Everything You Ever Want To Know About Critical Race Theory (Including Two Hour Long Documentaries At The End). This Is Free Of Charge To Any Student


What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It Under Attack?

By Stephen Sawchuk — May 18, 2021  10 min read

Is “critical race theory” a way of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy, or a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people? Liberals and conservatives are in sharp disagreement.

The topic has exploded in the public arena this spring—especially in K-12, where numerous state legislatures are debating bills seeking to ban its use in the classroom.

In truth, the divides are not nearly as neat as they may seem. The events of the last decade have increased public awareness about things like housing segregation, the impacts of criminal justice policy in the 1990s, and the legacy of enslavement on Black Americans. But there is much less consensus on what the government’s role should be in righting these past wrongs. Add children and schooling into the mix and the debate becomes especially volatile.


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School boards, superintendents, even principals and teachers are already facing questions about critical race theory, and there are significant disagreements even among experts about its precise definition as well as how its tenets should inform K-12 policy and practice. This explainer is meant only as a starting point to help educators grasp core aspects of the current debate.

Just what is critical race theory anyway?

Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

The basic tenets of critical race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.

A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas.


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Today, those same patterns of discrimination live on through facially race-blind policies, like single-family zoning that prevents the building of affordable housing in advantaged, majority-white neighborhoods and, thus, stymies racial desegregation efforts.

CRT also has ties to other intellectual currents, including the work of sociologists and literary theorists who studied links between political power, social organization, and language. And its ideas have since informed other fields, like the humanities, the social sciences, and teacher education.

This academic understanding of critical race theory differs from representation in recent popular books and, especially, from its portrayal by critics—often, though not exclusively, conservative Republicans. Critics charge that the theory leads to negative dynamics, such as a focus on group identity over universal, shared traits; divides people into “oppressed” and “oppressor” groups; and urges intolerance.

Thus, there is a good deal of confusion over what CRT means, as well as its relationship to other terms, like “anti-racism” and “social justice,” with which it is often conflated.

To an extent, the term “critical race theory” is now cited as the basis of all diversity and inclusion efforts regardless of how much it’s actually informed those programs.

One conservative organization, the Heritage Foundation, recently attributed a whole host of issues to CRT, including the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, LGBTQ clubs in schools, diversity training in federal agencies and organizations, California’s recent ethnic studies model curriculum, the free-speech debate on college campuses, and alternatives to exclusionary discipline—such as the Promise program in Broward County, Fla., that some parents blame for the Parkland school shootings. “When followed to its logical conclusion, CRT is destructive and rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based,” the organization claimed.

(A good parallel here is how popular ideas of the common core learning standards grew to encompass far more than what those standards said on paper.)

Does critical race theory say all white people are racist? Isn’t that racist, too?

The theory says that racism is part of everyday life, so people—white or nonwhite—who don’t intend to be racist can nevertheless make choices that fuel racism.

Some critics claim that the theory advocates discriminating against white people in order to achieve equity. They mainly aim those accusations at theorists who advocate for policies that explicitly take race into account. (The writer Ibram X. Kendi, whose recent popular book How to Be An Antiracist suggests that discrimination that creates equity can be considered anti-racist, is often cited in this context.)

Fundamentally, though, the disagreement springs from different conceptions of racism. CRT thus puts an emphasis on outcomes, not merely on individuals’ own beliefs, and it calls on these outcomes to be examined and rectified. Among lawyers, teachers, policymakers, and the general public, there are many disagreements about how precisely to do those things, and to what extent race should be explicitly appealed to or referred to in the process.

Here’s a helpful illustration to keep in mind in understanding this complex idea. In a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court school-assignment case on whether race could be a factor in maintaining diversity in K-12 schools, Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion famously concluded: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” But during oral arguments, then-justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: “It’s very hard for me to see how you can have a racial objective but a nonracial means to get there.”

All these different ideas grow out of longstanding, tenacious intellectual debates. Critical race theory emerged out of postmodernist thought, which tends to be skeptical of the idea of universal values, objective knowledge, individual merit, Enlightenment rationalism, and liberalism—tenets that conservatives tend to hold dear.

What does any of this have to do with K-12 education?

