Recently, the three words “Critical,” “Race,” and “Theory” has been trending in the media. The controversy starts in 2019, when journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times published the 1619 Project, a journalistic compilation of articles in which writers and journalists pen short explainers about different facets of the legacy of slavery and emancipation survived in the United States. In progressive circles, the compilation flourished and ultimately resulted in winning the 2020 Pulitzer, coupled with a children’s version for the use of educational development in schools. Nikole Hannah-Jones, who recently accepted a tenured position at Howard University, quickly became a darling of the left.
The 1619 Project argues that the inception of the United States should be recognized correspondent to the year the first Africans arrived on the Virginia shores, rather than the year of Declaration of Independence in 1776. Hannah-Jones and her fellow writers make use of narratives for their reporting to bolster the Project’s argumentation. Arguably, the Project does not technically have historical merit, as it is not actually history–it’s journalism.
This is important to recognize to correctly analyze the many aspects of the Right’s outrage the Project and Critical Race Theory. First, let us define Critical Race Theory (CRT for short): CRT is a type of legal analysis developed in the 1980s by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Mari Matsuda, Patricia Williams, and many others. The theory argues that racism is axiomatic to the legal system. It differs from critical theory, which is Marxist thought and dialogue developed out of Germany’s Frankfurt School, and is also grouped into the Right’s
“Critical Race Theory.” Critical is not history, it is not journalism, and it is not politics; it is only legal theory. Unfortunately, the Right has created a bastardized wholesale category of CRT that targets any history, theory, and journalism that considers racism in the U.S.
The inception of the 1619 Project launched an attack on a newly defined term of CRT. In collaboration with conservative think tank giants like the Alexander Hamilton Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, the website Critical Race Training––a project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation––is recognized as an authoritative watchdog website for CRT. The website cites the 1619 Project as an arbiter of CRT. It pits the Project as the catalyst for an increase in diversity trainings and anti-racist trainings in schools and corporations. The 1619 Project argues for a change in the narrative of slavery in the public discourse––however, what CRT critics accuse the 1619 Project has to do with a fact-based history. They are grouping this narrative with other deeper analyses and histories of Black American. Coupled with this absurd collection is other stories of Black history, including Ruby Bridges’story, to demonize the public’s education of Black History in the U.S.
This persuasion campaign has worked. Across the country, local county school board meetings have erupted with complaints and accusations launched by CRT critics, accusing the Boards for making students feel guilty about being White, and for teaching them that all White people are racist. As thought of as a concept in CRT, this is entirely false. While some Black people validly feel as if all white people are racist, this is not a principle of CRT. CRT accuses the law of being responsible for supporting inherently white supremacist institutions. CRT demands color consciousness, asking people to be aware of the ways in which colorblindness or race neutrality enables white supremacy.
The Right’s persuasion campaign has been effective. Their bastardization of a difficult and fundamentally academic concept has succeeded in persuading a large group of multi-regional and multi-generatoinal people riled-up about something they can organize around. Many predict this will be a hot button topic in the 2022 midterms and beyond, potentially turning out a significant amount of voter. To give callous credit to the Right, they brilliantly created unintelligible yet persuasive word salad about something everyone cares about: the lives and future of children.