critical race theory
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Date Reviewed: March 22, 2018
Deconstructing Race is a book written by a teacher to other teachers. It combines empirical data with critical race theory and pedagogical research with three objectives: at the theoretical level, the book offers teachers an overview of applied critical race theory; at the pedagogical level, Mahiri offers a wide sample of ethnographic data (mostly interviews) and literary analysis (Chapter 2) that both inform and illustrate the theoretical framework; third, and perhaps most importantly, Deconstructing Race offers an alternative framework “beyond the Color-Bind.” Aptly drawing on Derrida’s work, Mahiri diagnoses that “rapidly changing micro-cultural identities and practices of individuals cannot be contained in the static racial categories assigned by white supremacy” (7). The author advances the notion of “micro-cultures” to account for the myriad ways in which subjects assume different cultural positions, practices, choices, and perspectives. The hyphen in the expression seeks to underline the experience of multicultural individuals who always live in-between.
The theoretical apparatus (Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 9) sandwiches a set of five chapters in which the author exemplifies the inadequacy of racial categories by presenting several interviews grouped according to the five official categories of race (briefly presented in chapter 3). The wealth of interviews and testimonies cannot be summarized here, but they all point to how institutionalized racial categorizations completely miss the mark as descriptors of identity. The ethnographical data amply demonstrates in turn that identitarian “boxes” cannot be decided in advance and theoretical notions need to be sharpened to reflect what Mahiri calls the phenomenon of hyperdiversity.
For educators in the fields of theology, religious studies, or multicultural ministry, the main appeal of this contribution may reside precisely in the richness of its ethnographical survey and, more specifically, in the testimonies of subjects classified within a certain race. Their experiences push racial categories to come undone in favor of other “ancestral, ethnic, and national origin identifications” (78). Furthermore, this new construction of identities, Mahiri explores, is performed through digital media where subjects negotiate real-world and virtual identities – subverting the former by performing new identifications in the latter. From this standpoint, Deconstructing Race offers a glimpse of what resistance looks like in the age of digital media.
Whereas the ethnographic account is definitely the book’s main strength, its theoretical framework calls for further elaboration. Mahiri takes a descriptive approach to ethnographic analysis with the subsequent advantage of presenting the experiences of the interviewed subjects in their rich complexity. However, self-descriptions are not sufficiently analyzed. For instance, to what extent is the emphatic insistence on the notion of “identity” (regardless of the axes that define it) not itself a philosophical project in need of deconstruction? How might a more robust analysis of contemporary capitalism – a concept mentioned a couple of times in passing but that names the cause, one might argue, of mass population movements that inform the identities presented – inform alternative racial imaginaries?
Date Reviewed: June 23, 2017
Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education lays a foundation of the history, theory, research, policy, and practice of the amorphous expanse known in North America as adult and continuing education. Undoubtedly constructed as a resource for graduate students in the burgeoning field, this text lucidly summarizes complex and daunting theory without stripping the data of interest and nuance. That is high praise for what could have easily been just another bulky textbook.
Constructed of twelve chapters, divided into three sections, this work defines contemporary perspectives of the field, examines the foundations of the field, and focuses on the contexts of adult and continuing education (ix). The text gives a cursory summary of the historical rivalry between terms vying for lexical dominance of the then nascent field and while “there is still not a universally accepted definition today” one can trace certain themes and trends among the most noted definitions (3). The text presents different forms, purposes, and providers of adult education and even addresses the social forces affecting the expansion of the field (technological innovation, globalization and the global market, as well as seismic demographic shifts associated with rising levels of educational attainment, aging populations, and an increase in racial and ethnic diversity) (11-20). It outlines the prevailing historical patterns in adult participation and addresses some of the challenges that adult learners face, such as long waiting lists for ESL programs, limited formal educational background (especially among seniors [42-43]), the often-ignored relationship between social class and participation, as well as the influence race and ethnicity have on participation rates within adult education programs.
Perhaps the most harrowing statistics are those involving unemployed and underemployed adults and the working poor. Foundations references the US Census of 2012 when reporting that 10.6 million Americans are among the working poor (59). According to this research, “women are twice as likely as men to be part of the working poor” and Hispanics and Blacks are “twice as likely as Whites and Asians to be among the working poor” (59). Educational attainment and working poor status appear to be linked as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics in 2012 reported that while only 2.1 percent of college graduates were categorized as working poor, “21.2 percent of those who had less than a high school diploma” (60) were categorized as such. Another startling revelation is related to the identity of adult educators.
