The concept of critical race theory (CRT) has emerged as a frequent topic in national conversations, local school board meetings, and political rallying cries. Conservative groups and legislators across the country have attacked the theory.
Educators are being asked to explain the concepts of CRT and defend their use of it in the classroom. This resource is intended to help educators do that. Critical race theory is an academic concept that has existed for over 40 years. Its central idea is that race is a social construct and that racism is not just a product of personal bias and prejudice but also a result of legal frameworks and governmental policies. Legal scholars such as Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado developed critical race theory (CRT) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, proposing a legal analysis framework.
What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical race theory helps students understand race as a social construct. Instead of emphasizing equality based on individual characteristics, it examines how prejudicial attitudes, including biases and stereotypes, organize society’s power, resources, and opportunities. Educators can use this framework to help students understand what it means when one group has more success than another.
It can also teach students how to identify racism, even if the perpetrator isn’t explicitly racist. This is important because it can help them recognize how they may contribute to racist dynamics and make changes to prevent those behaviors in the future.
CRT aims to show students how racial discrimination is an organized, systemic force that affects every aspect of their lives. In higher education, the concept can be used to highlight how American society has failed to live up to the ideals outlined in Brown v. Board of Education and how laws passed to promote civil rights have had the opposite effect.
In an era when some state legislatures are attempting to silence conversations about racial justice, UCLA’s law school is leading the way. Its pioneering work in this area has helped create a national debate and shows how the theory can be used to examine forces that impact American life.
Why is Critical Race Theory Important?
The purpose of critical race theory is to teach people that racism is part of everyday life and it is everywhere, even in places you wouldn’t expect. Racism is a systemic problem that affects all people, regardless of race, and it is essential to address it to achieve equality.
Critical race theory is a framework that has proven effective in pinpointing the many ways American institutions exhibit bias toward nonwhite individuals. It is a powerful tool that should be used in schools to help students understand how their experiences are shaped by racial inequality and how they can work to overcome it.
Educators nationwide face backlash for teaching critical race theory and must reconsider what they say in their classrooms. The laws passed in some states to ban what lawmakers call “divisive concepts,” such as white privilege, equity, implicit bias, and unconscious or systemic racism, limit teachers’ ability to discuss these topics with their students.
The laws have also impacted the small decisions educators make daily, such as what books to read with their class or how to prepare for a lesson. These decisions ripple effect on the national discourse about civil rights, racial justice, and social injustice. This blog post aims to clarify critical race theory, highlight its importance in our society, and dispel the myths that fuel the movement to prohibit its use in education.
How Can I Make a Difference?
As the political climate revolves around civil rights issues, educators nationwide face pressure from elected officials to refrain from teaching specific ideas about race. In Idaho, Tennessee, North Dakota, and other states, legislation has banned the discussion of concepts like white privilege, anti-white racism, and equity. It also disallows the view that all people, regardless of their background, are racist to some extent and prohibits training about unconscious or implicit bias, discrimination, and oppression.
Critics argue that the concepts behind critical race theory are harmful because they blame white people for a system of oppression they did not create. They say CRT misrepresents how the law works and rejects the principles of constitutional democracy, including freedom of religion, free speech, and Enlightenment rationalism. They argue that CRT cynically casts aside fundamental rights that helped propel the civil rights movement and turned them into tools to oppress powerless people.
However, scholars have a different view. They say that critical race theory provides an analytical framework to analyze the role of law in platforming, enabling, and even producing racial inequality—even after a whole set of landmark civil rights laws were passed during the 1970s and ’80s. It also allows us to understand how social and economic forces shape the meanings of racial categories and that racial definitions change as societal needs evolve.