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date: 11 July 2020

Critical Race Theory and Qualitative Methodology in Education

Summary and Keywords

Since its inception in the United States, critical race theory (CRT) has had a methodological link to qualitative research methods per se. Through the use of counter-story and counter-narratives, CRT in law was formed as a way to critique formal traditional legal reasoning by interjecting the racialized reality of how law was conceived and operationalized to justify a political and economic system of racial capitalism. As CRT moved into other fields such as education, researchers saw its utility as a methodological framework to critique the ways in which racial ideology, policies, and practice served to discriminate against students of color in primary, secondary, and higher education both in the United States, the United Kingdom and other global contexts. This chapter highlights these major trends and speculates as to future directions for critical race theory and qualitative research methodology in education.

Keywords: critical race theory, secondary and post-secondary education, qualitative research methodology, counter-narrative, counter-story, qualitative race research in education

The intent of this chapter is to walk readers through a brief origins story of critical race theory (CRT) in U.S. socio-legal discourse and its connection to education and qualitative methods. The justification as to how and why storytelling and counter-narratives emerged in CRT as a voice of oppositional scholarship will be reviewed as well. In essence, CRT validated the racialized experiences of persons of color in a U.S. legal context that classified them through discriminatory practice justified by law. This chapter will also outline the connection between CRT and education research and policy as a framework for centering an analysis of racism in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education. One of the ways this focus took place was through the nexus of qualitative methodology and CRT. My review will conclude with a discussion on where CRT is heading in the area of qualitative research in the framing and naming of racism in education.

Introducing and Tracing Critical Race Theory

CRT came into existence (in the late 1980s to early 1990s) as a socio-legal theoretical framework that challenged how race-neutral policies, practices, and laws perpetuated racial/ethnic subordination and white supremacy codified by law. It emphasized the importance of viewing policies, practices, and laws within a historical and contemporary cultural context in order to deconstruct their racialized meanings (Barnes, 2016; Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, & Thomas, 1995). This framework challenged the formalistic thinking of legal reasoning, neutral principles of logic, and the assumption that U.S. judges were non-political arbitrators of the law. CRT legal scholars showed how these assumed rules and reasoning of law in the U.S. context historically and currently continued to subordinate people of color while further advantaging white Americans (Delgado & Stefancic, 2000). CRT was grounded in a social activist reality that placed racism and its intertwinement with other forms of identity discrimination (e.g., gender, social class), at the center of analyzing how laws and policies could be attributed not only to personal acts of racism, but also to structural institutions (e.g., schools, health care, employment, housing). This in turn had a deleterious impact on the social-psychological and material conditions of African Americans, Latinx, Tribal Nations, Asian/Pacific Islanders, among others. The early CRT theorists in law used dialogues, stories, chronicles, and personal testimonies as method in their scholarship because some members of racialized groups, by virtue of their marginal status, have told different stories of racialized oppression from the ones white scholars usually hear and tell about continual racial progress narratives (Delgado, 1989). There were key common threads that undergirded the basic CRT analysis/perspective, research methods, and pedagogies of the initial CRT work.

The Centrality of Race and Racism

CRT asserted as its most basic premise that race and racism have been and still are a defining/determining characteristic of American society. Race and racism are central constructs that intersect with other dimensions of one’s identity, such as language, generation status, gender, social class, etc. (Crenshaw et al., 1995; Matusda, 1996). For people of color, each of these dimensions of one’s identity can potentially elicit multiple forms of subordination and different forms of oppression. Whiteness as property was a key part of the centrality of race and racism (Harris, 1993) in that the legal justification of taking away property/land from Tribal Nation people and the taking of Africans as slaves of human property were just some of the many ways that whiteness was used as a legal and social construct of power justified by law to uphold white supremacy through federal statutes.

The Challenge to Dominant Ideology

CRT challenged the traditional claims of legal reasoning and adjudication to logic, objectivity, statutory justification, meritocracy, color blindness, race neutrality, and equal opportunity (Bell, 1980). It revealed how the dominant ideology of race evasion and race neutrality acted as a camouflage for the self-interest, power, and privilege of dominant groups in American society (Symposium, 1997). The challenge to the dominant racist ideology emerged in the form of using legal storytelling about race and racist encounters within a larger and deeper set of structural/historical patterns of racism. This was used as a way to present racial fact patterns, race-based constitutional law issues, and societal racial discrimination problems to be questioned in contesting the accepted narrative of continual racial progress in the United States.

A Commitment to Social Justice and Praxis

CRT has been fundamentally committed to a social justice agenda that has sought to eliminate all forms of racial, gender, language, generation status, and class subordination (Matsuda, 1996). CRT was conceived as a social justice project that attempted to link theory with practice, scholarship with teaching, and the academy with the community.

