CRT (Critical Race Theory) is a term coined by university professors Derrick Bell and Kimberle Crenshaw as a model for seeing history and other subjects through a lens of race/skin color. Two details about that sentence are are important: a) CRT was developed for a university/graduate school level of discourse, not grade school; and b) the model simply asserts that in order to see systems fully and accurately, we must consider them through a lens of race and skin color (for an explanation of why I write race AND skin color rather than just race, please see my earlier post on the myth of “Caucasian” ancestry).
Here’s an example of how acknowledging race/skin color changes what we’re seeing: the GI Bill of 1945 was intended as a gift to soldiers returning from World War II, as well as an incentive to invest in the American economy: the GI Bill offered low-interest mortgages on new homes and low-interest loans on college education for returning soldiers. This ultimately led to the building of suburban neighborhoods and a greater middle class. Great, right? A total win for America. Except that the colleges that would accept the federal loans did not accept Black people, and the neighborhoods that accepted federal mortgages only permitted white-European people to live there. If we don’t look at the GI Bill critically through a lens of race, we won’t see how this bill not only discriminated against Black soldiers, but ultimately became one of the greatest contributors to the current wealth divide between white-European and Black Americans, giving the former group an opportunity to access financial stability and higher education (along with all the connections made during this time that result in employment leads), while the latter group could not.
If we refuse to look at systems of power through a lens of race/skin color, we “whitewash” history and perpetuate the myth that the current inequities are the fault of the individual/population, rather than of laws that benefit one group while disadvantaging another.
I want to be clear regarding my own position on this CRT debate. As anyone can hopefully tell from my website, I don’t believe any of us thrive in situations where we are shamed. Telling the truth about our history DOES NOT have to mean that white-European children are made to feel bad about themselves or their place in history. By facing up to a more-nuanced telling of our story, what is ideally being taught is the ability to hold multiple truths at the same time. We can look at our circumstances through a racial lens and take responsibility for what we see without needing to shame each other. Inequities must be named in order to be corrected.
For those of you whom I haven’t lost yet, imagine for a minute that we replaced the “R” in CRT with a “G:” that all this heated debate was taking place because schools wanted to teach a grade-school version of “Critical Gender Theory,” where students were expected to learn the ways that gender impacts systems of power in American society. Who would argue that it isn’t essential to take gender into account when we look at history or health care? If I don’t acknowledge that people of different genders were and are treated differently (and often unequally) by these systems and that we have had to make significant changes in order for women to have greater access, I’m at risk of undervaluing the contributions of women, their potential for success, and possibly even putting women’s heath at risk (which is what happened when women were dosed with medications that had only been researched/dosed on men). Whenever we refuse to look at the ways that our society privileges some and disadvantages others, we are forced into the myth that one group is simply better, smarter or stronger than another. I would love to believe that even the groups that benefit from this myth would be confident enough to want to seek success on a more-level playing field.
I’ve quoted him before, and I’ll quote him again here: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Thank you, James Baldwin. May we have the courage and the humility to face our history so we can continue to right its wrongs and learn how to be better.