Much of the conversation about race in 2020 has surfaced an underlying philosophy that is driving the discussion in the broader culture — known as Critical Race Theory. Our guest, Monique Duson, helps us understand what this is and how it fits with a Christian worldview. Join Scott and Sean for this insightful discussion of this important cultural topic.
More About Our Guest
Monique Duson is the founder of the Center for Biblical Unity, committed to a Biblically grounded pursuit of racial justice. She has a broad background as a missionary in South Africa, social service and children's ministry.
Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith & Culture. I'm your host, Scott Rae, dean of faculty and professor of Christian Ethics at Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University.
Sean McDowell: And I'm your cohost, Sean McDowell, professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology Biola University.
Scott Rae: We're here with our guest today, Monique Dusan, who is the founder and director of the Center for Biblical Unity. It's an organization committed to bringing unity within the body of Christ and the culture in general, over issues of race and racism. Monique has a special interest in one particular component of the discussion of race that we don't hear a lot about. It more has to do with some of the underlying philosophy that undergirds a lot of the discussion about race today, known as critical race theory.
We'll get into more of that. If you're not familiar with that, Monique will tell us exactly what's involved with that particular philosophy and how it manifests itself in a lot of the discussions about race in the broader culture today.
Monique, welcome. Really glad to have you with us and looking forward to hearing your story and some of your insights on critical race theory.
Monique Duson: Hi, thanks so much for having me.
Scott Rae: Tell us just a little bit about your background and where you grew up and how you came to be interested in the subject of critical race theory.
Monique Duson: I grew up in South Los Angeles and grew up with a single parent and four siblings. I became interested in critical race theory almost accidentally. It was like I was born into this rhetoric. There would be things like, or terms said like, "Well, you know white people just think they can do black people in any kind of way," or the idea that the area that I lived in, because it was hood, it was like that because of white people. I didn't question this as a child, it was just the rhetoric that was there, and the way that I thought about the world.
I only had one white teacher, so everything was kind of confirmed through my teachers, through my mom, and just my friends' parents, general conversations that were had, things that I overheard. So I think that this framework of what we call critical race theory, or this look at who are the oppressed and who are the oppressors within a society, was almost just embedded in the daily dialogue that I was a part of. That's how I became interested in it.
I think in university I learned a little bit more of the terms and the statistics and things like that, that kind of confirmed what I had learned or heard growing up.
Sean McDowell: Let's talk about what we mean by certain terms that you used. Let's define words like racism, systemic racism, but start with critical race theory. What is that?
Scott Rae: Let me suggest, too. We want you to help define a number of these really important terms. If we could get maybe like a Twitter response to the definitions, because we've got a lot of other things we want to get to, too.
Monique Duson: All right. A Twitter response, I feel like the pressure's on. Critical race theory. The short of it all is that it's just a look into society at who are the oppressed and who are the oppressors based on race. How is one group of people being oppressed, and how is another group of people oppressing, all from a lens of race. A critical look at society based through the lens of race. Does that make sense?
Sean McDowell: Yeah, that does. How about define racism for us the way you understand it.
Monique Duson: I think the way that I understand it is twofold. I used to understand racism as someone who wore a white cloak and was a part of the KKK, or someone who would call me a derogatory term based on my skin color and things like that.
Currently racism is being defined as prejudice plus how [inaudible 00:04:32]. You have a racial prejudice, but you also have a place of power within society. When we look at who holds the power within society, it would be the white male, or whites in general have higher power than people of color.
Sean McDowell: That's by definition, a black person could not be racist within our culture.
Monique Duson: From a critical race theory perspective, yeah.
Sean McDowell: How about systemic racism?
Monique Duson: Systemic racism looks at how are the structures and systems within America. Let's take the banking system. How are those things racist against people of color? How are they continuing to promote a white supremacy or a white power and keep people of color from participating in those structures or participating at lower rates and creating disparities between whites and people of color.
Sean McDowell: By the way, you're doing great. These could definitely fit into Tweets.
Monique Duson: Thanks. I'm not really a Twitter person; I'm just trying it out, but I think I'm getting a little handle on it.
Sean McDowell: I love it. How about white privilege?
