Critical Race Theory and Class Essay
Critical Race Theory and Class
The Critical Race Theory (CRT) defines a broader and more contextual way of looking at race relations, specifically in the United States, than the classical conventional civil rights perceptions of race and racism. The development of the critical race theory was in response to the increasing concern in the mid 1970s about the lethargic pace of change in laws to tackle civil rights issues and promote racial issues.
“The development of critical race theory points to a new direction taken by civil rights activists in the wake of civil rights setbacks in the 1970s and 1980s when official government policy no longer supported an expansive civil rights agenda. ” (Jones, 2002, pp. 1) As implied by its name, the Critical Race Theory is a critical way of looking at race relations. The Critical Race Theory looks beyond the gross violations of civil rights or instances of racial discriminations, and tries to focus on the subtle racial nuances that combine together to make up the milieu of civil rights violations in everyday life.
These subtle racial nuances are termed micro-aggressions, and critical race theorists believe that it is the micro-aggressions that actually reveal the true extent of racism in the United States. “…everyday racism, in the form of micro-aggressions, is incessant and cumulative as practiced in everyday actions by individuals, groups, and institutional policy rules and administrative procedures” (Solorzano, 1998). The logic behind the Critical Race Theory is that while classical racism has subsided to a considerable extent, everyday racism has grown in its intensity and scope (Bell, 1992).
According to the Critical Race theory, the laws and rules that are in place to curb racism apply only to the gross and extreme types of injustice and are largely ineffective in the case of micro-aggressions. Racism in its more subtle but equally detrimental and damaging form persists in the United States. “Formal equality can do little about the business-as-usual forms of racism that people of color confront every day and that account for much misery, alienation, and despair” (Parker, 2008). There are five basic tenets that guide the Critical Race Theory.
First, racism is held to be a very normal, everyday phenomenon almost mundane by its frequency of occurrence. Racism is not an aberration in society, it is the rule. Racism is inherent in society. That is what makes racism so difficult to curb racism or cure society of it. The classical ideal behind ‘color blindness’, or the approach that did not take cognizance of color differences as envisioned by the civil rights movement of the 1960s is considered flawed as it makes the conventional racism rules and laws ineffective against the racism that is ingrained in the thought processes of individuals and in social structures.
They are blind to discriminations against color inherent in society, and only serve to restrain the minorities in subordinate positions. The proponents of the theory believe that aggressive color-conscious efforts are required to change the present environment of racial discrimination. The second tenet of the theory is referred to as the ‘Interest Convergence’ and postulates that racism works to the advantage of both the elites and the working classes amongst the Whites, there is very little incentive or motivation amongst a large majority of the whites to curb racism.
A large number of laws against racism is said to be passed only if they are found not to go against the interest of the dominant White community, and in no way deprives them of the advantages that had been accruing to them. Conversely, only those laws or rules which serve the self interests of the Whites are passed. The third very important theme of the Critical Race Theory is that race by itself has no biological, genetic or physical basis, but is largely a social construct. Race is a product of social, and it is defined by how society moulds the human mind.
“Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they (races) correspond to no biological or genetic reality; rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient. ” (Delgado & Stefancic, 2000). This is because though people share certain physical and genetic traits such as hair texture and color, eye shape, average height, skin color, etc, they are mostly overridden by differences in the higher-order traits such as intelligence, behavior and personality. Society however chooses to club people into distinct racial groups, ignoring scientific facts and attributing hypothetical racial characteristics on these groups.
According to the Differential Racialization perspective of the Critical Race Theory, the dominant group in a society ‘racializes’ different minority groups differently depending on changing conditions and needs. The stereotyping of the same minority group tends to vary over periods based on the requirement or utility of the group. The closely related notion of Intersectionality and Anti-essentialism in the Critical Race Theory states that every individual has multiple identities, loyalties and allegiances which could be potentially in conflict with each other.
Finally, proponents of the Critical Race Theory believe in the thesis of the ‘unique voice of color’ – which states that oppressed groups, by dint of their experience of oppression are able to communicate to the dominant group matters that the dominant group may not be aware of. The ‘Legal Storytelling’ movement therefore encourages members of the oppressed groups to recount their experiences in the form of storytelling. The Critical Race Theory is a useful tool for analyzing the racial impact of laws and policies, their effectiveness and their shortcomings.
Social Class and its Structure A society divides its people into distinct hierarchical groups based on their social and economic status. This hierarchical distinction or stratification of groups or individuals in any community or society is referred to as the system of social class, and each group or hierarchy within the system is known as a Social Class. Although most societies usually have some form of class structure, there are examples of societies, especially of the hunter-gatherer type, in which class distinctions are not to be found.
Class is largely determined factors that influence social, economic and political status of the individual such as employment or occupation, education and qualification, wealth, ownership of property, means of production, etc. Although social class is not deemed to be hereditary, the status of the preceding generation usually influences the next generation which finds it comparatively easy to hold on to the same class or rise up to a higher class. Individuals may move from one class to the other because of change in economic, political and social status. This is known as Social Mobility.
An individual experiences upward social mobility when she or he moves from a lower class to an upper class by dint of success in economic, social or political spheres; conversely, an individual experiences downward social mobility from an upper class to a lower class because of failure in economic, social or political life. There is intense debate over the theoretical definition of social class. Classes are usually identified on the basis of the most important criteria that differentiate classes in the society; the number of class hierarchies that exist, the extent to which the class structure is accorded recognition within the society.
Classes are broadly defined as per the Realist approach and the Nominalist approach. A realist approach defines class in terms of distinct groups bounded by clear boundaries with which people identify themselves and adhere to. Interactions are primarily intra class. The nominalist definition of class however focuses more on the characteristics that are common to people in a given class. These characteristics are education, profession, political or social standing, etc. The nominalist class is not determined by social interactions, but by the exhibited characteristics of individuals.
In whatever way we may define class, there is no contesting the fact that almost every action of an individual is influenced by class and class structure because the individual tends to behave according to the norms of the class that she or he belongs to. Class consciousness often also translates into political action. Therefore, “…the process of transformation of societies from one social system to another depends on the nature and dynamics of class relations and class struggles that are historically specific in accordance with a society’s dominant mode of production and its attendant superstructure.
”(Berberoglu, 1994) There are different class structures in different societies. In the United States and Britain class is distinguished along economic parameters, and generically comprises the upper class, middle class and the lower class. The traditional caste system in India is based on the type of work of an individual. The kings and fighting princes belonged to the nobility, the priests, businessmen and the laborers all had their own classes. China and Japan had feudal classes.
As the world is fast being transformed into a global village, traditional classes based on feudal or religious systems are changing in structure to those of economic or political classes. However, social classes retain their importance as determinants of the actions of all members in a large majority of the societies of the world. References -01 Bell, D. , A. , 1992, Faces at the bottom of the well: The Permanence of Racism.
New York: Basic Books. Berberoglu, B. , 1994, Class Structure and Social Structure, Praeger Publishers, Westport. Delgado, R. , Stefancic, J. , Critical Race Theory, An Introduction, New York University Press. Jones B. , D. , 2002, Critical Race Theory: New Strategies for Civil Rights in the New Millennium, Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal, Volume 18. Parker, L. , 2008, Critical Race Theory and African Studies: Making Connections to Education, University of Illinois-Chicago Solorzano, D. , 1998, Critical race theory, racial and gender microaggressions, and the experiences of Chicana and Chicano scholars. International journal of qualitative studies in education.