Home News Center Anti-Racism Resource: Three articles to understand the Critical Race Theory debate

Anti-Racism Resource: Three articles to understand the Critical Race Theory debate

August 31, 2021
Courtney M. McSwain

Critical Race Theory (CRT) continues to make headlines as states across the country consider legislation to ban its academic use in K-12 schools. Despite the fact that most teachers agree that CRT isn't actually used in K-12 schools, hostility remains from opponents who claim the theory unfairly designates all white people as racist, among other criticisms. Kimberly C. Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum and professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School has been instrumental to the development of CRT and describes it this way:

"CRT 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 that we can become that country that we say we are."

Writing for the American Bar Association, Janel George writes:

“CRT is a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship...CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.”

The current debate over CRT is largely set in K-12 schools, as some lawmakers attempt to drastically restrict the ways in which historical lessons on race can be taught in the classroom. There are significant implications for other policy areas, including youth justice. Efforts to critique the youth legal system based on the historical realities of structural racism face the same risk of misinterpretation as CRT. It is important for youth justice advocates to pay close attention to the existing arguments against CRT and prepare strategies to combat any future opposition to anti-racist advocacy efforts.

Keeping up with the debate over CRT can prove challenging. Here are three articles to help youth justice advocates get a clear understanding of what CRT is and the controversy surrounding it.

  1. "What Critical Race Theory Is—and What It Isn’t," by David Miguel Gray,” Yes! Magazine, July 7, 2021.

    Gray provides important context for understanding CRT, how it came about and why having a historical understanding of race is essential to understanding the theory's approach.

  2. "A Lesson on Critical Race Theory," by Janel George. American Bar Association, January 11, 2021.

    As CRT developed primarily as a concept used in law school to analyze how racism is encoded in the U.S. legal system, a breakdown of the theory from the American Bar Association is instructive. This article lays out the principles of CRT, how it is used in legal education and why it has been an important approach for civil rights lawyers.

  3. "Talking About the Attacks on Critical Race Theory Narrative Principles for Promoting Truth in Education & How to Tell the Story about our Country," The Opportunity Agenda.

    This article is helpful to begin thinking about narrative strategies to push back on attacks against anti-racism approaches to policy change. While the article is primarily focused on CRT opposition based on attempts to ban it from K-12 schools, the narrative approaches can also be useful for advocates while anticipating opposition to anti-racist youth justice reforms.


What topics or resources would you like to see discussed in our anti-racism resource section? Email ideas to mcswain@njjn.org.

<- Go Back