Monique Duson: White privilege is just the systems that continue to promote white power. It is things that you may not even be aware that you participate in if you're white. An example that I would use is, let's say we're walking out of Target... Now, Target's a store in case you're listening abroad. Target's a store here in the States, like a department store, a major store. We walk out, and the alarm goes off signaling that... You walk out at the same time as me, signaling that one of us has merchandise that is either potentially stolen or a tag has been left on that should have been removed.
I get pulled over, or the security guard comes to me automatically and says, "Well, you must have the stolen goods or the tag that's left on," and they just let you go. People would say that the white privilege is that you were never considered to be a target for the stolen merchandise. That would be a privilege based on, for some, based on the color of our skin. They would say, "Well, they just let Sean go, but they pulled Monique over, and you know they pulled her over because she's black. Sean probably never even thought that he was going to potentially be pulled over."
Part of my issue with the concept of white privilege isn't that it completely doesn't exist, that there aren't systems in America that have historically privileged white people, things like redlining, but when we look at white privilege today, there are a lot of assumptions. Let's say two people, one white, one black, is walking out of a store. Let's flip it. Let's say that this time it's the white person who gets immediately pulled over. Perhaps the security guard has been looking on the camera and knows I need to go for this person because I've watched them steal.
It might not have anything to do with race, but because we've adopted a construct that says white people don't experience this, only people of color do, we adopt many other views into that, and one of those things is a motive of heart. It puts us in a position to assume the motive of someone's heart or the motive of your deed.
Scott Rae: Monique, let's look at this notion of critical race theory in a little bit more detail, and you can get out of Twitter mode for the moment for more full explanations, but let's give our listeners some examples of where you saw critical race theory coming out in some of the discussions about race and the tragic death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020.
Monique Duson: I think that one of the immediate things that I saw with George Floyd, and I am not here to talk about was it murder or anything like that. I think that some of those things are just clear based on video, but what I saw coming out in conversations is this idea that it was automatically based on race before there was any conversation on was it completely based on race? There is a thought within critical race theory of narrative and believing the narrative of the person of color, even without asking questions, that my experience because I'm a person of color should be seen as truth, automatic truth. We don't ask questions. We don't need to have witnesses, as scripture says; we don't need to have testimony or things like that; because I'm a person of color we should just believe my truth.
One of the ways that I saw critical race theory coming out in some of these conversations around Floyd is this automatic assumption that it is a racial event without witness and without evidence. I would say another one is just this idea of oppressed and oppressor, and that this entire incident was based on a hegemonic discourse, more of a power play. As George Floyd is being murdered, it must be because he's black. It must be because there's power dynamics at play, and George Floyd did not have power, being a black man.
Scott Rae: That's helpful. Let me circle back and ask the question this way. What would you say are the central tenets, maybe the two or three or four most central components of critical race theory? This would be for our listeners who are not familiar with it at all.
Monique Duson: I would say that the central tenets are that there's a system of whiteness, or a system of oppression that's currently at play and constantly at play within our society, and that system is whites oppressing people of color. It looks at who are the oppressed, who are the oppressors, as I've mentioned before.
Another central tenet is that we won't necessarily end our oppression until it benefits the white person. In the book, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Delgado, and I'm completely forgetting the last name of the other author, but they look at what's called interest convergence and how racism won't truly end until there's a benefit to white people, because white people are automatically benefiting from oppression of people of color. Even if, let's say I have a white boss and he gives me a promotion. That promotion may in part be because I'm a diligent worker, I show up on time, I'm efficient, all of those things, but in the end, the true motive is because that white employer sees benefit to himself or herself.
I'm trying to think of another central tenet of critical race theory. I think that one of the other central tenets is looking back at history. Again, looking at who are the oppressed and who are the oppressors and how do we bring a fuller narrative to our current discourse of history, or current narrative that we put forth. They are looking to augment history, which I can get onboard with it. I think when we look back throughout scripture, we see a very full picture of Israel. We don't just see her struggles, we don't just see her glory moments, we see a full narrative of her struggles and the highs and the lows. So I think those are probably the three that I'd pull out immediately.
