You’re probably thinking: “Hasn’t The Root already done an explainer on Critical Race Theory?”
Yes, and you can still read it here. Since that article, the debate over Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become more contentious. In response to the prospect of The 1619 Project’s educational curriculum being available to teachers, lawmakers and school boards in Texas, Idaho and places where textbooks teach about the luxurious lives of slaves, have pushed legislation preventing teachers from teaching CRT to their precious white babies.
If you’re wondering about my qualifications on this subject, while creating a curriculum for an experimental master’s degree program that I was part of, my adviser gave me a textbook, Macroeconomics, co-written by a brilliant professor named William Darity. When I later proposed using macroeconomics to teach a class called “Race as an Economic Construct,” the same professor suggested a collection of writings on a relatively new subject called “Critical Race Theory.” I had no idea that Darity would go on to be one of the standard-bearers for the current reparation movement or that CRT would become a thing.
The problem with this controversy is that there is no controversy. In fact, there are more states who are trying to ban Critical Race Theory than there are schools that teach Critical Race Theory. To understand why the conversation over CRT is stupid, we decided to dismiss the most prevalent assumption about this hot topic.
This assumption is driven by a misrepresentation of one of the foundational principles of CRT–that racism is “ordinary.” This doesn’t mean that every single white person is racist or that every institution in America is racist. However, this means that racism is so common in American society that it is “not remarkable.”
For instance, doctors know that microscopic protein organisms that fall under the category known as rhinoviruses are everywhere. They lurk on door handles, in water droplets and even on people’s hands. That doesn’t mean every single human hand carries the virus. But no one freaks out when they find out they’ve been infected with the illness caused by rhinovirus. In fact, the rhinovirus is so ordinary that we have a name for the ailment caused by rhinovirus infections:
We call it “the common cold.”
The same is true for America’s unique form of white supremacy. It is everywhere. It was so prevalent in the founders that it infected the Constitution. It was, in fact, so ordinary that the United States Supreme Court said, in its Dred Scott decision that Black people had always “been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court acknowledged that “legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts,” explaining: “ If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.”
So Critical Race Theory does not teach that America is a racist country.
America teaches us that America is a racist country.
If you have ever used a version of the phrase: “Not all white people..” you are employing a basic tenet of Critical Race Theory. CRT says that, because white people collectively benefit from racism, they are unlikely to eliminate it. But as Monique Judge points out, the phrase “white people” represents “the type of collective whiteness that unites white people even when y’all aren’t all on the same page or following the same agenda.”
When your favorite newscaster explains how Black voters cast ballots for Joe Biden, somehow you understand the phrase “Black voters” doesn’t include Diamond, Silk, or Jason Whitlock. When ESPN reports that the Lakers won 42 games this season, you know they aren’t talking about Anthony Davis because he only played in like...maybe two-and-a-half games. However, just like Anthony Davis benefits from the baskets scored by LeBron James, white people benefit from white supremacy.
When a racist employer doesn’t want to hire Black people, all of the white job candidates benefit. When majority-white school districts receive $23 billion more in funding than nonwhite school districts, all of the white children get better schools. This is why white workers and white parents don’t work as hard (if at all) to challenge structural racism. Why would they dismantle a system that benefits them?
While one can debate whether or not the 1619 Project uses CRT, it does not teach Critical Race Theory any more than teaching about the Constitution’s three-fifths clause teaches children that slavery is OK.
CRT was devised by legal scholars and expanded into other disciplines. However, even law professors, economists and sociologists who study and understand CRT don’t often teach the intricacies of the philosophy. Instead, CRT simply informs their approach to educating students. For instance, instead of teaching students about the history of the Constitution from the ordinary white perspective, one might include information about how the Founding Fathers’ fear of slave revolts factored into the creation of the Second Amendment.
Because the standard K-12 history curriculum sometimes ignores the role slavery played in the nation’s past, the Pulitzer Center created resources to teach the economic, political and social impact of slavery in American history. It doesn’t replace the version of history. It is a supplement.
While the 1619 Project curriculum “challenges us to reframe U.S. history by marking the year when the first enslaved Africans arrived on Virginia soil as our nation’s foundational date,” it doesn’t seek to replace July 4, 1776. Plus, everyone knows that America was founded on July 4, 1776.
Except that’s not true.
Seventeen seventy-six was just the year a bunch of white guys wrote a breakup letter to King George saying the American colonies were tired of being England’s sidepiece. But that was on June 7, so America didn’t become a country then. The Declaration of Independence wasn’t even signed until August, after the Revolutionary War had been going on for over a year. Plus we were losing...And the war lasted until 1783. And the Constitution wasn’t ratified until June 21, 1788. Now that’s when America officially became a country.
Also, the indigenous people of North America know that there were already independent governments founded before white people showed up. And Black people didn’t technically become Americans until 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified.
How did July 4, 1776 become America’s foundational date?
Well, Continental Congress unanimously voted to declare its independence from Britain on July 2, 1776. The next year, everyone forgot the date until, on July 3, 1777, Congress said “Oh shit!” and scheduled celebrations for the next day.
And that’s how a few white men decided July 4, 1776 was America’s “foundational date.”
Kids’ history education system is being controlled by activist organizations who want to indoctrinate our children.
Now this one is true.
Part of the reason why there is so much pushback against the 1619 Project and CRT is that the textbook industry and the way American history is taught was controlled by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. For more than a century, this Klan-adjacent group of white women has ensured that history teachers promote the “Lost Cause” ideology of the Confederacy.
The UDC began this battle against teaching a more accurate, more inclusive history after losing the fight to preserve Confederate statues, most of which, were funded by the same organization. This is just the new front on the culture war that the UDC has waged since the 1800s.
Actually, there’s no real way to do that. While each state sets its own standards, and school boards usually choose textbooks, individual teachers and schools often devise their history curriculum on their own, including the supplementary materials. There is just no way to cross-reference every point a history teacher teaches.
I’m sure they’ll figure out something
Here is the most important point:
No one is teaching Critical Race Theory to your kid.
Most teachers have never studied it. It is almost never taught on the undergraduate level and rarely in the field of education. It is too complex to teach high school and elementary students.
The controversy is a made-up dog whistle by the same conservatives who want you to believe that Q was going to disband the Democratic Party’s child sex pizza shop ring. It’s a product of the same imagination that brought you the Big Lie, the uncrossable border wall and coronavirus bleach medicine. It’s a made-up thing.
But there is one thing they are right about.
There is a good reason why everyone is up in arms about CRT and the 1619 Project. There’s only one reason why state legislatures are passing laws to prevent a thing that does not exist. There is an explanation for all of this outpouring of outrage:
America is a racist country.
But that ain’t no theory.