Critical Race Theory. You’ve heard the term and seen the headlines. What is it? Where did it begin? Who is promoting it and why? As CRT moves from the shadows into the daylight of mainstream America, questions like these abound. Misconception, misunderstanding, and media bias add to the enigma.
In a nutshell, Critical Race Theory is an academic movement launched by civil rights scholars and activists contending that American institutions, it’s government and legal system, including law enforcement, are inherently racist. Its school of thought focuses on how the predominately white American majority has negatively impacted racial minorities. It implies that America has not adhered to its promise of “liberty and justice for all.”
The theory was first proposed by legal scholars studying the issue of racial bias in the U.S. court system in the 1970s. CRT emerged as a cultural movement in the 1980s when civil rights activists began to apply the theory more broadly, blaming racism for many other injustices. The theory’s influence, however, was limited and the doctrine simmered on the sidelines for three decades.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death last year, Critical Race Theory quickly re-surfaced as a rallying cry for reform, a storefront for social justice warriors, particularly Black Lives Matter. Academia is once again leading the CRT charge, and argues that it should be incorporated into American history and civics instruction to counter the influence of white supremacy in U.S. classrooms.
In response, CRT training programs are becoming commonplace in schools, government, and corporate life. Proponents argue that this type of training helps to enhance dominant groups’ (whites) understanding and empathy of what oppressed minorities experience on a daily basis. These types of trainings are also promoted as ways to “dismantle” or weaken alleged power structures that they believe impose continued bias and discrimination.
Opponents, however, see the movement as a form of ‘nouveau-racism’ that’s tearing the country apart as it seeks to advance its ideology through “cult-like indoctrination, intimidation, and harassment.” Many have focused their criticism on what they say CRT manifests — divisive ideas about race, collective guilt for dominant groups, and assigning racial significance to seemingly neutral or insignificant concepts.
Some CRT extremists are demanding that white Americans accept guilt for all transgressions against people of color in the past. This so-called “racial reckoning” has seen the propagation of buzzwords and phrases like “systemic racism”, and “be less white” which are now emerging in school districts’ diversity statements, corporate trainings, school educational materials, and government agencies.
In response to these developments, state legislatures are beginning to ban CRT from being taught in public schools (Oklahoma, Idaho and Arkansas so far). The Utah Legislature recently passed a resolution that listed specific concepts to be excluded from public school curricula, including the ideas of racial superiority, discrimination based on race, and the proposition that an individual’s moral character is determined by their race.
As the movement gains momentum and the counter-movement responds, the future of CRT is unknown, but to as many as it hopes to empower, it has equally unsettled. There must be a more equitable way to social justice. Consider these observations:
– Racism is not new, nor is it extraordinary…it is a part of human identity and culture, and whether you believe we arrived by divine design or evolution, race has a purpose. The uniqueness and singularity of race adds a wonderful diversity to life, and extends both the influence and impact of humanity. The challenge comes with the formation of institutions. Like any country, America was founded by a predominant race. European Caucasians settled this land and formed its government. Racial favor is endemic, and generally aligns with the majority. Is there fault or blame in this anthropological process?
– According to Daniel Webster, the word ‘critical’ means the analysis of both the faults AND merits of the object being evaluated. To emphasize only faults tells half the story. Incomplete narratives are more propaganda than critical analysis. Without equal consideration of the good, CRT loses value as an objective treatise. “Becoming less white” would eliminate much of the good in American society.
– There are two ways to level a playing-field. Knock one group down, or raise the other up. History has shown that the former is more likely to fail, while the latter is more likely to succeed. To identify one group as perpetual offenders and the other as perpetual victims will forever keep the divide intact. Vilifying one race to strengthen another is poor policy and leads away from peaceful resolution. Promoting the value, merits and contributions of minorities will move them closer to equality than demanding Caucasians “repent” ever will.
My twin brother who lives in San Francisco called the other day. The conversation turned to Critical Race Theory and we talked for hours, both recognizing that although we didn’t see it growing up, opportunities came easily, and gates opened that we could now only attribute to cultural advantage. We pondered a new awareness and understanding of privilege, and a new sensitivity to the cause of those less fortunate.
From this vantage point, we hope the more noble intent of CRT succeeds, and that Americans of all cultures, races and genders receive fair treatment and equal opportunity going forward. We felt that in its current formation, CRT will continue to struggle for footing, and must be more balanced, cooperative, and less confrontational to avoid becoming a failed social experiment. We believe, however, that many of its tenets are long overdue and hope for a compromise that everyone can get behind.
It’s not the conclusion I first anticipated, but I find the more objective and open-minded I am, the more I see and feel. I believe it’s a discussion whose time has come.
What do you think? Share your comment below:
Marc K. Ensign