Sean McDowell: That's really helpful. You've talked a lot about oppressor and the oppressed. When we look in the scriptures, we see that Jesus has deep concern for those who are oppressed, oppressed with disease, those who are oppressed financially, the poor. Is there a scriptural way of looking at the value and ministry and love for the marginalized that might differ about how critical race theory says and approaches the marginalized? Because I often hear people who support critical race theory say, "Well, Jesus is all about the marginalized," and I think, yes, but I suspect you might be framing that a little bit differently than Jesus would have in his culture at that time. Is there a difference there?
Monique Duson: I think there is, and I think that it comes down to a definition of terms. Everyone knows the scripture that we should do justice. I completely agree with that, but how do you define justice? I completely agree that the Lord doesn't want anyone to "be left behind" or to be left out, but when we look at things like inclusivity, how are we now having conversations about inclusivity? One of the things with critical race theory is that it's like a train.
So as we adopt this framework and the terms that are used within the framework like inclusivity, or quote of having all voices at the table, what people don't usually understand is that connected to this train is things like LGBTQ, feminist theory, abelist theory, child studies. When we are talking about like do justice, how are we defining that term? And what are you considering just? What are you considering as we talk about oppression and marginalized people? How are you defining oppressed and marginalized people?
Is it someone that would consider themselves a sexual minority, like gender minority, because they don't ascribe to heterosexuality? These are the things that we need to really look at before we jump onboard with, well, the scriptures say this, the scriptures say do justice, so I have to do justice, because what we could accidentally do, and from a well-meaning stand, is open a door that we now need to be completely inclusive, because this is the wording and the phraseology I've used, I want to make sure that I'm inclusive. Well, how do we steer clear of being so inclusive that I don't now have an imam trying to preach from my pulpit? Or having someone who ascribes to LGBTQ saying, "I also need to sit at your leadership table because you're inclusive." Does that make sense?
Scott Rae: Yeah, it does. That's really helpful. Monique, maybe for, again, for our listeners who might not be familiar with this critical race theory idea, where does it come from? How did this get started?
Sean McDowell: Well, I will try and definitely do a Twitter answer on this one. Critical race theory came out of critical legal studies, which arrived at the end of the seventies and into the early eighties, and really looked at what happened. In the Civil Rights Movement, laws were overturned and things like that. Now when we look legally at things, it doesn't necessarily look like the laws that we overturned... Statistically, it doesn't look like these things are being put forward.
Now that in and of itself seems like it would be fine, but what people don't realize is that critical legal studies came out of critical theory. Critical theory came out of the Frankfurt School, and the Frankfurt School in the middle and late thirties came out of Marxism. So when Marxism failed, the Marxist thinkers, six or eight of them, came out and formed the Frankfurt School. The Frankfurt School was, again, looking at society from a critical lens, like critically who are the oppressed and who are the oppressors.
They moved from Europe in, I want to say like '37, '38 maybe, into the States. They landed in New York after I think being in Los Angeles, landed in New York and just continued this study of critical theory. And then you see, from what I am remembering right now, it's not that it lied dormant, but you didn't hear a lot about it until we get to critical legal studies with people like Derrick Bell, and from critical legal studies, you move into the mid to late eighties, and you get people like Kimberle Crenshaw, who's looking at critical race theory and how are people now being oppressed solely based on race.
From there, you get things like I said before, feminist theory or LGBTQ. The goal or the umbrella really is critical social theory, because critical race theory is a social theory. Feminist theory and feminist studies is a social theory, so it sits under this umbrella of critical social theory, which is under the larger umbrella of critical theory.
Scott Rae: It sounds like what all of these have in common, correct me if I'm wrong on this, but it sounds like the common element is they tend to view the world exclusively through the lenses of the oppressor and the oppressed.
Monique Duson: Yes.
Scott Rae: You're either in one group or the other, and you have different opportunities and obligations based on whichever group you're in. Would that be fair?
Monique Duson: Yes.
Scott Rae: Before we get to an assessment of this, tell me what do you think that critical race theory gets right? What can we glean from it that's helpful and that's consistent with scripture?
