Qasim lets the creators of Critical Race Theory explain exactly what it is…and isn’t.
This week in Loudoun County, police were called to keep the peace when right-wing activists abrasively disrupted a town meeting on education. In the end, one person was injured and police made two arrests. The outrage was over a new transgender policy and the latest boogie man for Republican politicians— critical race theory (CRT).
Most remarkable and perhaps most predictable about the outrage is that the politicians pushing misinformation about CRT know they’re lying. Also, everyone lashing out against CRT can’t define it in the first place.
So let’s start with a simple enough question. What exactly is Critical Race Theory? Rather than listening to left or right-wing politicians, why don’t we ask the actual founders of critical race theory? Their definition is the one that matters, Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, Professor at Columbia Law and at UCLA Law; and co-founder of Critical Race Theory was asked directly to define it in the simplest terms possible.
“Critical race theory is the study of law and how it has been part of the infrastructure from slavery to emancipation to segregation to today upon which racial inequalities have been based. It is basically an effort to think about how we have had commitments to equality since the 14th amendment yet our reach has not realized itself in real equality. So we are basically just asking questions and looking at the way the law has been a conduit for racial inequality and what we need to do about law in order to bring us closer to the dreams we have about society.”
Where’s The Controversy?
What about this is controversial? Slavery was considered legal. Jim Crow and racial segregation was considered legal. Redlining was considered legal. Even today we see example after example of lenders discriminating against Black Americans and people of color in general. What is controversial about historians and scholars like Professor Crenshaw asking questions about these injustices? What’s controversial about proposing better laws and policies to uphold equality and “bring us closer to the dreams we have about society?”
Instead, we get situations like the one this week in Loudoun County and other political attacks. Representative Rob Wittman, for example, wasted no time lying about critical race theory. In a recent email sent to his official government listserve, he propagandized that:
“Critical Race Theory proponents claim that America is irreparably racist, and that we should view every social interaction and person in terms of race. It teaches that racial oppression exists everywhere, and individuals are inherently oppressors or oppressed based solely on the color of their skin.”
Compare Rep Wittman’s claim to Professor Crenshaw’s definition. They’re not remotely similar. Rhetoric like Wittman’s divides our nation, increases racial hatred, and creates fear and uncertainty. Accordingly, Professor Crenshaw went on to state in her interview that:
“Let me be clear. This is not about Critical Race Theory. The people who are trying to create this hysteria around CRT know what CRT is or isn’t. What this is, is backlash politics, coming precisely at a moment where finally racial justice has become a majoritarian interest on the part of Americans from all races and all classes. So this is a way of pushing back against that and without saying “we’re for racism,” they can say “we’re against Critical Race Theory.”
What Critical Race Theory Teaches
If CRT teaches, “individuals are inherently oppressors or oppressed based solely on the color of their skin” as Rob Wittman propagandizes, then why would Professor Crenshaw praise the fact that “Americans from all races and classes” are uniting against injustice? Well, because Professor Crenshaw is absolutely right that those lying about CRT know very well that they’re lying. Despite Rep Wittman’s reckless statement about CRT in his June 21st email, on June 19th he tweeted, “Happy Juneteenth! As we celebrate, I hope you’ll join me in reflecting and learning from our nation’s past, as we look forward to a more hopeful future.”
How interesting. Wittman’s tweet to “reflect and learn from our nation’s past as we look forward to a more hopeful future” sounds eerily similar to Crenshaw’s definition of critical race theory. Let’s look at that again. Crenshaw says critical race theory is “an effort to think about how we have had commitments to equality since the 14th amendment, yet our reach has not realized itself in real equality [and] what we need to do about law in order to bring us closer to the dreams we have about society.”
In short, Rob Wittman and politicians like him know they’re lying. They just don’t care. And the consequences are devastating—and I don’t mean only because of the racial hatred and division people like Wittman create.
We Can’t Ignore The Questions
Let’s take, for example, a real life injustice that Wittman’s propaganda prevents reforming. A recent study reported that Black people are 82% more likely to die in traffic accidents than white people.
As experts dive deeper into this phenomenon, they discover this is due to several preventable reasons. One, America has a history of building infrastructure rooted in racism. Two, the Federal government built its highway system disproportionately through segregated Black and brown neighborhoods, decimating communities. Three, drivers are simply less likely to stop for Black pedestrians. Four, medical racism is a well documented injustice that has, among other atrocities, less effective medical care for Black Americans and a 300% mortality rate for Black mothers as compared to white mothers.
Critical Race Theory simply asks, “Given that Black people are 82% more likely to be killed in a car accident, how can we develop a more just set of policies to ensure better safety and equality for all citizens regardless of skin color?” Nothing about this question is objectionable or offensive. However, the propaganda about CRT ensures such questions are never answered, let alone asked—thereby continuing a perpetuation of injustice.
Fortunately the American people now view, as Professor Crenshaw rightly notes, “racial justice [as] a majoritarian interest on the part of Americans from all races and all classes.” Now is not the time to give in to propaganda and divisive politicians. Now is the time—as Critical Race Theory argues—to stand together as white, brown, and Black Americans. Now is the time to continue our fight for justice for all Americans, as our Constitution promises.
Qasim Rashid is a human rights lawyer, author, and Truman National Security Project Fellow. Follow him on Twitter @QasimRashid.