Biblioracle on Victor Ray’s book “On Critical Race Theory”

As we all spend our lives trapped in our own perceptions, seeing what things look like to someone else is a real gift, both as a way to expand our understanding of the world, but also to allow us to reflect on our own experiences having had the benefit of this broader view.

One way to do this is to adopt a “critical lens” as a way of looking at the world through a particular vantage point. I always imagined it as literally putting on a different set of glasses. If I look at a set of events through the prism of this other idea, what do these things look like?

My first and most profound experience with a critical lens came from reading Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”, which quotes Winston Churchill’s (perhaps apocryphal) quote “History is written by the victors” and reverses it. America’s triumphant story of Industrial Revolution technological progress looks a little different when it focuses on the people who were literally killed in the process, as the robber barons amassed previously inconceivable wealth.

I didn’t become an anti-capitalist, but I had a new appreciation for how difficult questions require different lenses to see the answers more clearly.

One such question is: given that the 13th Amendment and subsequent initiatives such as the Civil Rights Act provided equality before the law to black people in the United States, why are they, on average , still lagging behind in academic achievement. and create wealth?

One of the lenses available to attempt to answer this question is critical race theory, which focuses on the idea that racism is systemic in the country’s institutions and that these institutions maintain white dominance. Critical Race Theory has been positioned as a sort of boogeyman coming for white children, but the truth is that it is a set of ideas that can be understood, discussed and applied, nothing to fear for any thoughtful person.

In service of advancing this discussion, we have a new book, “On Critical Race Theory: Why It Matters & Why You Should Care” by Victor Ray, an accomplished sociologist and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

I would call this very readable book an introduction to critical race theory, but that would sell it short because reading it is like having a conversation with a wise and insightful teacher who both understands his subject and anticipates the questions his audience might have.

When I finished Chapter 3 on “Colorblind Racism” and immediately thought, “but what about all the progress we’ve clearly made?” I turned the page and saw the title of chapter four, “Racial Progress”, and the opening epigraph of Malcolm X, which begins “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and if you take it out of six, there is no progress. If you take it out completely, it is not progress. Progress heals the wound that the knife made.

Ray then goes on to show all the real and disturbing ways in which progress has been reversed, including schools that have been steadily resegregating since the 1980s and a growing wealth gap between black and white Americans.

The attacks on critical race theory in the aftermath of the protest marches following the murder of George Floyd can be seen as its own form of reversal of progress.

Ray discusses why critical race theory can and should be used as a tool to better understand racial inequalities in our society. It offers a lens that may help some people see more clearly. The reader can draw his own conclusion.

Those who attack critical race theory without bothering to understand it are choosing willful blindness.

John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities”.

Twitter @biblioracle

Biblioracle book recommendations

John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you read

1. “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin

2. “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

3. “Great Circle” by Maggie Shipstead

4. “The Netanyahus” by Joshua Cohen

5. “Sleepwalking” by Dan Chaon

—Lisa T., Chicago

Lots of very recently released books here, which almost always makes me go back at least a few years to find a book that deserves more attention, like “Mister Monkey” by Francine Prose.

1. “Dark Hours” by Michael Connelly

2. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind” by Yuval Noah Harari

3. “The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of WWII” by Malcolm Gladwell

4. “Bad Actors” by Mick Herron

5. “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles

—Michael P., Glenview

For Michael, I’m going with a slightly unusual crime novel that also invokes history and nature, Ron Rash’s “One Foot in Eden”.

1. “Remarkably Brilliant Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt

2. “This Time Tomorrow” by Emma Straub

3rd of March” by Geraldine Brooks

4. “Oh, William! » by Elizabeth Strout

5. “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in Trauma Healing” by Bessel van der Kolk

—Nancy P., Chicago

I feel like “Our Souls at Night” by Kent Haruf, a novel about two people who find solace in each other when they’ve both passed the point where they thought such a thing was a possibility, will be a balm for Nancy.

Get a reading from the Biblioracle

Send a list of the last five books you read and your hometown to [email protected].

Angela C. Hale