GUILFORD — The town’s Human Rights Commission is proposing to host an educational session for members of the community interested in learning about Critical Race Theory.
The commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to present the proposal to the Board of Selectmen at their August meeting. The speaker would be Angela Robinson, a professor of Critical Race Theory at Quinnipiac Law School who presented an overview of Critical Race Theory to the commission at the Tuesday meeting.
Jo Keogh, chair of the commission, said she hoped the event would “give people information so they can make an informed decision, one way or the other.”
Keogh said she had considered asking the Guilford Foundation to fund the educational session, but said she hesitated at the idea.
“Given the hot-button issue, I’m not sure we would be doing them a kindness,” she said.
However, commission members Juan Colberg and Stephanie Brown, who is on the board of the Guilford Foundation, said they believed the foundation would be willing to contribute to the event.
Keogh said the education session would most likely take place online. She said she would reach out to the foundation, but added that she believed there was enough community interest that they would be able to raise the funds through crowdsourcing.
Colberg said he thought Robinson’s presentation was excellent, and gave him a guide for how he could learn more about Critical Race Theory.
“It certainly for me kind of laid out the path I need to follow,” he said.
“We have to agree on facts”
Robinson began her career as a trial lawyer and then became a Connecticut Superior Court judge for 20 years. She now runs Robinson Diversity Consulting, LLC, where she acts as a consultant for workplaces on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Robinson said she started looking into critical race theory after looking into the changes in the racial and gender composition of the legal profession as part of a committee she was on.
After looking at data, she said she realized that by the 1960s — nearly 150 years after the first non-white male became a lawyer — the legal profession was 98 percent white and 96 percent men.
“When I started as a lawyer, I was confronted with this. And I started to look for the answer to the question of why,” she said.
Today, Robinson said, the legal profession is still 87 percent white and 66 percent male.
Robinson presented other questions: Why is the average net wealth of white families ten times higher than that of Black families? Why is the homeownership rate higher for whites? Why is there a persistent income gap among racial groups? Why does segregation continue to be a problem? Finally, why are people of color overrepresented in the justice system, and underrepresented in leadership positions?
She said that Critical Race Theory presents one way to answer these questions.
“It’s an approach, it’s a perspective and it’s a theory. It is a way to answer why these disparities exist,” she said.
Robinson said that one of the most important things people can do when learning about Critical Race Theory is to get their information from reliable, peer-reviewed sources.
“The sources of information are almost as important as the information itself,” she said.
She said one of the things that makes her the most uncomfortable about the current discussion is that many people don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the topic.
“Here’s what I tell my students – you may look at all the data I give you and not agree with the conclusion. And that’s fine. Because there are very intelligent, thoughtful people who don’t agree,” she said. “But I think we have to agree on facts. What I find is that a lot of people don’t even want to start with the facts.”
“We can have all those beautiful colors growing”
Critical Race Theory, Robinson said, was developed in Madison, Wisconsin in 1989, by three legal scholars. The theory originated out of legal studies and the desire to understand how race and law fit together.
Critical Legal Studies, a 1970s-era movement that influenced critical race theory, viewed law as a discipline that was not inherently neutral, but a way of maintaining power within the already privileged classes. Beyond the critical study of law, CRT was also influenced by radical feminist thinkers and by the rise of ethnic studies as a field.
Robinson compared the rise of ethnic studies departments and programs in colleges during the late 1960s with the current discussion around critical race theory in K-12 schools. She said these programs came about in the midst of riots and social unrest.
“It’s almost like what’s going on now in our country,” she said. She also said that critical race theory is a topic that people encounter in graduate school, and not something that would be taught at a high school level.
Robinson then identified three main principles of Critical Race Theory. The first views race as a social construct rather than something that exists organically in biology. In fact, she said, race has different definitions depending on geographic location, country and era.
The second principle recognizes a need to lift up “voices of color” and avoid “color-blind” principles that simply maintain the privileges of one racial group over another.
The third, which Robinson acknowledged is the most controversial of the principals, is that racism has a presence within the very systems that make up society, including housing, education and the media. She said looking at society from this perspective can help answer the questions about wealth and income gaps and other inequalities that exist in the United States.
“If it’s not a systemic thing, who’s to blame? If we all agree that all races are equal, how do we justify these problems?” she said.
She said that Critical Race Theory doesn’t ask whether or not people intended for inequities to exist between races, but simply looks at whether there are inequities at all. She highlighted the importance of storytelling, and making sure the narratives we tell, particularly about history, are both accurate and inclusive of a diversity of perspectives.
“A lot of the reasons we feel the way we feel about race in this country have to do with the stories we tell ourselves and the voices that we hear,” she said.
At the end of her presentation, Robinson presented what she called the “Hydrangea Approach” to race. If you want to grow different colors of hydrangeas, she said, you have to make sure the soil contains the correct nutrients that will enable them to bloom.
“If you want certain colors, you have to give them the ingredients they need to thrive,” she said. “It’s all about the environment. We can have all those beautiful colors growing.”