What is Critical Race Theory?
In order to understand the problem of Critical Race Training in Higher Education, parents and students need to understand what Critical Race Theory is and how it is implemented. As discussed below, Critical Race Theory is not the traditional civil rights movement, which sought to provide equal opportunity and dignity without regard to race. Rather, Critical Race Theory, and the training to implement it, is a radical ideology that focuses on race as the key to understanding society, and objectifies people based on race.
What is Critical Race Theory?
An outgrowth of the European Marxist school of critical theory, critical race theory is an academic movement which seeks to link racism, race, and power. Unlike the Civil Rights movement, which sought to work within the structures of American democracy, critical race theorists challenge the very foundations of the liberal order, such as rationalism, constitutional law, and legal reasoning. Critical race theorists argue that American social life, political structures, and economic systems are founded upon race, which (in their view) is a social construct.
Systemic racism, in the eyes of critical race theorists, stems from the dominance of race in American life. Critical race theorists and anti-racist advocates argue that, because race is a predominant part of American life, racism itself has become internalized into the American conscience. It is because of this, they argue, that there have been significantly different legal and economic outcomes between different racial groups.
What are the implications of Critical Race Theory?
Advocates of anti-racism and critical race theory use this focus on race to emphasize the importance of identity politics. Movements, such as the wave of “anti-racist” actions at universities and Black Lives Matter, are some ways in which identity politics and critical race theory have captured the nation’s attention. For the political identitarians, simply not being racist is not sufficient. As Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi writes in his book How to Be an Antiracist, “[Racism] is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it,” (p. 9).
Self-avowed anti-racists are not only expected to push for equity (i.e. the equality of outcome) in the broader society, but are also asked to find racism in daily life. Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, writes, “The question is not ‘did racism take place?’ but rather, ‘how did racism manifest in this situation?”’ Anti-racists must find these “implicit biases” in all aspects of life, ranging from discussions in the classroom to interactions between colleagues. All of these are fair game.
How is Critical Race Theory Applied in the Classroom?
In the wake of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, multiple universities have responded to campus activists and outside groups demanding anti-racist actions be taken. Colleges and universities have responded in nine different ways:
Changing Admissions Policies – In an effort to ensure greater equality of outcome, several universities have taken steps to make their admissions processes more “equitable”. These actions can range from scrapping standardized tests to adding a diversity/equity scorecard to applications.
Implementing Anti-Racism, Bias, and Diversity Training – To get students, faculty, and staff to understand their “implicit biases”, institutions have required them to undergo some form of training, ranging from small group orientations to full-blown classes.
Changing Curriculum Requirements – Critical race theorists need to expose the broader public to the supposed racial biases imbued in long-standing institutions. To do this at the collegiate level, advocates have been pushing for changes in the undergraduate curriculum, ranging from a mandatory class on anti-racism to forcing instructors to embed anti-racist ideology in their class material.
Instituting Disciplinary Measures – University administrators have taken steps to clamp down on academic freedom, revising their codes of conduct and commitments to academic freedom by inserting vague language on “hate speech” and “racist language”, among other measures.
Politically Supporting Anti-Racist Activism – Institutions have either donated money to political groups, like local Black Lives Matter chapters, or re-directed students to politically-biased organizations in an effort to placate campus activists.
Funding Critical Race Theory Programs and Research – Institutions have poured in thousands, if not millions, of dollars into research on critical race theory and racism, ranging from grants and fellowships to new “anti-racist” institutes.
“Re-imagining” Policing – In response to campus protests, university administrators have taken steps to either disarm or defund their police departments, often replacing them with unarmed officers or mental health workers.
Providing Anti-Racist Resources – Universities have compiled lists of resources, often making books like How to be an Antiracist and White Fragility free for students, as well as live programming for anti-racist initiatives.
Taking “Symbolic” Actions – Some institutions have not yet taken substantive action to mandate curricular changes or fund critical race theory research. However, they have started anti-racist “action committees” or renamed supposedly offensive buildings to placate the demands of students.
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