(CNN) — Legislators in Tennessee e Idaho have banned their teaching from their public school curriculum, while parents in Texas oppose the efforts of a school district to combat racism with lessons in “cultural awareness,” which some consider critical racial theory.
It is a concept that has been around for decades and seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US The term has also become politicized and attacked by its critics as a Marxist ideology that is a threat to lifestyle. U.S.
To gain a deeper understanding of what critical race theory is – and is not – we spoke to one of the academics behind it.
What is critical race theory?
Critical race theory recognizes that systemic racism is part of American society and challenges the beliefs that allow it to flourish.
“Critical race theory is a practice. It is an approach to dealing with a history of white supremacism that rejects the belief that what is in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that arise from that past are separate from it, “said Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the founders of critical race theory and a law professor who teaches at UCLA and Columbia University.
Critical race theorists believe that racism is an everyday experience for most people of color, and that a large part of society has no interest in ending it because it benefits white elites.
Many also believe that American institutions are racist and that people are privileged or oppressed because of their race.
While the theory began as a way to examine how laws and systems promote inequality, the theory has since expanded.
“Critical race theory addresses not only the transformative role of law, which is often celebrated, but also its role in establishing the very rights and privileges that legal reform was designed to dismantle,” Crenshaw told CNN.
“Like American history itself, a proper understanding of the terrain on which we find ourselves requires a balanced assessment, not a simplistic engagement with jingoistic tales of our nation’s past and current dynamics.”
Who came up with the idea?
Crenshaw is a founding scholar and organized a workshop on the critical race theory movement in 1989. But the idea behind it dates back much further, to the work of civil rights activists such as WEB Du Bois, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Pauli Murray.
“It all builds on what came before,” Crenshaw said, adding that “the so-called American dilemma was not simply a matter of prejudice, but rather a matter of structured disadvantage that ran throughout American society.”
Crenshaw said she and others “took it upon themselves to explore the role the law played in establishing the very practices of exclusion and disadvantage.”
Some of the theory’s earliest origins date back to the 1970s, when lawyers, activists, and jurists realized that the advancements of the 1960s civil rights era had stalled, according to the book. ” Critical Race Theory: An Introduction “.
Crenshaw was one of a group of intellectuals, along with Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman and Richard Delgado, who attended a 1989 conference in Wisconsin that focused on new strategies to combat racism.
In 1993, Delgado, Crenshaw, Mari Matsuda, and Charles R. Lawrence wrote the book “Words That Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech, and the First Amendment“.
Some critical theorists of race also believe that notions of race are products of thought and social relations, not of biology.
“They do not correspond to any biological or genetic reality; rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates or withdraws when appropriate,” wrote Delgado and Jean Stefancic in the book “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction“.
How has it evolved over the years?
The theory has a passionate group of followers who are mostly academics. It has inspired at least a dozen books, more than 250 law review articles, and several lectures.
“At this point, it’s broader than any specific discipline or school of thought. It’s not even uniquely American,” Crenshaw said.
The concept has taken on a new urgency since the killings last year of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African Americans by police officers led to a national reckoning over race.
Over the past year, many Americans have called for a systemic racism test – through education, such as teaching the Project 1619 of the New York Times in schools. That Pulitzer Prize-winning project reshapes American history around the date of August 1619, when the first slave ship washed ashore.
Where is it taught?
Cornell and Harvard Universities have carried out research in this regard. So have the National Institutes of Health. The theory has also led to similar groups focused on racial experiences Asian-Americans, Latinos and Indians.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had scheduled a critical race theory training last fall before the White House – under Donald Trump – canceled the program. .
Until now, President Joe Biden has been more receptive to critical race theory. His administration promotes educational programs – opposed by many conservatives – that address systemic racism in the United States and the country’s legacy of slavery.
Why is there so much resistance?
Critics have criticized the theory, and conservatives accuse it of poisoning discussions of racism.
President Trump opposed the teaching of “Project 1619” in schools and prohibited federal agencies from conducting racial sensitivity training related to critical race theory. His administration called it “divisive and anti-American propaganda.”
“Students at our universities are awash in critical race theory. This is a Marxist doctrine that holds that America is an evil and racist nation, that even young children are complicit in oppression, and that our entire society must be radically transformed. “Trump said.
“Critical race theory is imposed in our children’s schools, it is imposed in training in the workplace and is implemented to destroy friends, neighbors and families.”
Tennessee State Senator Brian Kelsey, a Republican, argued and Twitter that critical race theory is harmful to students because it “teaches that American democracy is a lie. It teaches that the rule of law does not exist and is instead a series of power struggles between racial groups.”
But Crenshaw points out that mere recognition of the nation’s history of racism has long been denigrated to something unpatriotic and anti-American.
“It is worth acknowledging that we have been here before: For his nonviolent civil rights agitation, MLK was singled out by the FBI as the most dangerous man in America,” he said.
“The civil rights and freedom movements for blacks were attacked, policed, and disrupted by the FBI. Black Lives Matter has been listed by some in law enforcement as a terrorist organization. So racial justice work … has always had an uneasy relationship with the federal government. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism