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Photographer: Andrew Caballero=Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

QuickTake

How Critical Race Theory Became a Political Target

Fights about how to understand America’s racial history are nothing new, and neither are moves by politicians to dictate what schools teach. But the vituperative debate over Critical Race Theory and the rush by some state legislatures and school boards to limit what students can hear are perhaps unprecedented. The politicians leading the charge say they are trying to protect children from anti-White indoctrination, while the theory’s defenders say conservatives are attacking a caricature of its ideas to frighten or enrage White voters.

Critical race theory, or CRT, proposes that any analysis of American society must take into account its history of racism and the role race has played in shaping attitudes and institutions. In some ways, it can be seen as an extension of other academic approaches that developed in the 1970s and 80s, such as gender studies, that seek to investigate the power relationships embedded within laws and customs. Critical race theory often overlaps with discussions of systemic racism -- the ways policies, procedures and institutions work to perpetuate racial inequity even in the absence of personal racial animus.