Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard about critical race theory in the news this summer. It’s the most recent far-right boogeyman – often discussed but hardly understood. Politicians have dedicated their entire campaigns and legislative efforts to banning the educational framework from our schools in ignorance of its potential benefits.
So, what is critical race theory?
Critical race theory is a decades-old academic idea that race is a social construct and that racism is as much the byproduct of institutional discrimination as individual prejudice. In short, minorities experience inequality not solely because of the aggregated racism of millions of Americans but also because that’s how our government, economy, and society are designed.
Redlining is a great example of this top-down inequity. In the 1930s, the federal government launched a nationwide effort to segregate housing. The Federal Housing Administration drew “red lines” around mostly Black communities and instructed large banks to deny loans to residents of those areas. Black families found it difficult to purchase a new home and create intergenerational wealth without the financial support available to white people, a shutout which still plagues them to this day.
The facts of redlining are well-documented yet ignored too often. It’s an example of how the government and financial institutions conspired to systematically reduce the quality of life for Black people throughout the country. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed the practice, but by then it was too late.
Disparities in homeownership illustrate just how severely redlining impacted minority communities. Critical race theory helps point that out and encourages scholars to not ignore systematic oppression. But for some reason, mainstream and fringe politicians alike have decried the teaching of critical race theory as somehow opposed to American values.
They’re right of course, just not in the way they think they are.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank group, claims that critical race theory creates a prism of skin color through which its proponents see the entire world. It also claims that this degrades our national discourse and civics by making it more difficult to understand each other and have a real dialogue. The Heritage Foundation has parallelly criticized “identity politics,” claiming the U.S. isn’t divided into groups.
Where to begin?
Critical race theory simply suggests that race affects our lives. Whether through workplace discrimination, economic coercion, and even our daily interactions, skin color certainly affects how the world treats us. You don’t need to be an organizer or activist to admit this is true – the evidence is all over the place. Opponents to critical race theory are simply acting out of fear that they’ll have to recognize that society is rigged against Black and Brown communities.
Why are they afraid of that? Well, it shakes the idea that America is this idealistic land of the free, where everyone can fairly compete with each other and prosper. That isn’t true, nor has it ever been. In reality, America as we know it is the product of decades of racial discrimination from our elected officials and those in power. Teaching students that race affects our lives isn’t evil, nor is it “identity politics.” It’s simply logical, historically accurate, and commendable.