Critical race theory has divided American teachers and politicians.
An ideological war is raging in the United States. Republicans have launched an attack on critical race theory, a set of ideas that proclaims racism to be an integral part of American history, which, like the American way of life, needs to be fundamentally revised. In some states, teaching this has already been banned, but many teachers feel that politicians’ attempts to interfere with education are detrimental to students and schools.
Racism is history. Racism is a reality. Racism is life. The lives of many racial minorities who, from the perspective of critical race theory advocates, continue to live under the weight of injustice and inequality. “Critical race theory is a practice. 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,” is how Columbia University law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of its founders, defines the theory.
Although the theory was formulated in 1989, its roots can be traced back to the early 20th century and the ideas of International Lenin Peace Prize winner W.E.B. Du Bois, Black rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer and human rights activist Pauli Murray.
The theory holds that the U.S. rests on a legal foundation created by white men for their own benefit during the years of racism, and therefore we need to revise society at its core in order to move beyond it.
“Everything builds on what came before. The so-called American dilemma was not simply a matter of prejudice but a matter of structured disadvantages that stretched across American society,” Crenshaw argued in a conversation with CNN. Talking about the American dilemma, she referred to the book “An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy” by Swedish Nobel Prize-winning economist Gunnar Myrdal. He argued that there is a paradox in American society: White people oppress Black people, who are less successful in their studies and work, which is then used as a justification for further oppression. Myrdal saw two solutions: Either eradicate white prejudice or improve the situation of Black people.
Over time, the theory has spread: Many scholars have begun to practice it, dozens of books have been written, hundreds of articles have been published and several conferences have been held. It has reached even beyond the U.S. and the Black situation itself. For example, some authors have argued that races as such are not biological constructs, but social ones, which society invents or discards for irrelevance. “People with common origins share certain physical traits, of course, such as skin color, physique, and hair texture. But these constitute only an extremely small portion of their genetic endowment, are dwarfed by that which we have in common, and have little or nothing to do with distinctly human, higher-order traits, such as personality, intelligence, and moral behavior,” authors Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic wrote in their book “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction.”
This theory is studied at Harvard University and Cornell University. Other institutions are forming groups to study Hispanic, Native American and Asian-American societies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. used to hold trainings on this theory, but they were canceled by former U.S. President Donald Trump; he opposed teaching it in schools and forbade federal agencies from holding training on racial sensitivity, calling the theory “divisive, anti-American propaganda.”
“Students in our universities are inundated with Critical Race Theory. This is a Marxist document holding that America is a wicked and racist nation, that even young children are complicit in oppression, and that our entire society must be radically transformed.” Mr. Trump said.
Even though Joe Biden is more favorable to this theory, the debate continues. Legislatures in Arkansas, Idaho, Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma have passed laws restricting its teaching in schools and universities. There are restrictions in other states as well. There are also attempts to ban it in the capital city: Washington, D.C.
A bill banning the teaching of the idea that the U.S. is a racist and sexist country and that people can be held accountable for the actions of their ancestors has been introduced by Republican Glenn Grothman. The initiative has virtually no chance: The local legislature is controlled by Democrats who are supporters of critical race theory.
In a county where the majority of residents are liberal and the majority of students are Black, racial equality, on the other hand, is a priority. For example, under the leadership of the chancellor of D.C. public schools, Lewis Ferebee, there are special anti-racism courses for teachers, and Ferebee himself spoke openly about systemic racism in the country after the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by a police officer. He said the district is working to rethink the entire educational process. “We’re looking at areas like grading and discipline and attendance — whenever we see outcomes that are along the lines of racial disparities, we want to be at the forefront of rethinking and reimagining what is possible,” he explained at the press conference.
The day before, some six dozen educational groups also signed a statement expressing their displeasure with the ongoing assault on critical race theory. “The clear goal of these efforts is to suppress teaching and learning about the role of racism in the history of the United States,” the statement said. It argued that educators must present an unadulterated picture of history in order to raise students to be informed and active citizens.
However, such proclamations are unlikely to convince Republicans. The day before, one of the party’s most prominent spokesmen, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, said that critical race theory “teaches that America is fundamentally racist and irredeemably racist,” and that the purpose of this theory is to divide Americans. “It is a lie and it is every bit as racist as the Klansmen in the white sheets on the ground,” the senator said. Technically, the public agrees with him: An Economist/YouGov poll found that 58% of Americans view the theory negatively, though only 26% of those surveyed are well informed about it, while 38% have only heard something about it.