Critical Race Theory

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Alt -- Narratives

Objectivity veils male subjectivity

Chang 93 – (Robert S. Seattle University Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality “Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Post-Structuralism, and Narrative Space” California Law Review, Vol. 81, No. 5 (Oct., 1993), pp. 1241+1243-1323 , cayla_)

Mainstream academic legal discourse begins from the premise that objective knowledge exists and is accessible. I call this the rational/ empirical position. My own theoretical bias tells me that this is a false premise, but I start here to show how the case for personal narrative would appear within the context of mainstream academic discourse.180 Different disempowered groups have developed a similar methodology that tries to reveal bias in supposedly neutral standards. Feminist legal scholars ask "[t]he woman question." They ask "about the gender implications of a social practice or rule: have women been left out of consideration? If so, in what way; how might that omission be corrected? What difference would it make to do so?"181 Race scholars ask the race question, and so on. The use of the objective voice is one of the social practices that has come under the scrutiny of those asking this type of question. The objective voice is obtained by abstracting from the individual in order to universalize the perspective of the author so that not only does the author, as an abstracted entity, speak as Everyman, the author also presumes to speak for everyone. A favorite device is the use of what one commentator calls the "constitutive we."'s2 This "constitutive we" appears in the work of many philosophical and legal theorists. For example, John Rawls uses "we" in a subtle way that includes "us" as fellow inquirers into the questions he poses."83 But who does he think "we" is?184 Too often, the individual used as the model for the universal is a man, and more specifically, a white man. Thus, one goal of personal narrative is to discredit this "we." For example, I might use personal narrative to show that the "we" is a lie because it does not include "me." The stories of outsiders become important because they tell the story from different perspectives, perspectives that may have been excluded when formulating the objective, universal "we." It is important to remember that at this stage, personal narrative is not being offered to replace what had previously been thought of as objective: to impose my subjectivity upon everyone else only repeats the sin.'85 Rather, personal narrative is being offered to show that objectivity may actually be a disguise for white male subjectivity, which takes away the subjectivity of the disempowered. 86 One attempt to restore these lost subjectivities relies on a version of standpoint epistemology. An objectivist or liberal epistemology takes as the proper standpoint that of the "neutral, disinterested observer, a so-called Archimedean standpoint somewhere outside the reality that is being observed."'87 In contrast, standpoint epistemologies identify a certain group as victim and then "privileges that status by claiming that it gives access to understanding about oppression that others cannot have."'88 In the context of feminism, "[t]he feminist standpoint epistemologies argue that because men are in the master's position vis-i-vis women, women's social experience-conceptualized through the lenses of feminist theory--can provide the grounds for a less distorted understanding of the world around us."'189 This same point can and has been made about other oppressed groups.'90 One question that arises is why the viewpoint of the oppressed should be privileged. One theorist argues that the standpoint of the oppressed is epistemologically advantageous for the following reasons: It provides the basis for a view of reality that is more impartial than that of the ruling class and also more comprehensive. It is more impartial because it comes closer to representing the interests of society as a whole; whereas the standpoint of the ruling class reflects the interests only of one section of the population, the standpoint of the oppressed represents the interests of the totality in that historical period. Moreover, whereas the condition of the oppressed groups is visible only dimly to the ruling class, the oppressed are able to see more clearly the ruled as well as the rulers and the relation between them. Thus, the standpoint of the oppressed includes and is able to explain the standpoint of the ruling class.191 But the claim that the standpoint of the oppressed is more impartial is unconvincing. It seems that the standpoint of the oppressed would be partial; it would not necessarily provide less distorted views but differently distorted views. The claim of representing society as a whole also seems problematic because the viewpoints of the oppressed and oppressors are quite distinct and complex.192 It still might make sense to include the standpoint of the oppressed, however, not because it has any special access to the truth, but because what is taken as truth is incomplete or distorted without the views of the oppressed.'93 There is the further problem of identifying the standpoint of the oppressed. If oppression or subjugation provides the grounding for having a less distorted view, then it would seem that the prime candidate would be the standpoint of lesbians of color.194 Even if, for the sake of simplicity, we decide that the relevant category is that of women, we are still left with the problem of identifying this standpoint. One commentator warns that we cannot discover this standpoint "directly in women's naive and unreflective world view,""' because this world view, usually labelled as false consciousness, has been shaped by the dominant male perspective so that it cannot be trusted. Even with standpoint epistemology, then, not all stories of oppression are created equal. This is problematic "because of the unwillingness, central to feminism, to dismiss some women as simply deluded while granting other women the ability to see the truth."196

