"This widespread mobilization against Critical Race Theory made me want to examine what it is, what it addresses, and whether it poses the existential threat to our society that some say it does."
You’ve probably heard a lot about Critical Race Theory (CRT) over the past year. From being described as “Marxist” to “a lie” and even “every bit as racist as the Klansmen in white sheets”— yes, Texas Senator Ted Cruz actually said that. The actual theory is very rarely discussed. In fact, according to one study, roughly 7 in 10 Americans don’t know what Critical Race Theory is.
Despite statistically low comprehension, there are currently widespread efforts in the United States to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory. According to Education Week, since January 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps to restrict teaching CRT or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism with their students. This widespread mobilization against Critical Race Theory made me want to examine what it is, what it addresses, and whether it poses the existential threat to our society that some say it does.
It is important to note that I am, by no means, a CRT scholar or expert. Everything compiled in this article — other than my opinion at the bottom — is cited and sourced with the intention of presenting facts that allow readers to come to their own conclusions.
This feature on CRT is the first article in a series called Engineered Panic, which will examine a multitude of beliefs, policies, and talking points currently populating headlines. Engineered Panic will contextualize subjects with concrete definitions, statistics, cited sources, and least important of all, my own opinion. All personal commentary will be at the bottom of each article.
"Systemic (or structural) racism refers to the laws, policies, and practices embedded in our social institutions — including the criminal justice system, education system, labour market, housing market, and health care — that perpetuate inequalities for racial minorities."
What is Critical Race Theory?
In technical terms, Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an intellectual and social movement that began in the 1970s. It was based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of a physically distinct subgroup of human beings, but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour.
CRT essentially aims to answer the questions: Why has racism and inequality persisted beyond the civil rights movement? And how embedded is racism in legal systems and policies?
In order to tackle these important questions, there is a distinction that needs to be made between ‘interpersonal racism’ and ‘systemic racism’.
Interpersonal racism occurs between individuals, and it is what we most commonly think about when we think of ‘racism’. It stems from an assumption, belief, or behaviour that an individual holds towards a certain group(s) of people that manifests through discriminatory behaviour and language, microaggressions, or physical violence.
Systemic (or structural) racism refers to the laws, policies, and practices embedded in our social institutions — including the criminal justice
system, education system, labour market, housing market, and health care — that perpetuate inequalities for racial minorities. Systemic racism is what Critical Race Theory addresses.
One of the tools of CRT is data collection and analysis, which allows scholars to make informed policy recommendations. There is no shortage of data pointing to systemic inequality in America:
A meta-analysis of field experiments conducted from 1990 to 2015 showed that, on average, White applicants received 36% more callbacks than Black applicants with identical résumés, and that hiring rates had not changed over time
The Black unemployment rate has consistently been double that of its white counterparts
White names receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than Black names
Between 1934 and 1962, of the $120 billion in loans made by the Federal Housing Administration, only 2% were distributed to non-White families
Black male offenders received sentences on average 19.1% longer than similarly situated White male offenders
Banks and other lenders have targeted Black families with expensive and unfair subprime loans that often resulted in foreclosure, especially during the 2008 housing crash.
To detain Black people, Southern states enacted “Black Codes” under which only Black people were arrested and prosecuted for minor offences such as loitering, breaking curfew, vagrancy, carrying weapons, and not having proof of employment.
This resource does a much better job of showcasing the depth and breadth of systemic racism in America. This list is by no means inclusive. It is important to note there is a lot of systemic racism in Canada, too.
CRT is not a noun but a verb. It is considered to be an evolving and malleable practice. The goal of CRT, in short, is to identify and address racial inequalities embedded in social institutions to try and build a society of equal opportunity for all—regardless of race.
"Critical Race Theory is just one of dozens of talking points being used to engineer panic against a ‘common enemy’. It is a diversionary tactic that is extremely effective."
What is its origin?
