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What is Critical Race Theory and Why is the US Divided Over it?

The Critical Race Theory is being heavily debated in the US. We break down what the theory is and if it is relevant.

Updated
Explainers
4 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>America is divided over whether Critical Race Theory should be taught in schools. The theory which is a research study for legal scholars is being called a"political indoctrination".</p></div>
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How has racism in America shaped public policy? Liberals says the answer lies in Critical Race Theory (CRT), while conservatives vehemently disagree. For months now, Republicans are rallying to ban any discourse on Critical Race Theory and 16 states led by Republicans have either banned the study, introduced legislation, or put the CRT to review.

Former US vice president Mike Pence believes it is a "political indoctrination" set to replace "patriotic indoctrination".

These developments come at a time when President Joe Biden is signing executive orders to address racial inequity, addressing crowds on the eve of the Tulsa Massacre anniversary by expressing the need to acknowledge the country's dark past and states like Illinois moving towards inclusion of Asian American history including their persecution during the World War.

We aim to break down what CRT is and why it is being heavily debated in the United States.

What is Critical Race Theory and Why is the US Divided Over it?

  1. 1. What is the Critical Race Theory?

    The Critical Race Theory aims to study the systemic nature of racism and how institutions majorly filled by dominant groups contribute to racism. The theory spearheaded by Harvard Law Professor Derrick Bell gained momentum in the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement after the death of African American George Floyd.

    According to a paper publishing by the Miami University, "Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is a theoretical and interpretive mode that examines the appearance of race and racism across dominant cultural modes of expression. In adopting this approach, CRT scholars attempt to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they are able to represent themselves to counter prejudice".
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  2. 2. Why is the US Debating it?

    An executive order in 2020 called for an end to teaching the theory by banning federally funded diversity training which was previously banned in 1997. This Trump era order was reversed by Joe Biden in January 2021. "Executive departments and agencies (agencies) must recognise and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity," Biden's order read.

    Whiles some scholars like those from the Columbia University, a place where the CRT blossomed, support the theory based on the fact that all students should be taught "unedited history" even if they are in the wrong, some other, like those from Republican States support the Bills that prohibit presenting the state as "sexist or racist" or an individual as "inherently racist" solely because of his or her "race or sex", whether consciously or unconsciously.

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  3. 3. Should it be Taught in Schools?

    Scholars believe that the CRT is necessary to be taught to understand history better, not only as individual instances but also as systemic events. It is a "method of research for legal scholars" and it is being "misunderstood", a Columbia News piece reported.

    "In the finest tradition of Columbia Law School, our brilliant faculty were among the foundational thinkers and continue to lead the dialogue on this vital issue. Their scholarship, teaching, and advocacy have illuminated the pervasive effects of structural racism in our society and in the law. That they have persisted in the face of hostility and outright falsehoods is testament to their vision and determination."
    Gillian Lester, Professor of Law, in a Columbia news article
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  4. 4. Why Are Republicans Against it?

    Mike Pence in his 16 July speech at the Family Leadership Summit stated that the CRT teaches children to be ashamed of their skin colour by portraying the Whites as racist. The shame replaces patriotism as it teaches people to "hate our country", he said.

    Those against the Critical Race Theory believe that it will make the ones living now guilty of what someone who looked like them did in the past. A Brookings University study stated that Americans are unable to detach their individual identity as an American from the social institutions that govern them – a reason why Republicans believe Critical Race theory is something that might hurt Americans.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What is the Critical Race Theory?

The Critical Race Theory aims to study the systemic nature of racism and how institutions majorly filled by dominant groups contribute to racism. The theory spearheaded by Harvard Law Professor Derrick Bell gained momentum in the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement after the death of African American George Floyd.

According to a paper publishing by the Miami University, "Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is a theoretical and interpretive mode that examines the appearance of race and racism across dominant cultural modes of expression. In adopting this approach, CRT scholars attempt to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they are able to represent themselves to counter prejudice".

Other aspects of CRT recognise how race interacts or intersects with other kinds of identities and how racism is enduring and manifests differently over time.

While Bell in his book Faces, talks about the "permanence of racism", his CRT successors Delgado and Jean Stefancic call racism "aberrational" and serving "important purposes – both psychic and material – for the dominant group", which in America's case would be the "Whites", the Wall Street Journal reported.

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Why is the US Debating it?

An executive order in 2020 called for an end to teaching the theory by banning federally funded diversity training which was previously banned in 1997. This Trump era order was reversed by Joe Biden in January 2021. "Executive departments and agencies (agencies) must recognise and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity," Biden's order read.

Whiles some scholars like those from the Columbia University, a place where the CRT blossomed, support the theory based on the fact that all students should be taught "unedited history" even if they are in the wrong, some other, like those from Republican States support the Bills that prohibit presenting the state as "sexist or racist" or an individual as "inherently racist" solely because of his or her "race or sex", whether consciously or unconsciously.

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Should it be Taught in Schools?

Scholars believe that the CRT is necessary to be taught to understand history better, not only as individual instances but also as systemic events. It is a "method of research for legal scholars" and it is being "misunderstood", a Columbia News piece reported.

"In the finest tradition of Columbia Law School, our brilliant faculty were among the foundational thinkers and continue to lead the dialogue on this vital issue. Their scholarship, teaching, and advocacy have illuminated the pervasive effects of structural racism in our society and in the law. That they have persisted in the face of hostility and outright falsehoods is testament to their vision and determination."
Gillian Lester, Professor of Law, in a Columbia news article
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Brian Behnken, a professor from Iowa, explained to The Quint that even though Critical Race theory is a concept taught in law schools and part of the higher education, it underlines a lot of concepts he teaches his class. The theory provides a "lens and framework" to understand racism.

The idea, again, that race is socially constructed, this is important for me to teach in my classes. Or the idea that racism lives in institutions; I can’t teach about the development of segregation or the ways in which various communities of colour have been excluded and marginalised through the law or government or business or other institutions without utilising various aspects of CRT.
Prof Brain Behnken to The Quint
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While talking to The Quint about the legislations curbing the teaching of the theory, Prof Benhken claims the arguments from the right are "erroneous and untrue" and are being used by politicians "to manufacture a reactionary response from their constituents, so it is a political exercise, not one grounded in the tenets of CRT," he added.

Iowa is one such state with a legislation formally signed by the Governor targeting the CRT.

The response to the supposed threat of CRT has thus far been some truly horrible legislation and a general acquiescence from many others in positions of leadership to this legislation (for example, cancelling classes or probing educators to determine their political affiliation and the like). I would suggest that these various responses are not based in reality (because the threat posed by CRT is not based in reality), scapegoat educators who are trying to do a good job in the classroom, and are un-American.
Brian Behnken to The Quint.
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Why Are Republicans Against it?

Mike Pence in his 16 July speech at the Family Leadership Summit stated that the CRT teaches children to be ashamed of their skin colour by portraying the Whites as racist. The shame replaces patriotism as it teaches people to "hate our country", he said.

Those against the Critical Race Theory believe that it will make the ones living now guilty of what someone who looked like them did in the past. A Brookings University study stated that Americans are unable to detach their individual identity as an American from the social institutions that govern them – a reason why Republicans believe Critical Race theory is something that might hurt Americans.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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