Against the backdrop of ongoing national conversations about police brutality and its roots in systemic racism, President Trump in September 2020 issued a ban on Critical Race Theory. The directive barred training within the federal government related to CRT, calling it “divisive, anti-American propaganda,” and aimed to prohibit the honest discussions about racism, sexism, and systemic violence that are necessary for working toward a more equitable nation.
As Critical Race Studies scholars, educators, students, and supporters, we cannot stand behind the directive’s absurd claim that CRT is “contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the federal government.” In reality, CRT is an approach that seeks to understand how this nation’s history of racism and white supremacy reproduces oppression within today’s economic, political, and educational systems. CRT invites us to confront and challenge the laws and systems that grow from our nation’s history of racial inequality. In doing so, CRT rejects the belief that “what is in the past, is in the past.”
UCLA School of Law Distinguished Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who is a Critical Race Studies program co-founder and faculty member and heads the African American Policy Forum, illustrates how “Donald Trump’s gag order rehearses an ugly history that those of us in the social justice world know all too well.” She explains that this federal effort echoes past attempts to “purge and stigmatize anti-racist and anti-sexist projects.” This endeavor at thought policing, and subsequent efforts to muzzle discussions about the sources and consequences of systemic inequality, is dangerous to everyday life.
Professor Laura E. Gómez, who is a co-founder and the faculty director of the Critical Race Studies Program, aptly clarifies that “Critical Race Theory is not racial demonization. Far from being anti-American, as Trump’s administration alleges, Critical Race Theory aspires to the ideal of equality represented in our post-Civil War Constitution, an ideal we are far from achieving even 150 years later.”
For the last two decades, the Critical Race Studies program at UCLA Law has trained generations of racial justice lawyers. Our hundreds of alumni have worked to shape legislation, decide court cases, shift policies, and found programs in the name of race and gender equity.
“Specializing in CRS in law school not only provided me with the words to express the obvious inequities I and so many others saw in the law but also equipped me with the tools to push back against the normalization of racism through law and to formulate stronger arguments for articulating race-based claims,” says CRS alum Heejin Hwang ’19. “I learned to look beyond just the letter of an opinion, as can be the norm in many law school classes, and to instead investigate everything.”
Another CRS alum, and Skadden Fellow, Stephano Medina ’20 explains that, “as a land use practitioner, I have a front-seat view of how corporations and developers systematically attempt to marginalize racial justice concerns in deciding the future of gentrifying communities of color. Without a foundation in Critical Race Theory, my advocacy would struggle to articulate how ‘colorblind’ land-use procedures further, rather than deter, racial inequities.”
Critical Race Theory is an indispensable tool for properly understating the state of this nation and how we move toward race and gender equity. As Professor Crenshaw highlights, “One can only wonder where we would be as a nation had such aggressive efforts been made available to enhance equity rather than stunt it.”
For more responses to Trump’s action, read a joint statement that the deans of the University of California law schools issued in September, and a statement by UCLA Law’s Promise Institute for Human Rights.