Critical Race Theory

Published March 22, 2022

How has Critical Race Theory evolved since the post-civil rights era?

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a framework within the United States coined during the post-civil rights era. Today, CRT has become a buzzword in the political sphere, but it is technically defined as an academic and legal examination of systemic racism. Proponents of the CRT movement include civil rights activists such as Kimberlé Crenshaw, who drew on ideas from Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, and other key figures within the Black Power movement. Progressive black scholars continue to lobby for the inclusion of this cross-discipline informal education systems. Their goal is to educate youth and communities of all races on how social institutions perpetuate and sustain racism in the United States.

CRT has its opponents too. Representative Bob Good from Virginia's Fifth Congressional District is addressing the concerns of his constituents. Good introduced the Defending Students' Civil Rights Act of 2021 in September of last year. He explained that "Critical Race Theory teaches children that their level of success and achievements in life is determined by the color of their skin," further asserting that the subject is historically inaccurate and immoral. If passed, Good's bill, H. R. 5398, "will amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make using critical race theory or critical race pedagogy in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance a violation of such Act."

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination based on race, color, and other protected classes. Good believes that CRT violates this act, contributing to racial tensions and further dividing American culture by fixating on race and color. Good also suggests that CRT disempowers parents in their children's education, tackling topics they should address. The passage of H. R. 5398 makes teaching CRT in public education systems punishable by law. Teachers have established their opposition towards H. R. 5398 and other state measures of similar intent. Over eight thousand teachers and educators across the United States have signed a petition, pledging to teach CRT regardless of its legality in their state.

Due to its controversy and novelty, theories on the long-term effects of CRT vary among parents, educators, and students. Research from Nneka Logan, an associate professor at Virginia Tech, suggests that CRT pushes for a stronger emphasis on corporate responsibility. Welcoming a workforce of CRT-educated individuals brings insight to organizational challenges, such as institutional racism, employee race relations, and the execution of diversity and inclusion initiatives. Businesses that invest in diverse teams experience an average of 11.1 percent in revenue growth, which is 3 percent more than companies with significant racial gaps. CRT principles aim to shape younger generations into more open-minded, culturally sensitive, and progressive individuals which are consistent employee traits within innovative and lucrative companies.

On the other hand, some share the opinion of Ilana Redstone, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois. Redstone suggests that CRT focuses too heavily on identity politics and the oppressive dynamics of the past rather than on fostering healthy workplace relationships. Industry professionals also argue that CRT is counterproductive, wasting time and resources, and inviting public backlash to implement mandatory training.  

As of February 1, 2022, thirty-six states have tried to restrict education on race and racism in the classroom. On a federal level, multiple pieces of legislation were introduced in the past year that advocated against adopting a more progressive curriculum. In August 2021, Representative Madison Cawthorn introduced the Protect Equality and Civics Education Act prohibiting federal funding that promotes divisive concepts, including CRT. The Stop CRT Act, introduced in May 2021, sought to entirely defund CRT and reimplement former President Donald Trump's executive order that outlawed race or sex scapegoating and stereotyping. During his term, President Joe Biden has taken a different stance, repealing the order to show support for race education programs, such as the 1619 Project led by the New York Times. This project "reframes the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contribution of black Americans at the center of the nation's narrative." In a proposal from April 2021, the Department of Education planned to prioritize the development of grants for American History and Civics Education programs that follow the efforts of the 1619 Project and the words of anti-racist activists such as Ibram X. Kendi. The Biden Administration allocated $5.3 million in federal funding to support such teaching approaches.

With various CRT-related projects, bills, and grants moving into 2022, this topic remains a high-profile issue. To learn more about CRT and its breadth of knowledge, consider reading Kimberlé Crenshaw's book or her work published under the University of Chicago Legal Forum. To stay updated on the progress of the Defending Students' Civil Rights Act of 2022, refer to its bill status. Finally, to read more about the 1619 Project or the work of Ibram X. Kendi, check out their respective websites.