Critical Race Theory 101 with Angela Morabito

Much of the U.S. media has falsely equated laws against Critical Race Theory with laws against teaching about slavery and the Civil Rights movement.

Critical Race Theory on college campuses has led to students and faculty members being punished for questioning segregated events and mandatory social justice trainings.

Critical Race Theory is the latest lightning rod for controversy in classrooms and school board meetings across America. This controversial doctrine, created on college campuses by academics who bill themselves as anti-racist, has come under fire for its insistence that America is institutionally racist and that people are inherently oppressive or oppressed based on skin color. 

The History 

Critical Race Theory stems from the collective work of several scholars in the 1970s and 1980s. The late Derrick Bell, an esteemed civil rights attorney and Harvard Law’s first Black tenured professor, wrote the 1973 book “Race, Racism, and American Law,” which would later become known as a founding text of the movement. When Bell left Harvard Law in 1980, The Atlantic reports, “the school no longer offered a course specifically addressing race.”  

To remedy the scholar’s absence, per the Harvard Law Record, two students – Kimberle Crenshaw and Mari Matsuda – created an “Alternative Course” in 1983 that was based on Bell’s book. Each week of the course brought a new scholar to campus to teach on “Racism and the American law.” One of those scholars, Richard Delgado, would go on to become a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, where he authored another major text on Critical Race Theory, titled “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction.” Matsuda would go on to become a professor at the University of Hawaii’s law school; Crenshaw holds professorships at Columbia Law School and UCLA. 

Today’s leading critical race theorists have joined the movement’s founders on college campuses: Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility,” is tenured at Westfield State and teaches at the University of Washington. Professor Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to Be an Antiracist” - one of the most popular college summer reading books of the past two years – runs the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University.  

The Practitioners 

Leaders in the field describe their ideology in sharp terms. According to Ibram X. Kendi, “The only remedy to past discrimination is anti-racist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” 

Robin DiAngelo, a professor and leading diversity, equity, and inclusion figure, recently faced backlash for an online training she offered that advised participants to “try to be less white.” 

Predictably, Critical Race Theory in classrooms has had results far afield from what the media describes. One school district, in Oregon, according to the City Journal, showed students a video that called them racist and told them to “do the inner work to figure out a way to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems,” and to “do the outer work and figure out how to change the oppressive systems.” A third-grade teacher in Cupertino, California instructed her students to identify their oppressive and privileged identities, according to Fox News.

In higher education, Critical Race Theory remains a force for change – although the changes it has caused arguably do little to promote equality and much to destroy achievement. For instance, a math education professor at the University of Illinois argued that algebra and geometry perpetuate white supremacy. An English professor at Arizona State suggested that Shakespeare’s work is inherently racist, and a lecturer in the music department at the University of Nevada said that the song Jingle Bells is racist. A teaching assistant at Oklahoma State said she would no longer teach Spanish classes because she’s white, and so her doing so would amount to white supremacy, according to Fox News.

In other instances, Critical Race Theory has led to hateful teachings that have nothing to do with facts. For example, The Yale School of Medicine hosted a guest speaker who said she fantasized about shooting white people and didn’t apologize for it when the video was discovered. 

In other cases, critical race theorists have turned out scholarship that’s historically inaccurate. One of the most common examples of Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project, has been used in the curriculum at several colleges even though several major falsehoods within it have been discovered by both conservative and left-learning professors. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal cites Thomas Mackaman, an avowed socialist and a professor at King’s College, who called Hannah-Jones’ premise “anti-historical.” 

The Law

Six states - Tennessee, Iowa, Oklahoma, Florida, Idaho, and Arkansas - have laws on the books that ban pitting students against one another on the basis of race or sex. A seventh, Utah, has passed resolutions in the state legislature that oppose CRT, though the resolutions do not amount to law and only apply to grade school. Of the six laws in place, Florida’s and Tennessee’s laws apply only to K-12 education, but the remaining four apply to higher education as well. 

Eleven other states have had bills introduced that target CRT. Many of the bills, including those in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and Texas, prohibit public K-12 schools from teaching that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or the idea that “an individual, by virtue of his race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” Most of the bills do not mention Critical Race Theory by name, but instead reference “dignity and nondiscrimination” in education as the goal of the legislation.

Outright bans on Critical Race Theory at the postsecondary level are rare. Arkansas is the only state that currently bans public colleges and universities from teaching Critical Race Theory at all, though Wisconsin’s legislature is currently considering a bill that would do the same. 

Instead, the bills and laws that include language on higher education typically protect students and faculty members from being required to undergo Critical Race Theory training as a condition of their education or employment. Idaho’s law dictates that no college student can be compelled to “affirm, adopt, or adhere to” tenets typically ascribed to Critical Race Theory. Oklahoma’s law blocks public colleges from requiring such training or courses, but it still allows Critical Race Theory to be taught. 

The Media

Though legislation centers on teachings about race that deny personal dignity and individual behavior, the mainstream media describes Critical Race Theory quite differently. 

MSNBC said in a segment chyron these bills “seek to ban or limit teaching of the role of slavery in U.S. history,” when in fact none of the bills restrict what students can learn about slaveryCNN describes Critical Race Theory as a framework that “seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the U.S.” According to TIME, “Critical Race theory [sic] offers a way of seeing the world that helps people recognize the effects of historical racism in modern American life.” 

The New York Times recently claimed that bills in Texas would “obscure the state’s history of slavery and racism,” though nothing in the bill prohibits teaching about either of those topics. 

These seemingly benign descriptions of Critical Race Theory belie its impact in the classroom, as well as what its leading practitioners use in their own writings and speeches. 

Campus Reform is continuing to track examples of Critical Race Theory in higher education, as well as legislation aimed at either eradicating or preserving this doctrine in schools. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AngelaLMorabito