Skip to main content
Elicia Brand leads a crowd of angry parents and community members in the singing of the Star Spangled Banner after a Loudoun County School Board meeting was halted by the school board because the crowd refused to quiet down, in Ashburn, Virginia, U.S. June 22, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
FixGov

Why are states banning critical race theory?

and

Fox News has mentioned “critical race theory” 1,300 times in less than four months. Why? Because critical race theory (CRT) has become a new boogie man for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present.

To understand why CRT has become such a flash point in the culture, it is important to understand what it is and what it is not. Opponents fear that CRT admonishes all white people for being oppressors while classifying all Black people as hopelessly oppressed victims. These fears have spurred school boards and state legislatures from Tennessee to Idaho to ban teachings about racism in classrooms. However, there is a fundamental problem: these narratives about CRT are gross exaggerations of the theoretical framework. The broad brush that is being applied to CRT is puzzling to academics, including some of the scholars who coined and advanced the framework.

CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people. Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race. Sociologists and other scholars have long noted that racism can exist without racists. However, many Americans are not able to separate their individual identity as an American from the social institutions that govern us—these people perceive themselves as the system. Consequently, they interpret calling social institutions racist as calling them racist personally. It speaks to how normative racial ideology is to American identity that some people just cannot separate the two. There are also people who may recognize America’s racist past but have bought into the false narrative that the U.S. is now an equitable democracy. They are simply unwilling to remove the blind spot obscuring the fact that America is still not great for everyone.

Scholars and activists who discuss CRT are not arguing that white people living now are to blame for what people did in the past. They are saying that white people living now have a moral responsibility to do something about how racism still impacts all of our lives today. Policies attempting to suffocate this much-needed national conversation are an obstacle to the pursuit of an equitable democracy. Supporters of CRT bans often quote Martin Luther King Jr’s proclamation that individuals should be viewed by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin, ignoring the context of the quote and the true meaning behind it.

To better understand how widespread these efforts are to ban critical race theory from U.S. classrooms, we did an assessment of anti-CRT state legislation. Here’s what we found:

  • Eight states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, and South Carolina) have passed legislation.
  • None of the state bills that have passed even actually mention the words “critical race theory” explicitly, with the exception of Idaho.
  • The legislations mostly ban the discussion, training, and/or orientation that the U.S. is inherently racist as well as any discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, and oppression. These parameters also extend beyond race to include gender lectures and discussions.
  • State actors in Montana and South Dakota have denounced teaching concepts associated with CRT. The state school boards in Florida, Georgia, Utah, and Oklahoma introduced new guidelines barring CRT-related discussions. Local school boards in Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia also criticized CRT.
  • Nearly 20 additional states have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation.

You can find a summary of this legislation in the appendix to this post.

The approach of some Republican-led state legislatures is a method for continuing to roll back racial progress regarding everything from voting rights to police reform. This is a horrible idea and does an injustice to our kids. Laws forbidding any teacher or lesson from mentioning race/racism, and even gender/sexism, would put a chilling effect on what educators are willing to discuss in the classroom and provide cover for those who are not comfortable hearing or telling the truth about the history and state of race relations in the United States. Ironically, “making laws outlawing critical race theory confirms the point that racism is embedded in the law,” as sociologist Victor Ray noted.

Some parents are worried about their kids learning things in school that they do not have the capacity to address. As a college professor who does teach CRT as one of the many theoretical frameworks that I bring into the classroom, students are alarmed by how little they have learned about inequality. They are upset at their schools, teachers, and even their parents. So, this is the conundrum: teachers in K-12 schools are not actually teaching CRT. But teachers are trying to respond to students asking them why people are protesting and why Black people are more likely to be killed by the police.

Ultimately, we cannot employ colorblind ideology in a society that is far from colorblind. Everyone sees it, whether they acknowledge it consciously or not. As I wrote in a previous Brookings article on whether the U.S. is a racist country, systemic racism can explain racial disparities in police killings, COVID-19, and the devaluing of homes in Black neighborhoods. If we love America, we should want it to be the best it can be. Rather than run from the issue of racism in America, we should confront it head on. Our kids and country will be better for it.


Appendix: Legislative and administrative actions regarding CRT
Last updated: August 13, 2021

Pablo Robles Joint Unified School District, CaliforniaResolution passed by the school board explicitly denounces CRT and bans certain concepts from being taught, such as that “racism is racial prejudice plus power,” that individuals are “either a member of the oppressor class or the oppressed class because of race or sex,” and that the concept of meritocracy was created as a tool of oppression.
Successful bans by legislatures
Idaho House Bill 377
Oklahoma House Bill 1775
Tennessee House Bill 580
Texas House Bill 3979
Iowa House File 802
New Hampshire Anti-CRT section was incorporated into House Bill 2, the state budget trailer
Arizona House Bill 2906 and House Bill 2898.
South Carolina  Anti-CRT section incorporated into the education section of H. 4100, the state budget bill
State legislatures that have/are considering a ban or that have pre-filed bills for next session
Alabama

· Rep. Pringle (R), has pre-filed a bill for next legislative session that would limit the concepts about race and sex that public schools and universities can teach

· Alabama Board of Education is also debating whether to ban CRT, will vote in August

Arkansas

· Senate Bill 627 passed. It limits how most state agencies can train employees about “divisive concepts”

· Bills limiting how racism is taught in schools (HB1218) and banning the 1619 project in schools (HB1231) have failed thus far

Kentucky

Two bills have been pre-filed for the next legislative session:

· BR 60 would ban certain concepts from being taught in public K-12 schools and establish financial penalties for disobeying. It also bans mandatory diversity training at public universities.

