Bringing Sexy Back: The ‘Critilicious’ and Theoretical Framing

There’s a new wave in scholarship or perhaps it’s the way we have always operated. Nevertheless, it seems like we, some scholars, are looking for the next “really cool” theoretical framework. Sort of like the newest dance craze or hot new trendy outfit, everyone’s “doing it or wearing it.”

Now this trendiness has come to the academy. It has become cache, cute—or “sexy”—to use certain theoretical frameworks (a good colleague used this term during one of our writing camps). Yes, theory is the new sexy or at least it is becoming sexylicious to use particular theories. CRT (critical race theory) is the new sexy. It is the new little black dress, fishnet, black panty hose, smoking jacket.

This is not the first time. Many theories have been popular in the past, but CRT is more than a trend; it is sexy. It is CRTitilicious. If you refer to yourself as a CRT, you may begin to feel trendy—very jazzy—sexy, and don’t forget—publishable! It works sort of like a warped ideological interest convergence works. Not only can we apply the framework of interest convergence to law, it can be applicable to almost anything in the land of the sexy. Now, there have been some trendy sorts of framework in days gone past, but we haven’t seen quite a response to CRT since the sexiness of Marxist theory. CRT like Marxist theory is dark, radical and seems to invoke an untamed esprit de corps.  It is mysterious, taboo, radical. And—we all know that being radical is cool … again.

Similar to a famous pop singer’s crooning proclamation that he’s bringing sexy back (most of us never realized it had ever left), so is CRT. I can almost hear the hypnotic and catchy hook in the background, fingers popping complete with slithering -A-town like wannabe movements that have been magnificently co-opted. CRT, too, is bringing the sexy back, and everyone is hopping on that publication and presentation gravy train. Who needs to be authentic or understand the lived experience when you can just conveniently co-opt the work—the style—of the new sexy. 

Ahhh, I can just hear the interest of convergence playing the hook in the background.   However, much like the faux Critilicious sensation that one gets from calling oneself a CRiT, something’s missing, sort of like that crooner who falls flat mimicking a paradigmatic “groove” that may be cool, but his somewhat awkward footwork and jerky bodily moves don’t quite translate the lived experiences of the co-opted. In theory, no pun intended, they work the same. In other words, just as co-opting one’s musical work makes money, co-opting theory gets folks published, because both are oh so cool—so sexy.

Being “Crit” has become so cool that you only have to be a little vested in the framework. For instance, write 25 pages of text and use one paragraph of CRT—that’s good enough. It’s called a teaser. Simply add a paragraph that explains the four tenets lifted directly from Bell or Delgado and Stefancic. Sprinkle in some of the “names” (we all know them) and you are really sexy. Don’t have to grow a beard or smoke a cigarette; the new vice is to claim that you have suffered from a little racial battle fatigue—a disease in which everyone seems to be suffering from (RBF has become sexy, too!). Sorry, I don’t think Will Smith intended it to refer to the high one receives from drinking coffee that was too strong from the local trendy coffee bar, soon to go out of business, because they are losing their sexyliciousness. I’m just sayin’ (citing the sexy 20 something’s lingo—at least I am acknowledging that it’s not my sexy). My point? The Critilicious craze is getting criticulous. CRT is definitely not an appropriate framework for some folks and some constructs.

Take for instance those who may want to move up the ranks and the only mentorship model they know is to include one of the supposed great scholars as second author.  They can bring sexy back by riding the coattail to the right place. It can be a great way to move a research agenda in a different direction and into spaces where it’s never been seen. Who needs to co-opt theory when you can just sell it down the river? But, who cares really? CRT has become sexilicious, folks become hypnotized from the hype. Plus, no one will check its use, or whether they are interpreting the work through a CRT lens. Most are blinded by the sexiness.

Again, this is not the first time that we have seen the sexynization of theories. For instance, Claude Steele’s stereotype threat is sexy. Everyone and their momma, daddy, big auntie and Papa claim to be threatened in some form or fashion. His theoretical frame has been used so much, and misinterpreted, that we forget that Claude and Aaronson did the original MEANINGFUL work. Folks have pimped the concept so much that sometimes it starts looking like a cheap two dollar academic gardening tool.

There are others. Multiculturalism sexy. Diversity sexy. Marxism sexy. What exactly does this sexinization of theory mean for the academy—where we thrive and strive on creativity? Are some of us that paper thin that we use theory to move us into certain uncharted spaces? Actually, I am not sure, but I do have to question the work and ask why? But really, why use a particular framework when it makes little sense other than it has become little more than academic “eye candy” for the user. I am not sure. Oh well, move over little black dress,  and The Times fishnet black panty hose, add another pair of gold-heeled, 5 inch, black Louboutins and make room for the new sexy—my CRT is too sexy for yo’ frame.

I’m just sayin’.

Dr. Robin L. Hughes teaches courses in higher education student affairs in the School of Education at Indiana University, Indianapolis.