In the late summer of 1991 I arrived at Harvard Law School a devout Evangelical, conservative Republican. I grew up in a small town in Kentucky, attended a private Christian college in Nashville, and then walked into an intellectual home for a new theory I’d never encountered: critical race theory.
I remember reading the some of the key early texts, including Kimberle Crenshaw’s seminal law review article, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” first published in 1989. I remember being assigned excerpts from Derrick Bell’s book, Faces At The Bottom Of The Well: The Permanence Of Racism.
I remember being both challenged and frustrated by CRT. There were elements that, even in the moment, were immediately enlightening, such as Crenshaw’s discussion of the inability of contemporary antidiscrimination law to grapple with the nuances of “intersecting” identities.
There were also troubling elements, including a pervasive pessimism about the ability of America’s classical liberal structures to achieve true racial equality and an unwillingness to acknowledge the extent of America’s racial progress. In addition, some of CRT’s most ardent adherents could be remarkably intolerant, sometimes even seeking to shout down competing ideas or suppress dissent.