Narratives are counter-hegemonic device that disrupts racial objectivity

Carbado 3--(Devon W., Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law, Constitutional Criminal Procedure, Constitutional Law, Critical Race Theory, and Criminal Adjudication. The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 112, No. 7 (May, 2003), pp. 1757-1828 , cayla_)

First, narrative performs an epistemological function. It provides knowledge about the nature of discrimination from the perspective of those who experience it. But why narrative and why not statistical analysis? After all, statistical analysis (assuming a large enough data set) has the benefits of identifying a general phenomenon that is verifiable by third parties.126 And certainly there is nothing about the use of narrative in CRT that precludes critical race theorists from also using statistics. So why not the epistemology of statistics rather than (or in addition to) the epistemology of narrative? The answer may be that narrative does something that statistical analysis does not: It focuses on the specific and provides detail. Statistical analyses do the reverse. When an outsider is trying to describe an experience to someone who cannot readily relate to it, an insider, narrative provides the detail that can help the insider empathize and relate to the experience. To employ the language of Clifford Geertz, "We see the lives of others through lenses of our own grinding."'27 Narrative helps to situate whites in the "grinding" of racial subordination. A second payoff from using narrative relates to the idea of truth. Narrative is a means by which one can challenge "the perfectibility, externality, or objectivity of truth."'3' Through narrative, critical race theorists can demonstrate the contingency and situatedness of truth. For example, the first two essays in A New Critical Race Theory-Kimberl6 Crenshaw's contributionl32 and the contribution of Sumi Cho and Robert Westley'33-are in dialogue about the "true" genesis of CRT. Of course, Cho and Westley would not say that the history they excavate-which focuses on student activism as a form of social movement that helped to form the "theory"-is true and that the account provided by, among others, Crenshaw (which they argue focuses on the "writings that 'formed the movement""134) is false. Nor are Cho and Westley invested in "proliferate[ing] competing genesis stories."'35 But they do mean to suggest that the truth about the genesis of CRT is bigger than Crenshaw's "superagency" approach, an approach that they say "emphasize[s] the agency of individual scholars.""36 The juxtaposition of Crenshaw's essay against Cho and Westley's reminds us that while most of the controversy about "truth" and CRT arises in the context of contestations between critical race theorists and their detractors, the question of what is true-as well as the question of how truth should be theorized-is contested (sometimes only implicitly) within CRT as well. A third benefit of narrative is that it can serve as a counterhegemonic device. Through narrative, people of color can counter the dominant representations of their identities and their experiences; they can engage in what Margaret Montoya refers to as "discursive subversions."' 37 This is the project in which Henry Richardson engages. He constructs a conversation between an African president and an African American law professor. The exchange constitutes a form of discursive subversion in that whiteness occupies a background and marginal space in the discussion. Put differently, the conversation is not mediated by concerns about whiteness or black respectability. The professor and the African president speak about international politics, domestic sovereignty, and tribal conflicts. The conversation is unconstrained by racial surveillance. They appear to be speaking not as subalterns, but as fully formed (or, at least, not overly determined) subjects. Presumably, one of the reasons Richardson confers this sense of freedom on the professor and the president is to raise a question about power: What happens when black people have it? His answer seems to be that problems of division and social conflict do not necessarily disappear. Michel Foucault's descriptive claim-that we have an ambivalent relationship to power-becomes, in Richardson's essay, a normative one.

Individualization of racial identity becomes part of the metaphysical “self” for empowerment

Chang 93 – (Robert S. Seattle University Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality “Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Post-Structuralism, and Narrative Space” California Law Review, Vol. 81, No. 5 (Oct., 1993), pp. 1241+1243-1323 , cayla_)

Stage Two recognizes that formal equality cannot give us what it promises;398 thus, rather than deny difference, Stage Two accepts and affirms it. In this stage, the disempowered group takes and reconstitutes the term "Asian American."399 The oppressive label becomes a positive identity, a tool for empowerment. As such, a facet of Stage Two is its anti-assimilationist attitude.4" Assimilation is seen as undesirable because it "resembles the attempt to run away from ourselves, with success coming only through the negation of self, history, culture, and community.""' In opposition to assimilation is pluralistic integration, which is based on an appreciation of American society's culturally pluralistic nature.403 The characteristics of Stage Two are evident in Cultural Asian American Legal Scholarship, which emphasizes cultural differences as a method to criticize legal principles and legal institutions that fail to take into account these differences. An example of work in this area is Questioning the Cultural and Gender-Based Assumptions of the Adversary System: Voices of Asian American Law Students, " written by Carolyn Jin-Myung Oh. In her article, Oh examines the cultural backgrounds of some Asian American law students and their perceptions of the adversary system. She contrasts Western notions of individuality and self-sufficiency with the greater emphasis on family in most Asian and Pacific American cultures."5 She hypothesizes about the effects of Confucian principles "which emphasize specific roles and proper harmonious relationships among people in family and society. Because harmonious interpersonal relationships are so highly valued, direct confrontation is avoided whenever possible. Being indirect or talking around the point is a significant part of the communication style of Asian groups."406 While the scope of her article is limited to responses of Asian American and Caucasian law students to the potentially alienating legal system and their perceived roles within it,"7 her focus on cultural explanations is a good example of the Cultural Asian American Legal Scholarship embodied in Stage Two.408 We can use differences between Asian cultures and Western cultures to question the assumptions of Stage One's liberal political theory, which celebrates the notion of an individuated autonomous self. As mentioned earlier, many Asian philosophies have at their center the concept of noself.49 Without a metaphysical "self" as a locus for rights, liberalism and rights talk lack coherence. Nevertheless, Stage Two of Asian American Legal Scholarship recognizes that formal equality cannot be denied to Asian Americans. Thus, Stage Two may also employ the raceneutral and race-conscious methods of Stage One without sharing its commitment to liberal political philosophy. Cultural Asian American Legal Scholarship must avoid the pitfall of essentialism present in cultural feminist theory.410 We must not generalize the cultural differences of certain Asian American groups or individuals in a way that excludes those who do not fit those characteristics.411 Thus, for example, when authors write about Confucian principles, they should be careful to note that for many Asian American groups, such as Filipinos, South Asians and many Southeast Asians, Confucian principles may not be a significant part of their culture. In addition to the essentialist critique, there is a further danger in accepting difference, because difference, once recognized, can serve as the basis for discrimination. This is, after all, exactly what discrimination is-differential treatment based on difference. Radical Asian American Legal Scholarship operates at this juncture by focusing on differences in power, particularly on how inequality in power has constructed and legitimated racial subordination. Its focus thus contrasts with traditional Asian American civil rights work, which treats difference as an illusion or something to get beyond,412 and with Cultural Asian American Legal Scholarship, which celebrates difference.4

Narratives are uniquely key to discounting the status quo standards of disqualifications

Chang 93 – (Robert S. Seattle University Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality “Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Post-Structuralism, and Narrative Space” California Law Review, Vol. 81, No. 5 (Oct., 1993), pp. 1241+1243-1323 , cayla_)

The fear is that if we go down the post-modern road, we will no longer be able to practice social criticism in a compelling way, because without objectivity, Asian Americans and other disempowered groups cannot claim that our emergence from subordination "is less artificial and constructed than that which [we] have cast off."212 This conclusion seems to be the ultimate logic of the post-structuralist critique. However, this conclusion is not as devastating as it first might seem. It does not render political action impossible; if anything, it does the opposite, in the sense that political action is all that will be left. The post-structuralist critique changes the present game, which involves the search for legitimation, by eliminating the possibility of any appeal to an external standard for legitimation. It becomes, as if it were ever anything but, a question of power, where no one can claim a superior legitimacy nor deny the legitimacy of another's viewpoint or story.213 Narratives, then, cannot be discounted because in this game of power there is no "objective" standard for disqualification; one "wins" by being more persuasive. Narratives, especially narratives about personal oppression, are particularly well-suited for persuasive purposes because they can provide compelling accounts of how things are in society.214 These stories will carry considerable persuasive power because in our present political-legal climate, which is dominated by liberal political philosophy, oppression is undesirable.215 This is the space within which Asian American Legal Scholarship will use narrative.