Centrality of Experiential Knowledge

CRT recognized that the experiential knowledge of people of color was legitimate and critical to understanding racial subordination. The application of a CRT framework in an analysis of education research and practice required that the experiential perspectives of people of color be centered and viewed as informational knowledge stemming directly from their lived experiences (Bell, 2004; Delgado, 1989). The experiential knowledge was connected to the voices of African American, Latinx, Tribal Nation, Asian/Pacific Islander persons and represented through counter-storytelling, family history, biographies, scenarios, parables, cuentos, chronicles, and counter-narratives.

A Historical Context and Interdisciplinary Perspective

CRT challenged ahistoricism and the unidisciplinary focus of the dominant interpretation of constitutional law (Bell, 1992; Delgado & Stefancic, 2000). CRT argued that a deliberate refusal to engage with issues of race and racism ignored the legacy of historical discrimination and remedy. It also challenges the conservative viewpoint that the way to end racism is to simply stop making legal decisions in education based on race. CRT and interest convergence is also important to mention here in that the legal and political status of white Americans would always be upheld and protected when civil and political rights were given to African Americans. These rights were accorded because of an aspect of white supremacy connected to economic self-interest and international political image. This played a far more important role in granting civil rights to African Americans and other persons of color than the idealist notion of sharing power or material wealth with whites.


This concept originated from Crenshaw et al. 1995, in which she discussed the importance of intersecting identities among African American women; their realities of gender and racial discrimination, and how U.S. law did now allow multiple discrimination claims. This has been a major concept that has moved into critical race feminism and other examinations of the ways that youth of color lead intersectional lives (that partially connect race with gender, sexuality, language, cultural representation, etc.), and how intersectional lived experiences are not only performed but are also discriminated against on multiple levels by structural forces in education (Hill Collins & Bilge, 2016).

In the beginning, CRT scholarship used allegory, autobiography, personal stories, and fiction as a means of sharing with readers the individual and collective voice(s) of African American and other legally subordinate groups of color. The intent of the counter-stories and counter-narratives was to give readers an understanding of the impact of individual and structural racism as supported by law and how this had a major discriminatory impact on persons of color based on their racialized identity (in combination with other forms of their intersectional identities). CRT utilized a type of narrative discourse that drew attention to legally problematic issues for persons of color. So, for example, when juries were confronted with sworn individual testimonies from African American defendants against white police officers in court proceedings, the official stories of the officers were more likely to be believed than the counter-stories of racial bias or profiling by the African American defendants.

As CRT relied on narrative discourse, the initial criticism focused on racial stories of discriminatory treatment that were not verifiable or typical of racial relations and history (Farber & Sherry, 1997). Furthermore, storytelling and narratives should not replace the neutral truth of physical evidence, violation of harm, proof of intent to discriminate, and actual witnesses of racial discrimination. CRT faced backlash from traditional legal scholars in that they read counter-stories and counter-narratives as personal tales of racial agony or complaint, instead of actual evidence presented of an intent to discriminate and the use of formalistic legal reasoning to prove one’s case. Bell and others (e.g., Delgado, 1989; Williams, 1992), countered by saying that voices of African Americans were an invaluable lived perspective for analyzing civil rights cases in order to understand meanings of race and racism in U.S. jurisprudence. For example, Bell included many non-legal sources from history, the social sciences, and psychology to convey a far deeper and broader analysis of how racism permeates all aspects of U.S. life through law and court decisions (Bell, 2004). The CRT text described through counter-stories and counter-narratives was the “method” for presenting fact patterns, legal questions, and problems. Furthermore, Bell argued that the traditional formalistic legal reasoning left out the myriad ways that legal racism worked in the larger society and that the voices of those who have been discriminated against were typically silenced by the search for objective formal legal standards (Jones, 2002). The voices of African Americans and other groups of color through the counter-stories and counter-narratives were important to present in fiction or literary essays so others, particularly, white Americans who were not legal scholars could see and feel the ways the law had been used to disempower racially marginalized groups.

