According to the American Psychological Association, identity-based knowledge, whether derived from personal or professional experiences, is a popular source of information for social workers. Among the theoretical frameworks that have emerged in response to the country's historical circumstances, one theoretical framework emerged called "critical race theory," founded on the closely connected concepts of power and privilege.
What is Critical Race Theory?
So, what is critical race theory (CRT)? As a theory of social change, CRT is an effort to reveal how racism continues to be a pervasive and even dominant force in our society. From a theoretical perspective, CRT emphasizes the importance of context and history in understanding racial inequality and working for change.
Critical race theorists assert that racial oppression must be understood as systemic — that it is embedded in the significant social structures of society. In this sense, CRT stresses the role of economic forces in creating and maintaining hierarchical social relationships.
Moreover, because racism tends to reproduce generation after generation through these significant social structures, CRT theorists argue that only by removing and restructuring global systems of oppression can we eradicate racism.
CRT provides a way to discuss the complex and far-reaching impact racism has on our lives. It was created by scholar-activists who encouraged both critical thinking and action. The social work profession's focus on social justice and individual empowerment fits CRT's central premise that we all have the power to change our world for the better.
CRT also encourages us to think about how our own identities, habits, and assumptions may keep us from seeing things from another person's perspective — a crucial skill for working with people of different backgrounds.
The Importance of Critical Race Theory in the Field of Social Work
Critical race theory provides students with a lens to understand how race influences all aspects of society, including social work practice. Though the theory has received some criticism for being too pessimistic and deterministic, it can still be used as one of many lenses through which social problems are viewed.
Critical race theorists are encouraged to critique social institutions and offer solutions to eradicate racial injustice in those institutions, and social workers should feel empowered to use their skills and knowledge to design solutions to problems in their practice environment.
Examining the relationship between critical race theory and social work requires asking questions like:
- How can critical race theory contribute to our understanding of oppression?
- How can critical race theory inform our intervention strategies?
- What are the connections of critical race theory to social work values?
Moving Forward with Critical Race Theory and Social Work
Critical race theory enables social workers to question their assumptions, admit their biases, and become intersectional and anti-oppressive practitioners. The theory’s focus on reflection on the ways in which racial meanings affect social action makes it an essential and distinctive tool for social workers.
To learn more about how Baylor University is providing future social workers with a well-rounded education focused on social justice and the ethical intersection of faith and practice, explore our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts.