Lincoln University political science professor Darius Watson spoke about critical race theory on Tuesday at the Jefferson City Evening Rotary Club meeting.
Watson said he has been teaching critical breed theory for about 20 years. Race, he said, is only one aspect of critical theory – and it is the only one that is suddenly subject to widespread controversy.
Critical theory, developed in the 1930s, is inspired by Marxist ideas. It examines and challenges the prevailing social, economic and political structures. The Oxford Dictionary defines critical theory as “a philosophical approach to culture” which “seeks to confront the social, historical and ideological forces and structures which produce and constrain it”.
Critical theory can be analyzed through many perspectives, such as the perspective of work, the perspective of gender, the perspective of sexuality, and the perspective of religion.
“It’s not black people against the world,” Watson said. “Everyone engages in critical theory.”
Critical Race Theory is a decades-old academic framework that examines how race and racism influence politics, culture, and the law. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic and not simply the product of prejudice or individual prejudice.
Critical Race Theory, along with all other critical theories, is a way to think critically and examine how structures, narratives, and social constructs are created, Watson said.
“All of critical breed theory holds that this dynamic, this creation of knowledge, has existed in the United States from the start,” Watson said.
For example, when Africans came to America, they became slaves and their identities changed. When the Civil War ended, he became African American, shaping the identity of African Americans today.
From an African American perspective, Critical Race Theory is a way to understand how race has affected black people in America. For others, it is sometimes seen as an attempt to rewrite history and blame whites or label all white Americans as racists.
“As a political scientist, I kind of laugh because I feel like both sides are taking a deeper look at the story,” Watson said.
Watson said he believed another reason for the controversy was that it raised issues such as privilege. But white privilege is a systemic concept.
“The only reason we have white privilege as a dominant concept in this society is because white people have dominated economic systems,” he said. “If Africans had gone to England and enslaved a group of English people and brought them here, and the rest of the United States was going as we know history, we would be talking about black privilege.”
Critical Race Theory examines racism from a systems perspective. For example, whites in America own about 99% of private property in America, and blacks only own about 0.6%. This fact lends itself to a critical analysis of racial theory.
“It’s the legacy of discrimination, Jim Crow laws and segregation,” Watson said. “I can’t explain today’s inequalities just by looking at it today.”