Critical race theory supports that the most essential factor in solving problems is listening to people whose voices are often ignored. This approach often contradicts legislative bans on teaching concepts like white privilege and implicit bias.
Legal scholars embracing critical race theory believe that if civil rights laws alone would guarantee equality, then disparities must be caused by other factors. This perspective also stresses the importance of storytelling as a form of data.
As the civil rights movement and social and political upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s continued to shape the United States, some legal scholars sought to explain why the U.S.’s racial disparities had not yet been eliminated. These scholars were part of a larger tradition called critical legal studies (CLS).
A core tenet of CRT is that power and race are inseparable. As a result, when studying the causes of racial disparities, researchers must examine all aspects of power, including structural racism and hegemonic white supremacy.
These scholars also believe that any individual experience with oppression or privilege is unique to the combination of their identities and racial background. For example, a black woman will experience different forms of discrimination than a black man because she is a person of color. What is critical race theory recognizes that some people, whether white or nonwhite, don’t intend to be racist and can still make choices that fuel racism. This belief is central to the theory of intersectionality, which is often incorporated into CRT.
People are talking about critical race theory a lot these days. Some of these conversations are very heated and polarizing, with legislators passing laws that ban what they call “divisive concepts” like systemic racism, equity, implicit bias, or white privilege. These laws limit how teachers can discuss these issues in school and even restrict books, children’s books, or other resources that examine how race and racism affect our everyday lives.
CRT originated as a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and ’80s among lawyers. It has since informed scholarship in many fields, including education, where it has become a central approach to understanding the links between power and social inequality.
The basic tenets of CRT are that racism is fundamentally an aspect of American society, not just an aberration that can be corrected through law; that any culture constructs its reality, and in the United States, this means that white people have power over minority cultures; and that any given community has its metanarrative about its racial past that influences how it sees its current racial situation.
Social context is everything around us that shapes our behavior. It could be your family’s values or the values of your society. It can also include your experiences with specific situations.
Critical race theory is an approach to understanding and tackling racial issues developed in the 1970s and ’80s out of a field of scholarship called critical legal studies (CLS). It suggests that laws are designed to serve the self-interest of the dominant group, which in turn leads to the oppression of minority groups.
CRT scholars assume that they are outsiders within their disciplines, which allows them to bring new perspectives to discussions of inequity. They also reject the idea of colorblindness, which says everyone is treated equally regardless of their prejudicial attitudes towards other races. They believe a person’s combination of oppressed identities determines their experience with racism. This is why all researchers must be aware of their biases, as their social or cultural contexts may influence them.
The central tenets of critical race theory (CRT) challenge long-held beliefs about the nature of power and racism. One example is the view that white supremacy and racial inequality persist despite the passage of civil rights legislation. As a result, CRT scholars have a radical skepticism of the notion that civil rights legislation alone can bring equality to all.
Among the essential aspects of the approach is its use of storytelling monologues, called voices of color, to convey personal experiences of racial oppression and its emphasis on interdisciplinary research. It also rejects the notion that nonracial factors—such as income or education—fundamentally explain ostensibly racial phenomena.
Educators should not be forced to choose between culturally relevant teaching and educating students about the root causes of racism, sexism, and other systemic oppression.
A growing number of educators support, to some extent, culturally relevant teaching, an approach that seeks to affirm students’ ethnic and racial backgrounds and help them explore social inequality in the United States. But that is not the same as critical race theory (CRT).
CRT is part of a field of postmodern academic thought known as critical theory. Unlike traditional theories that explain society, critical theory seeks to critique and ultimately change it.
The goal of CRT is to address how racism and oppression are embedded in the law and legal institutions in the United States. This is done by challenging the assumption that a person’s racial identity and experiences with oppression are independent.
Several Republican-led state legislatures have sought to ban teachers from discussing or teaching CRT and the idea that the U.S. is inherently racist or that white people have privilege and shouldn’t feel guilty. Rather than helping to lift all Americans, they limit discussion and stifle dissent.