Critical Race 101: An Introduction

In order to engage in critical thought, we must engage in discursive analysis of different methodologies. These discourses shape the foundations through which we assert our claims. This is just a little precursor to talking about Critical Race Theory. So, let’s begin. 

What is Discourse?

Discourse refers to the ideological backdrop through which claims are contented against. These contentions refer to the different opinions and ongoing debates over different ideas. It is important to note that along with the contention itself, it is important to analyze the authors of different discourses. Without recognizing the histories behind ideas, we cannot critically discuss them.

Opinion V. Moral Standpoint

Critical discourse not only encourages, but demands differing opinions. This is the basis through which contentions arise, and discourse can be created. However, opinions are different from moral standpoints. Please do not confuse the two.

Your moral standpoint is the precursor to your opinions, again it is the backdrop through which you organize and assert your opinions. If your moral standpoint is one rooted in prejudice, racism, classism, homophobia, or any type of discrimination, that is not your opinion, but the root through which you form an opinion about something.

While I encourage differing opinions, prejudicial behaviour is not wanted, nor needed. If you gots something to say, confront your privileges and biases before saying it. 

Interested in Feminist Analysis, and its intersection with race? Access Feminism 101 here.

Critical Race Theory: A Beginner’s Guide

  • Race

Race is a social construction aimed at categorizing and grouping groups of people together based on shared perceivable characteristics, both physical and social.  

  • Racism

The act of discrimination, coupled with the power to be able to exercise that hatred against specific communities. Racism and discrimination are not the same, it is the power balance that allows for this narrative.

  • Individual Racism

Individual racism is the power dynamic of individuals, which supported by an oppressive system, enables individuals to exercise racism, which is discrimination + power, against other communities. These acts of racism can be deliberate and unintentional, but their intent does not excuse their exercise.

“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 wish to see eradicated.”

— bell hooks (2014). “Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black”, p.125, Routledge

  • Institutional Racism

Also known as structural racism, refers to the power ideology backed and perpetuated by institutional powers including the state, that perpetuates discriminatory behaviours. Individual racism is able to function, through the institutional racism which backs it.

“Why is it so difficult for many white folks to understand that racism is oppressive not because white folks have prejudicial feelings about blacks (they could have such feelings and leave us alone) but because it is a system that promotes domination and subjugation?”

— bell hooks (2014). “Black Looks: Race and Representation”, p.15, Routledge

  • Internalized Racism

“Internalized racism – a term most often used to suggest that black people (and other people of color communities) have absorbed negative feelings and attitudes about blackness (their colour).”

— bell hooks

Rightly so, Hooks urges that internalized racism is an extension of white supremacy, in which the supremacist and oppressive system rewards people of color communities by perpetuating hatred against their own groups and upholding white values. It is not just the idea of the “white body” perpetuating racism, but the ideology that white body perpetuates, which can, and most definitely will spread to people of color communities.

Coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, Intersectionality came about to express the dire situation of immigrant, women of colour who were outcasted from both feminist movements, as well as civil rights movements (Crenshaw, 1245). It explores the way multiple identities conflict and coincide, within and between different systems, whether they be of patriarchy, capitalism, or Eurocentrism.

This analysis often reveals that social institutions are double, triple, quadruple stacked against those identifying with a multi-minority identity, and that these institutions do not accommodate the complexity that arises when an individual identifies with more than one marginalized group.

Intersectionality then, rightly so, refutes the notion that women are homogeneous groups who face the same oppression in any given situation.

It is important to note however, that intersectionality is not about highlighting individual differences to create further grounds for isolation but works towards critically understanding these differences and fathoming how they can be positively expressed within our political society.

  • Ethnicity

Ethnicity is a construct that attempts to hegemonically characterize individuals into groups of communities based on shared characteristics, including but not limited to values, language, geospatial contexts, education, and geopolitical histories (colonial hierarchies).

  • Culture

Culture, a relative term to each individual environment, refers to the shared meanings and behaviours between groups of people as a collective community. Culture has an underlying code, social, moral, economic and political, which all members follow, even if not giving active consent to those rules, individuals part of a culture, tacitly agree to the unspoken rules of conduct when they choose to participate in that community.

  • Oppression

The systematic act of dehumanization, subjection, and marginalization of specific communities; which is done to benefit the oppressors at the expense of the oppressed.

  • Power

A complicated dynamic in which some communities hold greater ability in the economic, social and political sense to marginalize and control other communities. Power is not only a physical act, but is made possible through language and discourse. Through Western creation and exercise of knowledge they are able to assert and force certain narratives that work to their benefit.

The creation of this discourse is a creation of power. The order of this discourse then produces a specific reality, and excludes the possibility of any other social fabrics from existing. Our current power structure then eliminates the possibility of liberation from being achieved. 

