Calendar photo caption: The August 2019 publication of The New York Times Magazine's The 1619 Project, which explores the role of slavery in the nation's founding, fueled widespread discussions of systemic racism. Conservative critics attacked it as "anti-American." (Jarrad Henderson/USA Today Network)
As police violence and Covid-19 devastated Black communities in 2020, many people began to acknowledge that the legacy of enslavement, racial terror lynching, and segregation can be seen in American institutions today. Systemic racism was discussed in corporate offices, in the media, and in the political arena, where "Critical Race Theory" became a partisan issue.
Coined by legal scholars, Critical Race Theory examines how the legacy of racial injustice is perpetuated through U.S. social institutions to create racially disparate outcomes. When activists called for reforming these institutions, conservative opponents branded examinations of racial inequality and legitimate critiques of national institutions as "Critical Race Theory" and maligned it as "divisive, anti-American propaganda."
In September 2020, President Donald Trump denounced "Critical Race Theory" and The 1619 Project for painting America as a "wicked and racist nation" and advocated the adoption of "pro-American" curricula. More than 20 state legislatures and school boards across the nation responded by introducing bills that ban the teaching of "divisive concepts" in public schools and universities. Laws passed in Idaho, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Hampshire, among others, banned lessons about the nation's history of racial injustice and its legacy. Texas lawmakers went even further and eliminated previously required civil rights curriculum on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
The push to ban teaching about our history of enslavement, racial terror, and segregation poses a significant barrier to overcoming racial injustice in America today.