who observed that CRT is openly hostile to concepts such as “neutrality, meritocracy, and color blindness,” characterizing these historic virtues as mere vehicles to “perpetuate and maintain racism.” Indeed, Ibram X. Kendi asserted, “There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”9 To be clear, any alternative viewpoint or academic lens that does not subscribe to this new orthodoxy is labeled a “mask for racism.” Could there be a more obvious example of intellectual intolerance?
Once sufficiently compliant to this belief system—and plenty of scholars have characterized CRT and anti-racism as a religion10—practitioners (or parishioners) are then obligated to execute acts of institutional violence upon those deemed oppressors. Kendi has boldly claimed, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”11 The beneficiaries and victims of these new policies are determined by nothing more than broad racial stereotypes. No leeway is granted to the socio-economically deprived white person who is swiftly labeled a recipient of unearned privilege and an oppressor; no question may be asked of new entitlements provided to the middle-class person of color. Skin tone alone determines their treatment in the new system of power.
Under a CRT and anti-racism framework, equity’s etymological roots of “justice” take on a very pointed and one-sided notion of that concept. Philosopher Peter Boghossian criticized this dogmatic redefinition of equity and suggested the term now simply means “making up for past discrimination with current discrimination.” The centering of CRT and anti-racism is no innocuous plea to support fairness and justice; it is a coercive demand to support a new era of discrimination under threat of moral if not professional coercion.
This relatively new and exclusionary orthodoxy is now colonizing our educational systems and routing out viewpoint diversity. In 2020, the California Community College Curriculum Committee “created a set of recommended priorities that focuses on championing equity-minded curriculum and practices” to “begin conversations on how to redesign practices from working within a traditional Eurocentric model to working within an equity-minded framework.” The ASCCC is now considering a resolution (SP22 3.02) to formally adopt the Curriculum Committee’s model, which would direct faculty to “intentionally design ethnic studies courses with discipline experts where critical race theory is a foundation.” The model also demands faculty infuse CRT and anti-racism into all courses, from humanities to STEM, even over the opposition of discipline experts. Additionally, the Board of Governors is now entertaining changes to Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations that would call on colleges and districts to evaluate faculty based on their allegiance to CRT and anti-racism, adding a looming threat for those who dare question the belief system. Such postures leave little space for intellectual skepticism or debate.
With a holistic understanding of CRT, grounded in the academic literature, the ASCCC Resolution on Racial Justice and Critical Race Theory prompts us to ask:
- Why does the ASCCC support a belief system that requires activism?
- Why does the ASCCC support a belief system that asserts that racism is pervasive in the dominant culture and engrained in the fabric and systems of American society?
- Why does the ASCCC support a belief system that holds that white people have dominance in a broad array of institutions and social settings and that conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority are widespread?
- Why does the ASCCC support a belief system that holds that there are norms and actions that consistently create and perpetuate advantages for whites and disadvantages for people of color?
- Why does the ASCCC support a belief system that teaches that there is a collective social and institutional white power and privilege?
- Why does the ASCCC support a belief system that narrows discussion of the cause of disparate outcomes to institutional discrimination?
And most importantly, why has the ASCCC supported and defended a totalizing belief system as a framework for the complete transformation of our institutions? When else has the ASCCC endorsed a particular philosophical and political viewpoint and demanded faculty infuse it into courses and the tenure evaluation process?
Recommended Next Steps
Wherever one lands on CRT, we believe that individual instructors should be granted the academic freedom to teach about it. But organizations such as the ASCCC, which act as the official voice of California community college faculty in academic and professional matters, should not promote or institutionalize any belief system. At best, CRT’s totalizing nature seduces well-intended faculty into a slothful induction fallacy that overlooks other likely causes for unequal outcomes (familial issues; cultural variables; academic preparation or interest; economic factors; etc.) and presupposes racism as the chief and perhaps singular cause of any disparity in results. At worst, it may perpetuate the very problems it claims to remedy.
The unhindered search for truth, its free exposition, and open critique form the cornerstone of higher education. We ought not cut, let alone loosen, this threefold cord that holds our academic institutions together.
We offer three recommendations to the ASCCC aimed toward preserving these highest values:
1) The ASCCC should be supportive of faculty that openly question and critique CRT and anti-racism, as should be expected when faculty address any trending theory.
Any theory that requires a new and permanent way to view the world—in this case, through racial lenses that see power differentials as absolute objective reality—should be critiqued. And these critiques should also be critiqued. The point is to promote free inquiry, critical analysis, and open dialogue. No theory is above question, and no faculty member should be marginalized for critiquing academic or social theories.
2) The ASCCC should define CRT in a way that reflects the whole truth from the entire range of academic literature and clearly outlines the theory’s assumptions about racial characterizations and disparate treatment by race.
We have yet to see the ASCCC or any organization within the California Community College system describe CRT in the same way as the CRT theorists do in their own writing. When the ASCCC and local colleges traffic in vague or under-defined euphemisms that carry loaded meanings, they create confusion and allow space for perceived directives that are inconsistent with our mission and Title VI obligations.
3) Faculty from diverse perspectives and disciplines should be invited to join the ASCCC writing group that will develop the resources called for in the aforementioned Resolution.
If we are to support the right of California Community College faculty to utilize CRT as a theoretical framework, as the Resolution instructs, then the ASCCC also ought to support the inclusion of faculty with various perspectives on the writing team.
CRT proposes a philosophical framework that hinges upon racial power structures and racial stereotypes. The theory precludes any other explanations for disparity and demands discrimination to resolve perceived injustice, without ever seeking a complete understanding of the complex issues at play. It is an intolerant and all-encompassing dogma that demands allegiance under threat of professional consequences. If California community colleges are to serve a diverse population of critical thinkers, then every academic theory—even those that enjoy political support—ought to be open to debate.
1 Richard Delgado and Jean Stefanic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (New York: New York University Press, 2017), p. 3.
2 “What is Critical Race Theory?,” UCLA School of Public Affairs, Critical Race Studies, https://spacrs.wordpress.com/what-is-critical-race-theory/
3 Mari J. Matsuda, Charles R. Lawrence, Richard Delgado, & Kimberle Crenshaw, Words that Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech, and the First Amendment (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 3.
4 Morton, B. and Fasching-Varner, K., “Equity,” in Sherwood Thompson (ed.), Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice. Vol. 1. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), p. 303-4, in Brandeis University Social justice Glossary, https://www.brandeis.edu/diversity/resources/definitions.html
5 Frances Lee Ansley, “White Supremacy (And What We Should Do About It),” in Delgado, R. and Stefancic, J. (Eds) Critical White Studies: Looking Behind the Mirror (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997), p. 592.
6 DiAngelo, Robin. “White Fragility.” The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy 3, no.3 (2011): 54–70. http://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/download/249/116.
7 Bell Hooks. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Boston: South End Press, 1989), p. 113.
8 Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo, Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 2011), p. 101.
9 Kendi, p. 9.
10 Just a sampling includes John McWhorter, Woke Racism: How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2021); James M. Patterson, “Wokeness and the New Religious Establishment,” National Affairs, No. 51 (Spring, 2022); Jeffrey Polet, “Campus and the Anti-racists,” Modern Age, forthcoming.
11 Kendi, p. 19.
Ray M. Sanchez is Faculty Coordinator of Academic Success Centers at Madera Community College and has a M.A. in History from CSU, Fresno. Dr. Matthew Garrett is Professor of History and Professor of Ethnic Studies at Bakersfield College where he also serves as faculty lead for the are Renegade Institute for Liberty.
Image: Skyline College, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain