Where Did Critical Race Theory Get Its Start?

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Brianna Lyman News and Commentary Writer
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Critical Race Theory (CRT) is in the crosshairs of American political debate, with critics arguing it promotes racism rather than eradicates it. CRT holds that America is fundamentally racist, yet it teaches people to view every social interaction and person in terms of race. Its adherents pursue “antiracism” through the end of merit, objective truth and the adoption of race-based policies.

CRT was originally Critical Legal Studies, with the claim the law was biased and rooted with racism, according to the American Bar Association. It was developed more than 40 years ago and began with the early writings of Derrick Bell, an African American civil rights lawyer and professor at Harvard Law School. Bell was part of a group of scholars that found traditional approaches to ensuring civil rights such as protests, marching and litigation were becoming less effective. (RELATED: The Three Most Common Lies Pro-CRT Media Is Telling Concerned Parents And The Public)

Some scholars began to believe that other methods were needed to “cope with the less sympathetic public and the more nuanced forms of racism that were developing,” as Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic wrote in “Critical Race Theory: Past, Present, and Future.”

Other writers, such as Mari Matsuda, wrote an article in the Michigan Law Review about “legal storytelling, another early CRT theme,” Delgado and Stefancic wrote.

Matsuda argued, for instance, that hate speech should face criminal prosecution despite the First Amendment’s free speech clause. Other scholars developed some of the major themes of CRT with a “focus on speech, and the social construction of racial reality, the critique of rights and liberalism.”

In “Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed The Movement,” Kimberlé Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller and Kendall Thomas claimed that the “proper rights in the United States are rooted in racial domination.” The group explained how the concept of race alone wasn’t enough to oppress black and Indians, but “rather, it was the interaction between conceptions of race and property which played a critical role in establishing and maintaining racial and economic subordination.”

In 1989, CRT officially got its name at a Wisconsin conference, according to the report. Following the official formation, scholars and academics began teaching race and civil rights courses “from a critical point of view.”

Delgado and Stefancic explain how Bell believed “the idea that racial prejudice is so deeply ingrained in society’s structures that African Americans must resign themselves to its forever being a feature of the national landscape. Periods of progress will be followed by regression: it is pointless and self-defeating for blacks to hope for more.”

“Critical race theory is a practice. It’s an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it,” Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founding critical race theorist and law professor said, according to CNN.

“The critical race theory movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power,” Delgado and Stefancic wrote in 2016. “The movement considers … conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses … but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, … self-interest, and … feelings and the unconscious.”

Delgado and Stefancic explain CRT holds “our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes” and that “racism is difficult to cure or address.”

Since its inception, academics institutions nationwide have studied the topic. There is a large-scale resistance movement, with conservatives arguing it is divisive. (RELATED: Concerned Parents Protesting CRT Arrested After Virginia School Board Meeting Declared Unlawful Assembly)

“Students in our universities are inundated with Critical Race Theory,” former President Donald Trump said. “This is a Marxist doctrine holding that America is a wicked and racist nation, that even young children are complicit in oppression, and that our entire society must be radically transformed.”

Tennessee State Sen. Brian Kelsey criticized CRT in a tweet in May for teaching “the rule of law does not exist.”

Parents are pushing back against CRT nationwide, storming school board meetings to demand accountability for what is being taught. More than 165 local and national groups have formed to push back against CRT. (RELATED: Meet The Opponents Of Critical Race Theory The Media Does Not Want You To See)

“Parents are right to revolt against critical race theory in the classroom,” senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and anti-CRT writer Christopher Rufo told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Children are not inherently ‘oppressors’ and should not be implicated for historical crimes on the basis of their race. That’s the kind of propaganda that belongs in a Soviet history museum – not American K-12 classrooms.”

Some argue CRT is counterintuitive, teaching children to judge by race which will then perpetuate racism.

“It is not the concept of judging people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin,” Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson from Legal Insurrection, said. “In fact, it’s just the opposite. It is everything about judging people by the color of their skin. And it is not about equality or equal opportunity.”

“There is no middle ground here,” he continued. “You cannot be simply ‘not racist.’ Simply treating everybody fairly is a racist act. According to that doctrine, you have to be an activist. You have to actively participate in seeking to root out racism and to explore your own racism. It’s very much a doctrine where you’re either with us or you are against us. There is no middle ground.”