Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a legal and academic school of thought developed by various legal scholars, including Kimberle Crenshaw and Derrick Bell, that says race (a social construct) and racism are not merely the products of individual bias or prejudice but also something embedded in legal systems and public policies.
While CRT is accepted in legal and academic circles, the concept has enemies in political circles and has thus been placed within the culture wars, along with abortion and LGBTQ rights.
The enemies of CRT, or anything remotely close to it, are usually politically conservative and white. In their crusade against CRT, these conservatives have introduced and implemented public policy to prevent what they deem as CRT from being taught in schools and in the workplace. That’s in addition to banning books they’ve labeled to be CRT.
Yet, conservatives are generally unable to define it—just like they can’t define “woke.” That’s because the problem isn’t with CRT or wokeness. To be clear, CRT is taught in law schools, not in K-12 schools.
The problem is with the possibility of a real reckoning with the impact of white supremacy, racial capitalism and anti-Blackness in society that demands an overhaul of our systems and institutions along with a reconciliation, which includes reparations for Black people.
What CRT actually is, is being taught in real time. It’s expressed by way of book bans and public policy. Most recently, it was expressed by the Tennessee legislature when they expelled two members of the state’s House of Representatives — Justin Jones and Justin Pearson.
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Both were expelled for violating house rules that prevent any member from speaking on the floor without recognition from the House Speaker. They did so to compel their colleagues to enact gun reform legislation after the Covenant School shooting in Nashville where three 9-year-old children were murdered.
Gloria Johnson also violated those rules but she wasn’t expelled because in her words, she is “a 60-year old white woman and they are two young Black men.”
What the Tennessee House of Representatives did was utilize the rules and policies of a governing institution—a white institutional space—to silence two Black legislators who represent 130,000 Black voters, who were left without representation.
These rules weren’t created by Black people. While the rules can be adapted by Black people occupying the positions to do so, they’re ultimately subject the guardrails against Black democratic rule, because even white liberals call for civility.
Critical race theory says that “race” is a fluctuating, decentered complex of social meanings that are formed and transformed under the constant pressures of political struggle. In other words, the social meanings of race change over time to accommodate the combatants of political struggles. In the case of white political conservatives, race and racism in 2023 mean you can sit at the table but you have to eat what’s put in front of you… and not complain about it.
Folks like Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Glenn Youngkin and others are working overtime to prevent CRT from being taught to children and utilized in the workplace to ensure justice and equity. But their very actions are CRT in action, the same as the Tennessee House Republicans. If preventing CRT from being exposed within institutions is the aim, why would one expose that very thing by their actions?
Because the enemies of CRT don’t care about doing what they desire to cover up. Because they’ve kept their voters ignorant. In the words of LBJ, while in the state of Tennessee, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket.”
Therefore, Tennessee is a master class with sadly, zero attendance.
Photo: Critical race theory is taught in law schools, not in K-12 schools. Students cheer as President Barack Obama delivers the commencement speech at Howard University graduation, May 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
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Rann Miller is an educator and freelance writer based in New Jersey. His Urban Education Mixtape blog supports urban educators and parents of children attending urban schools. He is the author of “Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids” (Bloom Books for Young Readers) released on March 7. Follow him on Twitter @RealRannMiller.