Axios Explains: Critical race theory

How critical race theory began

Critical race theory — which holds that racism is baked into the formation of the nation and ingrained in our legal, financial and education systems — was developed in law schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

What critical race theory says

Racism is baked into U.S. society, according to CRT backers. It underlays how society conducts business and encompasses the everyday experience of most people of color in the U.S., Delgado and Jean Stefancic write in “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction.”

  • Racism advances the material interests of white elites and the psychological comfort of working-class white people, so large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it.

Yes, but: There are divisions among CRT scholars between the “idealists” and the “realists.” 

  • Idealists believe racism and discrimination are matters of thinking, mental categorization, attitude and arguments. It can be challenged by changing systems of images, words, attitudes, scripts and education.
  • Realists feel racism is a means by which society allocates privilege and status. They believe old systems need major restructuring. 
What critical race theory doesn’t say

The tenets of CRT do not preach that any member of a race, group, religion or nationality is superior.