Right-Wing Twisting of Critical Race Theory

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

– George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.

Knowledge of history teaches us who we were as a people so that we know who we are and get a better understanding of who we may be.

Blotting out history to protect reputations or to prevent perceived criticism of races may be a feel-good exercise for some. But it blurs reality and leads to nothing but ignorance. Nevertheless, rewriting history to exonerate White responsibility from racism is precisely what conservatives are trying to do with critical race theory (CRT).

Give Republican conservatives something new and possibly controversial, and their first instinct is to ban it, like books. Then they twist it to use it to beat liberals and Democrats over the head with it, another wedge topic intended to secure Republican votes.

CRT took root in academia and among legal scholars in the 1970s in the belief that the civil rights movement, despite the adoption of laws addressing discrimination like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, failed to eliminate racial injustice. It became a field of study with an academic CRT workshop in 1989, according to The Washington Post.

The gist of it focuses on racial inequality being embedded in our legal system, not solely as prejudices practiced by individuals. Such systemic racism, the theory says, “affects people of color in their schools, doctors’ offices, the criminal justice system and countless other parts of life,” the Post said.

One example is redlining, the practice of drawing boundaries around Black neighborhoods. They were used to refuse loans to those who lived in them because the red lines on maps illustrated poor areas.

CRT certainly challenges the notion that America is the “land of the free,” as Samuel Hoadley-Brill put it in an essay in the Post July 2.  He is a doctoral student in philosophy at the City University of New York and a fellow at the African American Policy Forum.

The CRT movement, he quoted legal scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, “is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power.”

Yet a serious study to get at the bottom of a major societal issue that has dogged America since before it was a country is being degraded by conservatives as an attempt to attack the White majority, scorning it as a “radical” liberal vehicle to promote the theory in the public schools.

That’s not true.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a speech July 6 that conservative lawmakers and news sites are waging a “culture campaign” against CRT and that it’s taught only in law schools and colleges, not in public schools, the Post reported.

“But culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as [critical race theory] to try to make it toxic,” it reported her saying. “They are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history.”

Right-wingers and red states are dragging America “into a moral panic about anti-racism itself,” wrote a CRT founder, Kimberlé Crenshaw, also in the Post July 2. “Their assault would allow only for ‘history’ that holds no contemporary consequences; racism ended in the past, according to the developing backlash and we would all be better off if we didn’t try to connect it to the present.”

“The impulse to quash discussion of racism comes out of the same political movement that believes that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election,” she wrote.

“Indeed, beyond this incendiary 2022 campaign strategy lies the future of America,” Crenshaw wrote.

She is executive director of the African American Policy Forum and law professor at UCLA and Columbia Law School.

Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho and Texas have passed legislation that restricts what can be taught in public schools and even in public universities, wrote Kmele Foster, David French, Jason Stanley and Thomas Chatterton Williams in The New York Times July 5.

The Times identified them as a group of “thinkers who have written extensively about authoritarianism, liberalism and free speech.”

A Tennessee House bill bans teaching that could lead to someone to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex,” they wrote. And it restricts teaching that leads to “division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people.”

That about includes everything. May as well stay home in bed.

A Texas House bill prohibits teaching that “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States,” they wrote.

It also bans teaching of the Times’ 1619 Project even though it is meant in part to be taught in the schools. The first slaves arrived in what was to become the United States in 1619.

“Let’s not mince words about these laws,” the four wrote. “They are speech codes. They seek to change public education by banning the expression of ideas. Even if this censorship is legal in the narrow context of public primary and secondary education, it is antithetical to educating students in the culture of American free expression.”

We as a society would benefit greatly to have a serious, debate about race and how to correct the injustices against minorities that have permeated America since before our founding as a country with its stated ideals and hopes that in some cases have yet to materialize fully.


Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.