Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is a theoretical and interpretive mode that examines the appearance of race and racism across dominant cultural modes of expression. In adopting this approach, CRT scholars attempt to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they are able to represent themselves to counter prejudice. (Literary Theories and Schools of Criticism)
Writing Critical Race Theory Exercise
First, choose a character you’ve already written for focus in this exercise.
How does your character identify? Does your character share this identity with other characters? Is your character uncertain of identity? If so, how does this play out within the narrative arc? How does this identity compare to your personal identity?
If you are writing a character outside your personal experience, great. The exploration of individuals is a primary intention of writing literary narratives, but unfortunately, can too often result in a shallow and stereotypical rendering. It is also important to consider negative effects of cultural appropriation.
Writing the Other is an excellent resource for writers who are looking to write outside of their own identity. In this, Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward offer considerations and exercises that will help you more thoroughly consider the individuals and identities within your narrative. In general, a good rule of thumb is to remember that each character is an individual, no matter the culture and demographic within which the character identifies. When we are writing characters who share our own personal identity, we can more quickly create the character’s individuality and quirks, strengths and weaknesses, conflicts and desires. When the character does not share our identity, this process of rendering individualities… will require multiple steps so to give effective time and thought to the needs and desires of the character.
When “writing the other,” part of the individuality of this character will be the human condition, joys and challenges the character has experienced from birth. When considering Critical Race Theory in your narrative, it is essential that you give your characters not only a present, but also a full history and future. As the writer, you might or might not share this identity, history and future with your character, but spending ample time in excavating this history and future, off the page and in its own written study, will offer more in-depth potential for the character. The more diverse you are from your character’s identity, the more you will need to spend time with this character individually in development, whether or not this character is a main character or supporting character.
*If you have readers willing to give you honest feedback, truly honest feedback, on your characters, this is a gift. When writing outside of your experience, identity, geography, etc. good and honest readers are essential. Additionally, reading master works from writers who are experts and identify in your character’s individual history, joys, challenges, strengths, etc., is essential.
Other Critical Theories
- Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction (~360 BC-present)
- Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present)
- Formalism (1930s-present)
- New Criticism/Neo-Aristotelian (1930s-present)
- Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present)
- Lacanian Criticism (1930s to present)
- Marxist Criticism (1930s-present)
- Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present)
- Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)
- Ecocriticism (1960s to present)
- Postmodernism/Post-Structuralism/ Deconstruction (1966-present)
- Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present)
- Critical Race Theory (1970s to present)
- New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present)
- Neoformalism (1980s to present)
- Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present)
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