By Avery Benton
Trigger Warning: This article contains images and discussions which some may find offensive and triggering. Hate speech, white supremacy, and race-based oppression is discussed/shown.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) originated as a theory in the legal studies field. Professor Derrick Bell introduced the concept to refer to a framework of whiteness which dominated sociolegal institutions and disadvantaged Black and other marginalized groups. CRT was then inherited by academics attempting to apply the framework to classrooms to attempt to address inequalities amongst students of differing racial, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds.
To learn more about the breakdown and definition of CRT, check out the Intersections introductory piece here.
CRT in the educational sphere and as an addition to pedagogy has been taking the US by storm recently. There has been contention about how to introduce subjects such as racial diversity and inclusion into the classroom, with educators, parents, students and school boards often in disagreement.
CRT as a pedagogy seeks to include concepts and teaching practices on topics such as race, discrimination, inequality, and unequal histories of marginalized communities in the US. Including these conversations in the classroom has sparked hot debate amongst US school communities.
Parents have taken to protesting school boards, with a notably aggressive protest taking place in the state of Virginia against legislation to include CRT in classrooms. Signs commonly read with slogans such as “I Am Not An Oppressor” in regards to one of CRT’s main tenets: the existence of white supremacy.
CRT education seeks to teach children and older students alike that white supremacy is a part of the social structure of contemporary society and teach history regarding injustices faced by Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and other marginalized and oppressed groups in US society. Angry parents have interpreted this key tenet of CRT as being “against the white race” and stating that CRT is “racist against white people.”
CRT sparked national debate from a fledgling conservative filmmaker, Christopher Rufo. Rufo made a niche for himself and his films by documenting government racial awareness training across the US. Rufo came across the academic framework of CRT and included this in his films by framing CRT in relation to programmes outside of its purview. Rufo told the New Yorker that CRT was the “perfect villain” for national debate because the phrase “connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American.”
This imagery of CRT being a “divisive” academic theory has been brought to the table of school boards and state-level legislation by parents across multiple US states. Originally, CRT has only been taught in law school classrooms at university level, and even sometimes only at graduate school level. Bringing CRT to public school classrooms has brought contention with it: in addition to the divisive and racial connotations cited by protesters, many believe it to be too “adult”.
In Virginia, the Loudoun County School Board was faced with angry, and at times violent, parents of students at Loudoun County public schools protesting CRT in the curriculum and the proposal of a pro-trans student rights’ policy. CRT is not part of Virginia’s curriculum, and the head of the Loudoun Country Public Schools has been quoted as saying “critical race theory is not being taught in our schools, period” due to parents' outburst at the proposition that CRT could be taught to their children.
In Pennsylvania, there has been pushback against book bans. York County School Board imposed a ban on a multiplicity of books covering an array of topics. This ban was instigated by parents deeming these books “too divisive.” Many of the books were previously included in curriculums and the majority were authored by BIPOC writers. Students at Central York Country High School counter-protested and won the fight for the books to be reincluded in curriculum.
In Wisconsin, conservative politicos have been stoking fears parents have surrounding CRT in a bid for election support. The political party line is to highlight issues such as white racism and white privilege being issues for white people themselves. Wisconsin teachers are required by law to teach on topics of “race and diversity”, but independent civil society groups have pointed out that this notion has been “vilified.” Much of the protest in Wisconsin mirrors the national conversation: children are “too young” to hear about concepts CRT teaches.
In Mississippi, the very first class on CRT, Law 743, is being run on the graduate level at the University of Mississippi. In a CNN interview with a student taking this course, Republican and conservative Brittany Murphree. Murphree states that the class “has opened her eyes to new perspectives from a theoretical lens”. She also states many Republicans believe that CRT is meant to teach children that “white people are the enemy” but that the class shows this notion is not true.
In Louisiana, new social studies standards have shunned CRT. State education Superintendent Cade Brumley said Critical Race Theory “was not a component of these standards, nor would any of these standards open the door for any form of indoctrination.” Labelling CRT as the “indoctrination” of students has also been a common claim amongst anti-CRT protesters. Louisiana classrooms have been set to limit the “discussions of racism and equality.”
In 16 states “truth ban” legislation has come to pass in the halls of state governance because of outcry over CRT. These “anti-truth” laws have the potential to restrict or ban what teachers can or cannot say in the classroom in regards to US history. These policies directly infringe on educators' rights but also limit the quality of education of students across the country by denying access to truthful information and factual history.
CRT as a theory, doctrine, framework, and pedagogy is meant to foster inclusion and understanding, not division and hatred. CRT is ultimately not the “villain” in these instances. While it is a contentious and debatable issue “how young” CRT should be taught, the core value and validity of CRT does not diminish from the attacks against it.
Avery Benton is the Founder & Head Editor of the Journal of Intersectional Social Justice. She currently attends the London School of Economics & Political Science for MSc Political Sociology. She holds a BA in Ancient History from King's College London.