Some Thoughts on Race Theory

by Bill Drake

I was born in 1945 and grew up in the Jim Crow South, where I was raised to be a white supremacist. When I was 18, I asked my brother if we should look down on people of other races and he answered “No,” a simple answer that changed my life. It gave me “permission” to drop a destructive belief system that I had come to question. As an adult, I have worked to counter racism and bias.

Over the years, I have seen many examples of racism, and even white supremacy, in Nevada County.Several years ago, a black youth was walking down Mill Street in Grass Valley when he was followed by white men yelling derogatory names at him. Black children have been yelled at by whites. A Latino man getting gas at a gas station was told by another motorist that he did not belong here. Black students have been harassed because of their race at our local high school.

There are also many examples of system wide racism and bias in America.Research Studies have demonstrated discrimination in housing, employment, education, and other areas. Here is one example: A few years ago, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development released the study, “Housing Discrimination Against Racial and Ethnic Minorities, 2012.” In the beginning of their report, they note, “For much of the 20th century, discrimination by private real estate agents and rental property owners helped establish and sustain stark patterns of housing and neighborhood inequality.” For their report 8,000 tests were conducted in 28 metropolitan areas, in which equal and well-qualified white and black applicants responded to advertised homes and apartments. Their results showed that “in about half of all in-person visits, [whites are] significantly more likely to be favored than minorities.”

In addressing the issue of race and race relations, I would ask two questions: Do we want a fair and just society that works to end discrimination and supports the American values of “liberty and justice for all”? Do we teach a history that is honest about America’s successes and failures as opposed to a sanitized version that offers a false narrative of racism and race relations because it is more comfortable and reassuring for us white folks? If the answers are yes, and I believe they are, than we all have to face hard truths about our history and society, and look at ways we ourselves perpetuate bias and racism, consciously or unconsciously.

Recently, out of fear that local schools might use teachings or exercises that discourage bias and racism, local parents have attacked an approach to education called Critical Race Theory (CRT), which was developed in the 1970s and is found in graduate school law classes. It acknowledges racism in society, white privilege, and systemic racism, among other things.

In Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Delgado and Stepancic, it is described as “a legal movement that seeks to transform the relationship among race, racism, and power.” Another description notes that it “is not one coherent school of thought. It’s simply an effort to confront our history of race and racism and to give us a capacity to think about what its implications are today,”

It is often misunderstood and misused by politicians and others who criticize it, I would suggest, out of the fear of the consequences of knowing the truth about racism in America.

To quote one writer: “Attacks on critical race theory aren’t meant to rebut its arguments but to paint it with such broad strokes that any effort to reckon with the causes and impact of racism in our society can be demonized and dismissed.”

And to paraphrase CRT theorist Kimberle Crenshaw, “If you are serious about addressing racism we need to learn ways to see and analyze the problem, and develop the capacity to remove the problem. You can’t fix it if you ignore it because you are uncomfortable with it.”

Education that is honest about racism, whether through a workshop or another source, is not about whites having shame and guilt, as some claim, but about acknowledging the good and bad parts of our history and society, and learning to take responsibility for making a better, more equitable, America that enriches the lives of everyone.

BILL DRAKE co-founded Creating Communities Beyond Bias and is the author of Almost Hereditary: A White Southerner’s Journey Out of Racism, A Guide for Unlearning and Healing Prejudice. (website


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