Why Is Critical Race Theory Being Challenged, And What Is It?

Is “critical race theory” a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people, or is it a method for comprehending how American racism has shaped public policy? Conservatives and liberals disagree strongly.

This spring, the topic has become a big deal in the public eye, especially in the K-12 education sector, where numerous state legislatures are debating bills that would prohibit its use in the classroom.

In point of fact, the divisions are not nearly as smooth as they appear. The public’s awareness of issues like housing segregation, the effects of 1990s criminal justice policy, and the legacy of enslavement on Black Americans has grown as a result of recent events. However, there is much less agreement regarding the role that the government should play in redressing these past wrongs. When children and education are added to the discussion, it becomes even more contentious.

Critical race theory is already raising questions for school boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers, and even experts are divided on how to define it and how its tenets should guide K-12 policy and practice. This explanation is only meant to serve as a starting point for educators to understand the fundamentals of the debate.

What exactly is critical race theory?

The academic concept of critical race theory dates back more than four decades. The fundamental idea is that race is a social construct and that racism is not just a result of individual bias or prejudice but also something that is ingrained in policies and legal systems.

A framework for legal analysis developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others, gave rise to the fundamental tenets of critical race theory, or CRT.

A good illustration of this is when, in the 1930s, government officials figuratively drew lines around areas that were thought to be poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial makeup of the residents. Black people in those areas were then denied mortgages by banks.

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