Skip to main content

Victor Ray Speaks On Critical Race Theory at SESP Equity Book Club Event

April 19, 2023

Victor Ray and Andrew SteinSociologist and author Victor Ray recently spoke to students, faculty, and staff of Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) during an extensive conversation on his latest book On Critical Race Theory: Why it Matters & Why We Should care.

Ray, whose influential scholarship places race and ethnicity at the center of important sociological questions, discussed themes from his 2022 book during an interview with SESP PhD student Andrew Stein. Prior to the event, SESP provided copies of Ray’s book to the SESP community as part of the SESP Equity Book Club Series. Two book discussions gave space for SESP community members to discuss topics from the book.

Ray’s special appearance and the community discussions around his work follow several other books the SESP community has engaged with since 2019, including SESP Dean Designate Bryan Brayboy’s Carceral ColonialismsLeigh Patel’s No Study Without Struggle; Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste; Eve L. Ewing’s Ghosts in the SchoolyardAnthony A. Jack’s The Privileged PoorBettina Love’s We Want to Do More Than Survive; and Sally Nuamah’s How Girls Achieve.

“I was preparing a lecture for my critical race theory class and saw that Trump had released an executive order banning critical race theory in the federal government,” said Ray, explaining his decision to begin writing On Critical Race Theory. Knowing that action might have implications on the class he was reaching, Ray finished his lecture and turned it into an op-ed in the Washington Post. This eventually led to conversations with Penguin Random House and the publication of his book in August of last year.

Northwestern SESP · Victor Ray on the influence of the civil rights movement and Reconstruction on critical race theory

Ray discussed how the civil rights movement and Reconstruction have both played into the narrative of critical race theory, citing their importance on the present moment. “Those two historical moments are central to the narrative of critical race theory, if you think about ideas like interest convergence that I talk about in the book,” said Ray. “And how white and Black interest coming together at certain historical periods have created openings for certain kinds of progress.”

Ray also mentioned Derek Bell’s ideas on interest convergence, highlighting how “progress for Black Americans has come about when there is equal or greater benefit to white Americans.” He pointed to the history of color-blind laws that the civil rights movement took on, but how injustices such as voter disenfranchisement persist today. Ray said he believes we are in a period of interest divergence, “in which at least some white elites see Black and Brown progress as zero sum.”

Northwestern SESP · Victor Ray on the success of social movements and how their goals shift


SESP faculty, staff, and students engaged in a Q&A segment with Ray, which covered topics from how to measure the success of movements to the reality of changing minds. “If data was going to be the key, then we would already be in the promised land,” said Ray. “There are folks that I’m just not going to reach, that’s fine. There’s lots of folks who are genuinely confused and genuinely open and that’s who I’m trying to talk to.”

Ray’s forthcoming book will expand on his theory of racialized organizations, which argues that race and racism continue to shape mainstream American organizations.