July 25, 2022
The Economist: “Critical race theory” is being weaponised. What’s the fuss about?
The Economist provides a good overview of where CRT panic came from, what it’s about, and what results it has harvested. If you or someone you know have put off being informed about the controversy, this is a good place to start.
“It’s like a bomb went off,” says Christopher Rufo. Mr Rufo himself helped light the fuse. After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, discussions about racism spread throughout schools, he says. Mr Rufo labelled those discussions “critical race theory” (crt). Controversy around crt has continued to grow—recently expanding beyond race to matters of sex and gender.
With the help of Mr Rufo, now a director of an “initiative” on crt at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think-tank, critical race theory, once an obscure academic topic, became a prominent Republican issue in a matter of weeks. Mr Rufo appeared on Fox News’s Tucker Carlson show in September 2020. “It is absolutely astonishing how critical race theory has pervaded every institution in the federal government,” he said, and was being “weaponised against the American people”. He implored President Donald Trump to issue an executive order banning crt. “All Americans should be deeply worried about their country.”
Suddenly the little-known theory was on the lips of conservative pundits and politicians across the country. Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist, saw the impact in focus groups. A journalist from the Wall Street Journal called to ask about crt when it was just starting to percolate, she recalls, but she had not heard anything about it. Then, during the next focus group, “it was all anybody talked about”.
Forty-two states have introduced bills or taken other actions to limit crt in classrooms; 17 have restricted it. North Dakota passed its law in five days. School-board meetings have become ferocious. Protesters claim that children are being forced to see everything through the lens of race. The Manhattan Institute now supplies a guide for parents fighting against “woke schooling”, and the Goldwater Institute, another conservative think-tank, provides model legislation. Banning crt in schools was a core part of Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia last year, and may have helped him win.
Understanding what all the fuss is about requires answers to three questions. What is crt? How widespread is its teaching in schools? And, third, to the extent that it is taught, is this good or bad?