Identifying the boundaries of adult and continuing education (ACE) as a field is complex and requires educators to define not just education but also adulthood (“a relatively new social construct in American society” explored in greater depth in chapter 7), and to work in a field awash in acronyms and associations. They must try to construct a sense of professional identity in a field which necessarily works within structures of power and simultaneously challenges those structures (108, 117).
Readers might be surprised by the inclusion of a chapter on philosophy in a text summarizing the history and vital components of what is commonly described as a predominately applied field. However, the inclusion of such is quite necessary considering that it is paramount to investigate “many ways of thinking” and the frameworks we use “for thinking about broader issues and social problems” (137). In fact, the authors describe philosophy in those exact terms. Coming from a religious studies background and being something of a theory-head, I found this chapter particularly engaging. It touches on everything from belief to Postmodernism and Critical Race Theory (CRT) and brilliantly illustrates the implications of such theory for the practice of education in general. The chapter, “Historical Perspective: Contexts and Contours,” is equally compelling because of its willingness to question the value of history for the field and investigate this history via its diffusion, “the spreading of ideas through newspapers, lectures, and academic and popular writing” (177). American history is intimately tied up with education and literacy: literacy and education took center stage during era of Reconstruction, illiteracy was viewed as a hindrance to the effort of the World Wars, and today, education and assimilation are still closely linked (191-192).
Learning about the limited role the federal government is allowed, constitutionally, to play in the realm of adult education (as explicated in chapter 8) is eye-opening. The few times the federal government has stepped into the realm of adult education has had to do with immediate national interest (adult literacy, English language learning, literacy for military, and even job training for women working in production to strengthen the war effort of WW II) (264-267). The chapter “Technology and Adult Learning” could be a separate book itself. The protean nature of new technologies, the effect of technology on neural cognitive activities, and the dire need to develop “critical evaluative skills” in adults as well as in children in the age of the Internet are expertly addressed here (314).
The two chapters dedicated to the expansive landscape of adult education map the varied spaces and contexts in which adult education takes place. While one chapter focuses on adult education within more formal contexts (within work, where adult education overlaps with the territory of higher education, inside programs of basic education and ESL learning, and military efforts), the other traces the outline of adult education as it occurs within a community context (faith-based programs, adult learning within museums and libraries, wellness programs, and civic engagement groups – especially those rooted in social justice). These two chapters spotlight just how diverse in topic, motivation, and method adult education can be. For newcomers to adult education like myself, the crisp explication of the regions and modes of what constitutes the field is exceptionally enlightening, as I have previously found it difficult to isolate what in fact constitutes, and does not constitute, adult education.
While noticeably constructed with Education graduate students in mind, this book has something to teach anyone even tangentially interested in lifelong learning, community building, education, employment, and the effects of technology on North American culture. As an academic advisor working within the halls of higher education and a lifelong learner myself, I see this text as a great resource for graduate students and educators in all disciplines but I also recommend it to those invested in education and learning outside the confines of formal educational structures (church leaders, community organizers, volunteers, and policy advocates).
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2016
Critical Race Theory in Higher Education: 20 Years of Theoretical and Research Innovations is an in-depth description and analysis of critical race theory. The book addresses contemporary issues facing our society in general and higher education specifically. Dorian L. McCoy, a professor at the University of Tennessee and Dirk. J. Rodricks, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto collaborated on the book. It is part of the Higher Education Report periodical series.
It is interesting that this book was launched during some disturbing times involving race in the United States. The book addresses critical race theory at the time when the slogan “Black Lives Matter” becomes the rallying cry against injustice and the attacks on black lives by the criminal justice system and police specifically. Although the book addresses this issue, it is not what propelled the authors to write it.
The authors define critical race theory (CRT) as:
"A form of oppositional scholarship that centers race and racism while challenging the Eurocentric values established as the accepted norm in the United States; is used to examine the unequal and unjust distribution of power and resources politically, economically, racially, and socially; a movement of scholars committed to challenging and disrupting racism and other forms of oppression; composed of the following key tenets: the permanence of racism, experiential knowledge, interest convergence theory, intersectionality, whiteness of property, the critique of liberalism, and commitment to social justice." (91)
Throughout the book the authors take their definition of critical race theory and present research on each aspect of it. This not only serves to educate students in higher education, but also to enlighten those who are part of the hiring process.
As one who has served on search committees at institutions of higher education, I find the research in this book to be very stimulating. The documented disproportionate number of professors of color teaching in institutions of higher education makes this research very helpful for search committees in these institutions. Astute people will use this information to further promote equality and even the playing ground in institutions of higher education.