Scholars who study critical race theory in education look at how policies and practices in K-12 education contribute to persistent racial inequalities in education, and advocate for ways to change them. Among the topics they’ve studied: racially segregated schools, the underfunding of majority-Black and Latino school districts, disproportionate disciplining of Black students, barriers to gifted programs and selective-admission high schools, and curricula that reinforce racist ideas.

Critical race theory is not a synonym for culturally relevant teaching, which emerged in the 1990s. This teaching approach seeks to affirm students’ ethnic and racial backgrounds and is intellectually rigorous. But it’s related in that one of its aims is to help students identify and critique the causes of social inequality in their own lives.

Many educators support, to one degree or another, culturally relevant teaching and other strategies to make schools feel safe and supportive for Black students and other underserved populations. (Students of color make up the majority of school-aged children.) But they don’t necessarily identify these activities as CRT-related.

As one teacher-educator put it: “The way we usually see any of this in a classroom is: ‘Have I thought about how my Black kids feel? And made a space for them, so that they can be successful?’ That is the level I think it stays at, for most teachers.” Like others interviewed for this explainer, the teacher-educator did not want to be named out of fear of online harassment.

An emerging subtext among some critics is that curricular excellence can’t coexist alongside culturally responsive teaching or anti-racist work. Their argument goes that efforts to change grading practices or make the curriculum less Eurocentric will ultimately harm Black students, or hold them to a less high standard.

As with CRT in general, its popular representation in schools has been far less nuanced. A recent poll by the advocacy group Parents Defending Education claimed some schools were teaching that “white people are inherently privileged, while Black and other people of color are inherently oppressed and victimized”; that “achieving racial justice and equality between racial groups requires discriminating against people based on their whiteness”; and that “the United States was founded on racism.”

Thus much of the current debate appears to spring not from the academic texts, but from fear among critics that students—especially white students—will be exposed to supposedly damaging or self-demoralizing ideas.

While some district officials have issued mission statements, resolutions, or spoken about changes in their policies using some of the discourse of CRT, it’s not clear to what degree educators are explicitly teaching the concepts, or even using curriculum materials or other methods that implicitly draw on them. For one thing, scholars say, much scholarship on CRT is written in academic language or published in journals not easily accessible to K-12 teachers.

What is going on with these proposals to ban critical race theory in schools?

As of mid-May, legislation purporting to outlaw CRT in schools has passed in Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee and have been proposed in various other statehouses.


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The bills are so vaguely written that it’s unclear what they will affirmatively cover.

Could a teacher who wants to talk about a factual instance of state-sponsored racism—like the establishment of Jim Crow, the series of laws that prevented Black Americans from voting or holding office and separated them from white people in public spaces—be considered in violation of these laws?

It’s also unclear whether these new bills are constitutional, or whether they impermissibly restrict free speech.

It would be extremely difficult, in any case, to police what goes on inside hundreds of thousands of classrooms. But social studies educators fear that such laws could have a chilling effect on teachers who might self-censor their own lessons out of concern for parent or administrator complaints.

As English teacher Mike Stein told Chalkbeat Tennessee about the new law: “History teachers can not adequately teach about the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. English teachers will have to avoid teaching almost any text by an African American author because many of them mention racism to various extents.”

The laws could also become a tool to attack other pieces of the curriculum, including ethnic studies and “action civics”—an approach to civics education that asks students to research local civic problems and propose solutions.

How is this related to other debates over what’s taught in the classroom amid K-12 culture wars?

The charge that schools are indoctrinating students in a harmful theory or political mindset is a longstanding one, historians note. CRT appears to be the latest salvo in this ongoing debate.

In the early and mid-20th century, the concern was about socialism or Marxism. The conservative American Legion, beginning in the 1930s, sought to rid schools of progressive-minded textbooks that encouraged students to consider economic inequality; two decades later the John Birch Society raised similar criticisms about school materials. As with CRT criticisms, the fear was that students would be somehow harmed by exposure to these ideas.

As the school-aged population became more diverse, these debates have been inflected through the lens of race and ethnic representation, including disagreements over multiculturalism and ethnic studies, the ongoing “canon wars” over which texts should make up the English curriculum, and the so-called “ebonics” debates over the status of Black vernacular English in schools.

In history, the debates have focused on the balance among patriotism and American exceptionalism, on one hand, and the country’s history of exclusion and violence towards Indigenous people and the enslavement of African Americans on the other—between its ideals and its practices. Those tensions led to the implosion of a 1994 attempt to set national history standards.

