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CRT: Identity-Specific Varieties

Since the analytical tools of CRT come from a range of epistemologies there is no linear progression overall in the theory. Some CRT scholars (e.g. Dixson 2006) have likened CRT to jazz which can be in unison without being in unison, and which grew out of African Americans’ resistance to oppression and their struggle for equality. CRT, however, encompasses far more than the experiences of African Americans. Rebecca Tsosie (2005-6, p. 22) has argued that ‘CRT is a jurisprudence of possibility precisely because it rejects standard liberal frameworks and precisely because it seeks to be inclusive of different groups and different experiences' (my emphasis). In this section, I will try to give a flavor of some identity- specific varieties of CRT, and will look at some unique features of each, including some tensions, as well as overall commonalities.

LatCrit and Black Exceptionalism

In 1997, the first LatCrit Conference took place. At that conference, Juan Perea challenged the black/white binary (Chang and Gotanda 2007, p. 1014). In a subsequent paper, Perea (1997, pp. 231-237) advocated five LatCrit axioms:

  • • Our goal must be the most broad understanding of equality. It must be a full equality, admitting of no qualifications or impediments;
  • • The concepts of ‘Race’ and ‘Racism’ must be amplified to promote Latina/o equality;
  • • The concept of Civil Rights is so dominated by the Black/White binary understanding of American racial identity that it is currently of little utility for Latinos;
  • • ‘National Origin’ is not a helpful concept in understanding discrimination against Latinos/as nor in redressing such discrimination;
  • • The concepts of ethnicity and ethnic identity may be the most appropriate set of group traits for amplifying our understanding of race in a way that discrimination against Latinos/as can be recognized and understood.

Perea’s analysis needs to be seen as a response to ‘black exceptionalism’. As Delgado and Stefancic (2001, p. 69) point out, ‘[e]xceptionalism holds that a group’s history is so distinctive that placing it at the center of analysis is, in fact, warranted’. While exceptionalism could apply to any group, Delgado (2007, personal correspondence) suggests that most of the CRT movement is ‘caught up in the traditional black-white binary’, a stance which he totally opposes. ‘Black exceptionalism’ has been described by Angela Harris (Espinoza and Harris 1999/2000, p. 440 in Delgado and Stefancic 1999/2000), on the other hand, as ‘an important truth’, since it is both ‘an intellectual and a political challenge to LatCrit theory’ (ibid., p. 444). As she notes (ibid., p. 444):

As an intellectual claim, black exceptionalism answers Perea’s criticism of the black-white paradigm by responding that the paradigm, though wrongly making ‘other non-whites’ invisible, rightly places black people at the center of any analysis of American culture or American white supremacy ....

In its strongest form, black exceptionalism argues that ... Indians, Asian Americans, and Latino/as do exist. But their roles are subsidiary to, rather than undermining, the fundamental binary national drama. As a political claim, black exceptionalism exposes the deep mistrust and tension among American ethnic groups racialized as ‘nonwhite’.

Robert Chang and Neil Gotanda (2007, p. 1017) state that ‘there has been surprisingly little engagement with the challenge that the Black exceptionalism claim poses to LatCrit’, and that when it has been taken up beyond a footnote reference, the authors have tended to be black (ibid.). As they conclude, although this might be done for reasons of ‘politeness’ (ibid.), this ‘can ... weaken in the long run coalition with other groups’ (ibid.). I would agree with Delgado and Stefancic (2001, p. 70), who have also engaged with ‘black exceptionalism, that ‘[t]he black-white—or any other—binary paradigm of race ... weakens solidarity, reduces opportunities for coalition, deprives the group of the benefits of the others’ experiences’ (ibid., p. 70). The black- white paradigm, they argue, ‘simplifies analysis dangerously’ (ibid.). As they explain, in the context of the US:

Few blacks will be yelled at and accused of being foreigners ... Few will be told that if they don’t like it here, they should go home. Few will be ridiculed on account of their unpronounceable last names or singsong accent. Few will have a vigilante, police officer, teacher, or social worker demand to see their papers, passport, or green card. By the same token, few Asian- looking people will be accused of being welfare leeches or having too many children out of wedlock (Delgado and Stefancic 2001, pp. 69-70).

This scenario is, of course, very US-specific, and applicable to African Americans and Asian Americans (in the US sense of the term). In different contexts, black people are accused of being foreign and told to ‘go home’, are ridiculed because of their names or accents (as are Asians and others in various contexts). Black people are suspected of being ‘illegal immigrants’, Asian-looking people are accused of being reliant on welfare and having too many children.

This differential racialization, however, is recognized by Delgado and Stefancic when they note that racialization varies historically, as ‘each disfavored group . has been racialized in its own individual way and according to the needs of the majority group at particular times in its history’ (Delgado and Stefancic 2001, pp. 69). From a Marxist perspective, the racialization of specific groups does not occur according to the needs of ‘the majority group’, but according to the needs of the minority group of (white) capitalists and their politician supporters. For Marxists, the racialization (and xeno-racialization) of specific groups needs to be related to the mode of production (this is discussed in the chapter 3 of this volume).

Chang and Gotanda (2007, p. 1029) conclude that ‘it is crucial that we examine closely the positions and actions taken in past and present racial coalitions’ and that part of a LatCrit agenda should be ‘the political imperative to re-examine ‘Black exceptionalism’ (ibid.). While I would agree with these sentiments which, indeed, accord with my preferred wide-ranging definition of racism outlined in chapter 3 of this volume, I would be totally against, as I am sure would all Critical Race Theorists, any marginalization of the very brutal racism directed historically and contemporaneously at African Americans, from the days of slavery onwards.

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