Transcript: Jamil Jivani and Samuel Sey
My interview with the Canadian writers on critical race theory
In recent years, Canada — like the United States — has been engaged in a national conversation on race. But my guests on today’s program say that that conversation does not always acknowledge the diversity of opinion within communities of colour. Particularly when it comes to critical race theory.
Jamil Jivani is a lawyer, an author and a columnist at the National Post. He’s also a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, where he helped found the Speak For Ourselves initiative. It recently published a series of essays on critical race theory, including one from Samuel Sey. Samuel Sey is a Canadian writer and thinker who blogs at SlowToWrite.com. He’s also a spokesperson on critical race theory for Parents As First Educators.
This is an edited transcript for paid subscribers. You can listen to the full interview for free here.
TH: Jamil, welcome back to Lean Out. And Samuel, wonderful to have you on the program.
SS: Thank you for having me, it’s an honour.
JJ: Great to talk with you again, Tara.
TH: So nice to have you both on. It’s great to be able to have a conversation about critical race theory, something that has been in the news a lot, but is often misunderstood. Jamil, let’s start with you. We’re often told critical race theory is a very complicated legal theory only taught in law schools. You went to law school. Set this up for us: What is critical race theory?
JJ: Yeah. Well, it did start off as a law school ideology, a law school theory. When I learned about it in law school — I was in law school not that long ago, I graduated in 2013 — it was, I would say, a critique. It was a way of looking at laws and policies and asking for people to think about the racial implications of those laws and policies. The basic idea was that there is a racial implication to everything. And so, if you’re not talking about it, if you haven’t found it, it’s because you haven’t been looking hard enough. The idea is that it’s there, whether you are aware of it or not. At the time, I remember learning about it in school and thinking, “Okay, if you add that to a conversation about a given law or policy, maybe it helps you check your blind spots. Maybe it helps you understand history and context in a way that’s helpful.” So I didn’t think about it as like a very big deal. Just one of the tools you might have to understand the world around you.
But in a very short period of time — it’s been less than 10 years since I graduated law school — it has very quickly evolved from a fringe critique within universities to now something that is being practiced as a governing ideology in institutions. Whether it’s business, in human resource departments. Whether it’s government policy shops, whether it’s think tanks, whether it’s public schools. It has now become a world view that is dominant rather than fringe. And that’s really important, because something can be valuable as a point of critique, but become a totally different monster when it becomes the dominant governing ideology. And that’s what’s happened here.
So, just for as an example, we have shifted the conversation from, “Hey, maybe we should think about if there’s a different way people of colour are impacted by that law.” To, “We definitely know people of colour are being differently impacted, and therefore we need to make sure that it’s our dominant perspective on every single thing that we might be tackling as an institution.” That’s a pretty big difference in how we think. And that is what critical race theory has become.
So, when people say that it’s just a university thing, or it’s really complicated, and we don’t know who’s being taught it, or where it exists — the thing that I would just ask them is, “Did you know, 10 years ago, the term ‘systemic racism’? Did you know, 10 years ago, the term ‘white privilege’?” The answers is probably no for most people. And the fact that those terms are now so pervasive is all the evidence you need that critical race theory is not only being taught, but it has now been so widely embraced by certain aspects of our society that its language is now embedded into the very mainstream ways we talk about life together.
That is exactly why people are concerned about critical race theory. And why two Black men like me and Samuel take the time out of our day to talk about it. Because it’s impacting us. You could try to gaslight us, and tell us that we are just making this up. But the truth is that this is part of our “lived experience,” as critical race theorists like to say. It is now part of our lived experience in this society. Where people look at you and presume you feel like a victim. People look at you and presume you feel oppressed. Because of what you look like. That is critical race theory in action.
TH: Just a quick follow up on that. This series of very interesting essays for the Speak For Ourselves initiative — Jamil, why did you feel it was important to bring together writers of colour in this country, plus Jonathan Kay, to offer alternate viewpoints on this issue?
JJ: Part of it was giving voice to people. As a public person who puts my ideas out there in newspapers and podcasts and videos on a regular basis, I receive a lot of messages from people of all different backgrounds, who tell me, “Hey Jamil, I agree with you. I wish I could say that.” Or, “Hey Jamil, thanks for saying what you say. People need to know that not all of us think the same way.” But they don’t feel empowered, or safe, to say those things themselves. So part of why it was important to not to do this essay series with established writers — and yes, we did have Jon Kay providing his perspective as the elder statesmen of the group — but it was important for us to show people you don’t have to be an established writer to have an opinion worth sharing on something that’s affecting your life.
Even though it might feel, as a person of colour, that you are alone if you don’t embrace this way of thinking, the truth is you’re not alone. That’s one of the main things that I try to communicate to people. One of the best ways to get that message across is to act in unity. To bring people together who don’t agree on every issue, who have different experiences, who come from different neighbourhoods and different cultural backgrounds. And say: One thing we do have in common is that we don’t think this theory, critical race theory, speaks for us. And speaks to our experience in this country. And to show people you can have that point of view and that experience and not be ostracized.
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