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ASPA Pandemic Task Force Presents Exploring COVID-19 Inequities Among Black and Latinx Populations in the United States: CRT Perspectives

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Vanessa Lopez-Littleton
November 14, 2021

The ASPA Pandemic Task Force hosted a webinar in late September to address the necessity of using critical race theory (CRT) to explore the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black and Latinx communities. The panel brought together public intellectuals from public administration, public health and ethnic studies disciplines to address the necessity of integrating CRT into the discipline and practice of public administration. The following are lasting thoughts shared by each of the participants.

Julia Curry, PhD, San Jose State University

CRT evolved during the post-civil rights era (mid-1970s) by legal scholars who sought to develop a theoretical framework through which to examine the entrenchment of inequities experienced by people of color in their interactions with the criminal justice system. Under the supposition that racism is normal, not aberrational, CRT scholars rejected the notion that policies could be colorblind or race-neutral. They theorized that the entrenched inequities experienced by people of color were related to structural racism, a system of oppression. They theorized that policies and laws in the United States were undergirded by white racial framing, a practice that far too often benefits white people at the expense of people of color.

CRT is a powerful lens through which to examine and understand how society operates, particularly policies and practices that yield inequities. The knowledge and understanding that yields from CRT creates a lens through which to view how the artful use of institutionalized rules and practices by those in positions of power and authority contributes to the differential outcomes experienced by non-white (dominant) groups. When we examine policies and practices through a CRT frame, we find that people have agency, intelligence, character and expertise. We also realize that these folks are conscious of how they experience inequality, discrimination and ultimately injustice.

As scholars, these inequalities are stamped in our beings (bodies) as both members of communities of color and as race/ethnic scholars. CRT is our consciousness and our power; it helps us to explain our realities through an examination of systemic and institutionalized rules, practices and processes and to recast the lens away from individual blame to societal responsibility. Racism thrives when it is carried out by people who are uncritical of the policies, rules and behaviors that reinforce inequities based on race by taking these practices for granted as normative and status quo. As such, CRT is a necessary tool for dissecting racism and exploring the mechanisms by which it operates.

Elsa Jimenez, MPH, Director, Monterey County Health Department

Systematic and intentional segregation of communities contributes to the poorer health, social and educational outcomes experienced by large sectors of Black and Latinx communities. Our recent experience with the COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the vulnerability of communities of color. In order to reverse these trends, we must dismantle policies and systems using evidence-based approaches. We must also recognize that we perpetuate whiteness when we present research findings in which we compare Black and Latinx rates to white rates. We must intentionally move away from this practice and re-center what we consider the standard by which everyone else is judged.

Jason Rivera, PhD, SUNY Buffalo State

CRT is about understanding the experiences of our communities as a byproduct of racialized legal and institutional practices in pursuit of correcting social dynamics to attain a more socially equitable future. CRT is not about blaming or making “the other” feel bad about past racist practices, or even the continued actions of people today. Instead, CRT is about using a lens through which to interpret peoples’/communities’ experiences so that we can educate others on the fact that our respective communities’ social vulnerability is due to systemic and social arrangements that were designed to have our communities in a perpetual state of vulnerability.

James Wright, PhD, Florida State University

The lack of attention around CRT within policies creates inequities that manifest within organizations irrespective of the people we employ within these institutions. CRT affords us the ability to legitimize the lived experience of people of color that operate in predominantly white spaces. Moreover, this changes the starting point for understanding organizational and institutional outcomes by viewing them through non-white eyes

Vanessa Lopez-Littleton, PhD, RN, California State University, Monterey Bay

Fearing and rejecting CRT will not stop scholars, intellectuals, activists, and others from exploring the realities of those who continually experience negative outcomes associated with public systems and policies. In fact, we, as public intellectuals, have a responsibility to use our platforms and our power to fight for the survival of CRT (in higher education) and to advance CRT in the discipline of public administration. As public sector professionals are responsible for implementing public policies, they require a deep awareness and understanding of a broad cross section of counternarratives to broaden and shape their worldview. This is not only applicable to race, but also to any social identity that yields disparate outcomes.


Author: Vanessa Lopez-Littleton, Ph.D., RN, is an Associate Professor at California State University, Monterey Bay and Chair of the Health, Human Services, and Public Policy Department. Her research interests include social determinants of health, racial equity, and organizational behavior. She may be reached at [email protected], DrVLoLil.Com or @DrVLoLil

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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