CRT and its importance of centering race and racism as a theoretical legal framework began to take shape as it branched off and broadened its utility in the study of other groups of color who have faced racial discrimination. For example, one of the powerful strands that came to fruition was LatCrit. This movement, grounded in the use of narrative storytelling, has been important in examining how aspects of race, ethnicity, language, and national origin converge and effectively otherize and politically disenfranchise Latinos/as and Latinx populations in the United States. Lopez (1996) argued for using a critical race lens to assess the experiences of Latinx groups in the United States even though they comprise different ethnicities and nationalities. Lopez pointed out that under the legal construction of race and citizenship law, “white” has historically stood not only for members of the white race but for a set of concepts and privileges associated with that race. Black, however, has been defined by the legal denial of those privileges. According to Lopez, many Latinx do not occupy neatly defined racial categories: instead, they often stand at the intersection and cultural and national borders that defy complete assimilation into the American mainstream. LatCrit also pointed out the historical nature of the black-white paradigm to show how Latinx constitute a broad spectrum of races/ethnicities and nationalities but that certain aspects of their experiences in the United States have made them a racialized group subject to different types of racial discrimination, from the backlash against Spanish and the “English only movement” to periodic attacks on immigration (Valdez, 1997). Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders also relied on the use of counter-story and counter-narratives to discuss the impact of federal laws and the legal creation of “foreigner” categories status, or through the colonization of Pacific Islands for military security and capitalist enterprise. Asian American CRT also focused on parts of U.S. legal history, such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in U.S. v. Korematsu (1944), which led to the creation of the Japanese Americans being placed in internment camps during World War II. This aspect of CRT analysis also focused on a powerful nuanced racial critique of Asian Americans as having “honorary white” status when discussing the racial politics of affirmative action in higher education (Ng, Lee, & Pak, 2007).

The importance of CRT as method through counter-stories and counter-narratives laid the groundwork for how it connected to qualitative research and education. The counter-stories and counter-narratives comprised the ways in which racial truths were told and how experiences and histories were validated. As CRT gained momentum outside of law, education scholars used it to center race and racism in the study of schools and higher education (Tate, 1997; Ladson, Billings, & Tate, 1995). Qualitative methods and methodology became a way to analyze and document racism in teaching and learning, curriculum decisions, school leadership, teacher student interaction, diversity and student/faculty relations, racial campus climate, higher education policy, etc., and why CRT could be used as one of the dynamic explainers of institutional and structural racism in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education.

Trends in CRT and Qualitative Research in Education

This section is not intended to provide a complete literature review of the numerous permutations that have either incorporated qualitative methods in conjunction with CRT analysis, or used CRT as a method or as a methodology in research. Rather, the important trends that have emerged in education qualitative research will be reviewed to highlight how CRT has defined the centrality of racism in higher education and secondary and elementary school settings, as a challenge to race-neutrality claims of objectivity research processes (Ladson-Billings, 2013).

Given the early implicit connection between voice, narrative, and racial stories, the link between qualitative methodology in educational research and CRT came about through the publication of two special issues in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (1998) and Qualitative Inquiry (2002). The early works in these two volumes spoke to the ways in which black studies, Chicana/o studies, Asian/Pacific Island studies, Native American studies and women’s/gender studies laid the formative groundwork for the justification of using multidisciplinary approaches, combined with personal stories steeped in racial culture, history, and claiming of self-determination against white supremacy. The articles published in these special issues sought to connect CRT tenets such as interest convergence or whiteness as property, to qualitative methods and methodology, and define its usage at epistemological and ontological levels of analysis connected to law, policy effects, and racism. Counter-narratives and counter-stories were useful in shaping a myriad of examples in which CRT education scholars utilized qualitative research to link educational policy and practice to evidence of racism in primary, secondary, and higher education. These early studies also brought students of color to the center of racial analysis, which sought to disrupt and challenge white supremacy and push for progressive racial change.

For example, Pizzaro (1998), on Chicano/a epistemology, sought to combine CRT’s framework to activist struggles in communities and the problematics of researcher/community co-optation in a research project. Bernal (2002) also justified the use of Chicana feminist epistemology in education to present the counter-stories and counter-narratives of Chicana students through the use of cultural intuition. She defined it as an extension of one’s personal experience and lived reality, which would include collective memory, as well as historical and cultural stories at the sites of community-based struggles for empowerment. Gonzalez (1998) used the braids of multiple identities as a symbolic metaphor to look at the intersectionality of race/ethnicity and gender connections with historical memory through the voices of Mexicana identities. Hermes (1998), described putting CRT in the research but as a secondary backdrop that led to a more site-specific use of qualitative activist scholarship grounded in the Ojibwa Nation’s situated responses in their communities. Solórzano used the CRT methodological framework to analyze interview data collected from Chicana/o postdoctoral scholars who faced racism and gender discrimination at elite institutions that essentially rendered them invisible on campus despite the prestige of their meritorious fellowships.

