Critical race theory, a once-obscure academic concept developed more than 40 years ago, has recently emerged as a source of contentious debate nationally and has become a lightning rod topic in school board elections locally.
What is clear about most discussions about CRT, whether at the local or national level, is that the term is generally misused, mischaracterized and profoundly misunderstood. As a result, the rebranding of the term has misled the public, weaponizing the concept against the American people and creating toxicity where none should exist.
CRT is an academic and legal framework used as “a way of looking at law’s role platforming, facilitating, producing and even insulating racial inequality in our country,” as defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the law professor who helped coin the term.
It is essentially an intellectual tool used to examine systemic racism. The recent redefining of the term by right-wing conservatives has academics in the field scratching their heads, especially those who originally developed the theory.
At its core, CRT maintains that racial inequality is embedded in the U.S. legal system and culture, negatively affecting people of color in their schools, jobs, doctor’s offices, the criminal justice system and many other aspects of their lives. Essentially, CRT simply calls for the acknowledgment of the realities and horrors of slavery and its lingering impacts on our nation.
Like many other Trump-inspired conservative notions, the outcry over CRT is based on misplaced fear. Co-opted by Republicans and right-wing media, the term “critical race theory” has been amplified on cable news shows such as Fox with false proclamations that CRT is racist, anti-white and divisive. The theory is currently being falsely equated with any examination of systemic racism and used as an umbrella term to cover any conversation associated with anti-racism, especially those related to education.
In fact, CRT is not part of K-12 school curriculum or taught in most states with the loudest protests. A survey conducted by the Association of American Educators found that 96% of responding teachers indicated that their schools do not require them to teach critical race » theory. CRT is not part of K-12 Colorado Academic Standards and is not used in Durango School District 9-R.
However, these facts are inconsequential to those so fiercely claim offense. Could it be that the real fear is around teaching history truthfully, acknowledging America’s checkered past?
It almost seems the goal of CRT critics is to prevent discussion about racism in our country’s history, which may paint the U.S. as anything less than perfect.
Some of the claims made by critics of CRT is that it is anti-white, racist, divisive, Marxist and fundamentally at odds with the Christian faith. These critics allege that CRT teaches white people that they’re racist just for being white and that white people should admit their individual guilt for historical wrongs. In truth, the theory is about institutions, not individuals. CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals but to systems that maintain embedded racism.
It seems clear that any discussions of racial injustice are a personal affront to many of those who are raging against CRT. These are typically those whose race is the one maintaining power in most of our country’s institutions. Their priority is likely to preserve the mythology of America as a country of equal opportunity and unlimited freedom for all. Taking a critical view of our country’s racial history threatens this mythology and the power structures perpetuating racial injustices. The uninformed objections to CRT are not intellectual or thoughtful – they are emotional, based on a fear of disruption of the status quo.
It is one thing to mischaracterize CRT; however, it is exceedingly dangerous to propose and pass legislation based on utterly false notions. Twenty-two states have proposed legislation to limit the teaching of concepts of racial equity and white privilege under the umbrella of CRT. Most legal scholars say that these bills impinge on the right to free speech and will likely be dismissed in court. Let’s hope they are right.
To those who may claim that I am anti-American, as James Baldwin once said, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
– Claire Ninde, Durango