In this June 10, 2021, file photo, Ben Frazier, the founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville chants "Allow teachers to teach the truth" at the end of his public comments opposing the state of Florida's plans to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools during the Department of Education in Jacksonville, Fla. Developed in the 1970s and '80s, critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of whites. (Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP, File)

WHAT IS CRITICAL RACE THEORY?

A way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society. The architects of the theory argue that the United States was founded on the theft of land and labor and that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people on the basis of race. Proponents also believe race is culturally invented, not biological.

WHO FOUNDED CRT?

Kimberlé Crenshaw. Photo courtesy of law.columbia.edu.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum, a social justice think tank based in New York City, was one of the early proponents. Initially, she says, it was “simply about telling a more complete story of who we are.” Scholars actually developed it during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what they viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.

IS CRT BEING TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS?

There is little to no evidence that critical race theory itself is being taught to K-12 public school students, though some ideas central to it, such as lingering consequences of slavery, have been.

WHY ARE REPUBLICANS UPSET?

Many Republicans view the concepts underlying critical race theory as an effort to rewrite American history and persuade white people that they are inherently racist and should feel guilty because of their advantages. 

But the theory also has become somewhat of a catchall phrase to describe racial concepts some conservatives find objectionable, such as white privilege, systemic inequality and inherent bias.

WHERE DID REPUBLICAN PUSHBACK BEGIN?

Republicans often cite the 1619 Project as a cause for concern. The New York Times initiative, published in 2019, aimed to tell a fuller story of the country’s history by putting slavery at the center of America’s founding.

Critical race theory popped into the mainstream last September when then-President Trump took aim at it and the 1619 Project as part of a White House event focused on the nation’s history. He called both “a crusade against American history” and “ideological poison that … will destroy our country.” 

In this May 25, 2021, file photo, a man holds up a sign against Critical Race Theory during a protest outside a Washoe County School District board meeting in Reno, Nev. Developed in the 1970s and ’80s, critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of whites. (Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, File)

HOW ARE STATES ADDRESSING IT?

So far, 25 states have considered legislation or other steps to limit how race and racism can be taught, according to an analysis from Education Week. Eight states, all Republican-led, have banned or limited the teaching of critical race theory or similar concepts through laws or administrative actions. The bans largely address what can be taught inside the classroom. While bills in some states mention critical race theory by name, others do not.