Solórzano and Yosso (2002) contributed an important definitional distinction as to what a critical race methodology in education would look like. They defined it as an approach that foregrounds race and racism in all parts of the research process, from conception of the problem, to the research question, how the study proceeds, data collection/analysis, and conclusion. Through a critical race methodology, the researcher also is aware of and processes how race intersects with gender and social class and other aspects of identity. A critical race methodology also poses a direct challenge to traditional education research paradigms that focus on students of color as culturally deficit. On the contrary, a critical race methodology offers a way to validate the stories and narratives of students of color as transformative and liberating in their struggle against whiteness as property or the centrality of racism. Viewing students of color lived realities as a source of strength, a CRT methodology in qualitative research blends an interdisciplinary knowledge base with the law to understand racial experiences. The researcher brings in elements of their individual stories to the research process, coupled with the personal stories of the students of color, and the lived experiential knowledge and existing critical interdisciplinary research knowledge. There is a purposeful way that critical race methodology is used to disrupt the dominant discourses and taken-for-granted assumptions on race in research. This challenge to assumptions can take the forms of personal narratives/stories, the stories/narratives of other persons of color, or composite stories and narratives that draw on a wide range of data (fiction, poems, observation, interviews, analysis of discourse, visual media performance, etc.), to create the intersectional experiences of persons of color and racism.

Brayboy (2005) acknowledged specific purposes of CRT in relation to Indigenous populations in the United States. While taking account arguments questioning the need of a CRT for Tribal Nation people to situate their experiences, Brayboy posited major points in the formation of a TribalCrit that built upon the original CRT tenets. They were: (1) the colonization was and still is strongly rooted in the social context and political structure of U.S. society; (2) law and policy toward Tribal Nations were and still are nested in imperialism, white supremacy, and racial capitalism; (3) Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples occupy a liminal space that accounts for both the political and racialized natures of who they are; (4) Indigenous peoples have a need and right to obtain and claim tribal sovereignty, autonomy, self-determination, and self-identification; (5) the concepts of culture, knowledge, and power should be seen differently when Indigenous perspectives are taken into account; (6) federal, state, and local education law and policy have been historically linked to the concept of assimilation (and this is still the case in the early 21st century); (7) Tribal Nations philosophies, beliefs, customs, traditions, and visions for the future are central to understanding the lived realities of Indigenous populations, but there are differences among individuals and Tribal Nations; (8) stories are not separate from theory but are legitimate forms of knowledge, sources of community, and ways of being; and (9) theory and practice are connected in explicit ways that must focus on social change (pp. 429–430). Brayboy makes an important contribution to Tribal Crit toward its use in qualitative research around the idea of counter-story and counter-narrative; namely that there is a difference between listening and hearing stories. When someone listens to a story, they are engaging in the physical action of how one listens. However, hearing stories is quite different, in that it involves listening to what is said, purposeful engagement with the speaker, and taking in the value attached to the story and its meanings. For Tribal Crit and qualitative methods/methodology this means there is value attached to the story; the stories are the collection of history and culture and hold a place in the mindset of group members. The stories represent memories of tradition and reflections on power. The listener has to hear and feel the stories, as well as bear the responsibility of understanding the nuances in the stories and the knowledge embedded in them. Brayboy posited that Tribal Crit honors these stories as legitimate and forms of “data” that are not separate from theory: they are theory (p. 439).

Yosso (2006) presented a genealogy on the origins of CRT and its connection and challenges to the notion of cultural capital. In particular, Yosso used the CRT framework to critique how Bourdieu’s theory of social and cultural reproduction has been used in scholarly research to situate some as culturally poor and others as culturally wealthy. Yosso then articulated a model of cultural capital that put emphasis on community cultural wealth. Through interviews with Latinx students, she presented data that described the different parts of what comprises community cultural wealth. Her qualitative study provided details on how and why Latinx students relied on family capital, aspirational capital, linguistic capital, resistant capital, navigational capital, and social capital to create a cumulative form of wealth that validated their race, ethnicity, language, and history. Yosso’s concept of community cultural wealth has become a valuable conceptual framework in shaping CRT qualitative research regarding the study of Latinx/Chicano/a students as they have challenged racism.

Perez Huber (2009) expanded on the general theme of community cultural wealth by using the testimonio as a way to research the educational experiences of 20 Latinx students in the California public higher education system. The testimonio was intended for readers to take a verbal journey with the students who revealed their racial, classed, gendered, and nativist injustices they suffered as a means of healing, empowerment, and a humane present and future (p. 644). Perez Huber acknowledged the dilemma of using a qualitative research process that has functioned in colonizing ways of objectification. However, Perez Huber argued that the use of testimonio was not only important to illustrate the life story, but also as a methodology that challenged the traditional academic roles of researcher-subject relations.

Alemán and Alemán (2010), looked at interest convergence, and provided insights into how Bell’s thesis (i.e., civil rights of African Americans were only advanced if their interests converge with those of white Americans but the political power of white supremacy will always supersede those of African Americans) worked to reveal racism against Latinx groups. Using interviews and observations of social activism within the Latinx community of a city in the U.S. Rocky Mountain region, these authors utilized a CRT methodology in their qualitative study and illustrated that the cost of interest convergence compromised the social justice activism of the Latinx community of interest. A group of moderate political Latinx leaders urged compromise with the powerful white conservative religious forces in the region on issues of policy. However, the Latinx community activists saw how their goals and hopes for change would be diluted and compromised if they accepted interest convergence. Alemán and Alemán concluded that it was important in CRT qualitative educational research to acknowledge that when we look at how policy is developed and enacted, interest convergence sometimes works against activism and racial social justice. Furthermore, a racial realist perspective would be better suited to envision ways of social change that would be grounded in the reality that racism and discrimination will not end, but the self-determination of communities of color holds the potential for change.

