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What is Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others. The concept is that race is a social construct; not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. The theory posits that racism is part of everyday life, so people of any race who don’t intend to be racist can nevertheless make choices that fuel racism.

Longtime CRT legal scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic penned, “Unlike traditional approaches to civil rights, which stress incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones, founder of 'The 1619 Project' tweeted on June 9th, "CRT is not radical if you actually know what it is. The idea that race is embedded in the law and our nation’s institutions is simply historical fact.”

The Tenets of Critical Race Theory

1) Race is socially constructed, not biologically natural. It recognizes that science from the Human Genome Project refutes the idea of biological racial differences. Race is the product of social thought and is not connected to biological reality.

2) Racism in the United States is normal, not aberrational: it is the common, ordinary experience of most people of color. Racism is embedded within systems and institutions, like the legal system, that replicate racial inequality. Racist incidents are manifestations of structural and systemic racism.

3) Due to interest convergence or material determinism, legal advances/setbacks for people of color tend to serve the interests of dominant white groups. This results in the majority only supporting the interests of a minority if their interests align and that any moral, cultural, intellectual, or vocational choice is determined by material factors.

4) Members of minority groups periodically undergo differential racialization. The process by which groups of people are racialized in differing ways at different times to serve the needs and interests of the majority.

5) No individual can be identified by membership in a single group due to people's overlapping identities and experiences (e.g., race, class, gender, sexuality, etc). In theory, it would reveal both the intersections of institutions, systems, and categorizations that produce oppression as well as the intersections of identity categorizations within individuals and groups.

6) People of color are uniquely qualified to speak on behalf of other members of their group(s) regarding the forms and effects of racism. The self-expressed views of victims of racism and other forms of oppression provide essential insight into the nature of the legal system.

Critics claim the theory advocates discrimination against white people in order to achieve equity. They charge that the theory leads to negative dynamics, such as a focus on group identity over universal traits, dividing people into oppressed and oppressor groups, and urges intolerance.

The Heritage Foundation claimed, “When followed to its logical conclusion, CRT is destructive and rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based.”

In 2007 Chief Justice John Roberts concluded, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Then-justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rebutted, “It’s very hard for me to see how you can have a racial objective but a nonracial means to get there.”

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