Reflections on Critical Race Theory

by Althea Haug

Below is a continuation of student work, this time from a Master’s in Teaching candidate from the University of Washington.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has had so much media attention recently and I don’t think a lot of people who talk about it know what it truly is. I learned a lot from the readings we did about CRT and from the conversation we had in class about it so that’s what I want to talk about for my reflection.

Centrality of Racism

This means that racism is the norm; it’s the default. White people have set things up so that racism is at the center of everything. In the reading Critical Race Theory and Education, Dr. Christine Sleeter says, “White people, generally believing that racism is a thing of the past, tend not to notice racial disparities, and when they do, attribute them to something other than the workings of racism.”  I chose this quote because it resonates so deeply with me. I have lived for so long in my little bubble of privilege. I went to a high school that was 97% white. I graduated high school so unaware of what was really going on in the world I remember thinking that racism didn’t exist anymore. It’s honestly so embarrassing for me to admit that.

The good news is, I have taken the time to educate myself and I have taken the time to listen to people of Color (POC) when they tell me things. One of the most important books I read in my undergrad was So You Wanna Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. In that book, she says something is about race if a POC says it’s about race. That stuck with me. It’s the responsibility of the white person to take the time to learn about racism and how it affects POC. It’s the responsibility of white people to actively fight against the racism that is underlying pretty much everything that has ever existed in this country.

One thing that stood out to me that was talked about in class is that when POC do things that seem to go against their own interest, like voting for Trump, that is their response to white supremacy. That is how they protect themselves from white supremacy. This was really meaningful to me, because I have always wondered why POC would vote for Trump or participate in something that is actively racist. I have always thought they must just be stupid, but I think it’s important for me to not have that judgement. This is just their way of protecting themselves from systems built by and for white people. 

Challenges to Claims of Neutrality

Even knowing that everything is racist, I still never considered neutral language being a tool of white supremacy. The activity we did in class when we went back through our cohort norms to change them so they weren’t so neutral and as a result, racist, was a really important activity and helped me a lot. Neutral language like “embracing our differences” is so loaded. Seeing the Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN) Racially Equitable Discussion Norms in class that were different for POC and white people was so cool. I had never thought of doing it that way.

WAESN’s Racially Equitable Discussion Norms

The last few days I have been thinking about neutral language and how I can challenge that in my own life; put the responsibility back on the white people to call out racism and take some of the emotional labor from the POC. In the reading Critical Race Theory and Education, Sleeter wrote about the law and how people have widely considered that to be neutral. In class we talked about education being the great equalizer and in one of our discussions we talked about how people say, “We are all in this together,” when talking about the pandemic. All of these things might appear neutral to someone who doesn’t know better, but in reality, all of these things exist as a tool of white supremacy and none of them are neutral. We have never truly “all been in this together” regarding anything. Because we live in a capitalist society, literally everything that has ever happened has negatively affected poor people. Who are disproportionately living in poverty? POC. Neutral language seems so innocent to a white person, but it’s an act of violence against POC, and it’s on us white people to call it out and change it when we see it. 

Whites as Beneficiaries of Racial Remedies

This tenet of CRT is one that I know the white guys in power just absolutely get their panties in a bunch over. They love to pat themselves on the back for the things they have done to “fight racism,” or whatever they think they are doing, but in reality, every single thing that has ever been done has had benefits to white people or it wouldn’t have been done. I never thought about the ways white people benefited from school desegregation, and having those discussions and reading about that has been really beneficial for me in shining a light on what the true motivation was for these things to happen.  It bums me out that anything that has been done to “improve” things for POC has really just been a smoke screen and never would have been done if it didn’t benefit white people in some way, shape, or form. 

Centrality of Experiential Knowledge

I love that this is a tenant of CRT. I am still really trying to figure out my way around these conversations about race, but one thing I have always believed is that voices of POC are so important. I have learned that going out and talking to POC and asking about things isn’t always the best way to go about it due to the forced emotional labor, but listening to counter stories and experiential knowledge is a perfect way to learn more. There are so many books and poems and movies and documentaries and just a wealth of information that is available. I need to listen to people when they tell me their stories. I don’t have personal knowledge, but bringing these counter stories into my classroom will be a fantastic way to help my students. I am so excited that we learned this, and it’s definitely something I will be implementing. 

Commitment to Working for Social Justice

I don’t always know how to do this, but it’s something I am deeply committed to. Just over the last few weeks I have felt this commitment deepen. Learning about how hard some people are fighting against allowing children to learn Ethnic Studies made me realize that teaching is a profession that needs people like me. I might be just another white lady, which I know there are already plenty of, but I am a white lady that is prepared to do the work to help dismantle these systems of power that have existed since the country was founded. I believe that teaching young children is a perfect way to do that. These kids are our future, if they start learning at a young age how messed up this country is, we might have some hope to change it in the future.

Recently, a friend of mine said something about people just complaining about things that happen on social media but then moving on and doing nothing about it. I told him that’s not true. I am doing something about it, as are plenty of other people. He might not be able to see that because some of this work is being done behind the scenes, but I know that for now, taking these classes and learning everything I can about how to be a good teacher is me taking action.

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