Since the previous administration, critical race theory has been at the forefront of educational debates in the country. Just this week, critical race theory was at the epicenter of the Virginia election, as the right and left squabble over a key subject in the U.S. education curriculum.
Critical race theory, developed by scholars during the 1970s and 1980s, is a way of thinking about U.S. history through the lens of racism.
As the Associated Press explains, the subject emerged in response to what was seen at the time as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.
Critical race theory focuses on the idea that racism is systemic in the country’s institutions and that these institutions function to maintain white dominance in society.
Framers of the theory argue that the United States was founded on the theft of land and labor and that federal legislation has preserved unequal treatment of people on the basis of race. Proponents also believe that race is a cultural, not a biological, invention.
Now, Republicans in every corner of the country want to prevent critical race theory from being taught to public school students, including its chapters on the lingering consequences of slavery.
As the AP continues, many Republicans see the concepts underlying critical race theory as an effort to rewrite American history and convince whites that they are inherently racist and should feel guilty about their advantages.
But the theory has also become a catch-all phrase to describe racial concepts that some conservatives find objectionable, such as white privilege, systemic inequality, and inherent bias.
A key issue for all communities of color
Although critical race theory is often presented as a “whites vs. Blacks” diatribe, the reality is that it is an umbrella that encompasses all communities of color.
“Critical race theory came out of the Latino community, almost from the beginning,” said Stephanie Fetta, associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, to NBC News. “Yet its critics want to present it as something very extreme, or as only a Black/white issue.”
Although the term is used in school board battles and political debates, it is generally not taught at the K-12 level. A June survey by the Association of American Educators found that 96% of teachers said they were not required to teach critical race theory. Nor is it usually taught in undergraduate studies.
“There is now this idea that the theory is being taught in elementary schools, which is ridiculous. Many of the commentators on the theory are people far outside of the field,” said Gerald Torres, professor at the Yale School of the Environment and Yale Law School and another Mexican American pioneer of critical race theory, to NBC News.
“For Latinos, it is a way to understand how we have been put into certain categories in the U.S.,” said Torres, who has been active in the field since the late 1980s. “It is a method of understanding how the racial, ethnic, and color differences among us have been managed.”
What’s happening in the Native American community?
However, few have dipped their toes into the waters of how critical race theory affects the Native American community.
As Rebecca Nagle, Cherokee writer, activist, and host of the “This Land” podcast, explained to The Nation, many of the laws passed by GOP-led state legislatures include language that has a direct effect on teaching about indigenous peoples, colonization, Western expansion, Native sovereignty and more.
“I feel like fear of history being told more accurately has been around for a long time,” said Nagle, citing pushback against things like The New York Times’ 1619 Project, the removal of Confederate statues, or efforts to recognize Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day. “For a long time in the United States, there’s been a reluctance to tell the fullness of our history-the good and the bad.”