Over the last few months, you’ve probably read about the latest political brawl in the never ending culture wars: Critical Race Theory.
It’s a complicated concept that largely explores how race and racism is experienced in the U.S. and how it intertwines with the functions of society.
One of the overarching ideas of the theory is that racism is systemic and not just acts exhibited by prejudiced individuals. For example, adherents might point out the fact that 27% of Black Americans live in poverty compared to 9.9% of whites, according to a 2018 report by the Economic Policy Institute.
Furthermore, Black Americans represent 40% of the homeless population despite only being 13% of the general population, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
There are dozens of statistics just like these and, academics assert, they are the result of institutional racism and aren’t sad coincidences.
The authors of the theory argue that racial inequality is firmly embedded throughout society and has negatively affected people of color in all areas of life, including criminal justice, education, employment, and healthcare.
Conservatives fiercely disagree. They claim the theory demonizes white people and some officials have taken measures to ban the ideas from being taught in K-12 public schools. They claim that such teachings are designed to indoctrinate children, leaving them with the impression that the United States, from its very founding, is inherently evil.
Speaking of schools, predominantly Black school districts receive far less funding than white school districts, according to ED Build, an organization that works to bring fairness to public school systems throughout the country. The gap in some states is in the billions of dollars.
The 50-year-old theory was recently banned from being taught in public schools in Florida, Arkansas, Idaho and Oklahoma, while discussions on the issue are happening in Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina.
But not everyone seems to understand what the complex theory is about.
In a recent interview with AL.com, state Rep. Chris Pringle, who sponsored a bill banning the theory from being taught in Alabama, defined it like this: “It basically teaches that certain children are inherently bad people because of the color of their skin, period.”
U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina said at a news conference alongside six other members of the all-Republican House Freedom Caucus that “critical race theory asserts that people with white skin are inherently racist, not because of their actions, words or what they actually believe in their heart — but by virtue of the color of their skin.”
Liberal champions of the concept say the idea is important as it assists in understanding the damage inflicted by slavery and Jim Crow.
“This has become a tribal issue where people are defending it or criticizing it at all costs without doing the due diligence of finding out what it is,” said Melik Abdul, a GOP political analyst and Mississippi native who now works in Washington, D.C.
“I support critical race theory, because I think all theories are fascinating, because it allows you to actually have a healthy debate, which is why I say that the real complexities of critical race theory are something that should only be taught at the collegiate level, because there’s just so much to unpack.”
The issue first came up on the Republican radar in September 2020 when President Donald Trump ordered an end to CRT being taught to federal employees as part of diversity training. President Joe Biden later reversed his predecessor’s decision.
The “anti-racist” training, as it has been described by Republicans, has been a central part of a culture war that evolved into a fierce debate over public education.
Republican fury over the issue accelerated in April after the federal government issued proposals to update American history that would include education programs to “incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse perspectives into teaching and learning.”
The memo did not include anything about the critical race theory.
“The truth is: complex teachings of critical race theory aren’t being taught in schools and probably won’t be,” added Abdul. “But I think Democrats have to some extent conflated Black history and CRT. So now the narrative is critical race theory is about Black history. And that’s just not true.”
But if racism is systemic, as CRT explains, how is it not part of Black history?
“I think this is all very legitimate, very helpful for young people, both minorities and white kids, to get exposure to that stuff,” said Richard Delgado, author of CRT and professor at the University of Alabama, in a recent interview with AL.com.“And it helps America. It helps them at this point in our history, and yours.”