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What is Critical Race Theory?

October 4, 2021

Over the last year, very few terms have ignited more debate than “Critical Race Theory.”

Critical Race Theory (CRT) teaches that people are either “oppressor” or “oppressed”, “good” or “bad” based on their race. It then claims that the only way to stop racism is to tear down existing institutions and overthrow and replace our constitutional form of government. Racism is wrong. Every person is created in the image of God, deserving of equal treatment and respect. But CRT is not the solution to racism in America. Instead, it only compounds the problem.

But what else should we know about CRT? Where does it come from? Where is it spreading? And how might it affect you and the freedoms you care about?

It’s an exceedingly complex topic, so let’s break it down.

What is Critical Theory?

CRT falls under the broader umbrella of one field of postmodern academic theory: critical theory. There are several bodies of critical theory, including Critical Gender Theory, Critical Queer Theory, Critical Postcolonial Theory, Critical Intersectional Feminism, and more.

Writing for National Review, Cameron Hilditch notes that Critical Theory was established by “a group of German Marxist thinkers known as the Frankfurt School.” Hilditch writes:

Critical theorists … believe that societies, cultures, and civilizations are almost entirely social constructs …. The most important question to the critical theories is therefore Cicero’s famous “Cui bono?”—“Who benefits?” (Emphasis added)

Who benefits? Who has power? As Tim Keller helpfully notes, under secular critical theory, “reality is at bottom nothing but power.”

From this understanding of power flows a radical skepticism towards objective knowledge. As James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose write, proponents of critical theory reject objective truth, reason, and empirical evidence. Instead, they assert that only identity and oppression matter. Society is divided according to whether one is a member of an oppressor or oppressed group or groups. Together these twin principles, of power and knowledge, are undermining confidence in the foundations of liberalism: equality, universality, and individual rights.

Although critical theory began in the academy, its influence is now clearly felt far beyond its walls.

What is Critical Race Theory (CRT)?

What is CRT, and why is it a topic at school board meetings, in corporations, and within the national political discussion?

To learn about CRT, let’s pivot to two of the theory’s foremost scholars: Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.

In Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Delgado and Stefancic write:

The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power …. Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law. (Emphasis added)

Delgado and Stefancic also address the pervasiveness of CRT:

Although CRT began as a movement in the law, it has rapidly spread beyond that discipline. Today, many in the field of education consider themselves critical race theorists who use CRT’s ideas to understand issues of school discipline and hierarchy, tracking, affirmative action, high-stakes testing, controversies over curriculum and history, and alternative and charter schools.”

CRT proponents reject the foundational premise of the Declaration of Independence that "all men created equal."

As a theory with intellectual roots in Marxism, it’s not surprising that CRT and other critical theories view all Western values—including the nuclear family, religious freedom, and Judeo-Christian conceptions of morality—as inherently oppressive. For example, CRT proponents reject American ideals such as equal treatment under the law or hard work because they view them as rooted in oppression. They see them as conduits through which privilege and power are projected throughout society.

Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Contrary to King’s dream, in a society dominated by CRT ideology one’s race is the most important aspect of a person’s identity. It determines whether he is an oppressor or oppressed.

Where is CRT-Inspired Ideology Spreading? And how does it affect your freedom?

This ideology is already dominating America’s most influential institutions.

Investigative journalist Christopher Rufo has chronicled the consequences and pervasiveness of CRT-inspired ideology and trainings in government institutions like the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, major corporations, and schools across the U.S.

But, you might be wondering, “How does CRT affect my freedoms?”

Since CRT rejects neutral principles of constitutional law and the liberal order, it cynically casts aside inherent rights and freedoms like religious freedom and free speech—a crucial freedom key to advancing the civil rights movement and fighting injustice. Free speech, in reality, lifts people up and leads to justice. But instead, CRT proponents view these fundamental freedoms as more ways for the powerful to oppress the oppressed.

Since CRT’s adherents often regard opposing views as rooted in racism, discussion is not an option. They are prone to resorting to censorship and silencing critics. We see this often on college campuses. And its victims aren’t just conservatives or people of faith.

CRT-Influenced Curricula and Trainings are Indoctrinating Children

CRT is informing the trainings that many public school teachers receive and the curricula they are tasked with teaching children.

In schools where CRT-influenced curriculum is introduced, students are told to judge classmates as good or bad according to the categories of oppressed and oppressor. Schools that adopt CRT-based curriculum likely violate the constitutional and civil rights of all students, faculty, and staff that are forced to participate in this brazen racism.

America isn’t perfect, but racism is not defeated by more racism. Injustice is not remedied by placing people in either the category of “oppressor” or “oppressed.” We should not teach children to discriminate based on outer characteristics, but instead teach them to treat all people with respect and dignity—regardless of how they look or whether they share their beliefs.

Nor should we teach some students that they are permanent victims. This undermines their human dignity. This also undermines self-confidence, hopes, and dreams. That’s what all versions of critical theories do.

What is Alliance Defending Freedom Doing About It?

We are actively investigating CRT-influenced curriculums, or policies and curricula influenced by other critical theories like gender identity ideology across the country. And we are pursuing cases to protect the constitutional rights of students, parents, and teachers, facing these dangerous policies.

Right now, we are working to expand our legal team to meet the rising need for these important cases in which children are being indoctrinated in critical theories.

We should teach children who they can be, not what they can’t be. We must stand up for the dignity of all human beings. We must stand up for parental rights and other fundamental freedoms. We must continue to pursue an America in which all people are judged by their character, not the color of their skin. And we must remember the words of Dr. King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

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