Critical race theory (CRT) is a movement that challenges the ability of conventional legal strategies to deliver social and economic justice and specifically calls for legal approaches that take into consideration race as a nexus of American life.
Critical race theory (CRT) is a movement that challenges the ability of conventional legal strategies to deliver social and economic justice.

What is critical race theory?

Critical race theory offers a way of seeing the world that helps people recognize the effects of historical racism in modern American life. The intellectual movement behind the idea was started by legal scholars as a way to examine how laws and systems uphold and perpetuate inequality for traditionally marginalized groups. In Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, they define the critical race theory movement as “a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.”

Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the founding scholars of CRT and the executive director and co-founder of the African American Policy Forum, says that critical race theory “is a practice—a way of seeing how the fiction of race has been transformed into concrete racial inequities.”

“It’s an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it,” Crenshaw told TIME in an email.

While critical race theory was initially conceived as a framework specifically for understanding the relationship between race and American law, it’s also provided a way to consider how other marginalized identities—such as gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, class, and disability—are overlooked.

Facts about Critical race theory

The launch of the CRT movement marked its separation from critical legal studies (CLS), an offshoot of critical theory that examined how the law and legal institutions function to perpetuate oppression and exploitation.

However, instead of drawing theories of social organization and individual behaviour from continental European thinkers such as G.W.F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud, as CLS and feminist jurisprudence had done, CRT was inspired by figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and Frantz Fanon. Critical race theory advanced theoretical understandings of the law, politics, and American sociology that focused on the efforts of white people (Euro-Americans) to maintain their historical advantages over people of colour.

CRT has spread beyond the confines of legal studies to many other fields, notably women’s and gender studies, education, American studies, and sociology. CRT spin-off movements formed by Asian American, Latinx, and LGBTQ scholars have also taken hold.

The origin of critical race theory

The critical race theory movement officially came into being at a 1989 workshop led by Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda and Stephanie Phillips at the St. Benedict Center in Madison, Wis.—but the ideas behind the movement had been brewing for years by that point.

In the 1970s, a group of legal scholars and activists developed the theory, building on the work of movements like critical legal theory and radical feminism. Civil rights lawyer Derrick Bell, who was the first tenured Black professor at Harvard Law School, is often credited as the “father of critical race theory”; his 1980 Harvard Law Review article “Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma,” is often cited as an integral piece in starting conversations about the critical race theory movement. Other founding scholars of CRT include Richard Delgado, Allan Freeman, Patricia Williams, Mari Matsuda and Crenshaw, who also coined the term intersectionality, which explains how different facets of identity like race and gender can “intersect” with one another.

No room for critical race theory in Florida – Governor

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this week condemned critical race theory, saying there is "no room" for it in Florida classrooms.

DeSantis this week proposed to spend $106 million to support civics education in the state after receiving the boost in funding from the coronavirus stimulus package that President Biden signed into law last week.

Under the governor's proposal, teachers who get credentialed in teaching civics would get a $3,000 bonus. Some $16.5 million would be devoted to training teachers and principals in civics education. That training would come from civics "coaches," in-person seminars and virtual learning.

Around $6.5 million would be used for developing partnerships between schools and governments in an effort to get students interested in public service, and another $17 million would be targeted for developing civics curricula — excluding critical race theory.

"Florida’s civics curriculum will incorporate foundational concepts with the best materials and it will expressly exclude unsanctioned narratives like critical race theory and other unsubstantiated theories," DeSantis said in announcing his proposal this week.

"Let me be clear: There is no room in our classrooms for things like critical race theory," he continued. "Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money."

Critical race theory in education

Critical race theory examines the way race and racism influence politics, culture and the law. According to Purdue University, critical race theory scholarship shows how racism continues to be persuasive and why it denies individuals their constitutional rights.

In September, then-President Trump directed the Office of Management and Budget to end racial sensitivity training, including training sessions that discussed “white privilege” or “critical race theory.”

“They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, it’s a racist place, and they were teaching people to hate our country, and I’m not going to allow that to happen,” Trump said at a presidential debate about the trainings.

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