A current example that has fueled much of the recent round of CRT criticism is the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which sought to put the history and effects of enslavement—as well as Black Americans’ contributions to democratic reforms—at the center of American history.

The culture wars are always, at some level, battled out within schools, historians say.

“It’s because they’re nervous about broad social things, but they’re talking in the language of school and school curriculum,” said one historian of education. “That’s the vocabulary, but the actual grammar is anxiety about shifting social power relations.”

Stephen Sawchuk

Associate Editor,  Education Week

Stephen Sawchuk covers district leadership and management, school safety, and civics education for Education Week.


cal race theory

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Critical race theory (CRT) is an academic movement of civil-rights scholars and activists in the United States who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice.[1] Critical race theory examines social, cultural and legal issues as they relate to race and racism.[2][3]

Critical race theory originated in the mid-1970s in the writings of several American legal scholars, including Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, Kimberlé CrenshawRichard DelgadoCheryl Harris, Charles R. Lawrence III, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia J. Williams.[1] It emerged as a movement by the 1980s, reworking theories of critical legal studies (CLS) with more focus on race.[4] Both critical race theory and critical legal studies are rooted in critical theory, which argues that social problems are influenced and created more by societal structures and cultural assumptions than by individual and psychological factors.[5]

Critical race theory is loosely unified by two common themes: first, that white supremacy, with its societal or structural racism, exists and maintains power through the law;[6] and second, that transforming the relationship between law and racial power, and also achieving racial emancipation and anti-subordination more broadly, is possible.[7]

Critics of critical race theory argue that it relies on social constructionism, elevates storytelling over evidence and reason, rejects the concepts of truth and merit, and opposes liberalism.[8][9][10]



Roy L. Brooks defined critical race theory in 1994 as “a collection of critical stances against the existing legal order from a race-based point of view”.[11] Richard Delgado, a co-founder of the theory, defined it in 2017 as “a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power”.[12]


Early analyses that later consolidated into critical race theory developed in the 1970s as legal scholars, activists, and lawyers tried to understand why civil rights era victories had stalled and were being eroded.[13]

In the early 1980s, students of color at Harvard Law School organized protests regarding Harvard’s lack of racial diversity in the curriculum, among students, and in the faculty. These students supported Professor Derrick Bell, who left Harvard Law in 1980 and then became the dean at University of Oregon School of Law. During his time at Harvard, Bell had developed new courses that studied American law through a racial lens. Harvard students of color wanted faculty of color to teach the new courses in his absence.[14] Bell resigned his position at Harvard because of what he viewed as the university’s discriminatory practices.[15]

However, the university ignored student requests, responding that no sufficiently qualified black instructor existed.[16] Legal scholar Randall Kennedy noted that some students felt affronted by Harvard’s choice to employ an “archetypal white liberal… in a way that precludes the development of black leadership”.[17] In response, numerous students, including Kimberlé Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda, boycotted and organized to develop an “Alternative Course” using Bell’s Race, Racism, and American Law (1973, 1st edition) as a core text. They included guest speakers Richard Delgado and Neil Gotanda.[18][19]

First meetings

The first formal meeting centered on critical race theory was the 1989 “New Developments in Critical Race Theory” workshop, an effort to connect the theoretical underpinnings of critical legal studies (CLS) to the day-to-day realities of American racial politics. The workshop was organized by Kimberlé Crenshaw for a retreat entitled “New Developments in Critical Race Theory” that effectively created the field. As Crenshaw states, only she, Matsuda, Gotanda, Chuck Lawrence, and a handful of others knew “that there were no new developments in critical race theory, because CRT hadn’t had any old ones—it didn’t exist, it was made up as a name. Sometimes you gotta fake it until you make it”. Crenshaw states that critical race theorists had “discovered ourselves to be critical theorists who did race and racial justice advocates who did critical theory”.[20][19] Crenshaw writes, “one might say that CRT was the offspring of a post-civil rights institutional activism that was generated and informed by an oppositionalist orientation toward racial power”.[18]

One manner in which CRT diverged from CLS post-1987 was CRT’s stress on the importance of race.[1] Though CLS criticized the legal system’s role in generating and legitimizing oppressive social structures, it did not tend to provide alternatives. CRT scholars such as Derrick Bell and Alan Freeman argue that failure to include race and racism in its analysis prevented CLS from suggesting new directions for social transformation.[21]

