Critical Race Theory as Social Justice Practice

       Now can you feel it?

       Nothing can save you

       For this is the season of our self savior

       Like Che Guevara, this young urban guerilla

       Sparks the revolution, black tactics, whatever

      --Digable Planets

      Although critical race theory is what it purports to be--a theory--it is also an important inquiry that offers a set of guiding social justice principles. In this sense it is potentially more praxis than theory. Frances Lee Ansley argues:

       [L]egal doctrine has important social power, that it shapes people's consciousness of themselves and their world, enlarging or restricting their vision of how things are, could be and should be. Historians also have pointed out the important role of law as mediator and unifier for Americans in particular, and the intense and intricate involvement of law and legal doctrine in the history of African-American people in this country.

       Race law doctrine has an effect, for example, on those of us considering Professor Bell's questions, and on others, in and out of the legal profession, who perhaps want no part of the questions, or have not yet dreamed of them. If the ideology of civil rights law itself, its spoken and unspoken message, is an active agent in our social reality, then a real understanding and analysis of race and law in our system would be an important contribution toward change, not simply an academic exercise.

      As such, critical race theory promises to shape and indeed has shaped social reality in profound ways. It is instrumental in the movement for social justice. If this is true, then we ought to articulate critical race theory in the same breath that we articulate opposition to corporate greed, rampant speculation, workplace discrimination, and other corporate ills. I argue that the Occupy movements should serve as a new point of departure for critical race theory.

      Activism changes society. Progressives, through action, can and must change the world to make it a better place. Historically, critical race theory has challenged stolid racial apathy in the academy, and today, presents a radical alternative of change and equality. This alternative ought to be foremost in our minds as we navigate the complex terrain of global capitalism, ethnocentrism, and gender and sexual orientation exclusion. If we engage in serious activism we can facilitate not only change, but also lay the foundation, by example, of a revolutionary way of being--which is change in itself.

      The character of this revolutionary way of being, which is directly linked to anti-capitalist movements, has been the subject of much discussion among critical race practitioners, many of whom are musical artists. Some (comprised of those in and outside of the academy) have encouraged armed resistance in the face of pervasive social ills. For example, hip-hop duo dead prez argued, “I say we all rush the Pentagon. Pull out guns and grab the This indictment of the military industrial complex is brutally direct. To take down the Pentagon, the bastion of security, with guns is ironic and persuasive. dead prez also have critiqued the police state: “I'll throw a Molotov cocktail at the precinct, you know how we These criticisms (not necessarily actions) are powerful examples of the way in which critical race theory can be applied outside the academy.

      The important point is that the call for armed resistance recognizes the desolation and anger borne by many poor communities of color in response to United States' institutions' failure to acknowledge its basic ethical obligations of compassionate living. In the same way revolutionaries' critical race visions have expressed violent resistance to protect America's dispossessed, the Occupy movements have offered a glimpse into growing unrest around a type of economic violence that many more people are experiencing for the first time.

      Critical race visionaries not only reveal survival stories among less powerful communities of color, they animate urgent calls for action. In other words, critical race theory may help invigorate our lack of civic engagement. We often assume activism exists where we are but when we look closely we are anything but active. While we may be able to point to some very active progressive voices and organizations there is no expectation that those who claim to be ideological progressives also be active in progressive struggles. Progressives may become bored, worn out, and tired like everyone else. It is in these moments of weakness, however, that other progressives must take up the charge and invest in movements, injecting new and exciting ideas into the fissures of enduring struggles. Therefore, critical race responses to the Occupy movements, like Occupy the Hood, should strengthen the Occupy message that we are the 99 percent suffering from capitalism's excesses--the time to act is now. Such responses should not be dismissed as “divisive” by white or middle-class progressives. We have a long way to go, together.