Candidate Brings Critical Race Theory into Local Campaign

 by Tom MarinoNovember 29, 2021
Since September 2020 the phrase “critical race theory” has exploded into the public debate across the country. The phrase also recently found its way into the 2022 race to represent the second Massachusetts congressional district.

Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette, of Shrewsbury, announced early this summer he will run as a Republican in 2022 for the congressional seat currently held by Congressman Jim McGovern.

On his campaign website, Sossa-Paquette says he founded a pet grooming shop and grew it to seven locations and 112 employees with $6 million in revenue before selling it at age 29. He also has experience in the banking industry. 

With election day over eleven months away, the Sossa-Paquette campaign is starting to ramp up, announcing events, asking for volunteers and producing a consistent social media presence. 

On November 7, the campaign posted on the subject of critical race theory to its Facebook page.

Full post text:

Critical Race Theory isn’t always presented as “Critical Race Theory” our school boards along with teachers unions and teachers themselves have disguised “CRT” in concepts such as Action Civics, Anti-racism, Anti-blackness, Collective guilt, Unconscious bias, Critical self-awareness, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Educational justice, Institutional oppression, Marginalized identities, Systems of power and oppression, White privilege, White supremacy, Whiteness, Woke behavior, pro-nouns.

As a result, our children have become depressed, have extreme anxiety, and withdraw. We are witnessing an increase in teenage suicide by 32%, while school boards and our children’s teachers think they have the right to cut parents out of the social and emotional wellbeing of our children. Our schools are there to educate our children in Math, English, Reading, Science, History, and civics.

What teachers have no place teaching our children is ‘CRT” as a parent if my child struggles with self-identity, depression, anxiety, or any other personal concerns that is between my child and myself, not my child’s teacher or school psychologist, nor should any parent owe an explanation to how we handle our personal family concerns with our schools. Teachers teach and Parents raise our children, more importantly, we name our children not ‘Woke’ teachers and their dangerous pro-nouns.

I will spend the next twelve months traveling district 2 of Massachusetts visiting every school board determining how are federal dollars are being used to harm our children.

- Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette for Congress Facebook Page,  November 7, 2021

In comments to ThisWeekinWorcester.com, Sossa-Paquette said he seeks a conversation about the real issues, not mislabeling them all as critical race theory.

Sossa-Paquette also drew a distinction between issues in high school classrooms and levels below. "I am not against having these conversations, I'm against having these conversations with my five year old," he said. 

What is Critical Race Theory

Since September 2020, critical race theory has been framed as a loosely defined as an all-encompassing term for controversial social issues. The people who created the phrase and the decades-long  body of scholarship with it, defined it with specificity quite different from its use over the last year. 

Critical race theory is an academic framework created by legal scholars. Its intended audience is attorneys, legal researchers and law school students. It is specifically not interested in the racism of individuals. It is a framework from which to study the legal system as a means of inquiry about its role in creating inequality along racial lines.

The scholarship of Derek Bell, who administered over 300 civil cases to force local governments to implement desegregation in the 1960's, is the primary inspiration for Critical Race Theory. Bell oversaw these cases after being hired in 1960 by Thurgood Marshall at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP] Legal Defense Fund. In 1967, Marshall became the first Black person to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Kendall Thomas is a Nash professor of law at Columbia Law School who earned his J.D. at Yale Law School in 1983. He was as one of fewer than two dozen invited guests who attended the first conference on critical race theory in 1989.  Thomas has contributed to its study for more than 30 years and teaches a course on critical race theory at Columbia. There are few people with more experience and credibility in critical race theory scholarship than Thomas. He offers this definition:

“Critical Race Theory is an effort really to move beyond the focus on finding fault by impugning racist motives, racist bias, racist prejudice, racist animus and hatred to individuals, and looking at how racial inequality is embedded in structures in ways of which we are very often unaware.”

When the first conference on critical race theory was held in 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw was its primary organizer. Crenshaw is an Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. She earned an LL.M. at the University of Wisconsin in 1985 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1984.

 

The definitions of critical race theory promoted during the last year are often vastly different from the beliefs of those that inspired its creation as an area of academic study or the definitions offered by those that contributed to its scholarship over the last three decades. Some influential Republicans on the national stage that are outspoken about critical race theory would seem to have previous exposure to the concept, but any knowledge is not present in their public comments. 

At the Faith and Freedom Conference in June,  Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who earned his J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law in 1996, said "You've heard a lot about this critical race theory and stuff that's wound up in our schools. It certainly the prevalent ideology in the media. And Hollywood. And music. And in government." He went on to attribute the concept as derived from Marxism.

The University of Miami School of Law website has 424 pages with references to critical race theory.

The hardest to believe of the misrepresentations around this divisive debate can be attributed to Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz not only studied law, but received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1995, where critical race theory and the legal concept it emerged from were both pioneered. While Cruz's concentration was economic law, not civil rights, the idea he never came across the subject is hard to believe.

Here is how Cruz defined critical race theory during his speech at the same Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in June.

