Much confusion surrounds the meaning of Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT is new to many people I have talked with recently and me. But we all concluded that although the acronym and phrase might be new to some, this subject was debated in history books and courts for longer than a century before the Jim Crow Laws, which can be an excellent example for CRT teaching.
Last year, Thornton Fractional School District 215, whose school board was 86 percent white at the time, boldly changed its hiring policies and system. The school board is now 29 percent white. These changes occurred after much discussion and public communication from community stakeholders, including myself. The changes were made to hiring and education policies embedded with disparities for minorities. Besides removing the “Rebel” name associated with the Confederate soldier mascot, the school system once considered 99.9 percent white is now about 90 percent minority, received pushback from fans of the Rebel symbol.
I recall reading literature by Frank Fetters, who attended Thornton Fractional High School in Calumet City in 1958. In his writing, Fetters said there were only five African-American students: Ruby and Sonny Stimich, the Walker brothers, and Ray Stuckey. When he attended TF South in Lansing the year it opened, there were none.
He also recalled being a curriculum coordinator for the Black Education Program at Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s. The curriculum included information that would be classified as CRT today, and yes, he said, “Much of those attempts to foster racial harmony and understanding have been scaled back since then.” He also believes the future of the USA must rely on racial and ethnic diversity and that as it is constituted, Lansing is an excellent example of a community moving forward to embrace all it can be.
CRT is one concept that has piqued the interest of many people in public discourse, especially in K–12. Part of this is the efforts made by several legislatures now debating bills meant to halt CRT in classrooms. That Fox News mentioned CRT about 1,300 times within four months is strong proof of its increased popularity. CRT is now a bogeyman for those unprepared to acknowledge not just the racist theory of the US but also how it affects our lives.
The concept of CRT started in the 1970s when legal scholars and activists attempted to identify how the victories achieved during the civil-rights era became stagnant and were rolled back. In the early 1980s, Derrick Bell walked away from his position at Harvard because he did not support the perceived discriminatory practices in the institution. Students of color at Harvard also protested when they observed the university’s lack of racial diversity in the curriculum, faculty, and students. The protesters’ failure to accomplish their goal through the protest compelled some such as Kimberlé Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda to develop an alternative course using Bell’s Race, Racism, and American Law as the core text.
What is Critical Race Theory? In simple terms, we can see CRT as a social science theory and tool that assists us in discovering more about our world. Those who support CRT believe that the theory does not attribute racism to all whites as groups of people or individuals. Instead, the theory states that various social institutions in the US (such as the criminal justice system, housing, education, healthcare, and the labor market) are laced with racism.
We can find racism in laws, procedures, and regulations that lead to differential results by race. Sociologists and scholars have long discovered that racism exists even in the absence of racists. Scholars and activists interested in CRT are not implying that we should blame white individuals for past events. Instead, they think white individuals must act on several ways racism affects our lives. Any policy established to stamp out this crucial national conversation impedes the realization of an equitable democracy.
Why ban Critical Race Theory? The position of some critics regarding CRT is that it fosters discrimination against whites while attempting to achieve equity. But most debates on CRT do not focus on academic texts; instead, they focus on the fear critics harbor that the theory will expose students (primarily white students) to certain ideas that, in their opinion, are damaging and self-demoralizing. Those who support the ban on CRT often cite the famous proclamation of Martin Luther King Jr. that we should not view an individual by their skin color but by the content of their character. But they do not also acknowledge the context of the quote and what it means.
Some Republican-led state legislatures and communities adopted an approach that will eventually roll back racial progress made in various aspects of our life, especially in voting rights and police reform locally and nationally. This trend is not the best for our children, and as sociologist Victor Ray explained, enacting laws that will outlaw CRT is strong proof that racism is an aspect of the law.
The truth about our history should be told no matter your race, gender, or sexuality. This CRT can help fix violence plaguing Chicago and other locations in the US, including the minority education and healthcare disparities discussed at the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Therefore, critics of CRT should refrain from saying, “CRT is trying to fix something not broken.” There is always room for improvement that will benefit everyone, and CRT is just another tool that should not be feared.
- Crenshaw, Kimberlé, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller, and Kendall Thomas, eds. Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement. New York: The New Press. 1996.
- Gottesman, Isaac. “Critical Race Theory and Legal Studies.” In The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race. New York: Taylor & Francis. 2016.
- Ray, Rashawn and Alexandra Gibbons. “Why Are States Banning Critical Race Theory?” Brookings. July 2021. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2021/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory/.
- Redstone, Ilana. “A Straightforward Primer on Critical Race Theory (and Why It Matters).” Forbes. July 18, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/ilanaredstone/2021/07/18/a-straightforward-primer-on-critical-race-theory-and-why-it-matters/.
- Sawchuk, Stephen. “What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?” EducationWeek. May 18, 2021. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-is-it-under-attack/2021/05
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