Is critical race theory (CRT) valid, or is it a problem? Does it unite us or divide us? Is it racist or anti-racist? Explore all perspectives, stances, and arguments for and against critical race theory with AllStances™ by AllSides.
Critical Race Theory is Necessary to Defeat Racism
Critical Race Theory Divides Us
Critical race theory (often abbreviated CRT) has sparked controversy in the United States. It is increasingly being applied or taught in institutions such as universities, elementary schools, federal agencies, and corporate HR departments. CRT was banned from being taught in government agencies via an executive order by former President Donald Trump; the EO was then reversed by President Joe Biden.
AllSides explores multiple stances and perspectives on critical race theory. Are we missing a stance or perspective? Email us! You can also help us improve this resource by participating in the discussion about critical race theory on Kialo, our dialogue platform.
Before we get to the stances, here’s a brief primer on what critical race theory is.
About Critical Race Theory
Critical race theory examines society and culture as they relate to race, law, and power in the U.S. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, CRT is the “view that the law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of colour.” CRT challenges traditional American institutions, such as the American legal and economic system, as well as ideas of individualism and objectivity (defined as a paradigm in which whites are taught to see their perspectives as objective and representative of reality) as being part of “master narratives” that promote the worldviews of white people in positions of power.
CRT is mostly concerned with power — which groups have it and which do not. It distinguishes itself from traditional ideas of civil rights, such as color-blind, equal treatment and removing significance from racial identity categories, arguing that whites are actually favored by civil rights legislation. Critical race theorists instead favor identity politics, in which politics and power are viewed through the lens of the identity groups one belongs to, typically along the lines of race, gender and sexual orientation, and advocate for groups to be treated differently according to their needs. It favors equity over equality in public policy, claiming racial equality leads people, especially people of color, to accept the status quo and their systemic oppression. Critical race theorists define equality as providing the same level of opportunity and assistance to all segments of society; equity is providing various levels of support and assistance depending on specific needs or abilities.
CRT also promotes concepts like whiteness, intersectionality and microaggressions. Whiteness refers to the supposed way that white people, their customs, culture, and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups are compared. Intersectionality seeks to explain how different facets of identity like race and gender can intersect with one another to add layers of advantage or disadvantage. Microaggressions are defined as subtle insults directed toward people of color either consciously or unconsciously. Critical race theorists argue that systemic racism manifests in things like housing, bank lending, labor practices and access to education.
CRT was developed in the 1970s by a group of legal scholars and activists who developed the theory by building on the work of movements like critical legal theory and radical feminism.
Stance 1: CRT is Necessary to Defeat Racism
CRT is necessary to defeat racism because it encourages us to see race, which can help us to dismantle systems of oppression perpetuated by white hegemony; it is anti-racist.
Some arguments for this stance:
- Critical race theory offers a way of seeing the world that helps people recognize the effects of historical and systemic racism in modern American life.
- Racism is foundational to American institutions and is baked into the fabric of the nation; those who benefit from systemic racism have a duty to recognize and dismantle it by becoming aware of their white privilege, limiting microaggressions, elevating the marginalized to positions of power, and denouncing whiteness.
- Poverty, crime, oppression and other social ills result largely from Euro-Americans creating structures intent on securing and increasing their economic and social power.
- “Not seeing” race or being colorblind denies systemic racism. It is deeply problematic because it relies on the concept that race-based differences don't matter and denies the lived experience of people of color.
- All members of society have been socialized to participate in racism; to not act against racism is to support racism.
- We need to build an awareness of white privilege — the societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in some societies — in order to dismantle it. For instance, some studies show black Americans are disproportionately affected by police shootings.
- CRT lifts up the racial gaze of America and allows us to see perspectives that are often drowned out.
- CRT allows us to see the harms of meritocracy, which is largely a myth that leads to entrenched inequality and allows white people to maintain their cultural dominance and justify their own white supremacy.
- CRT is a method to awaken us to the barriers that hold back people of color (POC), LGBTQ individuals, and BIPOC people and contribute to poverty, crime, and inequity in these communities. For instance, a history of U.S. housing policy shows racial discrimination, such as black Americans finding it very hard to qualify for loans, and restrictive covenants to keep middle-class neighborhoods white.
- If you benefit from racism, you are motivated not to understand racism, not to be able to question your complicity in racism, and to want to perpetuate racism.
- Acknowledging systemic racism doesn’t mean every individual is racist; it means that we have systems and institutions that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the intentions of the people who work within them. The modern criminal justice system helped to preserve racial order, and numerous studies back this up.
- White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. Discussing racism can cause defensive emotions and behaviors known as white fragility, which is racial violence. White people must learn to listen instead of centering conversations around their own feelings.
- Individualism erases history and hides the ways in which wealth has been distributed and accumulated over generations to benefit whites today. The disavowal of race as an organizing factor, both of individual white consciousness and the institutions of society at large, is necessary to support current structures of capitalism and domination.
- De-centering whiteness is key to anti-racism; whiteness controls institutions, which are extensions of white American culture and governed by their values. Color and cultures of color are at the margins; whiteness needs to be taken out of the center to join other racial/cultural groups on the margins.
Stance 2: Critical Race Theory Helps to Unite Us
By helping us all to understand our place within oppressive power structures, CRT helps us come together to create a just and equitable world.
Some arguments for this stance:
- Awareness of racial difference is critically important to ensure that people of all backgrounds feel welcomed and are equally treated.
- CRT helps us build a society that is egalitarian, just, and inclusive, and in order to get there, we have to name the barriers to achieving such a society.
- Rejecting Critical Race Theory separates and divides folks along racial lines and creates division instead of addressing what our core issues are in our nation.
