14 May 2015

That Strange Silence: The Absence of Black Christianity from Legal Critical Race Studies

It's a great treat to read an article that answers a question you never raised but now wish you'd thought of. Go here to download Brandon Paradise's How Critical Race Theory Marginalizes the African American Christian Tradition. In 96 pages of careful analysis Paradise explains the post-structural nature of Critical Race Theory, demonstrates its failure to take account of the significant place traditional Christian verities had and still have in the African American community, illustrates how an uninformed CRT approach can lead to absurd results, and how CRT's invidious "religion-blindness" came to be.

For support of his final observation, Paradise draws on the anti-Christian rhetoric of the early ideological proponents of Black Power and argues that this stance, even as later modified by James Cone, dominates the intellectual apparatus of contemporary CRT scholars. This remains the case even though neither the ideology of Black Power nor James Cone's Christianized version of it had significant impact on the great majority of African Americans whose expressions of faith remained largely within traditional Christian parameters. Paradise then contrasts the silence of CRT scholars with respect to religion to work in Latina and Latino Critical Theory, which gives significant consideration to place of Catholicism.

Even here, however, Paradise observes that the "suboridinationist" mindset of all scholars working from the critical perspective makes it difficult to take religion seriously on its own terms. At this point the focus of Paradise's article drifts a bit but he brings it home in his conclusion by frankly addressing the problem and presenting a solution.

First, the problem:
If, on the one hand, accusations of anti-Christian bias among left-leaning academics are to some extent accurate, and if, on the other hand, we make the plausible assumption that scholars sympathetic to Christian-informed scholarship tend to be politically conservative, including on matters of race, then it is possible that an effort to develop a distinctively African American Christian approach to law will find itself alienated from (although for different reasons) the two groups of scholars who are most able to contribute to the project’s success.
And then the hoped-for solution:
Because of the possibility that developing an approach to law that reflects the African American Christian tradition will receive little support in the legal academy, scholars engaged in the project will have to be pioneering, prophetic voices who are willing to cut against the grain of the secular left as well as the predominantly colorblind, religious right. ... While the project may suffer marginalization within the halls of the legal academy, the Black community’s substantial identification with Christianity means that the effort to develop an African American Christian approach to law has a natural and substantial constituency outside of the ivory tower. 

All in all, How Critical Race Theory Marginalizes the African American Christian Tradition is a great piece that I highly recommend. 

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