Vaught (2011) in the United States, and Gillborn (2008) in the United Kingdom conducted research on schools as institutional sites of racialized struggle. A common thread in both of these works was how the authors focused on race and racism as a way of engaging in the actual methods of shaping the study and collecting the data (e.g., interviews, observations). Then, they employed CRT as a methodology in their analysis and implications for understanding how school sites function in powerful ways to uphold arguments regarding whiteness as property and the centrality of racism. In the Vaught study, she used a critical race ethnography to investigate patterns of schooling that focused on classroom interactions of white and black teachers and administrators and African American students. The ideology of white supremacy served as the connector among the school personnel, inequities in school funding and school leadership resulted in a firmly established complacency about efforts to raise African American student achievement. The findings of this ethnography represented one of the core CRT tenets as a failure of liberalism: this failure of the liberal ideal of equal opportunity resulted in the normalization of failure for African American students. This went unchecked as school personnel grew used to and accepted seeing African American students underperform and fail in large numbers. With David Gillborn’s CRT research, he has used both qualitative methods and descriptive statistical data to illustrate the ways in which white supremacy in the United Kingdom (U.K.) context permeated its way school policy and practice; from the inequitable distribution of resources to the day-to-day interactions that teachers and school leaders had with youth of color in schools. These practices were representative of an educational policy built on white supremacy: so, on the one hand, U.K. educational and political leaders touted slogans of inclusivity. However, on the other hand, the schooling practices served to “otherize” British of black (African and Caribbean) and East Asian (Indian and Pakistani) descent.

While its origins are in the United States, CRT as a research methodology has moved into other countries and continents as a way to explore racism and its impact on different populations of color. So for instance, in studying black male Caribbean youth, Briggs (2018) used the counter-narratives in CRT to understand how second- generation black male youth living in the Toronto, Canada area navigated structural racism in education and workforce employment, despite neoliberal policy discourse connecting education to employment as a panacea for low-income youth of color. Briggs noted that while Canadian policy experts, politicians, employers and the media espoused the rhetoric of education for jobs as a way of getting into the middle class, the young men he interviewed told counter-narratives of continual barriers grounded in a Canadian reality of racism that served to block access to getting meaningful job training; a lack of actual jobs; schooling inequities; and a sense of racial frustration at not being able to secure stable and well-paying employment. In the European political context, Möschel (2007) noted that while overt white nationalist racism is on the rise in many European countries, CRT has received scant attention in the legal world in Europe. Moschel attributed this to the concept of racism in Europe being primarily associated with the Holocaust and anti-Semitism and that religion has been more of an outward definer of discrimination; this is despite the racialized reality of anti-immigrant and Islamaphobia campaigns. The white European nationals assert that they are non-racist, but that newly arrived immigrants and refugees bring with them cultures and habits that fail to fit into the European ways of life. Therefore, these white European nationals advocate for stricter limitations or outright bans and deportations of these groups (see Wing and Smith, 2006 and Staiano, 2015 for a critical race feminist analysis of racism/sexism/social class impact on immigrant Muslim women of color in Europe).

The failure of the liberal state to secure the community of interest and educational rights of African Americans after Hurricane Katrina was evident through the composite counter-stories compiled by Cook and Dixson (2013). These authors added expansive notions of equality and movement of social change to the CRT tenets they utilized to analyze what happened to African American schooling post-Katrina in New Orleans. Cook and Dixson used the composite counter-stories to illustrate the significant ways in which African American neighborhoods changed after the devastation of the hurricane. Not only we see the physical displacement of many African Americans, but also there was an accompanying disempowerment of African American schools, teachers, and their community ties. The influx of neoliberal schooling through school choice, charter schools, the demise of the teachers unions in favor of hiring individuals from organizations such as Teach for America left a post-Katrina situation that sought to erase African American communities, histories, and community cultural wealth. The composite stories also served the purpose of giving voice to previously silenced African American educators.

Finally, Hylton (2012) provided a useful perspective and rubric on how and why to use critical race methodology and its connection to qualitative methods and methodology. In Hylton’s analysis of research methods and race used by both U.S. and U.K. scholars, CRT methodology should challenge the passive reproduction of established practices, knowledge, and resources that comprise the standard operational research process. Hylton saw CRT methodology in qualitative research grounded in the experiences of the collective multiple realities of persons of color. Furthermore, the theory and its application to qualitative studies in education deepens our understanding of the nuances of racism, as well as how the research informs the struggle against racism. Hylton mapped out some important considerations for CRT methodologies related to qualitative study such as: (1) the importance of a social justice focus; (2) the need for the research to challenge oppression and subordination; (3) the research has a praxis orientation combined with activist scholarship and a participatory approach, resulting in the researcher and participants/communities as part of the process.

