Explain: Critical race theory, what it is, what it is not and why it has become a buzzword

WILLIAMBURG, Virginia (WAVY) – As the national debate on critical race theory unfolds, questions about the concept at the college level continue to circulate.

10 On Your Side met with law school professor William and Mary Vivian Hamilton, who is also the director of the School Center for Social Justice, to answer some common questions about CRT.

Hamilton teaches a CRT unit in a classroom that covers race and law at William & Mary. She said CRT is not taught in Virginia’s K-12 public schools and that most college students will not learn about it unless they are enrolled in specialized courses.

What is critical racial theory?

The theory of critical race was developed in law schools in the 1980s and continues to be studied in highly specialized settings.

“It’s a set of principles that aim to understand why black and other colored people continue to occupy the lowest social rungs of society,” Hamilton said.

She said the CRT is also studying how racial differences arose and how they are perpetuated in American society. One of the basic principles of CRT is the belief that race is a social construct, which means that there are no biological determinations for race.

“Another basic principle is that institutions can create and maintain racial differences even in the absence of racist intentions on the part of those members of those institutions,” she said.

Hamilton said examples of these disparities can be found in public housing policy, employment and school funding.

An example of CRT

Hamilton provided 10 On Your Side an example of how CRT looks in the real world. This example was based on employment-related research.

“An employer who encounters identical resumes is more likely to drop an applicant’s resume with a name that sounds black, whereas, again, an identical resume of an applicant with a white name is more likely to get an interview,” she said.

Hamilton said the employer in this example could not have malicious or negative intentions. She believes that the result of this example is that people are affected in different ways.

“Where does it come from?”: The reason for the reaction and why people may feel uncomfortable

During our interview, Hamilton said that CRT is not a common topic for conversations or lessons in law schools across the country, but only what is discussed in specialized settings. She said she was surprised when CRT became a buzzword at school board meetings and in local news.

She believes the controversy surrounding the CRT stems from a reaction to discussions that arose in 2020 after George Floyd was assassinated by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Shaven.

“It has infuriated many white people who are simply not used to thinking about race all the time,” Hamilton said, adding that she believes it has prompted legislative changes across the country.

“They feel subjected to attacks and accusations, and as if they are being made to feel guilty and responsible for the disparities that exist in society,” she said.

Future impact on schools, society

As the Virginia General Assembly debates a number of bills aimed at reforming what students learn in the classroom, Hamilton believes it is important to remember one thing.

“Teaching isn’t always comfortable, and yes, lessons have to be age-appropriate and class-based,” she said, adding that she agrees that CRT should not be taught to K-12 students in Virginia.

She said adults can believe that the history they taught in school is the whole truth of American history.

“We really don’t think that perhaps the history we’ve been taught reflects some kind of bias that was meant to isolate us from some of the awkward truths of American history,” she said.

For example, she said many people in Virginia were taught that civil war concerned state rights.

“It’s partly true, it was about the rights of states,” she said. “But what about the rights of the state? The right of states to continue economic prosperity through the forced labor of enslaved blacks. ”

Hamilton said the possible effect of these laws could lead to the fact that the current generation of students will be under-educated about America’s racial history.

“I think that’s part of the purpose of this legislation,” she said. “This is to perpetuate the status quo. Perpetuate the racial status quo. “

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