Mike Jones

I want to you to ask yourself a question. Take your favorite African-American pundits on your preferred cable news outlet and ask yourself when you’ve ever heard them discuss or analyze how any policy proposals by a Democratic candidate for president specifically relate to the condition of the majority of African Americans. The answer will be rarely if ever.

Why is that? And how then are African Americans to understand their place in the American economic and political reality in general – and in the 2020 presidential campaign specifically?

The entire construct of political dialogue in America is premised upon a white consensus. The context for the discussion about the political predisposition of African Americans is typically which white candidate or white policy option we prefer, not what is our actual thinking about an issue or situation. While there are some notable exceptions, African-American pundits and analysts are hired to provide color to the picture, not diversity to the thinking.

With the notable exception of Princeton professor Eddie Claude on MSNBC, the African-American political commentariat lacks a critical black political theory. What, you may ask, is critical black political theory?

Critical theory, which evolved in the 1930s, is a social theory critique oriented toward changing society as a whole, in contrast to traditional social theory, which is oriented toward understanding or explaining society. Critical social theory uses all the social sciences to examine the totality of a society in its historical context. It also involves a normative dimension, either criticizing society from some general theory of values or in terms of the society’s own espoused values.

Critical theory isn’t one thing; critical theory is applicable to everything. It’s extremely important for examining the causes and maintenance of any form of structural oppression – like race, for example. In fact, there’s an academic field of study (pioneered and formally organized by black intellectuals and scholars) called critical race theory that speaks directly to racial oppression.

Critical race theory posits that race, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is socially constructed and that, as a socially constructed concept, it functions as a means to maintain the interests of the white population that constructed it. According to critical race theory, racial inequality emerges from the social, economic, and legal differences that white people create between socially constructed races to maintain white dominance and privilege.

What would it mean to have a critical black political theory? A critical black political theory would speak to who we are in America, how we came to be in this present moment and what is our optimum path forward. It would offer a way of giving order, meaning and understanding to the political reality we’re experiencing. This means our political understanding of ourselves would no longer be a function of someone else’s theory of political reality.

The critical race theory movement organized itself in 1989, but its intellectual foundations are firmly rooted in the tradition of black intellectual activism. Fredrick Douglas, W.E.B. Du Bois, Carter G. Woodson and E. Franklin Frazier are the intellectual forefathers of Franz Fanon, James Baldwin, James Cones and Derrick Bell, who expanded the intellectual space that is now occupied by Carol Anderson, Michelle Alexander, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Jesmyn Ward and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

A discussion of a black theory of the case is always critically important, but especially at this moment because America is at an inflection point. And if history is any guide, then when white America ultimately decides what’s in its best interests, it will not include our best interests.

Since last month was Black History Month and March is Woman’s History Month, I will leave you the words of activist, womanist, poet, feminist and writer Audre Lorde: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

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