The 1989 critical race theory workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, attended by 24 scholars of color, marked a turning point for the field. Following this meeting, scholars began publishing a higher volume of works employing critical race theory, including some that became popular among general audiences. In 1991, Patricia Williams published The Alchemy of Race and Rights, while Derrick Bell published Faces at the Bottom of the Well in 1992. Both became national best sellers.[18]:124


In 1995, Gloria Ladson-Billings and William F. Tate began applying the critical race theory framework in the field of education, moving it beyond the field of legal scholarship. They sought to better understand inequities in the context of schooling. Scholars have since expanded work in this context to explore issues including segregation, relations between race, gender, and academic achievement, pedagogy, and research methodologies.[22]

As of 2002, over 20 American law schools and at least three non-American law schools offered critical race theory courses or classes which covered the issue centrally.[23] In addition to law, critical race theory is taught and applied in the fields of educationpolitical sciencewomen’s studiesethnic studiescommunicationsociology, and American studies. A variety of spin-off movements developed that apply critical race theory to specific groups. These include the Latino-critical (LatCrit), queer-critical, and Asian-critical movements. These other groups continued to engage with the main body of critical theory research, over time developing independent priorities and research methods.[24]

List of scholars

Principal figures of the theory include Derrick BellPatricia J. WilliamsKimberlé Williams CrenshawCamara Phyllis Jones, Angela Harris, Charles Lawrence, Alan Freeman, Neil Gotanda, Mitu Gulati, Jerry Kang, Eric Yamamoto, Robert Williams, Ian Haney López, Kevin Johnson, Laura Gomez, Margaret Montoya, Juan Perea, Francisco Valdes, Dean Carbado, Cheryl Harris, Angela Onwuachi-Willig, Tom Ross, Stephanie Wildman, Nancy Levit, Robert Harman, Jean Stefancic, andré cummings, and Mari Matsuda.[25]


In regard to critical race theory as being “radical”, Will Oremus argues:[26]

The theory [is] radical… in the sense that it questions fundamental assumptions…. And unlike some strands of academic and legal thought, critical race theory has an open and activist agenda, with an emphasis on storytelling and personal experience. It’s about righting wrongs, not just questing after knowledge…. Many of their ideas are not radical today in the sense of being outside the mainstream: Critical race theory is widely taught and studied.

Developments in the early 2000s in critical race theory included work relying on updated social psychological research on unconscious bias in order to justify affirmative action; and work relying on law and economic methodology to examine structural inequality and discrimination in the workplace.[27]

Common themes

Common themes that are characteristic of work in critical race theory, as documented by such scholars as Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, include:

  • Critique of liberalism: Critical race theory scholars question foundational liberalconcepts such as Enlightenment rationalismlegal equality, and Constitutional neutrality, and challenge the incrementalist, step-by-step approach of traditional civil-rights discourse;[12] they favor a race-conscious approach to social transformation, critiquing liberal ideas such as affirmative actioncolor blindnessrole modeling, or the merit principle;[28] and an approach that relies more on political organizing, in contrast to liberalism’s reliance on rights-based remedies.
  • Storytellingcounter-storytelling, and “naming one’s own reality“: The use of narrative(storytelling) to illuminate and explore experiences of racial oppression.[29] Bryan Brayboy has emphasized the epistemic importance of storytelling in Indigenous-American communities as superseding that of theory, and has proposed a Tribal Critical Race Theory (TribCrit).[30]
  • Revisionist interpretationsof American civil rights law and progress: Criticism of civil-rights scholarship and anti-discrimination law, such as Brown v. Board of Education. Derrick Bell, one of CRT’s founders, argues that civil-rights advances for black people coincided with the self-interest of white elitists. Likewise, Mary L. Dudziak performed extensive archival research in the S. Department of State and Department of Justice, including the correspondence by U.S. ambassadors abroad, and concluded that U.S. civil-rights legislation was not passed because people of color were discriminated against; rather, it was enacted in order to improve the image of the United States in the eyes of third-world countries that the US needed as allies during the Cold War.[31][full citation needed]
  • Intersectional theory: The examination of race, sex, class, national origin, and sexual orientation, and how their combination (i.e., their intersections) plays out in various settings, e.g., how the needs of a Latina female are different from those of a black male and whose needs are the ones promoted.[32]
  • Standpoint epistemology: The view that a member of a minority has an authority and ability to speak about racism that members of other racial groups do not have, and that this can expose the racial neutrality of law as false.[1]
  • Essentialism vs. anti-essentialism: Delgado and Stefancic write, “Scholars who write about these issues are concerned with the appropriate unit for analysis: Is the black community one, or many, communities? Do middle- and working-class African-Americans have different interests and needs? Do all oppressed peoples have something in common?” This is a look at the ways that oppressed groups may share in their oppression but also have different needs and values that need to be looked at differently. It is a question of how groups can be essentializedor are unable to be essentialized.[33]
  • Structural determinism: Exploration of how “the structure of legal thought or culture influences its content”, whereby a particular mode of thought or widely shared practice determines significant social outcomes, usually occurring without conscious knowledge. As such, theorists posit that our system cannot redress certain kinds of wrongs.[34]
  • Empathetic fallacy: Believing that one can change a narrative by offering an alternative narrative in hopes that the listener’s empathy will quickly and reliably take over. Empathy is not enough to change racism as most people are not exposed to many people different from themselves and people mostly seek out information about their own culture and group.[35]
  • Non-white cultural nationalism/separatism: The exploration of more radical views that argue for separationand reparations as a form of foreign aid (including black nationalism).[29]

White privilege

Further information: White privilege § Applications in critical theory

White privilege is the set of social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race (i.e. white people). For example, a shop attendant not following a white person around in a store because of assumption of shoplifting is viewed as white privilege. Another example would be people not crossing the street at night to avoid a white person.[36]

Cheryl I. Harris and Gloria Ladson-Billings describe a notion of whiteness as property, whereby whiteness is the ultimate property that whites alone can possess; valuable just like property. In this sense, from the critical race theory perspective, the white skin that some Americans possess is akin to owning a piece of property, in that it grants privileges to the owner that a renter (in this case, a person of color) would not be afforded.[37] The property functions of whiteness—i.e., rights to disposition; rights to use and enjoyment, reputation, and status property; and the absolute right to property—make the American dream more likely and attainable for whites.


Karen Pyke documents the theoretical element of internalized racism or internalized racial oppression, whereby victims of racism begin to believe in the ideology that they are inferior to whites and white culture, who are superior. The internalizing of racism is not due to any weakness, ignorance, inferiority, psychological defect, gullibility, or other shortcomings of the oppressed. Instead, it is how authority and power in all aspects of society contribute to feelings of inequality.[38]

Institutional racism

Camara Phyllis Jones defines institutionalized racism as

differential access to the goods, services, and opportunities of society by race. Institutionalized racism is normative, sometimes legalized and often manifests as inherited disadvantage. It is structural, having been absorbed into our institutions of custom, practice, and law, so there need not be an identifiable offender. Indeed, institutionalized racism is often evident as inaction in the face of need, manifesting itself both in material conditions and in access to power. With regard to the former, examples include differential access to quality education, sound housinggainful employment, appropriate medical facilities, and a clean environment.[39]

Influence of critical legal studies

As a movement that draws heavily from critical theory, critical race theory shares many intellectual commitments with critical theory, critical legal studies, feminist jurisprudence, and postcolonial theory. However, some authors like Tommy J. Curry have pointed out that the epistemic convergences with such approaches are emphasized due to the idealist turn in critical race theory. The latter, as Curry explains, is interested in discourse (i.e., how individuals speak about race) and the theories of white Continental philosophers, over and against the structural and institutional accounts of white supremacy which were at the heart of the realist analysis of racism introduced in Derrick Bell’s early works,[40][page needed] and articulated through such Black thinkers as W. E. B. Du BoisPaul Robeson, and Judge Robert L. Carter.[41][page needed]

Critical race theory draws on the priorities and perspectives of both critical legal studies and conventional civil rights scholarship, while also sharply contesting both of these fields. Critical race theory’s theoretical elements are provided by a variety of sources. Angela P. Harris describes critical race theory as sharing “a commitment to a vision of liberation from racism through right reason” with the civil rights tradition.[42] It deconstructs some premises and arguments of legal theory and simultaneously holds that legally constructed rights are incredibly important.[43][page needed] As described by Derrick Bell, critical race theory in Harris’ view is committed to “radical critique of the law (which is normatively deconstructionist) and… radical emancipation by the law (which is normatively reconstructionist)”.[44]


