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Critical Race Theory

This guide provides an overview of research strategies and resources on the topic of Critical Race Theory at the UNC School of Law.

Related Subjects

Critical Race Theory, though based in the study of law, is an interdisciplinary undertaking. CRT draws on, overlaps, and is in conversation with other academic disciplines, including history, sociology, anthropology, education, African-American Studies, American Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, philosophy, religion, and more. Additionally, CRT has come to engage with a number of specific topics, including police and prison abolition, environmental justice, race in education, and race and ethnicity outside the U.S. This page provides selected works related to some of those subjects.

Mass Incarceration and Police and Prison Abolition

Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture, by Angela Davis. Available in print. This work collects a series of interviews with Angela Davis discussing resistance and law, institutional sexual coercion, politics and prison. She talks about her own incarceration as well as her experience as 'enemy of the state' and about having been put on the FBI's most wanted list.

Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis. Available online and in print. Since the 1980s prison construction and incarceration rates in the U.S. have been rising exponentially, evoking huge public concern about their proliferation, their recent privatisation and their promise of enormous profits. But these prisons house hugely disproportionate numbers of people of colour, betraying the racism embedded in the system, while studies show that increasing prison sentences has had no effect on crime. Davis argues for a radical rethinking of our prison systems.

Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era, by Dan Berger. Available in print and online. Dan Berger offers a reconsideration of twentieth century black activism, the prison system, and the origins of mass incarceration. Throughout the civil rights era, black activists thrust the prison into public view, turning prisoners into symbols of racial oppression while arguing that confinement was an inescapable part of black life in the United States.

The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, by Khalil Gibran Muhammad. Available in print and online. Chronicling the emergence of deeply embedded notions of black people as a dangerous race of criminals by explicit contrast to working-class whites and European immigrants, Khalil Gibran Muhammad reveals the influence such ideas have had on urban development and social policies.

Decarcerating Disability: Deinstitutionalization and Prison Abolition, by Liat Ben-Moshe. Prison abolition and decarceration are increasingly debated, but it is often without taking into account the largest exodus of people from carceral facilities in the twentieth century: the closure of disability institutions and psychiatric hospitals. Decarcerating Disability provides a much-needed corrective, combining a genealogy of deinstitutionalization with critiques of the current prison system.

The End of Policing, Alex Vitale. Available in print. This book examines the origins of modern policing as a tool of social control and shows how the expansion of police authority is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice - even public safety. Vitale demonstrates how law enforcement has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve.

The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, by Naomi Murakawa. Available in print and online. Murakawa inverts the conventional wisdom by arguing that the expansion of the federal carceral state - a system that disproportionately imprisons blacks and Latinos - was, in fact, rooted in the civil-rights liberalism of the 1940s and early 1960s, not in the period after. Murakawa traces the development of the modern American prison system through several presidencies, both Republican and Democrat.

From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: the Making of Mass Incarceration in America, by Elizabeth Hinton. Available in print and online. Challenging the belief that America's prison problem originated with the Reagan administration's War on Drugs, Elizabeth Hinton traces the rise of mass incarceration to an ironic source: the social welfare programs of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society at the height of the civil rights era.

Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California by Ruth Wilson Gilmore. Available online and in print. Since 1980, the number of people in U.S. prisons has increased more than 450%. Despite a crime rate that has been falling steadily for decades, California has led the way in this explosion, with what a state analyst called "the biggest prison building project in the history of the world." Gilmore provides the first detailed explanation for that buildup by looking at how political and economic forces, ranging from global to local, conjoined to produce the prison boom.

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, by James Forman, Jr. Available in print. Forman weighs the role that some African Americans themselves played in escalating the war on crime.  This work examines how the first substantial cohort of black mayors, judges, and police chiefs took office around the country amid a surge in crime and came to believe that tough measures were needed to secure a stable future for black communities.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. Available in print and online. Alexander shows how the mass incarceration of a disproportionate number of black men amounts to a devastating system of racial control. She argues that despite the dismantling of the Jim Crow laws, the system that once forced African-Americans into a segregated second-class citizenship still haunts and the criminal justice system still unfairly targets black men and deprives an entire segment of the population of their basic rights.

Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment, ed. Angela Davis. Available in print. Policing the Black Man explores and critiques the many ways the criminal justice system impacts the lives of African American boys and men at every stage of the criminal process from arrest through sentencing.

Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter, ed. Jordan T. Camp and Christina Heatherton. Available in print. This book, combining first-hand accounts from organizers with the research of eminent scholars and contributions by leading artists, traces the global rise of the 'broken-windows' style of policing, first established in New York City. Initially praised as a comprehensive model of community policing, it purports to prevent major crimes by first criminalizing small signs of disorder. In practice, this doctrine has broadened police power and contributed to the contemporary crisis of policing that has been sparked by notorious incidents of police brutality and killings.

Those Who Know Don't Say: The Nation of Islam, the Black Freedom Movement, and the Carceral State, by Garrett Felber. Available in print. In this new political and intellectual history of the Nation of Islam, Felber centers the Nation in the Civil Rights Era and the making of the modern carceral state. In doing so, he reveals a multifaceted freedom struggle that focused as much on policing and prisons as on school desegregation and voting rights.

CRT and Sociology

Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1980s/1990s, by Howard Omi and Michael Winant. First edition in print and online, second edition in print, third edition in print. Omi and Winant provide an account of how concepts of race are created and transformed, how they become the focus of political conflict, and how they come to shape and permeate both identities and institutions. First published in 1986, Racial Formation in the United States is now considered a classic in the literature on race and ethnicity.

Racism Without Racists: Color-blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America, by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. First edition available in print and online, second edition available in print and online, third edition in print, fourth edition in print, and fifth edition in print and online. Bonilla-Silva documents how, beneath our contemporary conversation about race, there lies a full-blown arsenal of arguments, phrases, and stories that whites use to account for--and ultimately justify--racial inequalities.

Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations, by Joe R. Feagin. First edition available in print, second edition available in print, third edition available online, fourth edition available online. Feagin lays bare the economic, ideologic, and political structure of American racism and develops an antiracist theory rooted not only in the latest empirical data but also in the current reality of racism in the U.S.

White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism, by Paula S. Rotherberg. First edition available in print, second edition available in print. Studies of racism often focus on its devastating effects on the victims of prejudice but neglect to explore the groups that benefit. White Privilege is a collection of readings that addresses that gap by analyzing the nature of white privilege and offering suggestions for using that privilege in order to combat racism.

James M. Thomas, "Affect and the Sociology of Race: A Program for Critical Inquiry," 14(1) Ethnicities 72 (2014). Thomas' article gives an overview of theories of race in sociology, including racial formation theory, systemic racism, color-blind racism, and critical race theory, and offers another paradigm, an affective program.

CRT and Education

"Critical Race Theory," Oxford Bibliographies, Gerardo R. López and Chezare Warren. This article provides a bibliography of works on CRT in education. Online.

Critical Race Theory in Teacher Education: Informing Classroom Culture and Practice, ed. Keonghee Tao Han and Judson Laughter. Available in print. This volume promotes the widespread application of Critical Race Theory to better prepare K-12 teachers to bring an informed asset-based approach to teaching today's highly diverse populations.

Multicultural Education for Educational Leaders: Critical Race Theory and Antiracist Perspectives, ed. Abul Pitre. Available in print. This work is a compilation of essays that argue multicultural education is important for educational leaders.

CRT Outside the U.S.

Canadian Critical Race Theory: Racism and the Law, by Carol A. Aylward. Available in print. This work considers the role of race in litigation in Canada. Aylward develops critical race litigation strategies to address the issue and documents a growing body of work designed to move beyond theory and into practical application.

Decolonisation of Legal Knowledge, ed. Amita Dhanda and Archana Parashar. Available in print and online. This text argues that legal theory in general, and critical legal theory in particular, do not facilitate the identification of choices being made in the different facets of law -- whether in the enacting, interpreting, administering or theorising of law.

Alternate Reading Lists

African American Intellectual History Society Prison Abolition Syllabus

Boston Review Abolition Reading List

National Book Foundation Literature for Justice, an annual reading list on mass incarceration that "seeks to contextualize and humanize the experiences of incarcerated people in the United States."

New York Public Library: Honoring Indigenous People: 20 Recommended Reads

We Need Diverse Books Resources for Race, Equity, Anti-racism, and Inclusion