Politicians attack critical race theory without understanding it, experts say

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 12:01 PM CDT
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Note: Video contains mild expletive.

(CNN) - You may have heard the attacks on critical race theory. Across the country, a number of politicians are getting it wrong, experts said.

“Critical race theory is a Marxist doctrine that rejects the vision of Martin Luther King Jr.,” said former President Donald Trump.

“It’s basically teaching kids to hate our country and to hate each other based on race,” Florida Gov. Ron Desantis said.

The assertions are “false and slanderous,” said professor and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the founders of critical race theory, which she helped develop in the late 1980′s.

In short, critical race theory is an approach based on the idea that the history of white supremacy still has a very real and lasting impact on society and institutions.

“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. So critical race theory is not anti-patriotic,” Crenshaw said. “In fact, it is more patriotic than those who are opposed to it because we believe in the 13th and the 14th and the 15th Amendment. We believe in the promises of equality, and we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality.”

Critical race theory is not a doctrine. It’s not a manuscript.

One way of describing it is looking with a critical eye at race and institutions.

Let’s take an example from history. The Declaration of Independence said, “All men are created equal.”

A critical race theorist would note that slavery persisted for almost 100 years after those words were written, and it was more than a century before women got the right to vote.

So why is the term causing such a stir in conservative political circles today?

Opponents are concerned critical race theory is or will be forced on students.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., calls it “this left-wing nonsense that suggests that any race is inherently inferior or racist or oppressive.”

Supporters said that critical race theory is not based on the view of “This race is good. This race is bad.”

Supporters also said those unnerved by protests and calls for racial equality in the past year are now using critical race theory as catch-all term for everything related to race, politics and education in the country.

“I think this is the sort of post-Trump era way of inciting anxiety, fear and actually trying to sort of elicit a hostility towards the progress that I think we’ve begun to make in the just the last couple of months.” said Imani Perry, a professor at Princeton University.

To date, at least eight states have taken steps to ban topics surrounding critical race theory without naming it, including Oklahoma.

“We cannot revert to 100-year-old thinking that a person is any less valuable or inherently racist by the color of their skin,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said.

To be clear, critical race theory does not say a person is racist because of the color of their skin. And it does not say anyone should be ashamed of themselves because of the color of their skin.

Still some parents who hear the term are speaking out at school board meetings.

“Just because I don’t want my kid taught critical race theory in school doesn’t mean I’m a racist, d--- it!” a parent said.

Crenshaw said the theory is not about calling individuals racist but looking at racism still ingrained in American institutions, and she says we have to talk about it.

“This censoring of all conversation about racism is called racism. That’s what this move is really about. It’s really not about a theory is really not about what’s in people’s hearts. It’s about an effort to shut down all conversation about the sources and the reproduction of racial inequality,” she said.

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