Critical race theory (CRT) is perhaps best characterized as a loosely knit body of work that centers on the study of race and racism. Committed to a complex notion of race as simultaneously socially constructed and deeply material, at least in its lived experience and its effects, CRT offers a historicized and dynamic study of race and racism that traces the roots of racial thinking and racist practice as it also carefully tracks contemporary discourses and practices of race and racism.

Though the origins of CRT can be traced to the influential writings of early figures such as W. E. B. DuBois and civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chávez, its formal emergence dates to the mid-1970s and the writings of legal scholar Derrick Bell. Bell, among others, launched a critique of the legal system, arguing that its methods and practices perpetuated a racially stratified society. Though his considerable body of work offers numerous specific critiques, his larger argument can perhaps best be summarized as follows: Racial thinking is ingrained in U.S. history, culture, politics, law, and society in ways that often mask it, making both the racial thinking and the
racist manifestations appear neutral. Moreover, the intersection of that racial thinking with the U.S. tradition of liberalism promotes practices and policies that appear to motivate change but that traditionally have enabled the perpetuation of both racial thinking and racist practice. A central such instance for Bell and other CRT scholars is civil rights legislation. While not denying the clear material changes brought about by civil rights, Bell argued, in instances such as the increasing attacks on affirmative action, that the gains made were being lost. CRT also owes debt for its emergence to the critical legal studies (CLS) movement. CLS scholars, writing mainly in the 1970s and 1980s, argued that while law tends to be thought of as neutral, it is heavily political. Indeed, they coined the argument that law is politics. By this, they sought to draw attention to the power-laden biases that drive legal thought and policy. Influenced by the writings of continental social theorists, CLS maintains that U.S. law has mostly served the interests of the dominant and functioned to justify the injustices that it enables. For CRT scholars, such arguments help illustrate the Whiteness that permeates law and society more generally. In response, Bell and the growing community of CRT scholars advocate new approaches to law and legal thinking that would both revise conceptions of race and racism and advocate for racial justice.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.654

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