- CRT helps us to identify unconscious bias or implicit bias – hidden attitudes based on racial stereotypes. Being sensitive and aware of one’s behavior towards others can help to prevent race-based discrimination and promote equity.
- Diversity and inclusion efforts can help us to be more productive, grow acceptance and diminish discrimination.
- Diversity and racial sensitivity training helps us to become more aware of unconscious bias and other barriers to diversity and inclusion.
- By listing characteristics of white supremacy culture, such as individualism, objectivity, the right to comfort, perfectionism and worship of the written word, we can point out how organizations that unconsciously use these characteristics as their norms and standards make it difficult, if not impossible, to open the door to other cultural norms and standards.
- Diversity and inclusion efforts promote an understanding of people, cultures, traditions, and practices that are unlike your own, which enhances our understanding of the world and helps us to be sensitive to differences.
- Getting closer to equity in education and elsewhere means doing the inner work of facing and working through internalized privilege and oppression.
Stance 3: Critical Race Theory Divides Us
Putting us into categories of oppressed and oppressor only divides us against one another.
Some arguments for this stance:
- CRT harmfully and falsely teaches that the United States and its foundational institutions are inherently racist or evil, and that specific races or ethnicities are inherently guilty.
- CRT sets up a good/bad dichotomy based on skin color. It does not encourage us to assess people based on their character, contributions, or achievements, and touts such individual assessment as racist. It suppresses dissent with cancel culture, which divides us further.
- By reducing evil and social ills to power dynamics, CRT denies moral agency and the redemptive potential of entire groups because of their racial identity.
- The traditional legal framework that the U.S. has operated in since the Fourteenth Amendment promises equal protection under the law for individuals, and critical race theory directly and explicitly attacks that concept, seeking to replace it with inequality under the law by treating us differently based on group identity.
- There are an infinite number of ways in which people may vary: intelligence, temperament, wealth, attractiveness, youth, family life, health, geography. There’s even evidence that some of these factors are more important than race as to how far one gets in life. Focusing on race alone as an advantage or disadvantage ignores other metrics that determine achievement. The logical conclusion of intersectionality is individuality.
- CRT has expanded into nearly every aspect of social studies education with little to no assessment of its accuracy to describe history, civics, culture, or economics, nor its efficacy in the solutions it offers to societal problems.
- CRT demands automatic preferences for certain groups in academics; this comes at the expense of academic standards and basic fairness.
- CRT’s goal of achieving total equality in society is impossible without totally eliminating freedom. In order to achieve perfect equality, the State would have to control every aspect of society, including abolishing the family, which is often the root of unequal outcomes.
- It may not be a problem that CRT is analyzed and discussed academically, but it is a problem that it is force-fed to students as dogma that may not be questioned, and that it has become the dominant ideology of our institutions without anyone voting on it.
- CRT is based upon cultural Marxism, an ideology that inserts Marxist ideas into culture instead of economics. It divides us into oppressor and oppressed classes; instead of a class struggle, CRT promotes a race struggle, supplanting economic stratification with a system of racial stratification.
- CRT offers a universalizing worldview that is incompatible with religions such as Christianity.
Stance 4: Critical Race Theory Actually Promotes Racism
CRT is creating systemic racism in the U.S. by promoting a color-conscious application of the law and encouraging us to judge each other by the color of our skin, not the content of our character.
Some arguments for this stance:
- It is misleading to say CRT is “anti-racist” when it promotes racial guilt and makes certain groups feel wrong, sinful or guilty for their skin color or the past. Promoting collective guilt ensures there can be no forgiveness.
- CRT’S agenda promotes true inequality by promoting a color-conscious application of the law, ensuring Americans will be privileged or disadvantaged according to their race (and/or sex, ethnicity, or sexual preference). CRT promotes different treatment for people based on race, instead of promoting individualism — a level playing field where we are treated the same regardless of background.
- CRT promotes racial segregation, such as programs that segregate and target white men and ask them to “renounce their whiteness,” to give up “the land” and their “guaranteed physical safety” in order to be an “accomplice” for racial justice. While often done under the guise of “diversity training,” this is targeted treatment based on skin color.
- By redefining “racism” to mean inherent white privilege and oppression, CRT ensures we see entire groups as wrong, guilty or evil. Calls to “abolish whiteness” or the white race target one group based solely on their skin color.
- We can “see race” or recognize and appreciate the differences among groups without putting race at the forefront of everything, making it central to all of our interactions and judgements, or upending American institutions.
- CRT promotes a victim mentality that is not only harmful to the groups it purports to help, but assigns a high moral status to victimhood, thus incentivizing people to position themselves as victims.
- Studies show white people in America do not suffer from the kinds of implicit biases CRT scholars claim.
- Many problems commonly attributed to race can be better attributed to culture.
- It is racist to specifically target majority ethnic groups and argue they are guilty due to the benefits their culture infers upon them.
- CRT encourages us to ignore real problems that disproportionately face white Americans, such as the opioid epidemic, low participation rates in higher education, and lags in income.
- Thinking your race is given an unfair advantage doubles a person’s risk of poor mental health even after controlling for other factors; CRT narratives are damaging to the mental health of groups they point to as having gained unfair advantage.
- CRT promotes misinformation about systemic racism, which there is little evidence of in the U.S. Pointing to one example, black immigrants who come to the US from the West Indies (Jamaica, Barbados, etc) and their American-born children are supposedly subjected to the same level of systemic racism as all black Americans, yet they tend to have very positive career, income and education outcomes.
- CRT believes science, reason and evidence are ‘white’ ways of knowing and that lived experience is a more legitimate, ‘black’ way of knowing. It is racist to think that black people aren’t suited to or served by objectivity and science.
- Politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority or earn large sums of corporate money through diversity trainings by denouncing others as ‘racists’ are keeping racism alive.
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