Critical race theory (CRT) has become a controversial topic in the United States, as the country wrestles with race, immigration, civil rights and civil conflict. Some states have banned its teaching in classrooms.
CRT maintains that racism is deeply embedded in U.S. policy, law and society, rather than purely individual and personal, as its opponents contend.
CRT asserts that minority groups in the U.S. — or nonwhites — are targeted and disadvantaged by policies created by public officials and lawmakers, such as an uneven distribution of public funds that impact quality of life, education, housing, employment and safety.
Opponents say the theory inappropriately applies conditions in 1700s America — when slavery was a legal, economic tool — to America in 2021. They say today’s discussion divides the nation and creates unhealthy conflict. The assertion that white people are racist simply for being white and that they enjoy a privileged status in society spurs animosity among Americans, they say.
Here is a brief look at the debate.
When was the theory introduced?
CRT was first used in academic and legal circles in the 1970s and 1980s to examine emerging identity politics — that is, a politics in which individuals identify with personal characteristics instead of a party or movement. The theory gained prominence in more recent discussions about the mix of modern American society and the strengths and weaknesses in its social fabric.
Why is CRT being revisited today?
Activists, scholars and politicians are reexamining CRT in response to an increase in hate crimes and excessive use of force by police against minorities. Immigration and changing demographics in the U.S. are key to the discussion as the country becomes increasingly diverse.
New statistics released Thursday by the Census Bureau show an increase in diversity that could have wide political ramifications.
By 2045, the U.S. is likely to become “minority white,” the Brookings Institution projected in 2018, meaning 49.7% of the population will be white. The remaining population will be 24.6% Hispanic, 13.1% Black, 7.9% Asian and 3.8% multiracial.
And according to the FBI, hate crimes in the United States have risen to their highest level in more than a decade — an increase of 9.7% since 2009.
How is CRT being addressed in education?
As of June, 26 states have limited some or all parts of critical race theory teachings in K-12 public schools. Eight states — Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee — have passed bills into law.
“Critical race theory is turning Americans against one another by weaponizing what used to be the fantasies of tenured professors in dimly lit offices of the ivory tower, now transmitting it through colleges of education to teachers who carry it into the K-12 classroom,” Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, wrote in a commentary May 21.
CRT supporters say that unless schools examine racism and other social justice issues, the U.S. will not repair past transgressions such as slavery and discrimination against minorities and will continue to be in conflict.
“Black people are 3.5 times more likely than white people to be killed by police when they are not attacking or have a weapon: George Floyd,” wrote sociologist Rashawn Ray, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, in May 2020.
Ray continued: “Black teenagers are 21 times more likely than white teenagers to be killed by police: Tamir Rice and Antwon Rose. A Black person is killed every 40 hours by police: Jonathan Ferrell and Korryn Gaines. One in every 1,000 Black people are killed by police: Breonna Taylor. And, as sobering as these statistics are, they are improvements to the past.
“These statistics are the reason why from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, people are protesting, marching and rioting.”
How do educators feel about CRT in schools?
Most schools across the country do not require or urge K-12 teachers to teach critical race theory, and most say they are opposed to adding the academic approach to their course instruction, the Association of American Educators reported in June. Only 11% of teachers surveyed by the AAE said they were required to teach CRT. More than half (60.4%) of 1,136 educators surveyed said they believed the media were paying too much attention to CRT. Fewer than half of respondents (44.7%) were in favor of CRT being an option for educators.
"Critics of CRT sometimes forget that the 'T' stands for 'theory,' meaning it’s one idea about how the world works. Students can accept or reject it when it is taught,” said Anthony Fargo, First Amendment expert and associate professor at Indiana University.