Materialist and Idealist CRT

CRT, according to Richard Delgado (2001), has an ‘idealist wing’ and a ‘materialist wing’. The former, he argues, is concerned with discourse analysis, and maintains that ‘racism and discrimination are matters of thinking, attitude, categorization, and discourse’ (ibid.). In focusing on ‘words, symbols, stereotypes and categories’ (Delgado 2003, p. 123), combating racism means that we have to ‘rid ourselves of the texts, narratives, ideas and meaning that give rise to it and convey’ negative messages about specific groups (ibid.). Like poststructuralism the analytic tools are discourse analysis (Delgado 2003, p. 123). (for an analysis of poststructuralism, see Cole 2008b, chapter 4).

Materialist CRT, on the other hand, focuses on material factors and views racism as a ‘means by which society allocates privilege, status and wealth’ (Delgado 2001, p. 2). Materialist CRT scholars are interested in factors ‘such as profits and the labor market’ (Delgado 2003, p. 124). Such scholars are also interested in international relations and competition and in ‘the interests of elite groups, and the changing demands of the labor market’ and how this benefits or disadvantages ‘racial’ groups historically (ibid.). The legal system is key in sanctioning or punishing racism, depending on its larger agenda (ibid.). Materialist CRT, then, has an affinity with both Max Weber and Weberian analysis of capitalism, and with Marxism. Delgado, who is one of the few exponents of materialist CRT (this will become clear throughout this volume—see, for example, the section entitled ‘Delgado and Going Back to Class’ in chapter 3), argues that CRT is ‘almost entirely dominated’ by the idealist wing of CRT and that this means that there are ‘huge deficiencies’ in our understanding of institutional racism and ways in which the law is being used to serve dominant groups (ibid., pp. 124-5). From a Marxist perspective, while in focusing in part on capitalism and profits and the labor market, the ‘materialist wing’ is clearly preferable to the ‘idealist wing’, Delgado’s ‘huge deficiencies’ can only be fully addressed, I will argue throughout this book, by a full engagement with Marxist thinking.

In this chapter, I began by briefly noting the relationship between postmodernism, transmodernism and CRT, before tracing CRT’s origins in Critical Legal Studies. Both CLS and CRT, I have shown, had very firm origins in the law. I then discussed CRT’s identity-specific varieties, and concluded with a brief discussion of its materialist and idealist wings. In the chapter 3, I will critique, from a Marxist perspective, CRT’s two major tenets (to which a number of other tenets relate): the first is that the concept of ‘white supremacy’ better describes oppression based on ‘race’ in contemporary societies than does the concept of ‘racism’; the second is the belief in ‘race’ rather than social class as the primary contradiction in society.

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