What is Critical Race Theory, and Why Should You Care About It?
Current Events
Jan 31, 2022
Image source: Juan Figueroa of Dallas Morning News, Twitter
Since September 2020, when then-President Trump included Critical Race Theory (CRT) in an executive order that excluded diversity and inclusion training from federal contracts, politicians and pundits have maligned CRT, disseminating misinformation and labeling it as divisive. Subsequently, since January 2021, state lawmakers and governors across the country have introduced and passed bills and state executive orders banning CRT in K-12 school systems.
To date, 14 states have banned teaching CRT in grades K-12, and 17 states have proposed bills or have ones moving through state legislatures that will prohibit educators from using CRT or engaging in “divisive” discussions about racism, patriarchy or social justice. Your state may be one of them.
The current firestorm of anti-CRT legislation has many people wondering what exactly is Critical Race Theory? And, why are some adults so bent on preventing students from learning about this country's racial history? I’ve put together this guide to help you cull fact from fiction so you can be informed about what’s happening in your state and your child’s school district.
What is Critical Race Theory?
Originating from legal scholars in the mid-1970s, CRT is a critical framework used to identify racial systems embedded in our society and their social, institutional and interpersonal impact. It expanded into other disciplines of higher education, providing a critical lens and method to analyze the effects of structural racism in our society and its continual influence on the individual.
At its basis, CRT remains a practice of interrogation without a static definition. In her article, “A Lesson on Critical Race Theory,” Associate Law Professor at Georgetown University Law Center Janel George explains that CRT is an “evolving and malleable practice” that “critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers” and “recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past.”
CRT resists prevailing notions that the legacy of oppression and second-class citizenship imposed on Black Americans, Native Americans and other People of Color are things of the past, revealing ways they remain enmeshed in our country’s social, political and economic systems.
Although there is no stagnant definition for CRT, the analytical practice contains five tenets that people across disciplines may use to examine the realities of racism and marginalized groups.
It’s not about deliberately making white people feel bad about history; these conversations must be had and minority narratives understood. Nothing has ever been gained by avoiding that which is uncomfortable and/or difficult; it’s an important part of our children’s education to understand the world around them.
1. Counter-Storytelling is when members of marginalized groups define their narratives and voices through chronicles, poetry and prose, allowing the recognition of the counter-reality experienced by subordinate groups in contrast to those in power.
2. The Permanence of Racism involves recognizing the persistent and permanent existence of racism in the U.S. and the discrimination that People of Color continue to experience that stems from systemic, institutional and individual forms of racism.
3. Whiteness as Property, wherein the ownership of white identity provides tangible social, legal (i.e., human rights, liberties, powers, and immunities) and economic benefits that are valued and guarded by those benefiting from the identity like they would any possession.
4. Interest Convergence recognizes that members of the majority will only support the interests of the minority that align with theirs.
5. The Critique of Liberalism examines how ideas like colorblindness, the neutrality of the law, equal opportunity and the idea that racism is perpetuated by a “few bad apples” contribute to social inequity by allowing people to ignore racism and how firmly ingrained it is in our society.
As a tool in education, CRT allows a critical perspective on race, its causes and consequences. CRT also affords opportunities to highlight the dynamics of power and privilege in schools as well as the chance for the empowerment of students through validating their social and cultural realities in the classroom.
My Two Cents on Why CRT Should be Taught (and Learned)
I first encountered CRT while working on my master’s certificate in women and gender studies, where I used it as an analytical tool to assess the impact of race on faith and gender in American society and Muslim culture. I was able to shed a lens on racial and gender disparities in the culture anti-ethical to Islamic teachings about race and gender equity.
I first found the kerfuffle about CRT laughable because of my familiarity with CRT and its potential application to empower students of color. However, with the vilification of it and addressing issues of white supremacy and racism, I started to see it as an initiative to mute conversations about the narratives and realities of minority Americans and protect the national narrative that frames whiteness as normative and protects its members’ fragility by maintaining their racial ignorance.
It’s not about deliberately making white people feel bad about history; these conversations must be had and minority narratives understood. Nothing has ever been gained by avoiding that which is uncomfortable and/or difficult; it’s an important part of our children’s education to understand the world around them.
The current crusade against CRT is another way to safeguard the nation’s racist underpinnings and uphold the supremacy that values whiteness to the detriment of anyone outside its ever-changing racial borders.
Tamping down on essential learning that may offer students to uncover the origins of what they and others experience hinders the nation’s progress to a truly pluralistic society with social equity and one that values all of its members.
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