In celebration of Black History Month, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion hosted a conversation with University of South Carolina law professor Kevin Brown, one of the original developers of Critical Race Theory, on Friday February 10th.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) has, in recent years, been “misrepresented” and used to “critique public education and other diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,” according to the event’s webpage. In this talk, Professor Brown expressed a desire to correct the theory’s misunderstanding and help the public take another look at race relations in America within the framework of the CRT.
“[The CRT] it helps us understand how race and racism continue to shape the meaning of racial inequality in our dominant culture, our concepts of equality law, and our institutional, governmental and private practices,” Brown said.
In the McCarthy era, defined by heightened vigilance against potential Communist infiltration, Theory was considered “Communist or Marxist” for its advocacy of fairness, according to the professor. Brown emphasized that he, along with his fellow CRT scholars, were firm believers in the American economic system and their activism was aimed only at a “more equitable distribution.”
“As a result of not understanding [the CRT]our society continues to generate racial disparities, visible in significant socio-economic statistics despite the civil rights reforms of the 1950s and 1960s,” Brown said.
Intentional, by right discrimination in legislation was not what the CRT group of scholars were concerned about.
“The legal changes during the civil rights movement were enough to address that,” Brown said. “It was really the different experiences due to [history] and the normalization of racial disparities by asserting that black people should have less [that is alarming].”
Professor Brown said the root of the problem lies in America’s individualistic culture, which attributes its prosperity only to personal merit. It’s a “conceptual blind spot,” he said, as American racial history is too “influential” to ignore.
“Self-determination is important, but all of us are also products of our society’s history,” Brown said.
Conditions for African Americans worsened after the civil rights era, and one of the grave consequences was SCOTUS questioning the constitutionality of affirmative action.
Professor Brown put this decision in context at his CRT group in Madison, Wis. to help students understand the “staggering” effect.
“[An end to affirmative action] it would mean we never had any other black colleagues join us on the faculty,” Brown said.
Using the historical case of SCOTUS Brown v. Topeka Board of Education for example, Brown traced the problem back to the 1950s, attributing it to insufficient legislative changes due to a lack of political savvy that left racial issues unresolved to the present day.
“What’s wrong with segregation when you really have equality between physical resources and facilities [of Black and white children]?” Such was the prevailing thought of the SCOTUS.
In light of this, Brown argued that “the nine white males who have expressed such an opinion [of Brown] in 1954, they were all born in the 1800s, so they couldn’t escape the racism of their time.”
“[The decision] it did not create the intellectual understanding for the era of desegregation to bring us racial equality,” Brown said.
Brown said the decision was a “major step forward” in terms of calculating racial inequality, but argued that the decision fails to mention the psychological harm that segregation can inflict on white children, namely “a false sense of superiority” or the development of “rationalizations of social prejudices” to defend against their “unrealistic fears and hatreds of minority groups”.
Concluding the argument, Professor Brown supported it Brownin a way that has gone largely unnoticed by the American public, it “has negatively impacted whites and mainstream American culture, as well as our public and private institutions.”
He cited the opinion of Circuit Justice Douglas in the DeFunis case on the effectiveness of the LSAT measuring minority versus traditional Caucasian cultural background: “Even a greater wrong has been done [to] whites by creating arrogance instead of humility and encouraging the growth of the fiction of a superior race.
Addressing ‘the age of the colour-blind’, which advocates treatments for individuals that transcend racial and ethnic differences, Professor Brown also highlighted the problems underlying this radical revamp of viewpoint.
“[Policies supporting colorblindness] lair[y] the lived experiences of people of color that are shaped by race … and detract from the impact of history on current racial disparities,” Brown said.
“Considering race to remedy the present effects of our discriminatory past becomes a form of racism; this results in the freezing of existing racial, social and economic disparities,” Brown said.
Professor Brown concluded the speech by briefing the audience on the current positions held by the CRT.
In these statements, Brown stressed the importance of taking into account the “discriminatory past” and the need to raise “a racial consciousness” that can effect real change.
“All of us are influenced by these dominant ideas, by our past — and these are the ideas we’re trying to stop,” Brown said. “But to stop them, you have to be aware of the unconscious way those ideas have their hold on us.”