UCLA law researchers track efforts to ban Critical Race Theory, including dozen CA measures

Anabel Munoz Image
Thursday, September 14, 2023
UCLA project looks at efforts to ban Critical Race Theory
The CRT Forward Tracking Project at UCLA's School of Law studies efforts to ban Critical Race Theory by government agencies around the country.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Critical Race Theory is increasingly at the center of heated debates, although it's been around for decades.

The CRT Forward Tracking Project at UCLA's School of Law has been gathering data on the efforts to ban it at different levels of government, including public schools.

"I knew that if I was going to go to law school, I really wanted to go to a program that emphasized racial justice," said Nicole Powell, a law student and Los Angeles native.

Powell is part of UCLA School of Law's Critical Race Studies Program and she's a research assistant tracking anti-CRT measures across the country.

What is Critical Race Theory?

Scholars define Critical Race Theory as both a theory and a practice of understanding how law has shaped and been shaped by race and racism.

"And has created situations in which, despite civil rights advancements, there are still differences in how people are treated and how people experience systems," said Taifha Alexander, CRT Forward project director.

Although its study primarily takes place in law schools and in some graduate programs, in the last several years, there have been growing efforts to ban it in other spaces.

Some measures aim to ban CRT or its framework in ambiguous and broad language, and inaccurately define the theory.

What has the CRT Forward tracking project found nationally?

Since 2021, the CRT Forward tracking project has built a database of each measure. It identified 458 anti-CRT measures introduced through March 2022. By August of this year, it identified nearly 300 more measures, reaching 750 so far.

How did we get here?

Alexander points to a key marker in 2020. Following the police murder of George Floyd, people globally marched against police brutality and racial injustice. Many governments, corporations and educators took steps toward addressing systemic racism.

"Almost immediately there was this backlash," said Alexander.

That included an anti-CRT campaign bolstered by then-President Donald Trump.

"Critical Race Theory, The 1619 Project, and the crusade against American history is toxic propaganda," Trump said in 2020.

Trump first ordered the Office of Management and Budget to identify any training on Critical Race Theory and then issued an executive order banning what he deemed as "divisive concepts" in diversity trainings. He incited his supporters to coalesce around his message.

"American parents are not going to accept indoctrination in our schools," Trump said.

"What we saw from then was a domino effect of local school boards, state legislatures, governors, attorneys general even issuing different opinions and executive directives and resolutions and regulations to conform to and to advance a disinformation campaign around Critical Race Theory," said Alexander.

What does this tracking project aim to do?

CRT Forward found anti-CRT measures have been introduced in every state except Delaware, while more than 40% were enacted or adopted.

"I hope that this project is able to really provide an understanding of the full scope of the assault on Critical Race Theory," said Alexander.

While statewide measures are concentrated in more conservative states, local measures tell a different story.

"That limited scope on only state legislative activity doesn't allow for us to fully know what's going on in our own backyards," she said.

What is happening in California?

In California, 13 local measures have been introduced, nine have been adopted or enacted. Many of them incorporate the same language used by Trump.

Adopted measures invoking CRT include school districts in Placentia-Yorba Linda, Corona, and in Temecula, where an ensuing lawsuit asserts the measure violates the California constitution. The resolution there states in part, "Critical Race Theory is a divisive ideology that assigns moral fault to individuals solely on the basis of an individual's race and therefore, is itself a racist ideology."

"Critical Race Theory is exactly the opposite of that," said Powell. "It's teaching why everyone has social value and inherent value as human beings. But why the law has historically, has treated certain people as more inferior and others as more superior," she added.

What is the impact of anti-CRT measures?

Alexander said the efforts are also about creating a boogieman out of anything tangentially related to CRT.

"Now that we're seeing in Florida, there are attacks on AP and African American studies, ethnic studies more generally, but also diversity, equity and inclusion," said Alexander.

Powell's first job was with the Children's Defense Fund Freedom Schools Program which aims to empower and civically engage K-12 students with culturally relevant education. She stressed the campaigns against CRT prevent students from learning the fullness of history.

"If we're silencing history and censoring history, we're never going to learn from our past mistakes and we're never going to learn how to use the law to build the type of society where everyone is dignified. Everyone has equitable chances."