critical race theory

Frequently Asked Questions

To help you learn more about Critical Race Theory (CRT), LDF has compiled answers to the most frequently asked questions about critical race theory. This resource also includes information on the laws banning critical race theory and racial justice discourse being enacted across the country and how they fit into a larger effort to suppress the voice, history, and political participation of Black Americans. 

What is Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society — from education and housing to employment and healthcare. Critical Race Theory recognizes that racism is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice. It is essentially an academic response to the erroneous notion that American society and institutions are “colorblind.”

Critical Race Theory recognizes that racism is embedded in laws, policies and institutions that uphold and reproduce racial inequalities. According to CRT, societal issues like Black Americans’ higher mortality rate, outsized exposure to police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, denial of affordable housing, and the death rates of Black women in childbirth are not unrelated anomalies.

The scholarly framework holds that racism goes far beyond just individually held prejudices, and that it is in fact a systemic phenomenon woven into the laws and institutions of this nation. A cursory review of U.S. history — or even just news headlines from 2020, where far too many examples of police brutality and violence against Black people propelled a historic racial justice movement — proves the truth of this theory. The classroom itself, currently the focal point of the ongoing fight to suppress uncomfortable truths about America, has traditionally been the site of some of this nation’s most egregious acts of state sponsored racism. This includes segregation, which theLDF has been at the forefront of challenging since our founder and the first Black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall successfully litigated Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950s.

Who created Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory was first developed by legal scholars in the 1970s and ‘80s following the Civil Rights Movement. It was, in part, a response to the notion that society and institutions were “colorblind.” CRT holds that racism was not and has never been eradicated from our laws, policies, or institutions, and is still woven into the fabric of their existence.

Why should I care about Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory should be embraced as a framework to develop laws and policies that can dismantle structural inequities and systemic racism. Building a more equitable future requires an examination of how the shameful history of slavery, caste, and systemic racism were foundational to laws and institutions that exist today.

What are the common elements of recent legislation attacking CRT?
  • Bans on any discussion or teaching that the United States is inherently or fundamentally racist. 
  • Bans on what legislatures have deemed “divisive concepts,” including white supremacy, male privilege, white privilege, equity, unconscious or implicit bias systemic racism. However, the bans lack context, definitions, or examples of the ways they are being taught.
  • Requirements to teach “without giving deference to any one perspective” and provide a counter narrative or opposing view of anything being taught.
  • Ban discussions of systemic racism and sexism that would “discriminate,” “hurt feelings” or make someone feel “guilty” about their skin color.
  • Drastic limits and funding cuts for anti-bias trainings and diversity and inclusion initiatives for students and teachers.
  • Provisions allowing the state to withhold funding for schools that violate the bans.
What was President Trump’s role in the backlash to Critical Race Theory?

Former President Trump’s “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” issued in September 2020 became the blueprint for states to craft their own bans on truth. Many of the same vague “divisive concepts” banned in the Executive Order reappear in current state legislation. Many state laws also include provisions that establish financial penalties for noncompliance and threaten to cut state funding of schools that disobey the bans.

In the Executive Order, former President Trump directed federal agencies to end trainings related to the discussion of inequality, critical race theory or other forms of what he labeled “propaganda.” It went so far as to establish a McCarthy-esque hotline for people to report on the behavior of others. A few months later, a federal judge later blocked the directive and the Biden Administration has since rescinded the Order.

How are laws banning Critical Race Theory or restricting what students can learn impacting education?

Critical Race Theory is primarily taught at the secondary and post-secondary levels. However, many states have enacted laws banning CRT in elementary or high schools and laws that could restrict what students can learn and silence conversations about our history. These laws have already had a chilling effect.

Classrooms are again being used as a cudgel to silence the voices and deny the experiences of Black people and other historically marginalized groups in America. Many of these laws and measures effectively put severe restrictions on how American history and issues such as school segregation can be taught or even discussed in classrooms. Many of these measures broadly censor conversations about racism by framing the subject itself as “divisive” and “harmful,” and at least a dozen of these laws have already gone into effect. Even more worryingly, several state legislatures have a staggering and ever-growing number of anti-truth bills. Several states and districts have begun banning books.

Why do some lawmakers want to ban CRT?

