Yesterday, the governor of Idaho signed a bill into state law designed to prevent critical race theory from being taught in schools and universities. Specifically, the law bans discourse on the notion that any members of any race, sex, religion, ethnicity, or national origin are inferior or superior to other groups and that certain groups benefit from privileges based on society’s perception of their identity (The Guardian). A similar law was also enacted this week in Tennessee, and other states – including Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Florida – have proposed to do the same.
This is the latest iteration of a long conservative tirade against the notion of educating on race in schools and organizations, accelerated by the Trump administration. Former President Trump wielded conservative sentiment around critical race theory to his advantage, using his platform to admonish the idea of diversity and inclusion trainings, the 1619 Project, and talking about racism in school (PBS). During its time, the Trump administration passed an executive order banning the federal government and its contractors from using curriculum that examined systemic racism, which was reversed by the Biden administration immediately after taking office (USA Today).
• The Department of Education has a list of proposed priorities for creating a more culturally-responsive American History and Civics Education. They are requesting public comments from the community to gauge sentiment.
• Take a few minutes to review the curriculum and leave a (positive) review. The majority are negative.
• Read this introduction to critical race theory to get a comprehensive overview.Research specific bills that have been proposed or passed in your state, and the best way to take action.
• Consider: How has your education so far informed your perspective on racism and systemic oppression? If you experienced institutionalized education, what has it contributed to what you know now?
A common refrain against introducing critical race theory in schools is that it “indoctrinates” kids into racism. But in reality, critical race theory is a framework designed to help identify and understand how racism plays a part in our society. It helps provide insight and understanding of how racism can be studied, processed, and dismantled. It was created during the 1970s by a group of lawyers, activists, and legal scholars (Critical Race Theory). Although it may be studied in post-secondary education, this framework has not been taught, and isn’t being taught, in nearly any schools across the country.”
There are six key tenets to critical race theory:
Racism is a normalized and commonplace part of society. It is not just reflected in individual actions but embedded in our cultural and political practices and systems.
Consequently, whiteness is a “property” – something with tangible value – that offers white people unearned privileges and opportunities not afforded to people of color at the same level, like access to wealth, safety from law enforcement, opportunities for academic success, etc.
Because of this, the notion that all are treated equally, and have the same rights and opportunities, is a myth, challenging concepts like colorblindness and meritocracy.
Since racism benefits those with power and privilege, there is little incentive to solve it – unless it benefits both people of color and dominant members of society. This is also referred to as “interest convergence.”
Intersectionality is critical for understanding racism. Everyone has intersecting identities based on their racial/ethnic background, socioeconomic status, gender identity, etc., which means that each person experiences racism in unique ways.
The personal experiences of people of color are worthy and legitimate forms of discourse in the conversations on racism, especially when countering the default narrative.
There are several variations of critical race theory that focus on specific ethnic/racial groups, or intersectionalities within ethnic/racial groups – including critical race feminism (CRF), Latino critical race studies (LatCrit), Asian American critical race studies (AsianCrit), South Asian American critical race studies (DesiCrit), American Indian critical race studies (TribCrit), and disability critical race studies (DisCrit).
Our social world, with its rules, practices, and assignments of prestige and power, is not fixed; rather, we construct with it words, stories and silence. But we need not acquiesce in arrangements that are unfair and one-sided. By writing and speaking against them, we may hope to contribute to a better, fairer world.
If you’ve been reading this newsletter for some time, you’ll notice that we cover all of these topics regularly. Explore our archives to find many of these topics covered in previous newsletters. And if you’re interested, you can find a more comprehensive overview of critical race theory here.
The conservative pushback is not against the framework instead. Instead, the term “critical race theory” is being weaponized to ban any curriculum that references the diversity of this nation, any historical conflict, and reflects our accurate history. Like any other subject, racism needs theory to help understand it in practice. And students are already learning about racism in practice, whether it’s on the syllabus or not. If they are a person of color, they are impacted by it directly. And either way, it’s unlikely they do not hear about racist incidents through the news, social media, or other aspects of their everyday lives. I think our youth are due, at minimum, a framework for contextualizing the world they live in.
This conservative attack isn’t just for the sake of education but one of many attempts to delegitimize the notion of racism and, consequently, the policies and practices to change that. We must advocate for this, not just in education, but normalized in all aspects of our society. As Justice Harry Blackmun stated, “in order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way.”
States across the country have proposed or passed legislation to ban critical race education in schools and universities.
Developed in the 1970s, critical race theory is a framework created by activists and scholars to understand how racism persists in the U.S.
This is part of a broader campaign to discredit the concept of racism and its influence in U.S.