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What the F is: Critical Race Theory

Critical Race Theory has been a well-discussed topic in the US for quite some time, however has been less discussed in the Australian community, thanks to conservative politicians and journalists who work for outlets like Sky News, who would have you thinking it's a 'reverse racist' (not a thing) agenda item. But the theory has come up in mainstream media this week, with Pauline Hanson calling for a motion to reject the theory from the national curriculum. The motion was passed by the Coalition.

A quick definition

Critical Race Theory is an academic term referring to the theory that racism is not only a result of biases and opinions held by individual people, but has been built into society and the way the world works. Simply, it claims that racism is a systematic, not just personal and individualised. Critical Race Theory was created based on theories of US academics including Kimberlé Crenshaw and Richard Delgado.

"It's an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what's in the past is in the past and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it."

Kimberlé Crenshaw

Critical Race Theory in practice

You've probably heard people tell you that racism is innate. Biological, or 'tribal'. Aside from this being a poor way to explain away or excuse racism and racist ideals, Critical Race Theory tells us it's not correct. The theory explains that racism is embedded in society and societal structures, like the law, education systems, and parliaments and governments. Law enforcement and policing has been a hot topic of conversation across the Western world in recent years, and many will claim the system is inherently racist or discriminatory. Does this mean every police officer is racist? No. There are likely plenty of police officers who have made active moves to deconstruct the racist views that most of us are brought up and socialised with. Further to that, there are many police officers of colour. However, the law enforcement system, and system of policing is inherently racist. In Australia, 3.3% of our population is Indigenous, but our prisons are made up of 27% Indigenous prisoners. This doesn't tell us that every police officer and legal judge is individually racist (although some might be), it instead tells us that the system is discriminatory.

The danger of ignoring Critical Race Theory

Australia currently does not recognise Critical Race Theory, and on the contrary, our leaders and Parliamentarians will often announce that we are 'not a racist country'. the Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this year that we should 'be grateful that Australia doesn't have racial issues'. Many conservative politicians and their cronies will jump at the chance to place blame on individuals when it comes to race. To use the example of policing again, this would look like calling one police officer a 'bad egg' when they use excessive force against a person of colour, but not a white person committing the same crime. This police officer is not blameless, but they are a product of an inherently racist system. Perhaps they have been taught to use more force on people of colour, or have seen colleagues doing the same. And it does get a little complicated, because it is usually a mix of individual racism and systematic racism that leads to tragedies like that of George Floyd in the US, or Edward Russell, Joyce Clarke, Kumanjayi Walker, and Dwayne Johnstone, four Indigenous Australians who were shot by police officers.

Highly recommended reading and next steps

For a very entertaining and also extremely concerning explainer-meets-op-ed on Critical Race Theory, check out this article from IndigenousX.