Controversial Topic: Critical Race Theory

The controversy over Critical Race Theory (CRT) centers on whether or not this subject should be taught in schools. And to an extent, the Critical Race Theory controversy also extends from differing views on exactly what defines Critical Race Theory. To supporters, Critical Race Theory refers to a university-level subject that addresses the intersection between race, law, and systemic inequality. To opponents, Critical Race Theory refers to any effort to inject discourse over race, gender, diversity, or discrimination into public school curricuclum at any level of education. The result of these differing views–both on what defines CRT, and whether it should be taught in schools–is a heated public debate being placed out in city council chambers, school board meetings, and the halls of Congress.

Controversial Topic: Critical Race Theory

While Critical Race Theory has been discussed and taught at the post-graduate level for more than 40 years, it has only more recently attracted intense public scrutiny. CRT is, in essence, a subject largely explored in law school curriculum, as well as in gender and race studies at the undergraduate level. However, some parents, civic leaders, and public office holders argue that elementary and high-school curriculum addressing race, gender, or discrimination are examples of CRT and that such subject manner is inappropriate for school-aged children. These parents and political figures object to what they view as the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools.

For a deeper understanding of Critical Race Theory, and a look at the academic figures leading the discipline, jump to our feature from guest contributor, CRT expert, and Professor of Philosophy at University of Kentucky, Arnold Farr .

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For a look at the controversy surrounding Critical Race Theory, read on…

What is Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory is a theoretical model of sociological inquiry originating among legal scholars and calling for a reexamination of race and gender as social constructs that reinforce a racially unequal system. In particular, CRT focuses on the role that a discriminatory legal system plays in reinforcing inequality. Critical Race Theory also emphasizes “intersectionality,” the idea that intersecting constructs of race, gender, and sexual orientation have a direct impact on one’s experience as an American. CRT holds that these intersections can shape the types of prejudices that individuals, groups, and communities experience at the hands of policing, the courts, the prison system, and seats of power such as local, state, and federal governments.

Who Are the Key Groups in the Critical Race Theory Debate?

Groups that support critical race theory include:

  1. Black Lives Matter
  2. The 1619 Project
  3. The American Association of University Professors

Groups that oppose critical race theory include:

  1. Manhattan Institute
  2. CriticalRace.org
  3. Parents Defending Education

What Do Supporters of Critical Race Theory Believe?

Supporters of Critical Race Theory believe that both American history and present-day America can only be understood through a race-conscious lens. The goal of CRT, argue its proponents, is to promote this level of race-consciousness in discourse about legal structures and their origins.

Arnold Farr explains that Critical Race Theory was not only

“a response to elements of racism in the construction, interpretation and application of some laws” but “also a response to the Civil Rights Movement and the liberalism embedded in CLS. Regarding the Civil Rights Movement, CRT explores the ways in which laws can be racially manipulated even after the adoption of new civil rights laws. The theorists who work in CRT noticed that even after civil rights legislation, Black people were still victims of patterns of inequality. Regarding the liberalism of CLS, CRT attempted to revive a form of race-consciousness.”

Proponents of Critical Race Theory believe there is insight and progress to be gained from exploring both the intersection of race and law, and the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexual orientation. Within these post-secondary academic subject areas, say advocates, it may be possible to better understand, illuminate, confront, and undo long-standing systemic inequalities.

What Do Opponents of Critical Race Theory Believe?

Opponents of Critical Race Theory argue that public school curriculum surrounding themes of diversity, discrimination, inequality, gender orientation, and other related subjects are tantamount to teaching Critical Race Theory. Opponents of CRT have argued variously that Critical Race Theory promotes racism against white Americans, is psychologically harmful to children for burdening them undeservedly with white guilt, and that it promotes content which may be violent, disturbing or discomforting in ways that threaten the mental health of school-aged children.

There are also critics who argue that the elaboration on social constructs in CRT betrays the intention to proliferate socialist or Marxist values, and that educators who advocate for CRT are themselves advocating for socialism. There are also critics who oppose Critical Race Theory on the grounds of what they claim is historical inaccuracy or historical revisionism. In particular, some opponents argue that CRT relies heavily on anecdotal rather than empirical evidence of the connections between race, law, and system inequality.

Another commonly-raised objection is that CRT inaccurately overlooks the progress society has made toward equality in the decades since the Civil Rights Act. According to prominent anti-CRT activist Christopher Rufo, Critical Race Theory promotes ”principles of segregationism, group-based guilt, and race essentialism—ugly concepts that should have been left behind a century ago.”

A Brief History of Critical Race Theory

The academic subject known as Critical Race Theory emerged in the years immediately following the passage of major Civil Rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Though sweeping laws had been passed ending the institutions of Jim Crow and segregation, Black scholars–especially those affiliated with university law schools–argued that discrimination and inequality remained deeply embedded in American institutions. Most particularly, they saw a direct connection between discimination in the American legal system and far-reaching consequences in the areas of housing, employment, incarceration, and a wide breadth of Constitutional rights and protections.

According to Education Week, the basic principles of CRT grew out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.”

The area of study was originally referred to as Critical Legal Studies. Crenshaw is often credited with coining the actual term, Critical Race Theory. This body of thought was a response both to the perception of persistent bias in the application and enforcement of the law, and to the perspective held by many liberal Americans that the passage of major Civil Rights acts signaled the end of racial inequality in America. Law school professors have employed the CRT framework for several decades as a way to initiate dialogue on the constructs of racial and gender inequality–both their history and their persistence today.