To summarize, the direction as to where CRT has been and where it is going regarding qualitative research methods and methodology, is one marked by an increasing acknowledgment of the complexity of counter-story and counter-narrative as dynamic explainers of racial conditions and subsequent action. For example, in the 21st-century there is a political climate of increasing outward manifestations of nativist racism by political leaders after the 2016 U.S. election results and subsequent similar outcomes in Brazil and other parts of Latin America. The anti-Muslim/Islamophobic and anti-African immigrant sentiment has spread from the Brexit movement in the United Kingdom, into Italy, France, and other parts of Europe as ethnic/racial aggressions against migrants and refugees has increased and become more vitriolic. The next section will feature possible new trends and opportunities within the CRT methodology/method framework in educational research. These are developments that will have important implications for embodying what Attwood and López (2014) have argued: that persons of color should not have to apologize for not only telling honestly critical but also critically honest counter-stories and counter-narratives as racism, sexism, and other forms of xenophobia continues unabated in the early 21st century.

Recent and New Directions in CRT and Qualitative Methods/Methodology in Education

There have been recent additions to the foundational framework of CRT. For example, Carbado and Roithmayr (2014) sought to add more quantitative empirical claims from psychological implicit bias studies to enhance and sharpen basic CRT foundational principles such as: (1) the racial past exerts contemporary effects on racial contexts; (2) the racial evasion in law and social policy and the arguments for ostensibly race-neutral practices often serve to undermine the interests of people of color; and (3) immigration laws that restrict Asian and Mexican entry into the United States regulate the racial makeup of the nation and perpetuate the view that all persons of Asian/Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander, or Latino/a descent should be assumed to be foreigners (pp. 149–150). Similarly, Garcia, López, and Vélez (2018) posed a set of questions around the use of more quantitative measures in conjunction with qualitative research methodology in CRT. In a special issue of Race Ethnicity and Education, they asked what it would look like to use quantitative research methods, which have long been criticized for ontological and epistemological racial biases, to study racism in conjunction with qualitative research methodology in CRT? These authors concluded that as an increasing number of legal scholars and education/social scientists use quantitative methods, CRT should be open to this mixed-method combination; as long as both qualitative and quantitative methods are subjected to continual self-criticism and reflection within the research process, it can be useful to further illuminate areas of overt and structural racism. Another example of looking to quantitative data answers in CRT education research was advocated by Gillborn, Warmington, and Demack (2018), as they pointed to how CRT advocates need to critique the purposeful manipulation of “big data.” Their use of QuantCrit shed light on the manipulation of statistics by prominent political officials and institutional agencies that promoted “fake data” by showing how white youth were discriminated against more in British secondary and higher education than black Caribbean or Indian British youth.

Regarding new areas where CRT and qualitative methodology is making progress, Bonilla-Silva (2015) offered new directions for CRT research into the notion of “deep whiteness” (p. 83). This is a superiority complex of whites, reinforced by years of living in a white supremacist world, which has produced a “deep whiteness” that is seemingly intractable among well-meaning whites. One notable direction where this challenge to deep whiteness has occurred is in the area of medical school education and public health. Ford and Airhihenbuwa (2010) called for the use of a critical race methodology to be applied to public health education research. The authors described a model they termed “public health critical race praxis” (PHCR). This framework was intended to tailor CRT for the purposes of health equity research. Ford and Airhihenbuwa argued that data can never be taken at face value; rather there is a central methodological core to PHCR focused on patterns of racial relations, history of discrimination, intersectionality, and the importance of voice. Methodology in PHCR focuses on the opinions and perspectives of racialized minority groups, as it sheds light on the medical disciplinary avoidance of patient rights and elevates the experiences—presenting alternative perspectives on the conditions of public health concerns of persons of color.

