Alexander: We Need Critical Race Theory


Cyan Larson

(Graphic by Cyan Larson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By CJ Alexander, Special Projects Managing Editor


It’s been one year since George Floyd died and our nation demanded an end to police brutality against Black people. Our institutions, policies, laws and daily lives came under scrutiny as we reckoned with the racism rooted in our society. Companies stood in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Several statues of prominent racists were removed. And in efforts to change pop culture, streaming platforms removed TV programs with exaggerated racial themes. Even legislators are continuing to push for police reform. This past year was the start of real change taking place in the U.S.

However, as we reflect on all we’ve accomplished this past year against racism in modern America, we must face the harsh reality of our incomplete victory. There’s still so much work to do, so many more people to reach and so many more voices that must be heard. We need to actively learn and continue teaching about race in America, and keep the conversation of societal change alive.

One way we can do this is through critical race theory, or CRT, an explanatory framework that confronts America’s history with contemporary racism. CRT’s efforts have revolutionized how we see race in our education systems and society. But right now, CRT is in danger of being scrapped entirely from the Utah education curriculum by state legislators and leaders. Critical race theory needs to be retained and taught in order for us to address and eradicate racism in America. Otherwise, our efforts against racism are futile.

First and foremost, we must understand the fundamental concepts of critical race theory to better grasp the history of race and how it affects society today. In essence, CRT interrogates the role of race in our society and critiques institutionalized racism as a legitimate problem instead of merely something of the past. Founded on the philosophies of lawyer and civil rights activist Derrick Bell, CRT constantly changes and evolves the way we see race as a powerful social construct implicating our lives.

CRT illustrates how racism flourishes in America and aims to eliminate institutional and law practices that allow racism to thrive. Ultimately, critical race theorists want to acknowledge racism’s influence on our past and create a better future where racism isn’t deeply rooted in society. Anyone who wants to see that future for themselves should understand and support the need for CRT.

Yet conservative lawmakers are trying to ban concepts of CRT in K-12 schools. Last year, former President Donald Trump attacked these racial discussions and denounced CRT as “divisive.” Now, in a bid to unify the GOP, CRT is once again under attack by Republican legislators and commentators. They argue that CRT advocates for discrimination against white people through the separation of “oppressor” and “oppressed,” which they believe creates a divisive dynamic among society. However, that’s not what CRT stands for.

Attempts to ban CRT actually preserve the racist attitudes found in society today. It simply works to bring the contributions of people of color back into history books and recognize racism as an ongoing crisis. Without teaching it in K-12 schools, we’re leaving the responsibility to higher education institutions, which not everyone attends. Waiting to teach something so vital to society is detrimental to students of color as well, who are exposed to racism as children. Often the students faced with racial adversity must fend for themselves. Teaching CRT early on, however, allows for students to fully grasp and fight against racism and racist practices that they see and experience.

CRT’s roots in the Civil Rights Movement should indicate its importance. It serves to confront the difficult reality of our nation’s past and decides how we talk about racial issues in the classroom. Civil rights teachings are in jeopardy because our nation vilifies any acknowledgment of its racist past.

It was only a couple of months ago when an Ogden school district temporarily allowed parents to opt their students out of Black History Month, so clearly the need for CRT remains as prevalent as ever. As an essential component to understanding the history of Black people and people of color in the United States, learning about CRT should be required. Glazing over America’s past genocide, enslavements, and overall brutality suppresses the vocalization of the suffering of people of color, almost as if their suffering doesn’t matter.

Rather than concentrate efforts towards removing CRT, we should instead better equip educators to teach CRT. The way it’s taught should not minimize the lesson, but empower students to confront and change their society’s continued acceptance of racism. Facilitating equity audits in schools will also aid teachers and administrators in improving the educational futures and learning of students of color. As long as we apply and teach CRT, we can change society’s perspective on race.

The harm that can come from banning CRT in the classroom pertains to more than just civil rights. Without CRT, we will fail to examine our history and society with a critical eye. Efforts to improve our institutions and dismantle systemic racism will fall short. Steps toward equality and measures for civil rights will not be adequate. It will only cause more division, more acceptance for racism, and more colorblindness. We need CRT now more than ever for the upcoming changes in our society, for the fight against racism, and for the future of the U.S.


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