Themes in American History: Capitalism, Slavery, Democracy

Today’s Elections and “Critical Race Theory”

Today, Nov. 2, 2021, was an election day in many parts of the country, including here in New York City, where we had the chance to vote for a new mayor, public advocate, and city council members as well as several important ballot measures. I hope you all remembered to do your civic duty by voting today.

However, attention is fixed on a handful of tight governor’s races, including next door in New Jersey, and in Virginia, where Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe is in a close race with Republican Glenn Youngkin, a businessman and supporter of former president Trump.

Although Youngkin has distanced himself from Trump, he has managed to make cultural issues, particularly the teaching of “Critical Race Theory” in schools, a major issue in the campaign. In reality, however, it is highly unlikely that public schools in Virginia, or any public K-12 school in the country, are teaching Critical Race Theory or including it in their curricula. It is unclear what Youngkin or other Republicans mean by “Critical Race Theory”—an until-recently obscure set of ideas and practices used in certain law school and graduate programs—but probably, like the man in this viral video from Twitter (below), they have little idea what it is.


Or, perhaps more to the point, they know that it sounds divisive and that many white Americans are fearful of the idea of talking about, or teaching, the history of race and slavery and its links to current racial injustices. In the summer of 2020, a conservative activist named Christopher Rufo began pushing the idea that Critical Race Theory was a pervasive threat to American values (and also that it was, somehow, racist), and Republican strategists have embraced the idea ever since. A number of Republican-controlled states have since banned the teaching of CRT from public schools altogether—even though, as already mentioned, there is little evidence that it is actually taught in schools.

It remains to be seen how effective this approach will be, but as of this writing, Youngkin leads McAuliffe—in a state where Biden won by some 10 percentage points—in the vote tallies.

3 thoughts on “Today’s Elections and “Critical Race Theory””

  1. The Critical Race Theory was created and meant to diminish the hierarchy of races within America. Critical Race Theorists were known for finding the natural history behind the concept of people of different ethnicities and races. The idea of explaining this theory to K-12 school students is a little over the top because they wouldn’t understand at least until they are in high school. If students are taught this at a young pre-mature age, they will develop future prejudices against their own friends in school and probably do something much worse once they have the power of an adult man or woman. They might create stereotypical comments to someone they work with. So, it’s best to teach this when students are a little older (15-18) assuming we are allowing this to be implemented in K-12 school systems.

  2. Although the Critical Race Theory is a very significant part of people’s lives, I do believe that teaching it to kids in school could impact them in a negative way. As a child, you don’t completely understand the chaos that happens around you in the world, and what you hear from parents, friends, and teachers shapes you into the person you become. The study of the Critical Race Theory as a child, ages 5 and up, could lead children into developing stereotypes and biases since that is approximately the age when they start to do so. Also, depending on the school and the teacher, the information that is being taught could be very misleading and sometimes very untrue, since different people have different biases and opinions on this matter. I believe that this theory should be taught to students who are old enough to develop their own opinions (grades 7 and up), and who aren’t just going based off on what they were taught, because otherwise, this will result in many “racial injustices”.

  3. Thank you, Mandeep and Nataliya, for your thoughts. But the important point that you both seem to be missing is that, there is no evidence that something called “Critical Race Theory” is being in taught in K-12 public schools, let alone to 5 year olds. Rather, it is a set of theories and practices used in some law school and graduate programs (it’s unclear how many of them).

    Certain politicians likely know this, but they also know that (mainly white) voters don’t like the sound of something called “Critical Race Theory” being taught in schools, so they are using it quite disingenuously as a way to get votes.

    I wonder if your responses would be different if, instead of “Critical Race Theory,” the conversation was about teaching the history of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation, or the Civil Rights Movement in schools. It seems to me that it’s impossible to teach or understand these things without learning something about the history of race, and racism, in America. In fact, again due to pressure from politicians, there is evidence that these topics are once again being pulled from school curricula or subjected to strict and arbitrary guidelines that stifle discussion of these topics and prevent some teachers from teaching them altogether.

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