· BR 69 would ban concepts from being taught both in public K-12 schools and in public universities; institutions that disobey would be legally liable.

Louisiana House Bill 564 would ban “divisive concepts” from being taught in public schools and public postsecondary institutions
Maine HP 395 would ban certain subjects/concepts from being taught in public schools
Michigan Senate Bill 460 would ban (and withhold 5% of state funding to districts who do not cooperate) the teaching of the 1619 Project and specified concepts in public schools
Missouri House Bill 952 would ban certain concepts from being taught in state agencies, school districts, public postsecondary institutions, and state-funded charter schools, including specified curriculum (1619 Project, Learning for Justice Curriculum by SPLC, We Stories, programs by Educational Equity Consultants, BLM at School, Teaching for Change, Zinn Education Project). State funding would be withheld from entities who violate these rules.
Mississippi House Resolution 62 and Senate Resolution 56 condemn critical race theory but do not address schools specifically
North Carolina House Bill 324 would ban certain concepts from being taught in public schools and charter schools
Ohio

· House Bill 322 states that teachers who discuss current events must introduce multiple perspectives, bans extra credit for political advocacy work, bans private funding for curriculum deemed unacceptable by bill, bans state agencies and school districts from teaching certain concepts

· House Bill 327 would ban school districts and state agencies from teaching various “divisive concepts,” would withhold state funding to districts that disobeyed

Pennsylvania House Bill 1532 would ban public postsecondary institutions, state and local governments, and school districts from teaching certain concepts, a violation would result in a loss of state funding
Rhode Island H 6070 would prohibit teaching of “divisive concepts” in schools, state and municipal contracts and training programs
Texas  The Texas State Senate passed SB3, which removes requirements related to teaching the history of women’s suffrage, Indigenous people, the civil rights movement, and slavery 
West Virginia House Bill 2595 would ban state employees or contractors, as well as schools, from teaching “divisive concepts” and would withhold state funding for violations
Wisconsin

· Senate Bill 411 would prohibit certain concepts from being taught in public schools and charter schools, with violations resulting in a loss of 10% of state funding. Also requires curricula used to be posted online.

· Senate Bill 410 would restrict the types of racism/sexism training that state agencies can conduct

· Senate Bill 409 would ban certain concepts from being taught in University of Wisconsin System and the Technical College System and restricts permissible employee training, with violations resulting in funding cuts

Federal-level action being considered

· The “Saving History Act of 2021” would withhold federal funding, with some exceptions, from schools that teach the 1619 Project.

· The “Ending Critical Race Theory in D.C. Public Schools Act,” introduced by a representative from Wisconsin, would ban certain concepts from being taught in D.C. public and charter schools.

· The “Stop CRT Act” would withhold federal funding from schools and universities that promote “race-based theories.”

· The Senate passed an amendment to the budget resolution with Manchin’s support blocking federal funding from being used to teach CRT in pre-K and K-12 schools.

· The “PEACE Act” would prohibit federal American History and civics education programming funds from being used to teach “divisive concepts.”

· The “Protecting Students from Racial Hostility Act” would amend Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make the teaching of “divisive concepts” discriminatory, establishes a system for reporting related complaints.

Actions taken by state boards of education
Florida Rule amendment here
Georgia Resolution here
Utah New rules here, prompted by resolutions passed by the Utah Legislature instructing the board to address CRT in new rules
Oklahoma New emergency rules prompted by HB 1775 here.
Actions taken by other state actors
Montana State Attorney General ruled that teaching CRT is discriminatory and unlawful, schools or public workplaces that offer CRT training could lose state funding or be liable to lawsuits
South Dakota

· The state Appropriations Committee sent a letter to the state Department of Education encouraging them to reject federal grants for teaching history and civics, noting that they expect to address CRT next legislative session

· Gov Noem signed “1776 Pledge

Actions taken by local school boards
Cobb County, Georgia Cobb County “will not implement Critical Race Theory, also called CRT, in our schools – not under that name nor any other name; nor will we be using the 1619 Project in our schools – not under that name nor under any other name.”
Cherokee County, Georgia NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by vote of the members of the Cherokee County Board of Education at a duly called meeting held on May 20, 2021, the Cherokee County School Board and Cherokee County School District in pursuit of the aforementioned goals and objectives will NOT implement “Critical Race Theory,” also called CRT, in our schools – not under that name nor by any other name, nor will we be using The 1619 Project in our schools – not under that name nor by any other name.”
Brunswick County, North Carolina This policy shall ensure that social theories of any kind (i.e. Holocaust Denial Theory, 9/11 Theory, Critical Race Theory) are not presented to students unless approved by the Brunswick County Board of Education. It is the responsibility of the Board to ensure that curricular standards are taught using well documented, factual resources and not opinion or conjecture.”
Gallatin County, Kentucky Superintendent stated that the board believes “no individual is ‘inherently racist, sexist or oppressive’ due to their race or sex, ‘whether consciously or unconsciously.’ Agenda item VI.I. from the June 15 BOE meeting “Discussion/Action to Ban Critical Race Theory in Gallatin County School District” was a statement to affirm the belief and commitment to ensure every child’s needs will be met.  Furthermore, the effort was to not create greater divisions among students and staff through the promotion of CRT.”
Chesterfield County, Virginia School board chairman said that “critical race theory is not supported by members of the board. In Chesterfield, our goal is unity, not division.”
Sullivan County, Tennessee High school teacher Matthew Hawn was recently fired for assigning “The First White President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and for showing a video of a spoken word poem called “White Privilege” by Kyla Lacey in his Contemporary Issues class.
Get daily updates from Brookings