Sunday, September 25, 2022

EXPLANATOR: So much ado, but what is critical race theory?

RELEI, North Carolina (AP) – This has become a major problem in the Virginia governor’s race. Former President Donald Trump opposed this. Republicans in the US Senate passed a resolution condemning any requirement that teachers be trained in it. And several Republican-controlled states have applied this in legislation restricting the teaching of race in public schools.

A concept known as Critical Race Theory is the GOP’s new lightning rod. But what exactly?

The term seemed to pop up in government offices and at political rallies out of nowhere. Over the past year, it has gone from a little-known academic debate on the left to a political rallying cry on the right.

However, even those who condemn or try to ban critical theory of race in schools often fail to define what it is. It is difficult to find real-life examples of teaching students its principles.


Critical Race Theory is a way of looking at American history through the lens of racism. Scientists developed it in the 1970s and 1980s in response to what they saw as a lack of racial progress under the civil rights law of the 1960s.

It is based on the idea that racism is systemic in national institutions and that they act to maintain white dominance in society.

The creators of the theory argue that the United States was based on the theft of land and labor and that federal law preserved unequal treatment of people on the basis of race. Proponents also believe that race was invented culturally, not biologically.

Kimberly Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Political Forum, a think tank for social justice based in New York, was one of its early supporters. Initially, she said, it was “just to tell a fuller story about who we are.”

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There is little evidence that critical race theory itself is being taught to students in K-12 public schools, although some central ideas, such as the lingering effects of slavery, have been accounted for. In Greenwich, Connecticut, some high school students were asked a white-bias survey that parents saw as part of the theory.

Republicans in North Carolina cite the Wake County public school system as an example, saying that teachers participated in advanced training in critical race theory. District education officials canceled a future study session as soon as it was discovered, but insist the theory is not part of the school curriculum.

“Critical race theory is not something we teach students,” said Lisa Luten, a school system spokeswoman. “It’s more of an academic theory about race that adults use to discuss the context of their environment.”

During his campaign for Governor of Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin announced that he would ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools in the state.


Many Republicans view the concepts behind critical racial theory as an attempt to rewrite American history and convince white people that they are inherently racist and should feel guilty about their advantages.

But this theory has also become a kind of universal phrase for describing racial concepts that some conservatives consider undesirable, such as white privilege, systemic inequality, and innate bias.


Republicans often cite Project 1619 as a cause for concern. The New York Times initiative, published in 2019, aims to flesh out the country’s history more fully by placing slavery at the center of America’s founding.

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Critical race theory went mainstream last year when then President Trump took aim at it and Project 1619 during a White House event celebrating the country’s history. He called both “a crusade against American history” and “an ideological poison that … will destroy our country.”


To date, many Republican-led states have enacted laws or other measures to restrict the teaching of race and racism in schools.

Teacher unions, educators and community organizations fear that the restrictions will whitewash American history, downplaying past injustices that still play today. They also fear that class discussions will be held back.

Leading academic critics of racial theory view the GOP measures as intercepting nationwide talk of racial inequality, which gained traction after the assassination of George Floyd by a white policeman in Minnesota.

Some say the way Republicans describe it is unrecognizable to them. Cheryl Harris, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, who teaches a course on the topic, said critical racial theory teaches hatred of white people and is meant to perpetuate divisions in American society – it’s a myth. Instead, she said she believes the proposals that limit how racism can be discussed in class have a clear political goal: “to ensure a Republican victory in 2022.”


Anderson is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that directs journalists to local newsrooms to cover hidden issues. Follow Anderson on Twitter at Associated Press author Michael Melia of Hartford, Connecticut contributed to this report.

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