The Current State of Debate

Today, the debate of Critical Race Theory has reached a fever-pitch. CRT was, for more than three decades, a concept only really explored in university halls. However, the Black Lives Matter movement brought awareness of CRT to a far broader cross-section of Americans, especially after the murder of a black man named George Floyd by a Minneapolis police offer.

This catalyzing event sparked nationwide protests in the summer of 2020. Many scholars and activists raised themes of Critical Race Theory in public discourse, especially those affiliated with the Black Lives Matter protest movement. In doing so, advocates for CRT attracted a growing population of supporters, activists, and everyday Americans with an interest in better understanding the roots and continuity of systemic racism in America. In particular, Americans who lean to the left side of the political spectrum, vote for Democratic or progressive candidates, support social justice causes, and identify as politically or ideologically liberal tend to agree with the philosophical underpinnings of CRT.

As CRT has grown in visibility, it has also attracted a growing number of critics, both those who disagree with its premise and those who misapprehend its meaning. In the latter category are many parents and community members who have criticized what they perceive as the teaching of CRT in public schools. Many Americans who lean to the right of the political spectrum, vote for Republican candidates, and identify as Conservative argue that Critical Race Theory is being used to indoctrinate children with race-based guilt and socialist ideals.

As a consequence of these divergent views, Critical Race Theory has increasingly been at the center of rancorous school board meetings where parents and school board members are often moved to shouting and even threats of violences. Moreover, there are–at the time of writing–8 states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, and South Carolina) have passed laws implicitly outlawing curriculum that seems to invoke themes of CRT such as discrimination, oppression, implicit bias, or privelege, according to the Brookings Institution.

Today, CRT is seen as a major ideological battleground in the perceived “culture war” between conservative and progressive Americans.

Who Supports Critical Race Theory?

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the Top Critical Race Theory Influencers today:

  1. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is a lawyer, scholar, philosopher, major civil rights advocate, professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, and of the founders of critical race theory and the concept of intersectionality.
  2. Patricia Hill Collins currently holds the title of University Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park and is known for her work in the intersection of factors such as race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and national origin affect our perceptions of selves and others, as well as opportunities and barriers.
  3. David Theo Goldberg is the director of the systemwide University of California Humanities Research Institute, and a Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature and Anthropology for the University of California at Irvine, and his research has explored themes of race and racism, law and society, ethics, critical theory, digital humanities, critical race theory, cultural and university studies.
  4. Charles W. Mills was a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at The Graduate Center City University of New York, as well as a critically acclaimed philosopher on race and author of one of the most widely adopted texts on bigotry and human rights–The Racial Contract.
  5. Mari Matsuda is an American lawyer, activist, and law professor at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii, specializing in the fields of torts, constitutional law, legal history, feminist theory, critical race theory, and civil rights law.
  6. Gloria Ladson-Billings is best known for her book, The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children, and her work to reduce the education disparities faced by African American children.
  7. Richard Delgado is an American legal scholar who teaches civil rights and critical race theory at University of Alabama School of Law, and is considered one of several “founders” of Critical Race Theory.
  8. Derrick Bell was an American lawyer, professor, and civil rights activist. In 1971, he became the first tenured African-American professor of law at Harvard Law School, and he is often credited as one of the originators of critical race theory along with Richard Delgado, Charles Lawrence, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia Williams.
  9. Patricia J. Williams is an American legal scholar and a proponent of critical race theory, a school of legal thought that emphasizes race as a fundamental determinant of the American legal system.
  10. Faye V. Harrison is a professor of African-American Studies and Anthropology and Faculty Affiliate for the Program on Women & Gender in Global Perspectives, the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies and the Center for African Studies, all for the University of Illinois.

Check out our complete list of the Top Critical Race Theory Influencers.

Who Opposes Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory is opposed by a cross-section of conservative activists, political commentators, journalists, and financial benefactors. The list of opponents below is hand-picked from our extensive database of influencers based on their prominent public stance against CRT, and especially its instruction in public school.

  • Christopher Rufo is an American conservative activist, Director of the Documentary Foundation, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute as well as a contributor to its magazine, City Journal.
  • Tucker Carlson is an American paleoconservative television host and political commentator who has hosted the nightly political talk show Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News since 2016.
  • Charlie Kirk is an American conservative activist and radio talk show host who founded Turning Point USA with Bill Montgomery in 2012, and has served as its executive director since.
  • William A. Jacobson is an American lawyer, Cornell Law School professor, and conservative blogger with “a national reputation as a leading practitioner in securities arbitration.”
  • Rich Lowry is an American writer and has been the editor of National Review, an American conservative news and opinion magazine. since 1997.

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Critical Race Theory

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books published on the topic of Critical Race Theory in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. This list is composed of texts by both supporters and opponents of Critical Race Theory:

  1. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
  2. Black Feminist Thought
  3. Cynical Theories
  4. A Theory of Justice
  5. The Alchemy of Race and Rights
  6. Black Sexual Politics
  7. Mexican WhiteBoy
  8. The Racial Contract
  9. White Fragility
  10. From Black Power to Hip Hop
The conversation around critical race theory first entered the public consciousness during the Civil Rights Movement. Critical race theory has practical applications for issues like Affirmative Action and Police Brutality.

For more hot-button issues, check out The Most Controversial Topics Today.

And if you’re interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the issues of race, gender, law, and intersectionality, consider the following online degree options:

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