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So What Is CRT Anyway?

black history crt hard history racism seeing difference Mar 03, 2022
All February (Black History Month!) , we’ve filled our social media feeds with facts - many of them hard truths - from the U.S.’s racial history. We’ve called the series “This Is Not CRT.”  We named it that in response to the push in conservative circles to avoid teaching painful parts of our past using the claim that discussions of racial injustice and history is teaching CRT.
So what is CRT anyway? And why is teaching historical truths NOT CRT?
When academics and historians examine our past, they are always looking through a lens, making choices about what to emphasize and what to minimize. In order to name, see, and shed light on these interpretations of history, academics use different frameworks for analysis.
As an example, I’d like to share my first real comprehension of how these frameworks impact understanding. In my sophomore art history seminar at Harvard, each student chose a single work of art to analyze all semester. Each week, we examined the artwork and wrote a paper using a new analytical framework. I chose René Magritte’s Empire of Lights.
One week, I’d use feminist theory to understand the piece. The next week, I looked at the same painting through the lens of reception theory, which prioritizes the experience of the viewer. Psychoanalytic theory, biographical theory, formal analysis, iconology, and iconography were all different frameworks we used to examine our chosen work. In the end, I emerged with a multifaceted and complex understanding of the work through the many frameworks of analysis.
CRT is ONE framework used to look at history.
CRT is the acronym for Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory is an analytical framework - typically used at the college and graduate school level - to explore the ways in which racial inequity is solidified into various systems in the United States.
So why are we hearing parents claim that schools are teaching CRT?
Why have so many folks readily believed that CRT is a big, bad boogeyman? I have several theories, but I think they largely hinge on connotations of the words critical, race and theory.
Critical has a strongly negative connotation.
Race is a word that many white people in the United States feel should not be discussed.
And theory connotes an ambiguity rather than a concrete fact.
I’d like to suggest to you that these connotations have been manipulated by politicians to incite racial tension consciously and unconsciously. In fact, most of what is actually being pushed back against is teaching a more honest, less rosy, and less white-centric history at all levels.
By branding all uncomfortable history with the scary-sounding acronym CRT, politicians create a racial division between those who want to teach the many varied perspectives of American history to high schoolers, and those who wish to leave them with the simplistic and reductive belief that America has only ever been great and perfect in its actions and intent.
And that is the same battle we’ve been fighting for-ev-ah - to acknowledge the pain of those in the minority and the harm caused by those in power since this country’s inception.
So, what IS CRT? First, it’s a college-level framework that no one is teaching in high school. Second, it’s one of many academic frameworks historians use to develop multifaceted understandings of the past.
And what it’s NOT is simply teaching hard history.
The discomfort we’re seeing with CRT isn’t actually about CRT at all. It’s about our collective American feelings of shame and regret, our unease with the various ways we’ve participated in and benefited from the exploitation of others, and our very human but very harmful wish that it would all just go away without any work or effort.
Do you agree? Disagree? I’m here for all the conversations on it. So, hit me up. Can’t wait to hear what you’re seeing and feeling on this subject.

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