Racial Justice in the Age of Obama

By Roy L. Brooks | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
CRITICAL RACE THEORY

CRITICAL RACE THEORY often uses narrative, or storytelling, to convey its complex messages and simultaneously raise racial awareness.1 So it is quite appropriate that this chapter begins with a story that attempts to capture the core teaching of critical race theory. The story unfolds outside the highly contentious context of race, a place wherein racial truths are sometimes hard to see, and proceeds as follows. Jane and Alice are soon to be roommates in a new apartment. Jane is the first to arrive at the apartment. She instinctively arranges her furniture in a manner she finds both aesthetic and functional. As she moves the chairs, tables, and other pieces of furniture around the apartment, Jane is conscious only of her own sensibilities. She has no thought of disadvantaging Alice. In fact, Jane is not even thinking about Alice. Her only immediate desire is to make the apartment's interior reflect her personality, comfortable and pleasing. Alice arrives after Jane's furniture is firmly in place and immediately expresses her dissatisfaction with the layout of the apartment. She is dissatisfied not only with the type of furniture Jane has selected but also with its placement in the apartment. She insists that the arrangement of the furniture neither affirms, acknowledges, nor validates her personality and needs. Alice finds the furniture arranged in a way that makes movement around the apartment uncomfortable and inefficient for her. In response to Alice's complaints, Jane moves one or two chairs a few inches but does not otherwise rearrange the apartment or make room for more than a few pieces of Alice's furniture. Hence, the apartment's design remains fundamentally unchanged. Clearly, Alice has influence over the apartment, but Jane has dominion.

If Alice were a critical race theorist, she would use one word to describe her inability to exert sufficient power to change the basic design of the apartment: “subordination.” Jane, not Alice, exercises control or hegemony over the apartment. Her needs and tastes are privileged; they are given priority over the needs and tastes of Alice. Significantly, Alice's subordination occurs notwithstanding the fact that her roommate has not acted with antipathy or malice toward her. If Alice were black and Jane white, Alice, the critical race theorist, would use a more pointed word or two to describe the same situation: “racism” or “racial subordination.” Although using the term “racism” in this manner does not comport with the quotidian language of whites (Jane certainly does not think of herself as a racist, a person motivated by an invidious animus), it

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Racial Justice in the Age of Obama
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xxi
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - Traditionalism 14
  • Chapter 3 - Reformism 35
  • Chapter 4 - Limited Separation 63
  • Chapter 5 - Critical Race Theory 89
  • Epilogue: Toward the “best” Post–civil Rights Theory 109
  • Appendix Disparate Resources in America by Race in the Post–civil Rights Era 125
  • Notes 183
  • Bibliography 211
  • Index 225
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