Monique Duson: I think that, one, many well-meaning Christians get wrapped up in critical race theory because it does seek to affirm the dignity, value, and worth of humans. We are created in God's image and we have intrinsic dignity, value, and worth. What I think people really seek to do with critical race theory is to look at, well, if we're going to affirm the dignity, value, and worth of individuals, how do we look at some of the plight of certain individuals and right those wrongs? How do we speak justice into unjust situations? How do I speak up on behalf of the marginalized, or the oppressed, or the poor?
I think that's definitely one of the things that agrees with the historic Christian framework. Again, when we look at history, wanting to give a fuller narrative, I completely believe that America has a horrific history with racism in the States, and that isn't always talked about or threaded-out fully. When we look biblically, we see Israel's history, the ups and the downs. So I think that the augmentation of history and wanting to offset some of the narrative is a good thing. I just caution that we don't swing the pendulum so far that we now erase the good things that America has done and is doing.
Sean McDowell: So you have concern for our nation as a whole, but also that critical race theory might be making inroads into the church.
Monique Duson: Yes.
Sean McDowell: How is it doing that? And how has that maybe similar and/or different from how it makes inroads into the wider culture?
Monique Duson: I think inroads into the church, what I see is what I call this new canon, things like White Fragility, or How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram Kendi, looking at different books that really separate us more than unite us. I believe that as Christians, we are brothers and sisters; the separation within Christianity is are you in Adam? Or are you in Christ? And if we are in Christ, then we should be moving forward as brothers and sisters, not this idea of you're white, so you need to repent for the sins of your ancestors. You need to lament, you need to divest yourself of whiteness.
Those aren't things that I find in scripture in order for us to be united. When I look at how critical race theory is making an entrance into the church is because we are hearing and seeing these things, a shaming of white people, instead of a conversation of, well, what does the Bible say about us moving forward as a unified group? What does the Bible say about you being my brother, or you being my sister? That is without regard to skin color.
Now in the larger culture, I see this shaming of white people, but I see that happening in the church, as well, this thing of white silence is violence. In the broader culture, there's this canceling of individuals if they aren't doing the work of anti-racism correctly, and this anti-racism work is strenuous, it is a works plus, or a Jesus-plus type of situation, if you're a Christian.
I don't see Jesus saying you need to read the 66 books and then also add on to all of these other things, and if you don't add on to all these other things, then you might be canceled. When I think about how is it making inroads into the church, I think it's making inroads, because there's all this other work that needs to be done in order for us to be unified. That isn't scriptural. When I see it in culture, I definitely see a shaming of a people group, and a shaming of anyone who goes against the tribal rhetoric.
Scott Rae: Monique, just a couple of minutes ago, you used the term, white fragility. Can you spell out what you mean by that?
Sean McDowell: White Fragility, it's a book by Robin DiAngelo. If I summized the whole book, I feel like what she's saying is that the emotions that come up, to me, human emotions, she wants to ascribe to whites. I'm a black woman. And if someone were to come to me and say, "Well, you know, I personally think you're racist, and you should be doing more work to end racism. And because you're not doing all of this work to end racism, you're really just racist, and I should cancel you in culture." I will probably let you know exactly what I think.
I am saved and, yes, I'm still a work in progress, but that room isn't given to white people. If there's a conversation around race, and let's say someone becomes upset, or someone cries, or has questions, it's based on them being fragile instead of them being human. A lot of these emotions that DiAngelo puts forward, or a lot of the conversations and questions that come out of certain conversations around race, in my personal opinion, are based more on human nature and could potentially even be based on things like cognitive dissonance. This is a new term for me, or this is a new way of thinking. How can I possibly have further conversation and learn things maybe about America's history without being called fragile, or unable to actually have conversations about race? Again, this is a very shaming way to look at our brothers and sisters.
One of the real powerful things I think you're bringing out here, Monique, is that underneath our discussions about race are powerful worldviews and just different uses of terms. I'd be really curious, what was it in your experience that got you to realize, oh my goodness, there's this entire worldview underneath how I'm even looking at this issue? And what advice would you have for us in conversations about race with other people who maybe just see the world very differently, Christians or not?
Monique Duson: There were a couple of things for me regarding like... Are you referring to like what pulled me out? Or what's made me start to question my worldview?
Sean McDowell: Yeah. What made you start to question critical race theory? And what could we learn from that in our conversations with other people?
Monique Duson: I began to see the damage that was being done to white brothers and sisters. I had an intern who came to my job and came to me crying because minority students, or students of color, were shaming all the white students, telling them that they shouldn't speak. She was confused because, well, if I don't speak, then white silence is violence, but if I do speak, then I'm only speaking from a place of privilege.
I had conversations with another friend who was very dear, and she let me know about her experience in things like that, and I just began to get into a conversation with Holy Spirit about what is this? Why aren't people understanding that white fragility is real, or that white privilege is real? This is a worldview that I upheld for a very long time. The Lord began to take me back through the early church, and is Christianity a white man's religion? How did the early church handle issues of partiality? which is something that we would today call racism. I think the conversations with these two women and the work of the Holy Spirit in challenging some of my own views, began to lead me out of this thought process and worldview of critical race theory.
Scott Rae: Monique, one final question for you, maybe two parts to it. How would you encourage us to have more constructive conversations about race without being divisive or without the kind of shaming that you're referring to?
Monique Duson: I say breathe first, pray, and breathe. These are hard conversations, and yet it's going to take everyone coming to the table to have these conversations. When I say everyone coming to the table, within the church I mean it's going to take leaders coming to the table; it's going to take lay people coming to the table, blacks, whites, and everything in between coming and saying, "Hey, let's have this dialogue. Racism does exist." We can acknowledge that. I can also acknowledge the fact that I don't need a secular framework to tell me how to address racism. I can be patient. I can believe the best. I can ask questions. I can forgive. I can become inquisitive. I can be patient. I can extend grace. I can choose to go again.
There are things that we can do within the body that just set us up for a much more impactful discussion about race than critical theory does, where I am not coming to the conversation from a place of you are automatically my oppressor because of the color of the skin you wear, because you're white. I am not that holy, and I continue to say this. Like if we have to come to the table and say, "Hey, we need to talk about race," but we are talking about it from the automatic assumption that because you're white, you're my oppressor, I can't have that conversation. I'm just not that holy.
Scott Rae: That's really helpful, Monique, particularly showing how the worldview that underlies it cuts off those kinds of constructive conversations. One last question. What gives you hope about the discussion of race in our culture today?
Monique Duson: I think what gives me hope is the like... Gosh, there's a lot. I look at the Word, and I know that in John 17, we already have what we need to be united. We have what we need for oneness. When Jesus prays, he said, "I've given them what they need." He's given us the glory. We have what we need. Then I look at where unity is being built. I receive emails every day from people who are saying I had this conversation. I noticed my church was going down a critical race theory path. I had this conversation with my pastor, and now they're going to change the curriculum they were looking at. People who are asking questions.
I believe that through prayer, through the scripture, and what Jesus has already done for us, that we do have a great hope. We do have a hope that is better than what the world offers. When I look at scripture and I understand that I am on an equal playing ground with the white person. Just because I'm black, it doesn't mean that the Lord sees me as any less than; it doesn't mean that I am oppressed, as the world says. I have a different come-from in entering conversations of unity. I think that gives me hope that I don't have to look at this paradigm; I don't have to look at conversations of racial unity from a place of always being the oppressed.
Scott Rae: That's really helpful. I appreciate you putting specifics to it and how to have these conversations in a much more constructive way.
Monique, thank you so much for being with us. I want to commend our listeners to your organization, to your website, the Center for Biblical Unity, or to Google search for your name. You got lots of video out there that's available for people to see. So we're very grateful for the good work that you do, and we welcome you into the Talbot Community in the fall of 2020.
Monique Duson: Thanks so much.
Scott Rae: I look forward to having you as a part of our community. Thanks so much for being with us, and we really appreciate your insights in this really important conversation.
Monique Duson: Thanks for having me.
Scott Rae: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith & Culture. To learn more about us and today's guest, Monique Dusan, and the Center for Biblical Unity, and to find more episodes, go to biola.edu/think biblically. That's biola.edu/think biblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and feel free to share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening, and remember, think biblically about everything.