Over the past several months, state and local policymakers have been debating the contents of public-school curricula, and Critical Race Theory (CRT) has taken center stage. 26 states have recently proposed legislation that would ban school districts from teaching CRT.

Supporters of these bans, such as Republican Senator Ted Cruz, say that the theory “teach[es] our kids that all white people are racist and there’s nothing you can do about it.” 

Meanwhile, when questioned about CRT being taught in elementary and secondary schools, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that “kids should learn about our history…not just the good, but also the challenging.” 

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, only 57% of Americans say they are familiar with CRT, and of those, a third believe that the theory “says that white people are inherently bad or evil.” 

And while much of the debate about CRT in schools is happening on the school district level, the National Association of Educators supported the instruction of CRT, recently asserting “it is reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.”

But what is CRT really? And what kind of changes—to America’s laws, culture and customs—do CRT adherents envision? The New Center decided to dig into the work of the scholars who developed CRT as well as its most prominent contemporary advocates, and to explain, in their own words, the implications that follow:




- “The critical race theory movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power…Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”
- “racism is ordinary, not aberrational…our system of white-over color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material.”

- “erase barriers to upward mobility for minority populations.”
- “rectify racism in policing and the criminal justice system, so that young minority men have a better chance of going to college than to jail.”
- “assure that minority viewpoints and interests are taken into account…in every major policy decision the nation makes.”
- “develop new immigration policies that allow a freer flow of workers and capital, while assuring that new arrivals do not enter on terms that weaken the ability of current workers to unionize and seek workplace reforms.”

- “It is a way of looking at law’s role platforming, facilitating, producing, and even insulating racial inequality in our country, ranging from health to wealth to segregation to policing.”
- "The problem…is not simply the takeover of the judiciary by right-wing judges, but also the broader political and institutional limits of ‘reason’ itself.”
- “Critical race theory just says, let's pay attention to what has happened in this country, and how what has happened in this country is continuing to create differential outcomes. So we can become that country that we say we are.”.

- Speaking to the importance of intersectionality—a term she coined to describe the overlapping systems of discrimination in America—in advancing antiracist policies, “If any real efforts are to be made to free Black people of the constraints and conditions that characterize racial subordination, then theories and strategies purporting to reflect the Black community's needs must include an analysis of sexism and patriarchy. Similarly, feminism must include an analysis of race if it hopes to express the aspirations of non-white women.”

- “Critical race theorists were the first to recognize that—despite conservative Americans framing certain laws…as ‘race neutral’ because they did not have any racial language in them—these laws had a racial impact, an impact that led to the reinforcement of racist structures in this country. Critical race theorists are keying on examining the way the law reinforces structures of racism and white supremacy.”

- “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
- “To fix the original sin of racism, Americans should pass an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals…It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas.”

- We must accept “the reality that we live in a society in which racism has been internalized and institutionalized,”
- American culture is “a culture from whose inception racial discrimination has been a regulating force for maintaining stability and growth.”

- “Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary ‘peaks of progress,’ short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance.”
- “I contend that the decision in Brown [vs. Board of Education] to break with the Court’s long-held position on these issues cannot be understood without some consideration of the decision’s value to whites, not simply those concerned about the immorality of racial inequality...” Concluding, “I believe that the most widely used programs mandated by the courts…may in some cases be inferior to plans focusing on educational components,’ including the creation and development of ‘model’ all-black schools.”

-“Americans share a common historical and cultural heritage in which racism has played and still plays a dominant role… a large part of the behavior that produces racial discrimination is influenced by unconscious racial motivation.”

- [America’s judiciary needs] “a new test to trigger judicial recognition of race-based behavior… This test would thus evaluate governmental conduct to determine whether it conveys a symbolic message to which the culture attaches racial significance. A finding that the culture thinks of an allegedly discriminatory governmental action in racial terms would also constitute a finding regarding the beliefs and motivations of the governmental actors: The actors themselves are part of the culture and presumably could not have acted without being influenced by racial considerations, even if they are unaware of their racist beliefs. Therefore, the court would apply strict scrutiny.”