Critical Race Theory is an issue currently dividing an already divided nation. At least 8 states (with others considering the same) have passed legislation to ban critical race theory from their classrooms. The irony is that it is highly unlikely that critical race theory, a theory developed and debated in law schools, is being taught in k-12 schools.
So on the one hand, we have the actual academic study, then on the other hand we have a political climate that is stoking fears in k-12 parents. The way forward is to accept the dual legacy of the United States – a history of freedom and a history of slavery –and to find ways to reconcile this legacy in the present.
What it is:
- Is a theory that looks at how some American laws are not neutral but are laced with racism and thus lead to differential outcomes by race;
- Is an academic theory primarily taught in law schools and some graduate programs, not K-12 schools;
- Points to practical implications of prejudicial laws (bank lending practices, COVID and other health disparities, policing and criminal justice disparities etc.);
- Differentiates between systems and individuals;
- Redlining is a good example. Redlining is the practice of refusing loans to people in specified areas, often based on racial demographics; popular in the 1930s and 40s, it was legally condoned by the US justice system;
- Points out that a particular law such as redlining is racist but does not doom the entire country now and forever to racism – the idea is to correct and move on from this legacy.
What it is not:
- Is not Marxism (the political and economic doctrine espoused by Marx and Engels);
- Is not reverse racism;
- Is not a declaration that the US is inherently racist; to raise questions regarding certain laws and racism is not to say that all of the US and all Americans are inherently racist;
- Does not teach people that white people in the present should be ashamed;
- Does not teach Blacks and other minorities that they are permanently oppressed;
- Does not teach students to hate America and to be unpatriotic;
- Is not to be confused with the teaching of Black history and the history of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) populations whose contributions to America should be widely included in the k-12 curriculum.
Ultimately, the solution to this “controversy” is to focus on America’s DUAL LEGACY. The answer is also to teach MORE BIPOC history, not less in k-12; to teach more about the history of racist thought and laws AND to spend an equal amount of time on how we have moved on from this history. In this Age of Repair, we can look at the history of redlining, but we can also give equal time to the 1968 Fair Housing Act which was one attempt to eliminate the biases of the past. We can also focus on the ways in which the Black-led yet multiracial civil rights heroes of the ’50s and ’60s helped bring about those changes. History is not static. It moves along with those who in good conscience move it in a positive direction. Only in this way will this dual legacy of freedom and slavery swing far more towards freedom and a country where “justice for all” becomes a fact not just an aspiration.
For more info:
Creator of the term, Critical race theory, Prof. Kimberle Crenshaw: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4TAQF6ocLU
The Color of Law: The Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Richard Rothstein.
Visual of Redlining in Philadelphia, 1936 (Home Owners’ Loan Corporation Redlining map) courtesy of http://cml.upenn.edu/redlining/HOLC_1936.html, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
THE HARRIET TUBMAN CENTER FOR FREEDOM AND EQUITY OPENS ITS OFFICE: