Critical Race Theory
In order to appropriately appreciate the cultural limitations of popular speculative art, and the importance of Afrofuturism and black speculative fiction as part of a child’s growing imagination, students will need to understand the concept of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Critical Race Theory presupposes that racial inequity exists, and views any text or even idea through the lens of critique based in social science. This presupposition carries along with it some important realities that must be recognized in order to appropriately move on. These are:
- Critical Race Theory recognizes that racism is endemic to American life.
- Critical Race Theory expresses skepticism toward dominant legal claims of neutrality, objectivity, colorblindness, and meritocracy.
- Critical Race Theory challenges ahistoricism and insists on a contextual/historical analysis of the law...Critical race theorists...adopt a stance that presumes that racism has contributed to all contemporary manifestations of group advantage and disadvantage.
- Critical Race Theory insists on recognition of the experiential knowledge of people of color and our communities of origin in analyzing law and society.
- Critical Race Theory is interdisciplinary.
- Critical Race Theory works toward the end of eliminating racial oppression as part of the broader goal of ending all forms of oppression.10
Essentially, and especially for our purposes, Critical Race Theory acknowledges deep-seeded American racism as part of most or all aspects of American culture. Using CRT, we view all popular culture with skepticism as to whether it is deconstructing or perpetuating the advantage of the dominant culture. This is the lens through which we view speculative art, the impact that underrepresented work has had on the American psyche, and the importance of Afrofuturism and black speculative art to the growing minds of our school children. These themes will be explored further in the “Classroom Activities” section.
Racial Domination and the Psychology of Oppression
The dominant racial ideology in America can be summed up as important to the racialized society we are through several indicators, outlined by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva: “(1) Accounting for the existence of racial inequality; (2) providing basic rules on engagement in interracial interactions; (3) furnishing the basis for actors’ racial subjectivity; (4) shaping and influencing the views of dominated actors; and (5) by claiming universality, hiding the fact of racial domination.”11 Essentially, all factors that are symptoms of what is referred to as “colorblindness” – i.e., refusal to acknowledge and address structural racism, covered by the excuse of one not wanting or needing to “see” or acknowledge race.
Similar to using critical race theory, viewing pop culture, particularly imaginative speculative art, through this lens, we see the rooted dominant culture in most of what our children experience. By exploring better representation in speculative texts, we battle this colorblindness in allowing our students to imagine more equity in speculative futures.
Many modern sociologists are exploring “colorblindness” as a modern pervading form of racism. By claiming one “doesn’t see color” or that they do not act on racial considerations, one discounts and discredits the experience imposed upon some by the dominant culture.
The Civil Rights era is over, and we live in “post-racial” America. This sentiment covers all manner of sins. It allows Americans of all races to recall a tough battle fought, and in many literal cases won, to advance the rights and privileges of people of color in this country. It allows us to assume that the stranger next to us on the street is not racist. It allows us to think the best of a teacher’s or even an entire academic institution’s intentions. It allows us to teach, learn, think, and do what we want where race is considered. This is because we have built a culture in this country firmly rooted in not considering race.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, author of Racism Without Racists, contends that this “new, more ‘civil’ way of maintaining and justifying racial considerations is a more formidable way of maintaining racial domination.”12 Bonilla-Silva argues that these instances are institutional, and by and large seem to not be racist. In fact, they don’t even address race at all – so how could they be racist? This is the question that study of colorblind racism addresses. It confronts racist societal factors still at play but easy to ignore – such as discrimination in housing, and the continued segregation of schools (anyone who researches the racial makeup of urban versus suburban schools would have a hard time arguing against that). Bonilla-Silva sights an example of a woman who does not believe in busing. The woman accounts that people should invest in their own communities.13 Sure, who could argue with that? But that perspective expressly ignores the lack of opportunity in some communities, and the excess of it in others. Ignoring the racial lines of housing and neighborhood makeup and the desire for people to stay “in their place” is a form of racism that is not clear to me how it is so often discounted. Scrutinizing colorblindness is an important part of ensuring it somehow will be rooted out.
Therefore, the importance of appreciating other cultures and experiences goes far beyond a student or person being “well-rounded” culturally or intellectually. The understanding of others’ circumstances is essential to the possibility of racism being exposed and done away with, making good on the promises made by the Civil Rights era and expressly ignored since. “As one’s intercultural sensitivity increases, an individual’s worldview becomes more ethnorelative: one’s own culture is experienced within the context of other cultures.” Colorblind racism allows us to easily only view and experience life through our own culture, perspective, and privilege, and to believe that if we do not commit expressly racist acts, then we are not racist. It is essential to understand that teaching only literature of the dominant narrative is a racist act. Even though it does not expressly offend or debase literature of other or counter-cultures, ignoring it for inclusion of only dominant culture does. Therefore the second aspect of this curricular unit will be to scrutinize and include the budding and rich world of Afrofuturism.