So What’s the Problem: An Examination of Critical Race Theory


Renee Bright

Do we simply need to clean our glasses when it comes to CRT?

“In every aspect of our lives, we encounter race,” said Jane Bolgatz, the associate dean for academic affairs at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education. “If we aren’t talking about race, we aren’t noticing the ways in which society pushes white people forward. And so, then we’re not noticing the fact that these winds are not only pushing them forward but pushing people of color backwards.”

Critical race theory is an intellectual and social movement. It’s based on the premise that race is a social construct and not a biologically grounded feature of humans. The social construct of race is used to oppress and exploit people of color. Critical race theorists believe that racism is inherent in the function of the law and legal system of the U.S., which creates and maintains social, economic, and political inequalities. Another belief is that white people are benefiting from systems that harm people of color, whether it’s intentional or not.

The concept of critical race theory was first officially organized in 1989 at the first annual Workshop on Critical Race Theory, but the movement goes back to the 1960s and 70s. Back then, it was called critical legal studies movement. This movement dedicated itself to examining the law and legal institutions and how they served the interests of the wealthy and powerful.

An example of this can be found in the education system. In the Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, segregated schools were found to be unconstitutional. This ruling is often praised as a sign of America’s growing inclusivity, but Gloria Ladson-Billings and other CRT originators recognized that Brown was a combination of legal challenges that had built up over the years, not a natural occurrence. Derrick Bell, a Harvard Law Professor, stated that the Fourteenth Amendment alone would not have effectively promoted racial equality for people of color in this case, especially if it would threaten the social status of wealthy white people. The decision in Brown was decided based off of interest convergence. Interest convergence is the recognition that the interests of achieving racial equality for people of color would be accommodated only when it aligns with the interests of white people. Brown’s legal invalidation of racial segregation in education had some kind of benefit for white policymakers, along with benefits for black students. Bell believes that the decision was made not for the good morals of ending legal segregation, but instead for restoring the credibility of America’s image. Due to the Cold War, it was becoming more and more difficult for America to justify the racial system, so they got rid of it. Furthermore, the ruling in Brown was limited in its relief. The persistence of racial inequality following the civil rights era shows that the law maintained racial inequality, an example of this being the Court’s failure to outline a specific remedy to achieve integrated schools. It took years of subsequent litigation over the next couple decades before the Court finally mandated that schools need to uproot all vestiges of segregation.


Some of the current manifestations of racial inequalities in education include: the curriculum that excludes the history and experiences of people of color living in America, imposing a dominant white narrative of history, narrow assessments that use their results to confirm narratives about the ineducability of children of color, school discipline policies that disproportionately impact students of color and compromise their educational outcomes, persistent underfunding of property-poor districts that are primarily composed of children of color, and the persistence of racially segregated education.

In the 1970s, Black Americans made up 44.5% of Detroit’s population. The ratio of Black to White students was 58 to 41. Verda Bradley and other parents who were represented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People looked to desegregate the city’s schools. They alleged that Michigan maintained a racially segregated public school system that isolated black students. Black families were excluded from the surrounding suburbs that were populated by white families, who had fled to avoid integrating the schools due to racially discriminatory housing practices. Despite their efforts to desegregate schools, the Supreme Court rejected a desegregation plan that included Detroit’s schools in Milliken v. Bradley. Their reasoning was that they were not required to be a part of the desegregation plan because district lines had not been drawn with racist intent. The surrounding suburbs were not responsible for the segregation in the schools. In 2000, the ratio of black to white students in Detroit was 91 to 4. The racially isolated public schools were found to be severely under-resourced. The students described deteriorating facilities that lacked heat and were infested with vermin. There was an absence of qualified educators, which led to a middle schooler serving as a substitute. By rejecting the desegregation plans, the Court foreclosed the possibility of implementing a working desegregation strategy.

CRT is also viewed as a radicalization of legal realism. This is a school of legal philosophy where judicial decisions are influenced by political or ideological factors. Critical race theorists don’t want to abandon all law or legal rights because they’re not all harmful and some of them have done a lot to help oppressed or exploited groups.

Critical race theorists believed that political liberalism was incapable of properly addressing the problems of injustice within society because of its emphasis on equitable treatment under the law of all races, or “color blindness.” This made them only capable of recognizing the most obvious racist practices and not the more subtle or systemic ones.

According to “The American Psychological Association,” infants and toddlers are often aware of race and can display racist beliefs at a young age. Despite most adults agreeing that the talk of racism should be held back until the child is at least five, psychologists recommend helping young children navigate these ideas earlier than expected.

Teaching critical race theory in schools could provide some benefits to both people of color and white people. It could potentially provide a more realistic understanding of white racism within the U.S. It’s not only a set of negative attitudes towards racial groups, but also a body of law and legal practices that oppresses people of color. Disrupting the systemic prejudice that has been normalized can create a beneficial area for students of color to learn. Addressing the racial disparities in the educational system can relieve some students of color from feelings of self-hatred or alienation. CRT would provide a more accurate understanding of diversity in the U.S. and help white students gain a more informed perspective that would help them to succeed.

With all of these benefits, why isn’t it being taught in schools? CRT has been faulted by critics for its embrace of a postmodernist-inspired skepticism of objectivity and truth. Critical race theorists have been accused of undervaluing the traditional liberal ideals of equality and fairness in the law and legal procedures, as well as spurning the notion of objective standards of merit in school and employment. Some people believe that critical race theorists interpret any inequality in legal, academic, or economic as proof of institutionalized racism.

Within these past few years, public attention has been drawn to the unfairness people of color face with the police. Evidence of this would be the police killings that sparked the Black Lives Matter protests. In an attempt to draw public attention away from the problem of systemic racism, Trump and other Republican leaders attacked CRT, categorizing it as false and an anti-American act from leftists and anti-white racists. They spread fear among parents that leftist teachers were trying to indoctrinate American children through CRT in public schools. This led several Republican states to ban CRT and discourage any kind of teaching that would relate to it.

At least six Republican-majority state legislatures have introduced or implemented restrictions on teaching about racial inequality in schools. These bills – In Tennessee, Texas, Idaho, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Louisiana – include almost the exact same language. Each bill would ban teachers from teaching that “race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously,” that “a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex” and that “this state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.”