Scholars of critical race theory have focused, with some particularity, on the issues of hate crime and hate speech. In response to the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the hate speech case of R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992), in which the Court struck down an anti-bias ordinance as applied to a teenager who had burned a cross, Mari Matsuda and Charles Lawrence argued that the Court had paid insufficient attention to the history of racist speech and the actual injury produced by such speech.[45]

Critical race theorists have also paid particular attention to the issue of affirmative action, whereby scholars have argued in favor of such on the argument that so-called merit standards for hiring and educational admissions are not race-neutral for a variety of reasons, and that such standards are part of the rhetoric of neutrality through which whites justify their disproportionate share of resources and social benefits.[46]



Daniel A. Farber and Suzanna Sherry argue that critical race theory lacks supporting evidence, relies on an implausible belief that reality is socially constructed, rejects evidence in favor of storytelling, rejects truth and merit as expressions of political dominance, and rejects the rule of law. Additionally, they posit that the anti-meritocratic tenets in critical race theory, critical feminism, and critical legal studies may unintentionally lead to antisemitic and anti-Asian implications.[47][48][8] In particular, they suggest that the success of Jews and Asians within what critical race theorists argue is a structurally unfair system may lend itself to allegations of cheating, advantage-taking, or other such claims. A series of responses to Farber and Sherry was published in the Harvard Law Review.[49] These responses argue that there is a difference between criticizing an unfair system and criticizing individuals who perform well inside that system.[8][49] In the Boston College Law Review, Jeffrey Pyle argues that critical race theory undermines confidence in the rule of law, saying that “critical race theorists attack the very foundations of the liberal legal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism and neutral principles of constitutional law”.[50]

By jurists

Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals argued in 1997 that critical race theory “turns its back on the Western tradition of rational inquiry, forswearing analysis for narrative”, and that “by repudiating reasoned argumentation, (critical race theorists) reinforce stereotypes about the intellectual capacities of nonwhites.[9] Former Judge Alex Kozinski, who served on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, criticized critical race theorists in 1997 for raising “insuperable barriers to mutual understanding” and thus eliminating opportunities for “meaningful dialogue”.[51]


Political commentators including George Will see resonances between critical race theory’s use of storytelling and insistence that race poses challenges to objective judgments in the U.S., as exemplified by the acquittal of O. J. Simpson.[52][1][verification needed]


This section needs expansion with: pre-2010 controversies. You can help by adding to it(May 2021)

Critical race theory has stirred controversy in the United States since the 1980s for deviating from the ideal of color blindness, promoting the use of narrative in legal studies, advocating for the use of “legal instrumentalism” as opposed to ideal-driven uses of the law, analyzing the U.S. Constitution and existing law as constructed according to and perpetuating racial power, and encouraging legal scholars to promote racial equity.[1]


In 2010, the Mexican American Studies Department Programs in Tucson, Arizona were effectively banned due to their connection to critical race theory, which was seen to be in violation of a recently passed state law that “prohibits schools from offering courses that ‘advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.'”[53] The ban included the confiscation of books, in some cases in front of students, by the Tucson Unified School District.[54] Matt de la Peña‘s young-adult novel Mexican WhiteBoy was banned for containing critical race theory.[55] However, this ban was later deemed unconstitutional on the grounds that the state showed discriminatory intent. “Both enactment and enforcement were motivated by racial animus”, federal Judge A. Wallace Tashima said in the ruling.[56]


United Kingdom

On October 20, 2020, the Conservative UK Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch stated that, in regard to teaching critical race theory in primary and secondary schools, “we do not want to see teachers teaching their pupils about white privilege and inherited racial guilt…. any school which teaches these elements of critical race theory, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law”.[57] On October 30, 2020, an open letter signed by 101 writers of the Black Writers’ Guild condemned Badenoch for saying that some authors want racial division.[58] Among the comments the letter condemned were her criticisms of books such as White Fragility and Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, about which she said: “many of these books—and, in fact, some of the authors and proponents of critical race theory—actually want a segregated society”.[59]

United States

In September 2020, President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing agencies of the United States Government to cancel funding for programs that mention “white privilege” or “critical race theory”, on the basis that it constituted “divisive, un-American propaganda”.[60][61][62] He specifically called out the value of meritocracy. On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s order.[63]