Narratives challenge conventional accessibility of knowledge

Chang 93 – (Robert S. Seattle University Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality “Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Post-Structuralism, and Narrative Space” California Law Review, Vol. 81, No. 5 (Oct., 1993), pp. 1241+1243-1323 , cayla_)

There seem to be two ways to argue the case for personal narrative.'74 The first takes place within the rational/empirical mode.'75 In this mode, an argument will be convincing if it meets certain standards of "impartiality, objectivity, evidential confirmation, comprehensiveness or completeness, and explanatory power.""' Personal narrative would be offered to challenge the current formulation of objectivity, but not the notion of objectivity itself."'77 In this sense, personal narrative reveals bias in supposed objectivity and then reconstructs it to include previously excluded perspectives. Some strands of feminist theory and critical race theory have this as their goal and rely to some extent on a version of standpoint epistemology to legitimize the use of stories of oppression. I will examine these arguments in Part II.C.1. The second, more radical approach challenges the rational/empirical mode by challenging the very notion of objectivity and the accessibility of knowledge. This more radical critique is often characterized as post-modern or post-structural.'78 In challenging the rational/empirical mode, this more radical critique also challenges the standpoint epistemologies that might support the use of personal narrative. Since all standpoints are equally validated (or invalidated), there is no longer any compelling reason to privilege any viewpoint. To state it differently, my personal narrative is as relevant as your personal narrative, and since both of them are equally relevant, they are equally irrelevant.

Narratives key in legal scholarship

Chang 93 – (Robert S. Seattle University Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality “Toward an Asian American Legal Scholarship: Critical Race Theory, Post-Structuralism, and Narrative Space” California Law Review, Vol. 81, No. 5 (Oct., 1993), pp. 1241+1243-1323 , cayla_)

No discourse takes place in a vacuum; each situates itself, or is situated, within a certain space.124 A new discourse must create a space within which to operate.'25 Asian American Legal Scholarship, as a new discourse, is no exception-it too must create a space, showing its relation to other discourses. Some of this work has already been done. In the previous Part, I showed that Asian American Legal Scholarship is, to an extent, a response to the inadequacy of the current discourse on race and the law. It fills the gap created by the problems of coverage and theory in traditional civil rights work and the problem of coverage in critical race scholarship to date. Asian American Legal Scholarship creates its space out of this gap. Asian American Legal Scholarship contends that personal narrative126 is an important tool in addressing the oppression of Asian Americans. Narrative occupies a similar role in both feminist legal theory and critical race theory.127 However, the use of narrative has been and continues to be debated in the context of those two disciplines.'28 Thus, Asian American Legal Scholarship cannot use narrative effectively without first clearing space for its use. This lack of space can partly be attributed to the way the discourse on the use of narrative in outsider legal scholarship has been captured by a focus on the existence of a different voice. This preoccupation with "voice" sparked the rather acrimonious Racial Critiques Debate.129 Professor Alex Johnson attempts to put an end to this debate by positing that every scholar of color speaks in the voice of color.130 That this attempt at closure was unsuccessful is evidenced by a recent article by Professors Farber and Sherry who criticize the use of narrative by feminist legal and critical race scholars because these scholars have not yet proved by empirical evidence the existence of a different voice.13

Narratives are key to revealing the truth about the racist society

Lopez, 2003 (Gerardo [Professor of Political Science], "The (Racially Neutral) Politics of Education: A Critical Race Theory Perspective", Educational Administration Quarterly Vol. 39, No. 1 (February 2003) 68-94, 6/28, // cjh

The third aspect of CRT is the privileging of stories and counterstories¶ (Delgado, 1995b, 1995c)—particularly the stories that are told by people of¶ color. CRT scholars believe there are two differing accounts of reality: the¶ dominant reality that “looks ordinary and natural” (Delgado, 1995a, p. xiv) to¶ most individuals, and a racial reality (Bell, 1995b) that has been filtered out,¶ suppressed, and censored. The counterstories of people of color—such as the¶ counterstory of the Harlem riots—are those stories that are not told, stories¶ that are consciously and/or unconsciously ignored or downplayed because¶ they do not fit socially acceptable notions of truth. By highlighting these subjugated¶ accounts, CRT hopes to demystify the notion of a racially neutral¶ society and tell another story of a highly racialized social order: a story where¶ social institutions and practices serve the interest of White individuals
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