Defining critical race theory

    Michael Leppert

    If you were asked to explain what “critical race theory” actually and specifically is, could you?

    Don’t feel bad if the honest answer to that question is simply “no.” Do feel bad if the mere mention of C.R.T. angers you, and while the honest answer to the question is still “no,” you are inclined to give an elaborate answer of how and why our schools should not be teaching it.

    Americans who answer the question either of those two ways represents most of us. Which means that C.R.T. is not widely understood. And while looking for a simple definition of what the theory means, in non-academic terms, in language anyone can understand, I discovered that task to be daunting. So, while I think it is shameful to be enraged at the theory’s mere existence, while not knowing what the theory is, it makes perfect sense to not understand it very well, even after making a good effort to do so.

    I found an article published by the American Bar Association in January to do as good a job as any at explaining the theory and translating how it applies in the education arena. “A Lesson on Critical Race Theory,” by Janel George will take a few minutes to read, but then, so will this. And in the interest of time, I encourage all of those who are curious and/or angry about the theory to read it. Trust me, there is not a sound byte way to become versed on this one.

    Our modern desire to become expert on things by reading a headline or a tweet just doesn’t work with things like this. Primarily because C.R.T. is not simple. My opinion of it is that it is not even fully developed.

    “The Man Behind Critical Race Theory,” as detailed in a New Yorker article by Jelani Cobb, is a former Harvard Law School professor named Derrick Bell. He was an accomplished civil rights attorney before spending the second half of his career in academia. Primarily, his original thought that grew into C.R.T. was that civil rights legal victories and legislation were having little practical impact on American discriminatory practices. The reason, according to Bell, is the embedded racism that exists in legal constructs specifically, and our institutions generally.

    Kimberlé Crenshaw, a legal scholar who leads the African American Policy Forum, has risen to the forefront of C.R.T. since its early days. She may be better known than Bell, because she took on the executive order put out by former President Donald Trump in September 2020 excluding from federal contracts any diversity and inclusion training containing a variety of modern concepts, C.R.T. among them. Through Crenshaw’s movement known as #TruthBeTold, she worked to expose the dangers of Trump’s order – the order cancelled more than 300 different diversity and inclusion training programs.

    The order and its impact is headed in the opposite direction of America’s private sector. Diversity, equity and inclusion training programs are being introduced and developed in virtually every midsize to large organization in the country today. But certain political sects fear this valuable outcome of recent horrible episodes in our culture, as if there is a political way to prevent discussing this obvious need.

    Is the original thought from Derrick Bell regarding the embedded and institutional racism still a significant challenge, as it was in the 1970s when he began discussing it?

    Look no further than the racial makeup of the jury in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial in Glynn County, Georgia. Arbery is a black man who was jogging through a white neighborhood in Georgia in February of 2020. The killing was videoed by one of the three white men on trial for the heinous act. Glynn County is made up of 25% black people. The twelve-person jury that was seated for the trial has one black person on it. Does that make the judge or the attorneys involved racist? Of course not. But, does it imply that the process used for the seating of that jury is inadequate with regard to race? Absolutely it does.

    C.R.T. is not being taught in any single K-12 school in America. Banning it is nothing more than a manipulative political charade. In part, that charade worked recently in at least one election. The people in Virginia who were aroused by it on Election Day are no more knowledgeable about its meaning and depth than any other group.

    But for some reason, many of them sure are mad about it. If they only could explain why.