Critical Race Theory in Higher Education serves as an educational tool for administrators, board of trustee members, and faculty in higher education, especially for the ways by which it encourages deeper reflection on the subject.
The weakness from this reviewer’s viewpoint is that the book becomes somewhat overwhelming with so many references. This sometimes causes the flow of reading to be cumbersome particularly when reading some technical terms. That said, McCoy and Rodricks have put together a large corpus of research on critical race theory that could be helpful to faculty teaching in North American contexts. The book is very timely as it explores a very important subject to address in our present time of heightened awareness of multiculturalism and pluralism. Overall this book is a valuable resource for all who have an interest in higher education.
Date Reviewed: July 15, 2015
The editors and selected contributors provide cogent insights on navigating academic environments as faculty of color. Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a conceptual and methodological lens to identify issues of racial incongruity (1). The strength of this volume of 13 chapters is the use of first-person Scholarly Personal Narratives (SPN) by contributing black scholars to analyze particular experiences and modes for survival, if not reform in educational institutions (3). In the introduction, editors Truitt and Bonner review the evolution of CRT to conceptualize “core thematic trends” (4) that collectively structure the narrative content and divide the volume into three parts.
Part 1 is titled “Black Faculty: Navigating Daily Encounters with Racism.” Chapters 2 through 5 are narratives on interpersonal experiences in institutional climates. In chapter 2, Giles details CRT to analyze presumptive behaviors encountered since his formative years to his current professorial appointment. Moore focuses on racial microaggressions in chapter 3 (24) to note environmental similarities of his upbringing in a predominately white community and his exposure to social systems in the work environment at a predominately white academy. Lewis co-authors chapter 4 to highlight “insider-outsider experiences” (33) as a British black man, while Helm highlights her duality in America as black female navigating racialized gender stereotypes that undermine professional credibility (35). In chapter 5, Shavers, Butler, and Moore cite “cultural taxation” (42), a phenomena of commodification risks for underrepresented black faculty confounded by excessive service project requirements as token institutional representatives.
In Part II, “Black Faculty, Meaning Making through Interdisciplinary and Intersectional Approaches,” chapters 6 through 9 offer multidisciplinary intersectional approaches to recognize formal institutional rules and navigate informal expectations. Five contributors to chapter 6 – marbley, Rouson, Li, Huang, and Taylor – use a multiple theoretical lens to assess microaggression in performance-compliance to diversity expectations, parity of scholarship praxis, and tenure requirements. Croom and Patton overlay “critical race feminism” (66) onto CRT analysis in chapter 7 to identify dynamics that black female academicians encounter from black and white colleagues. Similarly, in chapter 8, Andrews details institutional macroaggressions and interpersonal microaggressions (80) that hinder female scholars’ inclusion in tenure-track aspirations unless support of professional identity and authenticity is cultivated. Stewart shares nuanced sexuality challenges in chapter 9 as an “outsider-within” (95) where her triadic identities, black, female, and queer are stereotyped tropes for discrimination and invisibility in the academy.
Finally, Part III, “Back Faculty, Finding Strength through Critical Mentoring of Relationships” includes that focus on mentor relationships as supportive modes of self-reflection and networking. In chapter 10, Flowers relays a critical need for candid self-reflection with trusted allies as mentors outside institutions if not found within. Smith asserts in chapter 11 that tenure does not guarantee collegial inclusion, respect, or appointment to leading roles; still, attentiveness to self-esteem, persona perceptions, and cultivating allied mentors helps to build critical social capital (117). Finally, chapters 12 and 13 focus on developing mentor relationships with students as Bonner recalls mentor influences as a student that inform his thematic roles as a faculty mentor to students (123). In the final chapter, Tomlinson-Clarke also urges faculty-student relationship with relational mentoring lessons as a graduate student in a historically black college (HBCU) and as a doctoral student in a predominately white university (PWI).
In summary, Black Faculty in the Academy is not a prescriptive behavioral guide of dos and don’ts; rather, the diverse analyses of lived experiences with recommendations provide avenues for readers to construct reflective assessment of present individualized situations. As an African American professor, I resonated with the narratives as discernment tools for success. The book also provides a starting point for collective institutional discourse; however, in my opinion, the volume would benefit from a section of narratives by non-black faculty who acknowledge critical race theory issues that require discourse in institutional settings where non-black colleagues might otherwise be defensive to the critique of the book’s black contributors. Nevertheless, for new faculty of color as the likely primary readers, this volume offers powerful insights of CRT to raise awareness and encourage development of contextual navigation strategies.