Cruz claimed that critical race theory says:

"... all of America and all of the world is a battle between the races. Critical race theory says every white person is a racist. Critical race theory says America is fundamentally racist and irredeemably racist. Critical race theory seeks to turn us against each other and if someone has a different color skin it seeks to make us hate that person. And let me tell you right now. Critical race theory is bigoted. It is a lie, and it is every bit as racist as the Klansman and white sheets."

Harvard Law Review, which Cruz was the primary editor of while at Harvard Law School, has curated a series of papers and articles on the critical race theory. Each has an overview with a link to the full resource for download.

As additional resources, readers can find below an overview derived from research done for this piece. It includes some of the people influential in developing critical race theory and crafting it into an academic framework over the last 30 years.  Included among those resources are videos of those scholars, speaking in their own words, about the concepts they created.

Nothing in the work of over 30 years on critical race theory suggests anything about hate. These people study law, not the feelings of individuals.

Nothing you will find is found in your local public school.


Lead Image Credit: Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette for Congress/ Facebook


An Overview of Critical Race Theory

In academic research, the word “framework” can have differing definitions based on the field of study. A student guide at Sacred Heart University, says a “theoretical framework connects the researcher to existing knowledge.”

For example, a researcher in physics would perform their research "through the lens" of accepting the theory of relativity and build upon that existing scholarship. They wouldn't perform research to substantiate Einstein's work for themselves.

Critical Legal Studies

Critical legal studies is the framework critical race theory is built upon. It is a concept created by attorneys in academia for attorneys.

Initially divisive in legal academia, CLS developed into a movement of critical analysis of the legal system and helped “disrupt the methodological consensus in American law schools.”

The central concept of CLS rejects the traditional view that justice is “blind,” neutral, apolitical, or objective. Instead, CLS argues judicial opinions are political discourse presented in the style of legal analysis.

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided around half of the cases it will hear in its current term. The most powerful jurists in America issued unanimous decisions, with all justices agreeing to the same result, in 54% of those cases. In 20% of those cases, the justices split along ideological lines and voted in the same blocs. Over the last decade, all justices agreed in 48% of cases. While they share some principles, there are deep ideological divides.

From that concept, CLS makes two conclusions adopted and important in critical race theory.

Law is Politics

Judges receive appointments to federal courts in a two-step process. First, the president nominated a judge to a federal court. The senate must vote to confirm the nomination before the judge becomes part of the court. Several states operate similarly. The governor nominates, and the legislature confirms.

The president and legislators are unquestionably politicians making judicial appointments through a political process. CLS argues it is so clear that the legal system is a political entity that the traditional view of impartial, apolitical justice is ideological, as it requires dismissing clear evidence to sustain a belief in an impartial judiciary.

In other words, CLS argues that law is politics.

Structures of Power Preserve Themselves

The concept of “preservation of the status quo”, a partially Latin phrase, translates to keeping things as they are. It often refers to those in positions of power who seek to avoid significant political change. Keeping things the same preserves the power they hold, while change threatens the reduction or loss of that power. Examples exist throughout political history from British rule of American Colonies, several European monarchies, or in dictatorships like modern Iran or Saudi Arabia.

CLS argues that lawmakers, who are people in positions of power, have an incentive to create laws to preserve the power structures from which they benefit. The suggestion is not that each individual acts to preserve themselves, but that a legislature, as a body, results in a collective that acts to preserve mutual self interest. The result is the creation of laws that preserve that self interest.

Another mechanism to preserve that self-interest is selecting judges that apply the law in ways that achieve those interests.

This is the core of the systemic argument that critical race theory adopted.

Foundations of Influence for Critical Race Theory

While several people contributed to the critical race theory framework over time, Derek Bell’s contributions, based on both his experiences as a litigator and academic scholarship, was highly influential in the development of the framework. 

Bell served two years in the U.S. Air Force, one of those stationed in Korea, before being the only Black graduate in his class at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1957. He took a position with the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department soon after graduation, but left in 1959 after being asked to resign his membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Thurgood Marshall, who founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund [LDF] in 1940, hired Bell as assistant counsel in 1960. Seven years later, Marshall became the first Black person to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Tap For More About Thurgood Marshall

justice thurgood marshall official profile image

Marshall argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Smith v. Allwright and Shelley v. Kraemer. Marshall also successfully represented the Browns in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, where the court ruled segregated schools unconstitutional.

President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1961.

President Lyndon Johnson appointed Marshall as Solicitor General in 1965, arguing cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the government. He won 14 of 19 cases he argued.

In 1967, Johnson appointed Marshall as the 89th person, and the first Black person in American history, to serve on the Supreme Court. He served as Associate Justice of the Supreme court until his retirement in 1991 due to declining health. He died in 1993 at 84 years old. 

While at the LDF, Bell administered over 300 desegregation cases between 1960 and 1966, including Hudson v. Leake County Country School Board in Harmony, Mississippi. 

After taking a position as deputy director of the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1966, Bell became executive director of the Western Center on Law and Poverty at the University of Southern California [USC] Law School in 1968. Bell spent the rest of his life in academia. 

