By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
Speech delivered on October 19, 2021
Posted: January 12, 2022
“Critical race theorists are committed to a program of scholarly resistance, and most hope scholarly resistance will lay the groundwork for wide-scale resistance.”
—Derrick Bell, “Who’s Afraid of Critical Race Theory?”
I am pleased that Ines Maturana Sendoya, Associate Dean of Students and Engagement, has asked me to be the keynote speaker in her series, “21 Days Against the Racism Challenge.” I am also pleased that she has asked me to address you on the subject of Critical Race Theory. At least, my take on the subject. For over fifty years, as a professor of Africana Studies (we used to call it “Black Studies”) and a columnist for many newspapers, I have been writing or teaching about how race and racism have functioned within America’s theoretical discourses and historical practices.
I cite my teaching and writing record to argue that we should not see critical race theory as a recent or a foreign entity against which so many misguided state governors and boards of education have raised their voices but as a an mode of inquiry and practice that was started by our academic forefathers and foremothers such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Anna Julia Cooper, and Carter G. Woodson, all of whom placed the notion of race-consciousness at the heart of their pedagogical and ideological projects. As far as I am concerned this an old project that is dressed up in new garments.
In offering my analysis on this subject, I follow the advice of Derrick Bell, “The Man Behind Critical Race Theory,” as The New Yorker described him last month, and someone who I knew at Harvard when I taught there. Bell reminded us that critical race theory “writing and lecturing is characterized by frequent use of the first person, storytelling, narrative, allegory, interdisciplinary treatment of law, and the unapologetic use of creativity.” 1
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