A brief overview of Critical Race Theory from various viewpoints.
The term “Critical Race Theory” was coined by Columbia Law Professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. It involves analyzing and communicating how institutions have structurally reinforced racial disparities and focused on racism as a product of society instead of a biological component of individuals. As Crenshaw concisely states, it is “simply about telling a more complete story of who we are.”
Critical race theorists acknowledge “the stark racial disparities that have persisted in the United States despite decades of civil rights reforms, and they raise structural questions about how racist hierarchies are enforced, even among people with good intentions.”
Following the progressive Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, President Donald Trump released a memo warning against Critical Race Theory (CRT), banning any education that suggested the United States was fundamentally racist (President Joe Biden has since removed this executive order). President Trump’s stance on the issue increased the popularity of CRT and the political discourse surrounding it. Now, it’s become a divisive, politicized term and idea.
Why Some Support CRT
Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings argues that American history is one that includes “both triumph and defeat,” along with “both valor and, in some cases, shame.” She emphasizes the importance of teaching history accurately instead of reinforcing American Exceptionalism. For example, even after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that banned racial discrimination in voting, racial minorities still face voter suppression due to factors such as gerrymandering. CRT would teach how these structural barriers in the election system allow racial discrimination to continue. It explains racial discrimination as an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed via structural change, instead of a problem that has already been fixed historically and has no residual impacts.
Additionally, Professor Ladson-Billings asserts, as a researcher of CRT, that the theory is too complicated to be taught in K-12 or even in undergraduate education. She explains that the discussion of the Black perspective or post-slavery racism is not CRT—CRT is simply a theory that offers an explanation for inequality, as feminist theory and Marx’s theories do. Therefore, the threat of CRT is completely fabricated, as it is not even relevant to schools, only to those particularly interested in learning it in higher education.
Why Some Are Against CRT
Republicans often refer to a 2019 New York Times initiative titled the 1619 Project, which attempts to retell American history by centering the country’s founding around slavery. As the Associated Press explains, they fear viewing America through this lens will foster division and hate towards white people.
As a response to these conservative objectors of CRT, certain states have introduced legislation that penalizes teachers if they make their students feel “discomfort, guilt, or anguish” based on their race or sex. Consequently, some school teachers feel uncomfortable or underprepared to accurately teach complex and painful topics of American history (such as slavery) without upsetting students or facing repercussions.
Those against the concept of CRT seem to be misunderstanding it entirely. Although the notion of CRT encourages accurate depictions of history from varied perspectives, teaching structural racism does not equate to learning Critical Race Theory. Furthermore, the fear of division is invalid, as the original idea of CRT revolves around amending the entire American system, not villainizing particular individuals.
I believe the threat of CRT has been immensely overblown, although it is inherently harmless. Therefore, I have no objections to the use of this theory and the idea itself. All theories that attempt to explain inequalities have their defenders and objectors, but this debate should be encouraged, rather than used as a tool to censor the conversation as a whole. Doing so improves underlying ideas, spurring innovation. As our democracy is developed through debates, CRT should be allowed to be researched, discussed, taught, and amended as well.
CRT is not an excuse to censor minority perspectives, invalidate protests, or villainize the Democratic Party. Instead, it is a vital tool in dismantling racism prevalent in our everyday lives by providing an alternate way of thinking about race. Understanding a more nuanced history will transform how we see each other and ourselves.