Two progressive University of Tennessee-Knoxville professors who endorse critical race theory led a discussion on campus Tuesday about privilege and oppression.
The Hodges Library hosted the discussion “to begin dialogue on the topic of racial inequality and other aspects of oppression,” according to The Daily Beacon, the student newspaper.
Band-aids matching a person’s skin tone was one example of privilege mentioned at the event, though the newspaper did not say who mentioned it.
The event, part of a “Lunch and Learn” series, was open to students and others on campus.
“I like to remind folks that we’re living in the legacy of 344 years of overt systemic racism in America,” said Michelle Christian, an assistant professor of sociology, according to The Daily Beacon. “We were systemically racist a lot longer than we supposedly did away with these policies.”
Jioni Lewis, an assistant professor of psychology, led the event with Christian. She defined privilege as “unearned access to resources or social power only readily available to some people as a result of their advantaged status or advantaged social group membership.” She defined oppression as “a system that maintains advantage and disadvantage based on social group memberships and operates intentionally, and unintentionally, on different levels such as individual, institution, structural and cultural levels.”
Christian and Lewis said people who are told they are privileged tend to feel attacked, but need to realize statements about privilege are directed more at a flawed system than individual people.
Those who attended the event were given sheets to tally the amount of privilege or oppression in their lives. Factors adding to privilege included college-educated parents and quality of living environment. Factors showing oppression included growing up in a single-parent household and being concerned when interacting with police.
According to the university website, Christian has done research “focused on connecting structural race and racial ideology theory to understanding how racial inequality occurs in the global economy.” Christian has also helped design the curriculum for the sociology department’s new concentration in Critical Race and Ethnic Studies. In her research, Lewis has explored race and racism, microaggressions, and racial and gender identity.
The two professors in 2013 co-founded the Critical Race Collective research group. The university website says that members follow the five central tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT), which include the following:
Centrality of Race and Racism in Society: CRT asserts that racism is a central component of American life.
Challenge to Dominant Ideology: CRT challenges the claims of neutrality, objectivity, colorblindness, and meritocracy in society.
Centrality of Experiential Knowledge: CRT asserts that the experiential knowledge of people of color is appropriate, legitimate, and an integral part to analyzing and understanding racial inequality.
Interdisciplinary Perspective: CRT challenges ahistoricism and the unidisciplinary focuses of most analyses and insists that race and racism be placed in both a contemporary and historical context using interdisciplinary methods.
Commitment to Social Justice: CRT is a framework that is committed to a social justice agenda to eliminate all forms of subordination of people.
The Critical Race Collective engages in scholarship in geography, psychology, sociology, education, philosophy and other areas.