Critical Race Theory originated in the mid-1970s in the writings of several American scholars, including Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, Richard Delgado, Cheryl Harris, Charles R. Lawrence III, Mari Matsuda, Patricia J. Williams, and Kimberlé W. Crenshaw.
Crenshaw is a pioneering scholar and writer on CRT, civil rights, Black feminist legal theory, race, racism, and the law. As one of the originators of the term, Crenshaw explains the origin of the term in an interview with Vanity Fair:
“We were critically engaging law but with a focus on race,” she says, recalling a brainstorm session. “So we wanted critical to be in it, race to be in it. And we put theory in to signify that we weren’t just looking at civil rights practice. It was how to think, how to see, how to read, how to grapple with how law has created and sustained race—our particular kind of race and racism — in American society.”
In an interview on CNN, Crenshaw responded to critics of CRT, explaining: “We believe in the promises of equality, and we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality.”
Why is it being banned?
It is difficult to pinpoint how this all started, but attacks on CRT may have their origin in a September 2020 Executive Order signed by former President Trump that banned federal contractors from conducting racial sensitivity training. This followed a rise in initiatives at workplaces and schools aimed at tackling bias and racism following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020.
While this order has now been revoked under President Biden, it was predicated on the idea that Critical Race Theory taught people — and children specifically — to view everyone as either ‘oppressed’ or ‘oppressor’. Some argued that diversity training for staff, lessons on systemic racism, and exercises asking Americans to reflect on privilege were racist and divisive.
The focus swiftly turned to protect children from this ‘racist’ and ‘divisive’ rhetoric. Here is an actual quote from Ann Coulter’s article on OANN: “Progressive agendas like critical race theory are being used to indoctrinate children.”
However, Critical Race Theory is a complex graduate-level legal theory that is not only not being taught to children, but it is also only spoken about in terms of ‘loving acceptance’ and to not judge one another by surface-level appearances.
It won’t come as a surprise what side of this issue I am on — the title kind of gives it away. Critical Race Theory is just one of dozens of talking points being used to engineer panic against a ‘common enemy’. It is a diversionary tactic that is extremely effective.
Instead of addressing anti-black racism, we’re fighting Critical Race Theory.
Instead of addressing 2SLGBTQ+ suicide rates, we’re fighting the Don’t Say Gay bill.
Instead of addressing universal health care, we’re fighting an attempt to revoke Roe V. Wade.
New problems—like CRT, Don’t Say Gay, and revoking Roe V. Wade—are being created and mobilized on, while existing problems—like systemic racism, gender-based discrimination, and a lack of access to affordable health care—remain on the back burner. These tactics are calculated, manipulative, and intend to divert your attention away from implementing policies and laws that make society more equitable for everyone.
Why do they do this? In short: to maintain power. It is easier to control a population that has less money, less rights, and less agency. It is why they don’t advocate for higher wages, equality, or equal representation. They only care about enriching themselves, they do not care about the health and well-being of the people they govern.
We’ve all met people like this, haven’t we? People who don’t take personal responsibility for their mistakes, only care about themselves and are willing to lie, manipulate, and hurt others to get what they want. It is my belief that this personality type often finds itself in positions of power, because when you have no grounding morals or ethics, you will do things that others won’t to succeed. To make matters worse, capitalism openly rewards and celebrates this type of behaviour. Profit and power over everything.
But it isn’t all doom and gloom.
When I first came up with the idea for this series, it was fueled by anger and frustration. In addition to indoctrinating people, these diversionary tactics are meant to elicit an emotional response—and oh boy is it effective! I started falling prey to my anger and frustration instead of advocating and educating. But it is important not to lose hope, compassion, or conviction.
It is my belief that the answer lies in love and compassion—which can be hard when lies, manipulation, and hatred are on the table. But it is always my intention to teach and not judge, to understand and not assume, and to evolve instead of standing still.
Talking about race, Social Identities and Systems of Oppressions, National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian.