Date01 April 2004
Published date01 April 2004
AuthorJoshua M Price
Joshua M. Price
“I woke up this morning with the after-memory of gnashing, grinding teeth. I
vaguely recall the dream: I’m at a crowded party and the dance is a rumba and
I’m pushed onto the dance floor, but all I could manage was a poor mambo step.
Coffee, 5 a.m. The coffee whizz moves in and I’m ready to think.
It is a Monday night and I’m speaking to my Critical Race Theory class, which
I’m teaching with the feminist philosopher Mar´
ıa Lugones. I start my lecture by
telling the story of my dream. It’s been a long day and I havea bit of a headache. I’d
like to take a shower. But I’m also excited to lecture on the rhetoric of the critical
race theorists. I am a social scientist by training and so I come to critical race theory
withadifferentformationandadifferentintellectual agenda from most critical race
theorists. Nevertheless, their innovative rhetorical forms have intrigued me since
my first encounter with their work several years earlier. This is my opportunity to
try to put that enthusiasm into words, to account for it, to consider what they are
up to when they use dreams, parables, dialogues, in their writing.
In this paper, after a brief introduction to critical race theory, I offer an account
of the methodology in some of their essays. In particular, I look at how several
critical race theorists use descriptions of their dreams1in their writing. I want to
see if this methodology is one I can use in a non-appropriative way.In other words,
rather than studying their work from a distance, something they themselves would
seem to eschew in their own research and scholarship, I see if I can participate in a
companion project, taking my own dream and my own experiences in discussing
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society
Studies in Law, Politics, and Society,Volume 32, 39–77
© 2004 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
ISSN: 1059-4337/doi:10.1016/S1059-4337(03)32002-2
this dream as a way of discussing – and exemplifying – the methodological
innovations of critical race theory.They focus on the law. My aim is to see whether
the methodologies developed by the critical race theorists in order to expose the
nature of white racism can be used to enhance social science methodologies to
study and work against racism. Yet this is verypersonal. In considering how their
work inspires, I also hope it provides a context for discovering the ways in which
a member of the dominant class responds “to the challenge posed by the insight
of the dream, the challenge to take responsibility for who I am and what I do
about my fears” as well as what I hope to become (Lawrence, 1992, p. 2236).
Critical race theory is a contemporary legal movement composed of progressive
scholars, primarily people who identify as people of color, who seek to challenge
racism in American society. In their writing, they explore the many ways in
which racism infuses American institutions, popular culture, commonsense
beliefs, pervades interaction and cuts to the core of the American psyche. One
of the central challenges that any person, scholar, activist faces in the U.S. is
the peculiar nature of contemporary discourse on race. Often times, much of white
America treats racism as if it were a thing of the past, an article of a time when
the racial caste system was explicitly upheld and defended, either in the form of
slavery, explicitly racist immigration laws (like the Chinese Exclusion Act), the
Jim Crow laws, or when Native Americans were massacred by Union soldiers.
Contemporary anti-racist work constantly confronts this denial of racism from a
large segment of America.2This denial of racism is one in which many people
seem to have developed something of a psychic investment. Since the critical
race theorists are working in a scholar-activist anti-racist vein, they also have to
confront this massive self-delusion or mythic self-understanding.
The official language of the law is unfortunately not helpful. For most critical
race theorists, the law is responsible for providing a bulwark for racism in
American society. The law has been central in the institutionalization of racism.
Though some critical race theorists see law as a possible remedy for racism (e.g.
Matsuda, 1996), all see law as an untrustworthy tool that has participated in
the past and in the present for much of the highly racialized, and hence racist,
organization of the U.S.
The critical race theorists, moreover, find fault with much legal scholarship.
They find that scholarly discourse generally clouds and confuses the centrality
of the relationship of race to the law. They find this in many disparate realms,
from civil rights law to commercial law, from work on violence against women,
Critical Race Theory’s Dream Narratives 41
to immigration law. Their objection takes several forms. Some object to the
apparently universal voice of legal scholarship which hides embedded political
interests and partial perspectives (Chang, 1993; Lawrence, 1992). This is one of
the strongest objections. Others have studied the way in which white male scholars
have dominated legal scholarship in the realm of civil rights legislation, and that
they may promote ends and remedies that are not in the interest of minority groups
(Delgado, 1984, 1995a). Some critical race theorists find that legal scholars tend to
overemphasize legal remedies to social problems, thereby using a tool that is partly
responsible for the racism and that provides remedies that are misguided or inflict
further harm.
The critical race theorists are heirs in part to legal realism in their trenchant cri-
tiques of formalist accounts of the law (Bell, 1996b). They share in the legal realist
tradition by looking at how the application of the law is in the service of injustice,
whether through exclusionary and invidiously racially-motivated immigration
policy (Delgado, 1996), through the criminalization of African-American women,
or through justifying the unequal distribution of social and economic goods.
For the critical race theorists, outsiders to dominant legal discourse bring
specific privileged insights into legal questions that are valuable but lacking in
dominant discourse (Crenshaw, 1990; Matsuda, 1996). In seeking to bring clarity,
many also break with the distanced, neutral-seeming rhetoric of mainstream legal
discourse. Their innovative devices take a variety of forms. Richard Delgado has
used dialogues between “himself” and a younger, fictional, African-American
law professor named Rodrigo (1995b, 1996). Rodrigo introduces a number of
themes related to law, race, and legal education, including affirmative action
and anti-immigrant legislation, and Rodrigo and Delgado participate in cross-
generational dialogue on these themes. Derrick Bell borrows from science fiction
when he offers a parable of space invaders who offer to cure the U.S. of many
of its problems (fiscal, environmental, and so on) if the U.S. will agree to allow
the space invaders to take its black population (1992). His use of this genre
could be read in part as a thought-experiment to explore how important the
rest of America, especially white America, thinks African Americans are to our
society and our identity. Berta Esperanza Hernandez-Truyol weaves together
history and memory, Spanish and English, in her discussion of immigration law,
identity, and the grounds for a LatCrit feminism (1997, 1998). Margaret Montoya,
Robert Chang, and Patricia Williams paint vivid and sometimes excruciating
pictures of their experiences in law schools, whether as a professor or as a student
(Chang, 1993; Montoya, 1999; Williams, 1991). They use first person accounts to
document the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, language, class, and culture
in their interaction in and outside the classroom. Mari Matsuda uses her own
analysis of her Hawaiian “accent” to launch her study of what she names “accent

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