Critical Race Theory (CRT), coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, has been circulating the media in the recent months. This topic is especially present in regard to its introduction in public education in the United States. Republican lawmakers have made it their new political dog whistle (buzzword) to incite fear into their base, calling the theory marxist and just as racist as “the klansmen in white sheets.” Are these claims vaid? Is teaching CRT to children really a bad idea?
Critical race theory (CRT), as defined by Britannica, is an “intellectual movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour.” Supporters of Critical Race Theory, including Crenshaw herself, believe that CRT is a crucial lens to examine our nation’s history through in order to properly deconstruct white supremacy and its institutions.
Why is Critical Race Theory being discussed so much recently?
In September 2020, former president Donald Trump signed an executive order (E.O. 13950), now revoked by President Biden, to exclude diversity and inclusion training that could be interpreted as containing “divisive concepts,” “race or sex stereotyping,” or “race or sex scapegoting.” Critical Race Theory, according to many, falls under the “divisive concept” umbrella. In response, Kimberlé Crenshaw launched the #TruthBeTold campaign to inform people about the dangers of this executive order, which brought more attention to the theory.
The recent legislation comes in response to a push for critical race theory to be taught in workplaces and public schools. Supporters look to studies that analyze how policies and practices in K-12 education impact attitudes about race. The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, Mutuma Ruteere, in his briefing to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council states, “Education has a central role in creating new values and attitudes and provides us with important tools for addressing deep-rooted discrimination and the legacy of historical injustices.” A popular tweet circulating supporting spaces goes as follows: “If Black children are old enough to experience racism, other children are old enough to learn about racism and how to be an antiracist.”
However, opposers of critical race theory believe it to be a racist ideology. They point to the achievements of many well known African Americans, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, and to court cases that overturned explicitly racist legislation in order to highlight equality within the justice system Because of this progress, they believe CRT to be regressive and counterproductive. In a legally binding Attorney General Opinion (AGO), Austin Knudsen, Montana’s Attorney General, called critical race theory and antiracism training “discriminatory” and illegal “in many instances.”
What are lawmakers saying about Critical Race Theory?
Recently, lawmakers from several different states have proposed, signed, and withdrawn legislation in a mission to prevent teaching students about Critical Race Theory in their classrooms. Below is a map identifying where different states are in passing legislation on CRT:
The legislation coming out of these states can be quite unique in its wording and the different methods they are using to limit Critical Race Theory discussion. For example, in many states the legislation seeks to put limitations on how much teacher’s can reference the 1619 Project. The 1619 project, initiated by the New York Times, is a long-form journalism project that argues that the beginning of slavery in the United States marks the true beginning of our country, and it won The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize. However, states such as Illinois, New York, New Jersey, and Washington D.C. have been welcoming of this framework.
On June 24, Texas Senator Ted Cruz introduced the Ensuring Non-Discrimination by Defunding Critical Race Theory Act or the END CRT Act, which seeks to “restrict executive agencies from acting in contravention of Executive Order 13950, and for other purposes.” In this bill, Senator Cruz claims that “By teaching that certain individuals, by virtue of inherent characteristics, are inherently flawed, critical race theory contradicts the basic principle upon which the United States was founded that all men and women are created equal.”
An objective common among republican lawmakers is to defund the teaching of CRT. Kevin McCarthy, Republican Leader and Representative of California’s 23rd District of the House of Representatives, tweeted that “Critical Race Theory is wrong. It shouldn't be taught in schools. And it shouldn't be funded by the government.” This is a specific call-to-action in many of the bills that have been proposed in recent months.
What are the effects of anti-CRT legislation?
School curriculums are incredibly influential for students, as they provide frameworks for thinking critically and analyzing the world around us. This is important to think about especially with regard to history because we are learning about sensitive subjects that typically involve demographic groups.
Teaching Critical Race Theory, in schools and at work, is incredibly important for creating a basic understanding of white supremacy and its history in the United States. If people remain ignorant to its negative, persisting influences, nothing will change.