What is critical race theory?

According to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, critical race theory is an academic framework used to analyze racism’s systemic impact on society. Critical race theory focuses on the social, political and economic intersections with race and the institutions that continue to oppress marginalized people.

Initially constructed for legal analysis, at its core, CRT has roots back to the late 1900s, spearheaded by notable Black legal scholars.


Why is it so controversial?

CRT was founded on generations of Black scholarship and activism, but Republican politicians have denounced the theory and continue to mischaracterize it as a way to divide students or introduce racism into the classroom.

At last year’s Neshoba County Fair, Reeves gave a speech, which included this:

“Some of these Ivy League liberals are the dumbest smart people in the world,” Reeves said. “In what world is it OK to teach children that they are born racist? In what world is it OK to tell children they will be judged by the color of their skin and not the content of their character … In Mississippi, our kids should be learning STEM education, not Dem education.” 

Fellow critics of CRT cite similar claims of divisiveness, but people well-versed in critical race theory repeatedly emphasize the systemic analysis that it operates on. That is, CRT focuses on the entirety of the system, not the individual — instead, the individual’s place in that system.

But the message is getting lost in translation if it’s being boiled down to supposedly teaching white children that they’re born racists with a personal and active hand in oppressing their peers of color.     

READ MORE: Anti-CRT bill passed out of Senate committee likely unconstitutional, opponents say


Is it being taught in Mississippi schools?

Currently, Mississippi has only one class explicitly about CRT called Critical Race Theory: Law 743, taught at the University of Mississippi. Education reporter Molly Minta wrote about the class in an article titled “Inside Mississippi’s only class on critical race theory” to tell the story of a young Republican woman who wrote to her lawmakers criticizing their decision to move anti-CRT legislation forward after taking the class. 

The Mississippi Department of Education confirmed that CRT is not being taught in any K-12 public institution in the state.

READ MORE: Inside Mississippi's only class on critical race theory


What's happening with critical race theory in the Legislature?

On March 3, the House of Representatives passed the bill "Critical race theory: prohibit." As reported by Geoff Pender and Bobby Harrison, "After hours of debate and questions, it still is not clear what the results of the three-page bill will be if it signed into law by the governor. While the bill’s title says it prohibits the teaching of critical race theory, that phrase is nowhere in the legislation."

The bill is now in the hands of Gov. Tate Reeves, who has notably spoken out against critical race theory. If passed into law, Mississippi will join at least 14 other states in banning or otherwise limiting critical race theory in public schools.

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FULL COVERAGE: Read all of our coverage on critical race theory


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Nigel Dent, a native of Natchez, is Mississippi Today’s audience journalist. He works as a member of the audience team to engage with readers, create audience-centered resources and distribute Mississippi Today’s news across various digital platforms, including social media and newsletter products.