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February 29, 2024 11 mins

The term 'critical race theory' started causing a lot of buzz back in 2020, but what does it really mean? And is it being taught in schools? Learn about this academic theory in today's episode of BrainStuff, based on this article: https://people.howstuffworks.com/critical-race-theory-news.htm

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to brain Stuff, a production of iHeartRadio, Hey Brainstuff
Lauren Vogelbaum here. The term critical race theory or CRT
became a hot button issue in late twenty twenty. Since then,
hundreds of US state and local legislators and other officials

(00:21):
have introduced policies attempting to ban critical race theory from
being taught in public schools. As of October of twenty
twenty three, twenty nine states had actually adopted such policies
in one way or another. Many measures have failed to
be adopted, or have been withdrawn or expired before they
went to vote. Only seven states have had no such bans.

(00:43):
Put forth, the term seemed to appear out of nowhere.
So why is critical race theory suddenly part of the
conversation and what is it? Anyway? For the article, this
episode is based on how Stuff Work. Spoke with David
Miguel Gray, an assistant professor of philosophy at the Institute

(01:03):
for Intelligence Systems at the University of Memphis. He explained,
critical race theory is a movement in legal thought. Let's
unpack that our Critical race theory is an academic framework
that legal scholars specifically used to critically examine the legal
history of the United States through a lens of racism,
including everything from the US Constitution to the Mayflower Compact,

(01:27):
as well as legislation from the Supreme Court or lower courts.
A CRT was developed during the mid nineteen seventies by
a handful of legal scholars after they determined that despite
the gains of the US civil rights movement, a progress
toward racial equality had been slow or in some cases
rolled back. These scholars, in particular Derek Bell and Alan Freeman,

(01:50):
realized that a new conceptual framework was needed to better
understand the complex relationship between race, racism, and the US
legal system. In nineteen eighty nine, more than twenty scholars
created the first CRT workshop in Madison, Wisconsin. One of
the organizers one Kimberly Crenshaw, so that they quote were

(02:11):
interested in defining and elaborating on the lived reality of
race and were open to the aspiration of developing theory.
So the original purpose of CRT was to think about
how the law contributed to racial inequality in the United States,
both in the past and present. The theory they developed,

(02:32):
which is that racism is systemic in the institutions of
the United States, and that these institutions function to preserve
the dominance of white people in society, regardless of people's intentions.
Has continued an academic inquiry through today. For example, a
member of the American Bar Association wrote in twenty twenty
one that in the legal field, critical race theorists quote

(02:55):
address the role of racism in the law and the
work to eliminate it and other configuration of subordination, meaning
that as a theory, CRT provides scholars with a framework
from which to review past and existing legal decisions. Before
diving deeper into the principles of CRT, it's important to

(03:17):
understand the purpose of academic theories like this one. Theories
are used in both scientific and non scientific research, and
they're used to explain complex things in ways that others
can apply the same ideas to another situation. Various academic
disciplines engage with different theories, although many theories cross over

(03:38):
into multiple disciplines. Anthropologists might use theories like structuralism and postmodernism.
Educators might use theories like behaviorism or connectivism. Not all
scholars with a discipline utilize the same theories, or even
use them in the same way. Which allows many viewpoints
to discuss each discipline, which this really cool. It acknowledges

(04:02):
that there are different ways of viewing the world and
of trying to figure out how it works. Critical race
theory is one such academic theory. It was initially developed
within legal studies, but now discussed within many other academic disciplines. Again,
to quote the American Bar Association, a CRT is not

(04:22):
a diversity and inclusion training, but a practice of interrogating
the role of race and racism in society that emerged
in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship.
The aforementioned Kimberly Crenshaw explained in an MSNBC interview in
twenty twenty one, quote, a critical race theory is not

(04:42):
so much a thing, it's a way of looking at
a thing. She elaborated that basically, CRT is a way
of looking at race to understand why after centuries since emancipation,
patterns of inequality have endured for people of color and
indigenous people. Goal of CRT is to get everyone closer
to the promises that are embedded in the Constitution. Gray

(05:07):
explained that many people have conflicting views about critical race
theory and what ideas should be included with it. However,
it does include some fundamental views. These basic views include
the idea that racism is a part of American society,
not just a simple flaw that can be easily fixed
with laws. So, for example, the concept is that in

