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CRT and DEI
Critical Race Theory and DEI Are NOT The Same
Critical Race Theory (CRT) has received a lot of attention in recent years, with unfounded allegations CRT is being taught in K-12 education. CRT seems to have become a catch-all phrase and political code word for anything race, diversity and equity related. However, the truth is, the Black Lives Matter movement, culturally relevant teaching, affinity groups in schools and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace are not the same as CRT.
But in order to best understand what CRT isn’t, we must begin with a clear definition of what CRT is.
What is CRT?
CRT is not a static thing but instead a growing and ever-changing practice born out of a broader critical theory of law, taught to graduate-level students of law, called Critical Legal Studies (CLS). CLS is a larger umbrella of critical studies under which lies CRT, among others. CLS argues that the law cannot be separated from politics or the subjective lens of society. Like CLS, CRT highlights how the law can play a role in upholding injustice.
The term CRT came about in the late 70’s early 80’s when Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw and Richard Delgado sought to understand how race and racial inequality are a vehicle by which the law can uphold and continue unjust practices in society. CRT also allows that the law can be the very thing best suited to tear down systems of social injustice in favor of equality. CRT begs the question: What role does the law play in perpetuating race as a construct, promoting racially inequitable systems, upholding racial hierarchies/caste systems, acknowledging and ultimately tearing down the very systems it once upheld.
In Plain Language Please!
In other words CRT is an advanced level of legal study, that differs considerably from its portrayal in some media today. It has incorrectly been cited as the foundation to all diversity and anti-racism efforts no matter how little a program draws from it. Critics struggle to specify exactly which parts of CRT they disagree with and would be hard pressed to cite scholarly articles that inform their opinions.
In reality the bulk of CRT literature is written in a language largely inaccessible to the average policymaker, K-12 instructor or K-12 student. It was created by legal professionals, for legal professionals with only a very small subgroup of legal professionals being versed in its principles. Most law school students will complete their studies without ever gracing the subject.
Why Has CRT Come Under Fire?
Bans on CRT followed a September 2020 memo from the Trump administration ordering all federal agencies to identify and put an end to any government spending aligned with training on topics including CRT, white privilege, and systemic racism among other things. The result was a swift cancellation of many programs at the federal, public school and university level extending into DEI training. Upwards of 300 DEI training programs were discontinued as a direct result of the executive order.
How are CRT and DEI Different?
DEI, while touching on topics pertaining to race, does not seek to analyze the history of legalized racism in society. Instead diversity is a state of being and inclusion is an experience. DEI efforts in the workplace address that experience of inclusion (or exclusion) on a small scale specific to the organization. Crenshaw, a key contributor to the development of CRT also introduced the idea of intersectionality, a concept where DEI and CRT overlap.
Understanding how race, gender, sexuality and ability converge yields a unique workplace experience for people of marginalized identities and is a hallmark DEI objective. CRT also respects that race intersects with other marginalized identities, but CRTs take on intersectionality deals with how an individual of multiple intersecting identities is particularly vulnerable to injustices under the law. Despite its origins in CRT, intersectionality in DEI is a departure from the source material. Once again the “for lawyers by lawyers” language of CRT is not the stuff of successful and accessible DEI training in the corporate world.
A good DEI program will focus on actionable and measurable change and practical solutions to company-wide (not societal) problems.
Support for DEI
The benefits of DEI far outweigh the risks, accounting for increased likelihood of exceeding financial targets, high performance, innovation, agility and overall better business outcomes. Bans for law-centric CRT need not carry over into workforce specific programming efforts like DEI.
During Black History Month learn more about the events that fueled the emergence of CRT as a specific area of legal study.
- Plessy vs. Fergusson – an example of the law protecting racial caste systems
- Brown vs. Board of Education – an example of the law dismantling racial inequality
- Redlining – an example of the reproduction of racial hierarchies decades after race is removed from the policies
American Bar Association, “A Lesson on Critical Race Theory,” Janel George, 2021
Forbes, “Your Company’s DEI Training Isn’t Critical Race Theory, No Need To Ban It,” Shaun Harper, 2022
Education Week, “What is Critical Race Theory and Why Is It Under Attack?” Stephen Sawchuk, 2021