Of late, the critical race theory (CRT) has generated an extremely volatile debate, especially in K-12 (kindergarten to 12th grade), as state legislatures and ordinary citizens debate about the need to have the theory banned from classrooms in the United States.
But even as this theory continues to shape public discourse and policy, many people haven’t taken the time to understand its principles thus making false assumptions. So, what are the five principles of critical race theory? This article has the answers.
What Is Critical Race Theory?
CRT is the cross-disciplinary analysis of how laws, media, and sociopolitical movements shape, and are shaped by the ideas and appreciation of race and ethnicity by activists and civil rights scholars.
The main objective of this analysis is to challenge every mainstream and alternative view of race and racial justice. This discourse is designed to challenge even the most liberal, progressive, and conservative views of racism.
Several scholars have attempted to define critical race theory in their publications and scholarly works. For instance, in his publication in 1995, Cornel West described CRT as an intelligent crusade that’s both specific to our postmodern and conservative times and part of a long-held practice of human struggle for liberation.
The term critical implies scholarly criticism, critical thinking, and critical theory, not blame or criticism of people of specific races. For a long time, this theory has been part of sociology with scholars using it to explain the various social, legal, and political organizations and power supply with more emphasis on the idea of race and the experiences brought by racism.
For instance, its conceptual framework analyzes racial prejudice in laws and legal establishments like highly disparate rates of incarceration of specific racial groups in the USA.
It also analyzes the concept of intersectionality, which influences various forms of racial identity and inequalities with reference to race, social class, gender, and physical abilities. Using critical race theory, scholars consider race as a social formation without a biological basis. They argue that racism and different racial outcomes result from intricate, varying, and often delicate social and established dynamics, not clear and intentional individual biases.
Many CRT proponents argue that the way race is constructed, both socially and legally, advances white people’s interests to the detriment of people of color. They further argue that the liberal idea of U.S. laws as being “neutral” contributes immensely to the perpetuation of the apparent racially unfair social order, allowing formally color-blind legislation to continue to generate racially biased consequences.
How the Critical Race Theory Came About
CRT started in the USA right after the civil rights period when the 1960’s momentous civil rights laws started to lose impetus and the re-segregation of schools was rampant. Since the revolutionary civil rights and color-blind laws didn’t end racial inequalities in the USA, CRT scholars started reworking and expanding critical legal studies theories on the existing economic structure, class, and law to analyze the influence of the U.S. law on continuing racism.
This gave rise to the CRT, which is a framework of evaluation based on critical theory. This evaluation picked momentum in the 1970s and became a point of reference for many legal scholars in America, including Alan Freeman, Cheryl Harris, Charles R. Lawrence III, Derrick Bell, and many others. This theory was based on the works of popular philosophers like Antonio Gramsci, Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. Du Bois, Sojourner Truth, and many others.
But some critics argue that the CRT is purely based on stories, not evidence and reason. They add that the theory ignores reality and merit, and it’s in conflict with liberalism. This criticism led to the push by conservative U.S. lawmakers in 2020 to have the CRT banned in primary and secondary schools. They also wanted it and other related training abolished from federal agencies.
The lawmakers argued that the theory is false and anti-American, adding that it makes white people the villains and promotes radical leftism. Those who want CRT to be banned in schools argue that it indoctrinates children. But its proponents, on the other hand, accuse its critics of misrepresenting its basic principles and attempting to broadly silence debates around racism, social justice, inequality, and the existing history of ethnicity in America.
Five Principles of Critical Race Theory
Since time immemorial, race has always been a very touchy subject in society, especially in the United States, where various races have to coexist. For many years, racism has been viewed as a very wrong convention, making it difficult for scholars to specifically explain racism and its nature in any society. It’s even more complicated when scholars attempt to teach issues related to race in schools.
It always results in controversy and suspicion. As noted above, the CRT looks at the history of the United States through the lens of systematic racism practiced throughout the centuries. This theory suggests that laws and cultural practices have deeply entrenched prejudices that give white men advantages and privileges over people of color. This has led to the total ban of this theory in schools in five states.
But is CRT such a bad thing for our society? Does it do the ugly things that its critics claim it does to our kids and society in general? To answer these questions, you need to understand the basic tenets of CRT. Here are the five principles of critical race theory.
1. Racism Is Systematic
As the era of civil rights in America was coming to an end in the 1960s, serious changes were happening and the fight against racism was advancing quickly with the enactment of revolutionary legislations like the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act. Many people believed that the “bad old days” were passing.
However, some people weren’t so optimistic about the future because they were convinced that racism didn’t just go away with the new legislation. Others believed that the lingering elements of racism are typical cases of individual bad apples. They were convinced that society wasn’t racist anymore and that racism wasn’t systematic.
But the creators of the CRT contested that despite the optimism, racism was systematic. They insisted that racism was entrenched in cultural practices, laws, and norms. Furthermore, they believed that society formulated and continued to implement policies that favored whites while discriminating against non-whites.
The proponents of CRT maintain that after the civil rights movement, racism became institutionalized. This type of racism is more subtle than blatant racial segregation where black people were intentionally separated from whites because of their skin color. So, even though the old form of racism went away, it only got so far because it gave rise to “hidden “racism.
2. Race Is a Social Concept
As Martin Luther King Jr. his famous “I Had a Dream” speech, he hoped that there would come a time when a person wouldn’t be judged by others by the color of their skin, but by their true character. Unfortunately, this was just a dream because the reality was exactly the opposite. King’s speech was inspired by the incidents of racial discrimination against people of color across America.
For instance, he saw black people being forced to take back seats on buses away from the white people, who occupied the front seats. So, he believed that the law separated members of the same society by race. According to the CRT, race is a social construct, not a scientific fact. It’s a concept created by society.
3. Whites Benefit Even When Helping
The critical race theory suggests that white privilege exists to this day. Even with the numerous changes that have occurred over time in terms of ending white privilege in America, proponents of the CRT believe that things haven’t improved that much. They insist that most of the things that appear to benefit everyone, including people of color, have eventually turned out to be beneficial to white people specifically.
A good example is the means to deal with racial discrimination in schools. Although the previous government-supported racial segregation in schools isn’t allowed, many things that are likely to result in racial segregation are still in practice. The CRT proponents argue that these things are deliberately left to thrive because they benefit white people.
Those opposed to the CRT argue that the theory is solely based on stories, not scientific facts. Their argument is based on the fact that storytelling was an effective tool in the 1960s and 1970s when people told stories to draw attention to certain societal ills. It also gave specific ethnic groups a sense of power because their stories were being told.
Those who support the CRT admit that storytelling helps people to understand their history and society, adding that there’s a need for counter-stories to offer alternative perspectives. Through storytelling, people have understood the effects of intersectionality as described by Kimberle Crenshaw, who explains how race, gender, and social class intersect and overlap with each other.
This principle is a stern call to action encouraging everyone to speak against racism and discriminatory policies and arrangements. The end goal is to make the world a better place for everyone regardless of their race and skin color. According to the critical race theory, you should always analyze the ills perpetrated by society, speak out, learn from them, and use your lessons to make society better.