Critical race theory continued to be a contentious topic into 2021, and some criticized conservatives for misusing the term as a catch-all to describe any anti-racism or diversity-related efforts.[64] Conservative scholars claimed that the theory is reductive; that is, it treats race as the only factor in social identity. Some progressives, on the other hand, have questioned the theory’s value, asking if is a true move toward equity or just one way of stating the obvious and stalling meaningful action.[15]

In mid-April 2021, a bill was introduced in the Idaho legislature that would effectively ban any educational entity (including school districts, public charter school, and public institutions of higher education) in the state from teaching or advocating “sectarianism“, including critical race theory or other programs involving social justice.[65] On May 4, 2021 the bill was signed into law by Governor Brad Little.[66]


Within critical race theory, various sub-groupings have emerged to focus on issues that fall outside the black-white paradigm of race relations as well as issues that relate to the intersection of race with issues of gender, sexuality, class and other social structures. For example, critical race feminism (CRF), Hebrew Crit (HebCrit), Latino critical race studies (LatCrit),[67] Asian American critical race studies (AsianCrit), South Asian American critical race studies (DesiCrit),[68] and American Indian critical race studies (sometimes called TribalCrit). CRT methodologies have also been applied to the study of white immigrant groups.[69] CRT has spurred some scholars to call for a second wave of whiteness studies, which is now a small offshoot known as Second Wave Whiteness (SWW).[70] Critical race theory has also begun to spawn research that looks at understandings of race outside the United States.[71][72]

Disability critical race theory

Another offshoot field is disability critical race studies (DisCrit), which combines Disability Studies and CRT to focus on the intersection of disability and race.[73]

Latino critical race theory

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Latino critical race theory (LatCRT or LatCrit) is a research framework that outlines the social construction of race as central to how people of color are constrained and oppressed in society. Race scholars developed LatCRT as a critical response to the “problem of the color line” first explained by W. E. B. Du Bois.[74] While CRT focuses on the Black–White paradigm, LatCRT has moved to consider other racial groups, mainly Chicana/Chicanos, as well as Latinos/asAsiansNative Americans/First Nations, and women of color.

In Critical Race Counterstories along the Chicana/Chicano Educational PipelineTara J. Yosso discusses how the constraint of POC can be defined. Looking at the differences between Chicana/o students, the tenets that separate such individuals are:[75] the intercentricity of race and racism, the challenge of dominant ideology, the commitment to social justice, the centrality of experience knowledge, and the interdisciplinary perspective.

LatCRTs main focus is to advocate social justice for those living in marginalized communities (specifically Chicana/os), who are guided by structural arrangements that disadvantage people of color. Social institutions function as dispossessionsdisenfranchisement, and discrimination over minority groups, while LatCRT seeks to give voice to those who are victimized.[74] In order to do so, LatCRT has created two common themes:

First, CRT proposes that white supremacy and racial power are maintained over time, a process that the law plays a central role in. Different racial groups lack the voice to speak in this civil society, and, as such, CRT has introduced a new critical form of expressions, called the voice of color.[74] The voice of color is narratives and storytelling monologues used as devices for conveying personal racial experiences. These are also used to counter metanarratives that continue to maintain racial inequality. Therefore, the experiences of the oppressed are important aspects for developing a LatCRT analytical approach, and it has not been since the rise of slavery that an institution has so fundamentally shaped the life opportunities of those who bear the label of criminal.

Secondly, LatCRT work has investigated the possibility of transforming the relationship between law enforcement and racial power, as well as pursuing a project of achieving racial emancipation and anti-subordination more broadly.[76] Its body of research is distinct from general critical race theory in that it emphasizes immigration theory and policy, language rights, and accent- and national origin-based forms of discrimination.[77] CRT finds the experiential knowledge of people of color and draws explicitly from these lived experiences as data, presenting research findings through storytelling, chronicles, scenarios, narratives, and parables.[78]


AsianCrit looks at the influence of race and racism on the experiences and outcomes of Asian Americans in US education, providing a foundation for discourse around the racialized experiences of Asian Americans and other racially marginalized groups in education.[79] Like LatCrit, AsianCrit is distinct from the main body of CRT in its emphasis on immigration theory and policy.[77]

See also



General Miley Defends teaching Critical Race Theory:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz7yDU1FmJQ




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