(For brevity and ease of use, this was taken from the Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Critical race theory (CRT), intellectual and social movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of colour.

Critical race theorists hold that racism is inherent in the law and legal institutions of the United States insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and brown people, especially African Americans. Critical race theorists are generally dedicated to applying their understanding of the institutional or structural nature of racism to the concrete (if distant) goal of eliminating all race-based and other unjust hierarchies.

Background and early history:

Critical race theory (CRT) was officially organized in 1989, at the first annual Workshop on Critical Race Theory, though its intellectual origins go back much farther, to the 1960s and ’70s. Its immediate precursor was the critical legal studies (CLS) movement, which dedicated itself to examining how the law and legal institutions serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the poor and marginalized. (CLS, an offshoot of Marxist-oriented critical theory, may also be viewed as a radicalization of early 20th-century legal realism, a school of legal philosophy according to which judicial decision making, especially at the appellate level, is influenced as much by nonlegal—political or ideological—factors as by precedent and principles of legal reasoning.)

Like CLS scholars, critical race theorists believed that political liberalism was incapable of adequately addressing fundamental problems of injustice in American society (notwithstanding legislation and court rulings advancing civil rights in the 1950s and ’60s) because its emphasis on the equitable treatment under the law of all races (“colour blindness”) rendered it capable of recognizing only the most overt and obvious racist practices, not those that were relatively indirect, subtle, or systemic.

Liberalism was also faulted for mistakenly presupposing the apolitical nature of judicial decision making and for taking a self-consciously incremental or reformist approach that prolonged unjust social arrangements and afforded opportunities for retrenchment and backsliding through administrative delays and conservative legal challenges. Unlike most CLS scholars, however, critical race theorists did not wish to abandon the notions of law or legal rights altogether, because, in their experience, some laws and legal reforms had done much to help oppressed or exploited people.

Basic tenets of critical race theory:

According to the legal scholars Richard Delgado (one of the founders of CRT) and Jean Stefancic there are several general propositions regarding race and racism that many critical race theorists would accept, despite the considerable variation of belief among members of the movement. These propositions constitute a set of “basic tenets” of CRT.

The social construction of race and the normality of racism:

First, the race is socially constructed, not biologically natural. The biogenetic notion of race—the idea that the human species is divided into distinct groups based on inherited physical and behavioural differences—was finally refuted by genetic studies in the late 20th century. Social scientists, historians, and other scholars now agree that the notion of race is a social construction (though there is no consensus regarding what exactly a social construction is or what the process of social construction consists of). Some CRT theorists hold that race is an artificial association or correlation between a set of physical characteristics—including skin colour, certain facial features, and hair texture—and an imagined set of psychological and behavioural tendencies, conceived as either positive or negative, good or bad.

The associations have been created and maintained by dominant groups (in the United States, whites of western European descent) to justify their oppression and exploitation of other groups based on the latter’s supposed inferiority, immorality, or incapacity for self-rule.

Second, racism in the United States is normal, not aberrational: it is the ordinary experience of most people of colour. Although extreme racist attitudes and beliefs are less common among whites than they were before the mid-20th century, and explicitly racist laws and legal practices—epitomized by the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation and denied basic civil rights to African Americans in the South—have been largely eliminated, most people of colour continue to be routinely discriminated against or otherwise unfairly treated in both public and private spheres, as demonstrated by numerous social indicators. African Americans and Hispanic Americans (Latinx), for example, are on average more likely than similarly qualified white persons to be denied loans or jobs; they tend to pay more than whites for a broad range of products and services (e.g., automobiles); they are more likely than whites to be unjustly suspected of criminal behaviour by police or private (white) citizens; and they are more likely than whites to be victims of police brutality, including the unjustified use of lethal force.

If convicted of a crime, people of colour, particularly African Americans, are generally imprisoned more often and for longer periods than whites who are found guilty of the same offences. Many Blacks and Hispanics continue to live in racially segregated and impoverished neighbourhoods, in part because of zoning restrictions in many predominantly white neighbourhoods that effectively exclude lower-income residents.

Predominantly Black or Hispanic neighbourhoods also tend to receive fewer or inferior public services, notably including public education. The lack of quality education, in turn, limits job opportunities, which makes it even more difficult to leave impoverished neighbourhoods. On average, Blacks and Hispanics also receive less or inferior medical care than whites and consequently lead shorter lives.

Many instances of racist behaviour directed at people of colour take the form of “Micro-aggressions,” which are verbal or behavioural slights, generally subtle and often unintentional or unconscious, that communicate a stereotype or negative attitude toward a person of colour and thus indicate an implicit bias based on race.

(Micro-aggressions may also be directed at members of other oppressed or marginalized groups, such as women and LGBTQ persons.) For example, in a real-life case discussed in the CRT literature, a white professor at an elite university, in conversation with colleagues in a campus building, saw a Black student walking down the hall and immediately exclaimed, loudly enough for the student to hear, that she should have locked the door to her office because she left her purse there. The common occurrence of racial micro-aggressions is indicative of the pervasiveness of racist attitudes even among people who consciously reject racism, and their cumulative effect on people of colour can be psychologically devastating.

Interest convergence, differential racialization, intersectionality, and the voice of colour:

Third, owing to what CRT scholars call “interest convergence” or “material determinism,” legal advances (or setbacks) for people of colour tend to serve the interests of dominant white groups. Thus, the racial hierarchy that characterizes American society may be unaffected or even reinforced by ostensible improvements in the legal status of oppressed or exploited people. Perhaps the most provocative argument offered in support of this thesis was the suggestion by Derrick Bell, an intellectual forefather of CRT and the first Black tenured law professor at Harvard University, that the U.S Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which overturned the segregation-supporting “separate but equal” doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), occurred when it did because

(1) The elite whites were concerned about potential unrest among Black former soldiers who had fought bravely for their country in World War II and the Korean War but were now expected to return to lives of oppression and exploitation by whites; and

(2) The world image of the United States as an egregiously racist society threatened to diminish American influence among developing countries and to undermine the country’s strategic efforts in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Although widely dismissed at the time, Bell’s view that the Brown decision was a product of interest convergence between whites and Blacks was supported by later historical research, which indicated that the decision of the U.S. Department of Justice to side with proponents of desegregation was influenced by a raft of secret communications from the U.S. State Department regarding the need to improve the country’s image abroad. The thesis of interest convergence has since been applied to numerous other legal cases involving the rights of people of colour.

Fourth, members of minority groups periodically undergo “differential racialization,” or the attribution to them of varying sets of negative stereotypes, again depending on the needs or interests of whites. Such stereotypes are often reflected in popular culture (e.g., in movies and television) and literature as well as in the news media, and they have even influenced the content of history curricula in public schools.

Before the mid-20th century, for example, Blacks were widely conceived and depicted as simple-minded, childlike servants and labourers who were content in their subordination to (and segregation from) whites. Later, following civil rights protests in the 1950s and ’60s that challenged the unjust domination of American society by whites, Blacks (and especially Black men) came to be viewed as natural-born criminals prone to violence or as lazy leeches living off social welfare programs paid for by hardworking whites.

Fifth, according to the thesis of “intersectionality” or “anti-essentialism,” no individual can be adequately identified by membership in a single group. An African American person, for example, may also identify as a woman, a lesbian, a feminist, a Christian, and so on.

Sixth, and finally, the “voice of colour” thesis holds that people of colour are uniquely qualified to speak on behalf of other members of their group (or groups) regarding the forms and effects of racism. This consensus has led to the growth of the “legal storytelling” movement, which argues that the self-expressed views of victims of racism and other forms of oppression provide essential insight into the nature of the legal system.