University of Houston scholar Billy Hawkins:
Critical Race Theory challenges the supremacy of white people
You seem to argue that college sport in the US provides a platform which reinforces racial stereotypes about both physical competence and intellectual incompetence of black athletes. It’s my understanding that in perhaps sharp contrast to physical abilities, demonstrating intellectual capabilities is often not so much about inherent gifts of a person (things like IQ) as about social structures of power (evident in people’s varying degrees of access to welfare, education, and career opportunities) which pave the way for a person to acquire what it takes to actualize their full intellectual potential. Why is it so hard to lay bare those unfair/unequal power structures, let alone shaking them?
The history of race relations in in this country is based on racial superiority of white people and the inferiority of people of color, more specifically, black people. One of the ways to justify slavery was to classify black people as intellectually inferior. This legacy has persisted for centuries and has morphed into classifying black athletes as dumb jocks: Athletically superior, but intellectually inferior. This justifies the exploitation of black athletes’ athletic labor, especially at the collegiate level. Therefore, we see a disproportionate number of black male athletes in the revenue generating sport of football and men’s basketball.
Having a system based on the myth of white supremacy and having it institutionalized throughout social institutions and practices is the reason social structures of power persist. Undoing whiteness and the privilege associated with it is not an easy task.
In regards to racial matters in college sports, have you noticed any significant difference between the experiences of black and other ethnic minorities?
First, among ethnic and racial minorities, black male athletes make up the largest percentage of athletes in revenue generating sports (football and men’s basketball). Therefore, their athletic labor undergirds a multibillion-dollar industry. Ethnic minorities, including international ethnic minority athletes, experience challenges in terms of covert and overt racism, social isolation, and alienation. However, those ethnic minorities who are present in non-revenue generating sports have less pressure placed on their athletic labor.
The introduction part of your book begins with reference to Obama’s election as the US president, and the hopes it generated yet ultimately failed to materialize in terms of moving towards a post-racial society. Almost five years ago, William A. Darity Jr., an economist at Duke University, told me in an interview that, “There really was no substantive consequences to Obama presidency except perhaps laying the groundworks for the rise of Trump because Trump presidency was in large measure a reaction on the part of the white supremacists in the US to the election of a black president.” What’s your take on that?
Obama’s presidency did increase the racial polarization in this country, and it motivated white supremacists to mobilize.
It is important to note and it’s unfortunate, but the Obama presidency mainly provided symbolic empowerment for the black masses. No major policy changes to alter racism, in general, and anti-black racism, specifically, and no move toward reparations for descendants of enslaved black people. This latter would have been a lofty and monumental achievement.
The major reason for the lack of movement in emotional, economic, psychological, racial reconciliation during Obama’s presidency is because the presidency in this country is not one person, but an institution. Therefore, you can have a black president, yet the institution of the presidency is still pro-white. Thus, it becomes hard to move a nation rooted in racist practices and beliefs to uproot these beliefs and practices. It has taken centuries to secure the roots of these beliefs and practices, therefore, eight years of presidency is not nearly enough to make any sizeable difference in moving this nation to a post-racial society.
Finally, with Trump’s presidency, we saw an increased weaponization of white supremacy. Any gains achieved by Obama’s administration, was undone with Trump’s presidency.
Finally, I wonder what you make of the recent wave of attacks on alleged Critical Race Theory concepts in school textbooks by right-leaning legislatures across the US? What’s it in those textbooks that rattles them?
I think it is much more than what can be put into textbooks that rattle them: Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an alternative way of thinking that challenges the supremacy of white people; this is the true threat. It is a resurgence of counterintelligence activity ran by the FBI, which sought to overthrow the black Panther Party and the black Power movements during the 1960s. The goal of these counterintelligence’s efforts was to neutralize political activist or individuals and ideals that challenged the status quo. Counterintelligence are activities used to protect a nation’s critical assets, and what greater asset to a nation than its socio-political ideologies. Since one of this nation’s ideological beliefs is the supremacy of white people, and CRT challenges that belief by seeking to decenter whiteness, then it becomes a threat to this nation’s security. Therefore, these legislative acts against CRT resemble the counterintelligence acts to keep this nation’s ideological beliefs in place.