  • Colonialism

Colonialism refers to the dispossession, marginalization, and oppressive behaviour of certain geospatial areas by other people, communities, and nations. This can be physical settlement, commonly referred to as settler colonialism; military occupation of an area; resource extraction and exploitation; trade imbalances; and forceful state coercion.

Colonization produces an unequal power relation between the colonizer and the colonized, thus resulting in structural inequities governing the geopolitical climate of different areas, altering the lived realities and fabric through which colonized communities navigate their day to day lives.

Many postcolonial thinkers, rightfully so, argue the emergence of development as an extension of neocolonial power that reproduce over and over again the narratives that keep colonizer communities at an advantage.

“The production of knowledge and the planning of development by western institutions is something that third world countries and regions find it hard to escape from. The process of dominating, restructuring, and establishing authority progresses in three stages:

(1) The progressive identification of third world problems, to be treated by specific interventions. This creates a “field of the interventions of power.”

(2) The professionalization of development; the recasting of political problems into neutral scientific terms (poverty indicators, for example), leading to a regime of truth and norms, or a “field of the control of knowledge.”

(3) The institutionalization of development to treat these ‘problems’, and the formation of a network of new sites of power/knowledge that bind people to certain behaviors and rationalities (in rural development discourse, “produce or perish” became one such norm.”

— Escobar 1995: 157

  • Cultural Appropriation

Appropriation refers to the theft of property, both intellectual and material from different cultures and communities for individual and mass consumption, without recognition and understanding of the use and meaning behind different “cultural elements”. This is a reinforcer of colonial narratives, in which primarily white communities feel a natural right to steal and use people of colour property for their own profit.

  • Cultural Appreciation

Appreciation, living within the same space as appropriation, serves to broaden one’s understandings and respect for other cultures through cross cultural exchange, rather than its counter which serves to steal property for its benefit. It is a mutual space of respect, rather than domination.

  • Discrimination

Active and inactive differential and unequal treatments of different individuals and communities based on various identity markers or perceived markers, including but not limited to, race, age, culture, ethnicity, religion, biological identity, gender, orientation, and able-bodiedness.

  • Privilege

Privileges are advantages we hold over others, whether that be of resources, opportunities, institutions, or representations. We all hold some type of privilege; it is not a binary but rather a range we fall on and between. It is also important to note, that privilege is environmentally formed – meaning in some geopolitical and social contexts, you may hold more privileges that in other spaces. Privileges are not fixed, but rather, fluid.

This leads to the production of the idea that our privileges are a spectrum, from which sometimes we, even without intentional consent, still tacitly hold the upper hand. Let’s use an example in which there are two women: one is Indian and one is White, in this case, yes, both are women. But, one is also an Indian woman, a racialized and marginalized individual, thus giving the white woman an upper hand in advantage and privilege over the Indian woman.

The purpose of this example is to illustrate that our privileges are not fixed, and stagnant beings, but are malleable to the different natural and social environments we are in. More importantly, privileges and intersections of domination are ever changing as our relation to others is changing. What advantages we have, don’t have, and wish to have are contingent upon the ways in which we navigate our social and cultural spaces.

  • White Privilege

Building upon the concepts of privilege, white privilege is a pretty universal claim in which white individuals, and white-passing individuals hold privileges of resources, opportunities, and institutional backings, as opposed to people of colour communities.

The issue many white folk experience with their own privilege, is its omniscient and omnipotent nature. It is always there, it is always exercised, regardless of whether the individual themselves believe they should be privileged or not. White privilege is an extension of the Colonial Capitalist Supremacist Patriarchy we live in, in order for white privilege to be dismantled, this entire system, and its interlocking intersections must be dismantled.

In essence: every single white person holds a privilege, if only the entire system being shaped around their ideals, values, and worldviews.

“Often their rage erupts because they believe that all ways of looking that highlight difference subvert the liberal belief in a universal subjectivity (we are all just people) that they think will make racism disappear. They have a deep emotional investment in the myth of sameness even as their actions reflect the primacy of whiteness as a sign informing who they are and how they think.”

— bell hooks (2014). “Black Looks: Race and Representation”, p.167, Routledge

  • Ally

To be an ally is to be consciously aware of the privileges we hold, and use that consciousness in an attempt to sustain solidarity within and between different marginalized communities.

I think it is important to recognize the binary model of allyship as one that has major flaws within it. Through discussions of privileges and advantages, we have analyzed the ways in which privileges change depending on the geospatial and social dynamics we are navigating through. During the changes in our privileges within different social environments, we need to become allies to those we hold certain privileges over. Allyship is not just a binary between white people and people of colour, but can, and should exist within people of colour communities.