Critical race theory or CRT has been in the debate recently with many places in the United States banning the introduction of CRT in schools. For example, Florida banned teaching CRT in schools in 2021. Why is it critical to ban teaching it? How critical is CRT? What is CRT?
CRT is explained as a critical analysis of the existing policies in a nation, from a race-based point of view, or it can be understood as a framework used to challenge racism and the impact of structural racism on society.
The idea is to introduce this in curricula to allow young minds to critically think about how racism is embedded into legal policies and how it impacts discrimination overall. CRT argues that racism is created by social structures like the policies that govern a state. These socio-political structures are erected with laws to support racial segregation.
So why is it being vehemently ruled out of school curricula to the extent that some teachers got arrested and some lost their jobs as they were trying to teach about the root cause of racial segregation? As per the CRT narrative, the root cause of racial segregation is not race; it is the discriminatory laws and policies that force segregation based on skin colour, ethnicity and other differences.
Policies and legal structures are the foundation of social harmony; they are supposed to be neutral; to treat all citizens equally; hence any kind of otherness in legal frameworks and state policies forms cracks in the foundation of harmonious societal systems. CRT compels us to peruse racial hierarchy and racially structures critically, to think about what causes discrimination and how it can be reformed.
But the recent uproar against CRT introduction in the school curriculum has opened another debate and maligns the true purpose of studying CRT. This has now become a political debate and like any other issue when politicians get to decide we never win.
It seems there is fear about raising consciousness amongst young learners that structural inequality and structural racism have become societal practices. A fear that if this is being taught in schools it will lead to negative reactions towards the whites. The fear of CRT, and its ban is ridiculous, unparliamentary, anti-democratic and more like a dystopian behaviour that stems from fear of losing supremacy.
The strong argument against teaching CRT is that it will portray a certain group of people negatively, hence cannot be taught. But that is not the CRT – it is rather the critical reflection on discriminatory laws and practices not toward people. We need to remember and make it very clear that racism does not manifest by people treating each other differently, it is manifested by unequal laws and biased legal structures. Banning CRT makes it worse as it affirms the wrong that exists in society. So, my question is: How is it ok to build structures of discrimination against people of colour negatively, and how it is not okay to talk about it? I am amused by the fear generated by the thought of including CRT in the syllabus, whilst completely ignoring the fear generated by racial abuse.
In very simple terms, think about it in this way: gender discrimination exists – it should be part of the school curricula to teach about laws and policies that propagate gender discrimination. This discrimination doesn’t exist because there are different genders, it exists because there are policies and rules that are created and implemented to support the male gender. This does not mean we start discriminating against men, but it does mean we learn about the laws and policies that created gender discrimination and get rid of them.
To answer the question: how critical is critical race theory? It is critical to teach it; to start thinking critically about what causes division, discrimination, alienation and subjugation of minorities and people of colour. It is not about race – it is about discriminatory practices in our legal and social structure. The sooner we critically reflect on them, the better for a peaceful world.