Questioning the racial progress narrative in CRT has also emerged from humanities and cultural studies through discussions around Afro-pessimism and anti-blackness (Ray, Randolph, Underhill, & Luke, 2017). These concepts relate to the notion that the social construction of blackness and blacks as non-human influences the worldview and status of all other racial groups. For Afro-pessimism, anti-blackness (not white supremacy) is the main causal factor behind the global social condition of blacks especially in terms of failed education efforts: i.e., policies that have not improved the material conditions of educational life for the average African American student (Dumas, 2016). As researchers expand their horizons to identify when and where blackness is being imagined, defined, and performed (both in a literal and figurative sense), the phenomenology of blackness will be the key aspect of the epistemology and ontology of race as well as qualitative methodology in education (Wright, 2015). A future trend that may emerge in CRT qualitative research methodology is the borrowing from other more specific interpretive race-based perspectives that shed light on the ways laws and policies are enacted upon the existence of blackness or Latinxness. For example, Sharpe (2016) presented an interpretation of seeing black life “in the wake of slavery and the afterlife of property” (p. 15). This means that the historical terror of slavery and Jim Crow racial violence has been a continual traumatic threat within the minds, bodies and emotions of Black people as they face renewed current threats to their presence in public spaces; from the calling of law enforcement when Black people are in a Starbucks, to the spate of Black people being killed by the police. These types of interpretive frames will be useful as ways to judge how past historical forms of racism are linked to present forms of prejudicial racially motivated aggressions. The image of blackness as a threat and leads to the actual mistreatment of black youth as school districts continue to resort to punishment of these youth through harsh disciplinary suspensions and expulsions. This is in contrast to school leadership and teachers challenging the normalization of the failure of black youth in many public schools.

Another approach in qualitative studies that will also be useful is the deconstruction of the socially constructed racial identities that youth of color shape in terms of multiracial backgrounds, social media, and other aspects of their shifting identities and place locations in their worlds (Mahiri, 2017). So for instance, in the area of CRT and the study of mixed-race students, qualitative research in education is already making progress, namely in critical mixed-race studies. Daniel, Kina, Dariotis, and Fojas (2014) introduced this concept as way to examine mixed-race persons and representations in popular culture, history, and imagining future possibilities around identity and discourse. This includes racial mixing, interraciality, multiraciality, transracial adoption, and interethnic alliances. Critical mixed-race studies place it as the central focus, with the close examination of the mutability of race and the sometimes fluidity of racial boundaries by youth; but still critically examining local and global systematic injustices grounded in racialization, social stratification, along with other forms of discriminatory practices connected to gender, sex, sexuality, social class, etc.

The question as to who can do CRT qualitative research in education and whether white persons can effectively engage in CRT work has been explored by Bergerson (2003) and in the field of critical whiteness studies in general. DePouw (2012) and her work as a white female qualitative researcher in education discussed this topic as it related to her service with the Hmong in the U.S. state of Wisconsin:

As a white researcher and educator who has worked with Hmong American students and communities for over ten years, I recognize the dangers of framing Hmong Americans as profoundly culturally different because I initially held these beliefs when I first began this work. It was only through years of relationship-building, learning from Hmong American community members and a commitment to ongoing critical examination of authority, power and white racial identity that I was able to shift my thinking away from ‘culture clash’ toward a more useful and humanizing approach to understanding Hmong American communities. (pp. 223–224)

DePouw used this passage to explain her reasoning regarding how she as a qualitative researcher was able to critically assess her own failings (and others) regarding the ways in which the white majority in racialized contextual settings will draw on Orientalist singular thinking grounded in seemingly deep-whiteness colonialist beliefs. DePouw utilized whiteness as a property by Crenshaw as a lens to continually disrupt her own thinking and positionality as a white woman researcher. DePouw also described how whiteness as property actions on campus emanated from seemingly benign requests by white student groups for surface level multicultural campus engagement activities with the Hmong for the purpose of essentialism and exotification in rural Wisconsin. DePouw argued that qualitative research in education needs to explicitly name race and racism as important and pervasive aspects of the Hmong American (and other persons of color) experience. As a researcher, DePouw actively supports a critical race consciousness that challenges institutional racism and is supportive of student shared communities of interests and rights to self-determination.

Visualization and borrowing from other fields in terms of imaginary symbolic aspects of racism will be a new trend in CRT and qualitative methodology. As more scholars look to metaphors outside of education that also link to historical representations of persons of color and discrimination, CRT and qualitative research will feature how the visual image and social media is used to convey race and racism. For example, Perez Huber and Solórzano (2015) looked at the cumulative effects of everyday forms of racism experienced by people of color. They argued that visual effects can combine with racial microaggressions to reinforce negative racial images in social media, film, television, children’s books, and advertisements, for example. Perez Huber and Solórzano take on the concept of the Mexican bandit as an image of racism that has been imprinted in the U.S. popular consciousness for over a century. This image stokes fears Americans have about immigration: and this has been exacerbated by the 2016 U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for a “wall” to be built to stop “illegal aliens.” Perez Huber and Solórzano’s work points to using racialized images in combination with qualitative research to add depth to the research analysis on the myriad forms that racism can take.

