Critical race theory (CRT) is a discipline within sociology and legal theory that focuses on questions arising in conversations about racism. The result is a set of theories, concepts, and practices meant to address how power has been socially constructed to oppress people because of their race.

CRT is a response to the failure of mainstream civil rights legal discourse (e.g., anti-discrimination law) to provide the marginalized with relief from racial oppression. Proponents of CRT seek to illuminate what they characterize as the “other side” of racism, which focuses on institutionalized white supremacy as opposed to overt expressions of racial hatred.

What was the origin of the Critical Race Theory? CRT is a relatively new sociological concept that emerged in the 1990s. Scholars working within the CRT tradition trace it to the early 1990s, when Kimberle Crenshaw wrote “the black woman’s relation to race as an issue of law and public policy” in a 1989 article for the University of Chicago Law Review. Because of the timeline involved, CRT’s roots can be traced to the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the 1940s. One of its major thinkers, Patricia Williams (2004), argues that CRT emerged in analytical spaces between two bodies of thought: liberal and conservative feminism.

According to Patricia J. Williams, Critical Race Theory is a rejection of “color-blind racism,” which interprets civil rights laws as protecting blacks from racial discrimination in a racist society by encouraging the belief that such racism is an aberration.

CRT holds that racism is embedded in these seemingly neutral systems and structures rather than an individual’s attitudes or behavior and that the goal of anti-racist work should be dismantling these systems and structures, not changing hearts and minds.

  1. What role does Critical Race Theory play in society today?

According to critical race theory, racism is tied to the policies that make up the larger systems of which it is a part (the economy, education, law enforcement, criminal justice system, etc.).

CRT views racism as a social force that operates through these larger systems. For example, rather than seeing discrimination in housing due to the particular biases of landlords and owners (institutional racism), CRT sees discrimination in housing as tied to housing policies that promote racial segregation by design.

According to CRT, racism is not removed by decreasing overt expressions of prejudice but rather through the dismantling of systemic racism.

  1. What is the main mission statement behind Critical Race Theory?

CRT seeks to examine the intersections of race and power that influence the dynamics of social inequality. Critical race theory argues that the law and policy have not altered the basic structure of society after numerous civil rights reforms in the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, they are not a solution to racial oppression and inequality. CRT also stresses a commitment to addressing race in relation to other seemingly neutral systems, such as education and housing law.

CRT looks at current racial practices in a society, such as affirmative action, and explores how they have been misinterpreted over time and are actually perpetuating inequalities rather than eliminating them.