Originally coined by lawyer and professor Derrick Bell, Critical Race Theory is a legal framework that serves to analyze the relationship between race, racism and power. The five tenets of CRT highlight the ways in which racism shapes the world around us. This year, state politicians enacted wide-spread bans against teaching CRT in school districts across America. Is there a social responsibility to educate students about America’s relationship with racism? What issues arise when the topic of racism is avoided, especially in academic spaces? Is there a better alternative to teaching Critical Race Theory in schools? 

There isn’t an alternative to Critical Race Theory in the same way that isn’t an alternative to the studies of Shakespeare, or modernism. Racism is a fundamental byproduct of Europeans’ violent conquest of the Americas, and it remains a substantial cache of post-colonial rules. The past cannot be silenced. Any responsible person, or country, must face the past. Avoidance and suppression are delay tactics that will simply make matters worse because the incentive to discover more evidence becomes greater.  Critical Race Theory is primarily a study of legal strategies that deconstruct the conventional methods of utilizing laws to hinder social, political and economic equity, as well as progress for the socially constructed non-white groups in the United States and in the world. For example, in Haiti (a black country) during the U.S. military occupation from 1915 to 1934, Jim Crow rules were instituted by white American soldiers as they reproduced violent racial policies from the United States to their benefit. One should ask: Is there an alternative to teaching about U.S. Imperialism? No. Is there an alternative to teaching about the internal colonial policies of the United States vis-à-vis the violent disenfranchisement of non-whites, particularly with the malevolent treatment of black people in mind? No.  As a purported democracy  and an economic/military superpower, we must be in constant dialogue with history in order to understand the mistakes of the past. Critical Race Theory is not the problem. The problem is with those who are racist and are retrenching into their white supremacist bunkers while demanding to silence the racial policies and legal rulings that benefitted them and their ancestors. CRT is effective, and that’s why reactionary politicians would like to smash it.

Patrick Sylvain is a lecturer in the department of African and African American studies specializing in analysis of literature and Critical Race Theory.