Qualitative methods and methodology in CRT has mostly been confined to racial analysis and intersectionality. However, this has at times conflicted with the lived experiences of people of color who are LGBTQ. Brockenbrough (2015) made this point regarding a queer-of-color critique as he called for the disruption of the demarginalization, and instead form a lens to analyze, name and contextualize the lived experiences of queers of color. This scholarship is critical of the heteronormative racial narratives and seeks to produce queer-of-color critiques that remove their invisibility from the critical scholarship on race and racism.1

Capper (2015) further refined the analysis of these findings by also expanding the scope of CRT to the specific leadership questions for superintendents and principals concerned with social justice leadership in schools. In her article, Capper linked the foundational elements to questions focused on school climate and school culture/structures that impact leadership and relationality among administrators, teachers, and students. These issues are important because a “new racism” has emerged from the summary of research on schools. Kohli, Pizarro, and Nevárez (2017) looked at numerous studies that focused on racism in school teaching and learning and in treatment of students. According to their review of the existing literature, there is a normalization of racism; racism is accepted and is insidious and invisible. Furthermore, reasons for racially discriminatory treatment are justified through explanations of cultural deficiency and lack of parental involvement, as well as policies designed to cure achievement disparities through accountability or school choice. Kohli, Pizarro, and Nevárez (2017) pointed to ways in which schools exemplify this new racism through: (1) evaded racism, in which teachers and school leaders blame students of color for failure, lack of parental involvement, or lack of cultural value for education, instead of structural policies that fail students of color; (2) “anti-racist” racism in which policies designed to solve racial achievement gaps actually exacerbate the problem and fail to deal with the historical roots of race-based inequality; and (3) everyday racism where racial microaggressions, or teacher biases against students based on language/national origin or disability play a role in creating racial deficit practice that is normalized (p. 186). These examples of the new racism provide a broader contextual framework to potentially use CRT in conjunction with qualitative research methodology and to explore how race can be utilized as a verb. In elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education there is a process associated with race and how it is played out, whether in developing programs addressing equity issues for students of color, recruitment and retention of students and faculty of color (in the face of more active white politically conservative pushback), or the daily student-teacher learning process. To this end, McAfee (2014), a micro-ethnography on a California middle school, highlights the limitations of simply studying race and racism as a noun through personal relations or structural definitions connected to institutional racism. McAfee introduces the term “racial kinetics,” which happens in schools where patterns of everyday behavior are manifested through (1) sifting, or pattern of interactions that students of different races have with each other and with their teachers both across and within racial categories; (2) gridlocking, or a pattern where only a few in a particular racial group advance in classroom instruction; and (3) advantaging which is when and where teacher actions privilege members of one racial group over another. The kinesiology of race can lead to CRT qualitative research projects, where method and methodology are employed to systematically study how race operates as a verb in racialized spaces and the process that leads to racial disparities in schools.

Concluding Thoughts

Nolan Cabrera (2014), in an article in the American Educational Research Journal made the case for using CRT methodology to not only make sharp criticisms as to how racism is operationalized in schools, but also how the theory can be used methodologically to change racist practices in primary, secondary, and higher education. This point is further evidence of the evolving nature of CRT and qualitative methods in education and how they will continue to be a useful conceptual framework to guide research. CRT and qualitative research were initially joined together through the use of storytelling and the racial challenge put to traditional legal analysis. Counter-story and counter-narratives became a fundamental means to respond to the legal formalism of law school doctrine. This was a doctrine that deliberately refused to acknowledge the centrality of racism’s power that was legitimized through law and the enforcement of policy and was discriminatory toward the citizenship/identity rights of persons of color and their material and social conditions. As education scholars began to utilize CRT as an interpretive framework to analyze discriminatory education policy, it soon became useful in qualitative research as a methodological tool for presenting evidence of discrimination through the use of counter-stories and counter-narratives as well. In addition, these forms of qualitative CRT data have been linked to racial identity projects intended to disrupt the dominance of Eurocentric curriculum. These projects also provide African American, Latinx, Pacific Islander, and Tribal Nation students with a legitimate space for counter-stories and counter-narratives that are central to understanding what CRT means to students regarding racism, discrimination, and how the students and communities work toward racial integrity and self-determination. CRT and qualitative methodology and methods will continue to evolve and encompass new conceptions and representations of race and racism, as well as move into other areas of activist scholarship with youth of color. In the end, the combination of CRT and qualitative methods and methodology will continue to produce valuable research and strive for ways to link CRT’s original forceful critique of discriminatory practices in primary/secondary schools and colleges/universities and the ways that racially progressive ideas from the CRT critique can lead to acts of meaningful intersectional change.2


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(1.) Earlier takes on the inclusion of queer theory CRT and the disruption of methods/methodology began with the work of Cindi Cruz. See Tanaka and Cruz (1998).

(2.) For more on this see (2015) special issue on CRT in Qualitative Inquiry entitled “CRT in QI: What Each Has to Offer the Other Now?”