(05:30):
United States legal and governmental institutions, racism isn't an anomaly
or some aberrant feature, It's just normal. And while racism
may be more present in some areas than others, it
has existed throughout US history and it continues today. CRT

(05:50):
focuses only on legal and other institutions in general, and
not on individual people. Through it, scholars work to learn
how racism exists in society and where improvements can be made,
as well as to provide an analysis of what perpetuates
racism in American systems. The theory also maintains the idea

(06:12):
that the foundation of the United States was based on
doctrines that could be considered racist, for example, the Virginia
laws about slavery and servitude. In other cases, race might
not have been explicitly included, but was nevertheless implied, like
in the Three Fifths Compromise that was the agreement made
during the seventeen eighty seven Constitutional Convention, which determined that

(06:36):
enslaved individuals counted as three fifths of a person for
both representation and taxation. Gray explained that later and even
modern laws and policies about housing, voting rights, education, and
segregation can also fall into this category. He said, the

(06:56):
critical race theorists have argued that our country is largely
founded upon doctrines that are in direct opposition with what
we normally hear our country is all about. In addition
to just studying these discrepancies about liberty and equality, critical
race theorists also aim to change them. Some researchers who

(07:18):
study education have taken up critical race theory by arguing
that racism is entrenched in American education practices and policies.
They've questioned how the educational system might be unjust with
respect to race. Again, regardless of anybody's intentions, certain practices
might have different impacts on different communities. For example, the

(07:42):
aforementioned Derek Bell explored the Brown Versus Board of Education's
Preme Court ruling of nineteen fifty four, which legally determined
that the racial segregation of children in public schools is unconstitutional.
Bell asserted that the court's decision was based on improving
the international image of the United States during the Cold War.
He also argued that the ruling was effectually limited because

(08:05):
the court didn't actually offer a fix, and that furthermore,
the fact that there is still racial inequality and education
means the law is helping maintain that, whether anyone meant
it to or not. This is an example of the
relationship between CRT and education. The theory is used to

(08:26):
critically analyze the history and present state of education in
the United States. However, there is no evidence that critical
race theory itself is being added to the curriculum in
American K through twelve schools. One reason for that is
that K through twelve children are unlikely to comprehend advanced

(08:46):
academic theories. That's why structuralism and behaviorism aren't on the
K through twelve curriculum either, with the possible exception of
some advanced high school classes. A critical race theory is
a law school course, and the theory is used in
university courses of other disciplines like philosophy and literary criticism,
often at the graduate level. But I know that's being

(09:10):
a little pedantic. Certainly some of the documents and court
decisions that CRT has been used to critique are taught
at various levels during K through twelve education, such as
the Three Fifths Compromise and the Enduring Effects of Slavery.
That is why CRT has received a lot of attention recently,
with people and politicians expressing concern that's being taught in schools,

(09:33):
including elementary schools. AGray wrote in an article for The
Conversation that it's quote become a catch all phrase among
legislators attempting to ban a wide variety of teaching practices
concerning race. However, the concepts being banned by proposed legislation
under the guise of prohibiting the teaching of CRT aren't

(09:54):
often part of CRT principles. For example, in Tennessee, and
anti CRT bill that was signed into law in twenty
twenty one states that public and charter schools may not
teach or use materials that assert one race or sex
is inherently superior to another race or sex, or that
an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment

(10:15):
because of the individual's race or sex. Critical race theory
doesn't really have anything to do with that what seems
to have happened is those opposing CRT have taken the
fact that the theory isn't colorblind because it recognizes the
effects of race and racism and asserts that the only
way to improve our society is to address racism through

(10:38):
legal and institutional changes, and they've therefore ascribed a racist
characteristics to the theory. In other words, many people are
saying that critical race Theory is trying to rewrite American
history to convince white people that they are inherently racist,
which again is not the point of CRT. It's merely

(11:01):
a lens through which to see how our world works,
and it focuses specifically on laws and systems, regardless of
any person's intent. Gray the situation up by saying it's
a hot mess to use a really good Southern phrase.

(11:22):
Today's episode is based on the article what is critical
Race Theory Anyway? On how Stuffworks dot com written by
Kerry Whitney. Rains Stuff is production of iHeartRadio in partnership
with how Stuffworks dot Com, and it's produced by Tyler Klain.
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