critical race theory

frequently asked questions

To help you learn more about Critical Race Theory, LDF has compiled answers to the most frequently asked questions about it. This resource also includes information on the laws banning 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 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 rates of the death of Black women in childbirth are not unrelated anomalies.

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.

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. 

Which states have passed laws banning Critical Race Theory?

More than 25 states have introduced legislation that could restrict or ban what students can learn and what teachers can teach about our nation’s history. More than 66 anti-truth bills have been introduced or pre-filed. More than 12 states have already passed versions of anti-truth laws or mandated similar statewide policies. (Source: Edweek)

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.

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 Vote.org.

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.

How are LDF and coalition partners countering the bans on the teaching of race and racism?

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. Its protection is particularly critical for Black Americans and other marginalized groups who have a long history of battling disenfranchisement. 

After former President Trump issued Executive Order 13950, LDF swiftly filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality as a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and the Fifth Amendment guarantees of due process and the equal protection of the law. Learn more about our lawsuit here.

The African American Policy Forum launched the #TruthBeTold campaign to document the impact and damage caused by the Executive Order. The campaign underscores the need for deeper engagement on and examination of issues of race, gender, intersectionality, and justice. Learn more about AAPF’s #TruthBeTold campaign here.

Learn more about LDF’s work to protect truth here.

#TRUTHBETOLD CAMPAIGN

The African American Policy Forum launched the #TruthBeTold campaign to document the impact and damage caused by the Trump Truth Ban. The campaign underscores the need for deeper engagement on and examination of issues of race, gender, intersectionality, and justice.
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