Harvard Law School hired Bell as a lecturer in 1969. He became the first Black person granted tenure there in 1971. While at Harvard, Bell wrote “Race, Racism and American Law,” a staple in law schools and now in its sixth edition. He also developed the first civil rights law course at Harvard. 

In 1980, he wrote a paper, “Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma,” which is a critical review of the effects of the famous case on desegregation, which Bell worked to implement through the courts. 

At other times in his life he also questioned litigating for desegregation,  arguing it led to increased suburbanization and “white flight” from cities, which played a role in defacto segregation that has persisted.

Tap for More About Derek Bell

inspirational critical race theory professor derek bell

Bell was dean at the University of Oregon School of Law starting in 1980, but resigned in protest when the University refused to hire an Asian woman he selected for tenure. After a year at Yale, Bell returned to Harvard in 1986.

He left Harvard in 1990, taking two years of unpaid leave, in protest of the lack of Black women part of the Law School’s tenured faculty. Of 60 tenured professors at the Law School in 1990, three were black men and five were women. In 1992, he gave up tenure at Harvard when the situation hadn’t changed. A Black woman did not achieve tenure at Harvard Law School until 1998.

Bell spent his last two decades at NYU before his death in 2011. He was 80 years old.

YouTube video
YouTube video

Image Credit: I, DavidShankbone, Derrick Bell by David Shankbone, CC BY-SA 3.0

Critical Race Theory

Although Bell's experiences and academic work made substantial contributions to the development of critical race theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw led the organizing of, "New Developments in Critical Race Theory," the first conference on the subject, which included around 20 invited attendees, including Bell. The conference was held in 1989 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the same location as the first critical legal studies conference in 1977. Crenshaw explained to Vanity Fair earlier this year how the name came about.

"We wanted critical to be in it, race to be in it. And we put theory in to signify that we weren’t just looking at civil rights practice. It was how to think, how to see, how to read, how to grapple with how law has created and sustained race—our particular kind of race and racism—in American society.”

Crenshaw is an Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. She earned an LL.M. at the University of Wisconsin in 1984 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1985.

Tap For More About Kimberlé Crenshaw

Books by Crenshaw at Thrift Books or Amazon

Videos including Crenshaw

YouTube video

YouTube video

Critical race theory [CRT] grew as a branch of critical legal studies that broke away to focus on race. It adopts the perspective that law is political and subject to bias, ideology and self-interest. The CRT framework, like CLS, argues that the law can be complicit in maintaining the status quo in the interests of those in power.

Racism is Entirely a Social Construct

The critical race framework does not study the racism of individuals or groups of people. It defines racism as a social construct with no biological basis. Though early advocates of critical race theory developed this in the 1980s, the Human Genome Project, which started in 1990 and completed in 2003, validated this position. It found no significant evidence of biological differences between races. Rather than racism being perpetuated by individuals, CRT sees racism as a normal feature of society and replicated by systems and institutions, like the legal system. It sees racist behavior in society as a manifestation of the racism within these systems and rejects arguments of a small minority being responsible for racism.

Another key contributor to the framework, Kendall Thomas, also an invited guest to the first conference on CRT, described the framework like this:

“Critical Race Theory is an effort really to move beyond the focus on finding fault by impugning racist motives, racist bias, racist prejudice, racist animus and hatred to individuals, and looking at how racial inequality is embedded in structures in ways of which we are very often unaware.”

Thomas is a Nash professor of law at Columbia Law School and earned his J.D. at Yale Law School in 1983.

Tap For More About Kendall Thomas

Videos including Thomas

YouTube video

YouTube video

Khiara Bridges, who has written extensively about Critical Race Theory, argues that under the CRT framework, the killing of George Floyd and the higher mortality rate of Black Americans from COVID-19 are not aberrations.

Bridges was not at the first conference organized by Crenshaw, like Thomas. She earned her graduate degree nearly 20 years later than both, a J.D. in 2002 from the Columbia University School of Law and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Columbia University in 2008. Bridges is a professor of law at UC Berkeley School of Law. She has written extensively on critical race theory.

Bridges offered her interpretation of the tenets of the framework.

  • Recognition that race is not biologically real but is socially constructed and socially significant. It recognizes that science refutes the idea of biological racial differences.
  • Acknowledgement that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicates racial inequality. This dismisses the idea that racist incidents are aberrations, but instead are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.
  • Rejection of popular understandings about racism, such as arguments that confine racism to a few “bad apples.” CRT recognizes that racism is codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy. CRT rejects claims of meritocracy or “colorblindness.” CRT recognizes that it is the systemic nature of racism that bears primary responsibility for reproducing racial inequality.
  • Recognition of the relevance of people’s everyday lives to scholarship. This includes embracing the lived experiences of people of color, including those preserved through storytelling, and rejecting deficit-informed research that excludes the epistemologies of people of color.

Tap For More About Khiara Bridges

Books by Bridges at Amazon

Videos including Bridges

YouTube video

YouTube video

Individuals may take different interpretations from this information. Debating those points on their merits is appropriate. Changing the meaning of the work individuals have done over three decades is not.


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