Over the past year, several states have passed laws banning Critical Race Theory (CRT). These bills mostly ban discussions, training, and orientation that teach Americans that the U.S. is inherently racist.
Legal scholars developed CRT to pinpoint how American institutions show bias against non-white individuals. Its tenets include:
What is critical race theory? Critical race theory is a way of thinking and teaching about how the law and society operate with racism, inequality, and power. It is a lens that provides a framework for understanding the impact of law on racial justice, explains how laws can be used to deepen inequality and promote racial injustice, and outlines strategies to address these problems.
Critics of CRT argue that it teaches people to blame whites for all racist acts and that America is a racist country with irredeemable roots. This is false and part of a larger effort to censor anti-racist education, limit diversity and inclusion training, ban truthful discussions about American history, and reverse progress toward racial equity in the United States.
These attacks on truthful discussion of the root causes of racial inequality in our country are not about free speech but are about advancing a particular political agenda – one that rejects the ideas of Martin Luther King Jr. that “one day, we will judge a person by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.”
While it is important to note that CRT differs from culturally relevant teaching, which seeks to affirm students’ ethnic and racial identities, it shares an intellectual rigor with other teaching approaches and frameworks, such as social justice learning, identity-based classroom instruction, and intersectionality.
As its name suggests, CRT aims to provide a critical framework for understanding the complexities of race in the United States. It addresses racial oppression by analyzing the relationship between race and societal power. It also analyzes how the law serves as a tool to maintain and deepen racial inequality while providing tools for overcoming it.
Developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s by scholars such as civil rights lawyer Derrick Bell, CRT proposes that race is a fundamental part of identity and influences one’s perceptions and experiences in society. It also posits that people must understand the complexity of these relationships and that racial disparities between groups are not necessarily a result of individual prejudice or bias.
It also asserts that different racial groups cannot speak for themselves in civil society and create a unique expression called the “voice of color.” The voice of color is a series of narratives and storytelling monologues that convey personal, racial experiences while providing counter-metanarratives to the dominant societal stories.
Despite these key principles, critics of the theory say it has a radical agenda that promotes violence and hatred against white people. This is why, according to Temple University associate professor Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, opponents of the idea have reframed its messages as divisive and confrontational.
The core idea of critical race theory (CRT) is that racism in America persists because white supremacy and racial power are embedded in American law and legal systems. As a result, many people of color do not have equal access to justice and the full privileges of civil society. CRT argues that the lingering effects of slavery and segregation have created disparities that companies, schools, and local governments must address.
CRT was developed in the 1970s and ’80s as part of a field of scholarship called critical legal studies (CLS). In particular, it grew out of postmodernism, which has a deep skepticism of ideas like universal values, objective knowledge, individual merit, and Enlightenment rationalism—all tenets that conservatives hold dear.
In CRT, scholars use a method known as intersectionality to analyze the way racism intersects with other forms of oppression, including gender, class, and sexuality. Moreover, scholars of CRT use an iterative approach that helps investigators remain attentive to equity while carrying out research, scholarship, and practice. This method encourages community engagement and self-reflection, which can enrich research processes while improving the quality of scholarly work.
CRT opponents criticize its anti-racism stance, arguing that it calls for the suppression of rights like free speech. However, these critics often need help to provide a compelling counterargument to the theory’s evidence-based social and economic inequities analysis.
The term “critical race theory” has been tossed around so much recently that it has become a buzzword. However, many people need a greater understanding of the concept. This misunderstanding has led to some schools’ confusion, threats, and book bans.
For example, some critics believe that CRT promotes group identity over individuality; focuses on privilege rather than universal, shared qualities; divides the world into oppressed and dominant groups; and calls for intolerance. Moreover, some conservatives view the theory as an effort to rewrite history by painting whites as inherently racist and highlighting slavery as central to America’s founding.
Nevertheless, CRT aims to address the root causes of injustice and supports social justice principles such as equality of opportunity, fairness, equity, and inclusion. It also promotes decolonization, which refers to moving away from colonized relationships and structures that reproduce inequalities.
Some scholars who developed the theory began by examining the relationship between power and societal inequality. The civil rights movement and the social upheaval of the 1960s influenced them. They also felt that political liberalism, emphasizing equal treatment under the law (“color blindness”), could not tackle the problem of racial inequality. In their view, liberalism often merely prolonged inequalities by relying on incremental changes or appealing to the courts for redress through constitutional challenges.