For 20 years I have been researching and writing on the educational application of the legal scholarship known as, “Critical Race Theory (CRT).” This work reflects ideas promulgated by law professors Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, Patricia Williams, Kimberle Crenshaw, Charles Lawrence, Mari Matsuda, Ian Haney Lopez, Devon Carbado, and a host of others. Many scholars in education discouraged me from this line of inquiry because they read it as too political. After all, I was already making a scholarly “name” for myself by writing about “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.” Researching and writing about race would limit me and antagonize people.
The biggest thing that “turns folks off” about CRT is that its primary claim is, “racism is normal, not aberrant in US society.” It just sounds so hopeless to people who want to be optimistic and “positive.” But CRT is about racial realism! Racial realism asserts that Black people in the US historically and currently suffer actual harm just because they’re Black! Another thing that critics of CRT dislike is that it uses chronicles or stories to illustrate its legal principles. Some of these stories are fanciful and otherworldly but at their core they focus on legal principles. I published a University of North Carolina Law Review article titled, “Can We at Least Have Plessy?” where I argued that it was better to have a REAL Plessy than a FAKE Brown. Many of my education colleagues were mortified! How could I fail to endorse the promise of Brown?
One of the primary principles of CRT is called the “Interest Convergence Principle.” In it, Derrick Bell argued that the ONLY way Black people will advance in the society is if they can align their interests with those of White people. As a consequence civil rights legislation only gets passed if there is a way to demonstrate that Whites can also benefit. Think about Affirmative Action. Although it was designed to act as a form of redress for African American and other people of color, it was quickly amended to include women and the major beneficiaries have been White women.
Today we see the Interest Convergence Principle in full display. Black students at the University of Missouri have endured a number of racially motivated insults and despite appealing to the school’s administration they have received no real relief. Graduate student Jonathan L. Butler (who was also an undergraduate at Missouri) had enough. He began a hunger strike a week ago because his efforts at going “through channels” have not worked. A friend of his was sexually assaulted and the University provided no help. She ultimately took her own life. A group of Black students were pelted with cotton balls. He has been the object of racial slurs. In the latest incident, the Nazi swastika was placed in the bathroom in feces! Butler has had enough. He wanted the system president, Tim Wolfe to resign for his failure to address the racist, sexist, and homophobic climate that has been allowed to fester on the University of Missouri system campuses. Mr. Wolfe was adamant he would not step down.
Yesterday, 30 or so Black members of the University’s football team declared that they would not participate in any football related activities including practices and the upcoming game with BYU. The football coach declared via Twitter that the team was united in its stance against racism. Failure to play that game would result in a loss of $1 million. Now the issue grabbed the president’s attention! This is a classic interest convergence. The non-athlete students’ complaints were unworthy of a response. Perhaps they just needed to “get over it.” But once you start messing with White folks money, you can get their attention.
In fairness to others of good will on the University of Missouri campus it is important to acknowledge the way groups were starting to galvanize around a real problem on the campus. Faculty members were about to assist students to stage a walk-out. But, the real lever in this situation was the football team. Their declaration that they would not participate in any football activities resulted in President Tim Wolfe’s resignation in less than 24 hours.
While I was not in the room or on Mr. Wolfe’s phone or email, I can imagine that the calls, emails, and conversations from his board of trustees, alumni, donors, and athletic boosters were fast and furious. Wolfe, you’ve got to go…now you’re messing with OUR money!
Stay Black & Smart!