Here's the truth about conservatives' attack on Critical Race Theory

Here's the truth about conservatives' attack on Critical Race Theory

"Critical race theory" is an area of academic study in which scholars, professors and teachers examine criminal justice and the legal system from the standpoint of anti-racism. In recent months, more right-wing politicians and media figures have been railing against CRT studies — and journalist Adam Harris examines the right-wing demonization of CRT in an article published by The Atlantic this week.

"The late Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell is credited as the father of critical race theory," Harris explains. "He began conceptualizing the idea in the 1970s as a way to understand how race and American law interact, and developed a course on the subject. In 1980, Bell resigned his position at Harvard because of what he viewed as the institution's discriminatory hiring practices, especially its failure to hire an Asian-American woman he'd recommended."

But despite Bell's resignation in 1980, CRT studies continued with other scholars — including attorney Kimberlé Crenshaw, who has been a law professor at Columbia University in New York City and the University of California, Los Angeles, or UCLA. The demonization of CRT studies in right-wing media, according to Harris, accelerated after the murder of Georgia Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. Floyd's death and the huge protests that followed it in many different countries inspired a great deal of discussion of racism and criminal justice — discussion that made some people on the right very uncomfortable.

Harris observes, "Fox News gave only passing thought to critical race theory until last year. The first mention on the network occurred after Bell died, in 2012…. Then, in 2020, after Derek Chauvin was captured on video kneeling on George Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, and the United States became awash in anti-racist reading lists — some of which included books and articles that discussed critical race theory — Fox suddenly took a great interest in the idea. It became the latest in a long line of racialized topics, affirmative action perhaps being the most prominent, that the network has jumped on. Since June 5, 2020, the phrase has been invoked during 150 broadcasts."

Harris points out that Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute — a libertarian think tank — has done a lot to promote "conservative interest in critical race theory" since 2020. And that interest on the right has been negative, with Tucker Carlson and others at Fox News railing against it. When he was still president, Donald Trump signed an executive order banning the use of CRT by departments of the federal government.

"Trump's executive order was immediately challenged in court," Harris recalls. "Nonprofit organizations that provide these training sessions argued that the order violated their free-speech rights and hampered their ability to conduct their business. In December, a federal judge agreed; President Joe Biden rescinded the order the day he took office. But by then, critical race theory was already a part of the conservative lexicon."

Republicans, Harris observes, have been pushing bills opposing the teaching of CRT in public schools or government — bills that are designed to "scare off companies, schools, and government agencies from discussing systemic racism."

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the New Hampshire ACLU, told Harris, "What these bills are designed to do is prevent conversations about how racism exists at a systemic level in that we all have implicit biases that lead to decisions that, accumulated, lead to significant racial disparities…. They want to suppress that type of speech."

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