The term “critical race theory” has been co-opted by opponents as a catch-all and rallying cry to silence any discussions about systemic racism, ban the truthful teaching of American history, and reverse progress toward racial justice. The term has been unjustifiably used to include all diversity and inclusion efforts, race-conscious policies, and education about racism, whether or not they draw from CRT. Attempts to ban CRT are really attacks on free speech, on discussions about the truthful history of race and racism in the U.S., and the lived experiences of Black people and other people of color. 

Lawmakers and proponents of the bans insist they are advocating for a balanced and “patriotic” education. However, these bans do the exact opposite: deny the truth about our nation’s history, silence dissent, and punish those who speak the truth to counter whitewashed falsehoods.

Why did Critical Race Theory suddenly come under fire?

After the historic 2020 election, which included record turnout among Black voters, states passed the strictest voting laws in decades. When millions of people took to the streets to protest police violence, states responded by passing laws criminalizing protest. Now, as individuals across the country, of all races and backgrounds, are coming to recognize the history of systemic racism and its ongoing impact, states are responding by attempting to silence discussions of these issues. The bans are part of a coordinated backlash to the realization of a true multi-racial democracy in America.

What does recent legislation regarding Critical Race Theory seek to ban?

Bans on “critical race theory” are bans on truth and history. Critical Race Theory is not taught in K-12 schools. These laws seek to ban the teaching of a true American history and all of its racist elements. These laws ban virtually any discussions about how racism has shaped our nation’s policies and history- from education and housing to employment and healthcare. Ultimately, these laws are blanket bans on racial discourse and attempt to deny our nation’s shameful legacy of racial oppression. These bans are attacks on free speech that silence those who speak the truth about our nation’s history. 

What role do school districts and school boards play in the bans of education on the history of systemic racism?

The vast majority of school board members are elected officials who have power over school policy decisions, budgets, programming, resource allocation, curriculum, and faculty tenure. They have the power to vote down or institute school district policies, programs, and budgets. Currently, unprecedented numbers of mostly white parents are attending meetings to demand that school boards use their power to ban the teaching of so-called “critical race theory” in schools. 

Recent efforts to ban racial justice discourse are part of a long American history of backlash in response to demands for educational equity. Laws banning racial justice discourse are attacks on all students’ right to a fair, full, and truthful education about their country and their communities. Members of school boards must use their influence to resist bans on truth and defend the rights of teachers and students to discuss race in a classroom setting. Local elections have the power to shape the future of your school district. Learn more about local elections and candidates at

What does the 1619 Project have to do with these laws?

Former President Trump’s Executive Order, and the attacks on racial discourse that followed, emerged after the publication of The 1619 Project by the New York Times. The landmark journalism series published in 2019 aimed to tell a more complete story of slavery’s role in shaping America and the lasting effects of enslavement. Many states specifically banned The 1619 Project as an example of “teaching or discussing that the U.S. is inherently racist.”

The 1619 Project was conceived by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. In April 2021, Ms. Hannah-Jones accepted the appointment as Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at University of North Carolina. In an unprecedented decision, the university’s Board of Trustees voted to deny her tenure. The decision was a clear retaliation against Ms. Hannah-Jones for her leadership on The 1619 Project and the result of a campaign by conservative activists to discredit her work. More broadly, it was an attempt to silence those who speak the truth about our nation’s history of race and racism.

LDF represents Ms. Hannah-Jones in connection with the Board’s failure to consider and approve the faculty recommendation of tenure. Read Ms. Hannah-Jones’ statement regarding her decision to decline the eventual tenure offer at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and to instead accept a Knight Chair appointment at Howard University here.

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LDF is at the forefront of the fight to ensure that America lives up to the ideals of justice and equality for all. The right to free expression and the right to vote are cornerstones of our democracy. Through litigation, public advocacy, and community organizing, LDF and coalition partners are fighting back to protect truth. LDF is working to protect truth in education in Texas, Alabama and South Carolina. All three states introduced legislation that could threaten truthful and honest discussions of history in classrooms, universities, and state agencies. 

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We examine the attacks on ‘Critical Race Theory‘ and efforts to ban books as the latest tactics to halt racial justice.

Part 2

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