What Is Critical Race Theory? Start Here

So what is critical race theory and why is it under attack? This Education Week explainer offers a definitional perspective on CRT and would be one place to start. In addition to helpful definitions, the piece covers the history of the debate and is an accessible primer for laypeople and experts alike.

When I want to learn more about something—anything—I never begin with politicians or tabloid news (unless I’m morbidly curious about how they’re spinning an issue to their own advantage). I begin with carefully vetted nonprofits, activists, teachers, and educational institutions that have demonstrated a clear investment in studying, understanding, and teaching about the issues I’m interested in—in this case, critical race theory and anti-racism.

Learn & Unlearn: Anti-racism resource guide is a resource published by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This outlet offers multimedia lessons, complete with video lectures by scholars like Keith Stanley Brooks and Gloria Ladson-Billings, and concludes with such thought-provoking reflection questions as “Racism and racial hierarchy have continued unchallenged. Why haven’t things changed?”

Finally, with Critical Race Theory: an introduction, Purdue Online Writing Lab offers an accessible discussion of the history of CRT and includes an extensive reference list for those interested in books on the topic.

Conversations About Race

After arriving at a definition, it always helps to learn more about how to productively discuss issues that have been scapegoated and spun for political gain. In my own work as an educator, I’ve often turned to Racial Equity Tools to enhance my thinking and teaching. This nonprofit offers a curriculum of fundamental and theoretical discussions about race, categorized under Anti-racism, Critical Race Theory, Racial Capitalism, Racial Identity Development, and Targeted Universalism.

Multimedia/Visual Tools

Back when I taught a course on race, racism, and racial identity, one of my students discovered the University of Virginia’s Racial Dot Map, a tool that allows users to visually assess the racial demographics of a given location, including the racial and ethnic disparities of state prisons. This interactive resource was created by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service and added a great deal to our understanding of the racialization of geography.

For those who prefer film, The Power of An Illusion is a three-part PBS documentary that challenges people’s understanding of race. According to John Powell, a professor of law at UC Berkeley, “While race, as a biological concept, is an illusion, racism is a sociological fact … the film helps people see that it’s not just an idea; it’s inscribed in our schools, in our churches, in our neighborhoods and housing. And it’s inscribed in the way we see each other” (as quoted in an interview with PBS).

Finally, Code Switch is a wildly popular podcast published by NPR that deals candidly with race and racism. Code Switch is my personal favorite source for smart and current takes about how to talk about race, but also for keeping up with ever-evolving language around race, as with senior producer and cohost Shereen Marisol Meraji’s discussion of outdated labels, words, and phrases that continue to be assigned to people who do not identify as white.

Opportunities for Activism

As I’ve taught my students, learning about critical race theory, race, racism, and how we are all situated in this nation’s racist past is not quite enough. Action is often called for, and I encourage students to donate and contribute to causes that align with themselves and their goals.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture is a tremendous resource for those who want to learn more about race and current conversations, but also for anyone ready to take action. According to the museum’s website, it is “the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.” Curators have compiled a comprehensive multimodal curriculum titled Talking About Race that is conveniently divided into discussions about individual, interpersonal, and institutional forms of racism and how to work toward anti-racist change at all levels of society. This resource encourages a “questioning frame of mind” and includes such provocative questions as “Why do you want to be anti-racist? Considering the breadth and depth of racism, committing to being anti-racist may feel overwhelming, yet small choices made daily can add up to big changes. Reflect on choices you make in your daily life (i.e., who you build relationships with, what media you follow, where you shop). How do these choices reflect being antiracist?” This resource features the work of heavyweights such as Ibram X. Kendi, author of the groundbreaking and wildly popular book How to Be an Antiracist, and activist and speaker Verna Myers.


Author: showrunner