Critical race theory is a movement found in the bounds of the legal profession. Its members posit that the legal system has undermined racial minorities. Critical race theorists believe that even though the law may be stated in language seemingly free of bias, it still cannot be totally neutral. They further believe that the people who wrote and constructed the law had their own subjective agendas that, when written and enshrined into law, have been detrimental to minorities and been responsible for the continuance of racism. Furthermore, they say that the people in power who wrote the laws had their own interests in mind and wrote the laws in such a way as to exclude minorities from even entering the field of law.
Critical race theory views race relations, especially in the United States, in a wider way than the way the civil rights movement views it. The theory gained ground in the middle of the 1970s, as many people in the field of law began to be concerned about the lack of speed in the rate of change of the laws pertinent to the promotion of racial equality. In addition, these professionals also became concerned that several of the earlier triumphs of the civil rights movement were already being eroded.
Critical legal studies and critical race theory share a commitment to understanding what role law plays in shaping social relations. They challenge the centrist model of jurisprudence that assumes law to be self-contained, objective and a rational entity designed to make efficient decisions under the rule of law. Critical legal scholars argue that the law actually breeds social inequalities. They contend that law operates like a bureaucratic iron cage that limits equal access and causes economic and political hierarchies in society.
In spite of the fact that critical race theory began within the legal system, with Professor Derrick Bell being the most significant thinker of the movement, it has since expanded to encompass other areas of study. Educators may apply critical race theory to their consciousness of the dynamics of the classroom, curriculum bias and academic testing. The theory can also be useful in the understanding of political campaigning with a strong racial element, voting discrepancies and other political topics.
A recent advancement in critical race theory is the examination of the standard definition of "white." Critical race theory examines how some ethnic groups — the Irish, for example — started out by being accepted only as an "other" group, before being labeled simply "white." It studies how white racial pride can be manifested in both acceptable and unacceptable ways, such as white supremacy. It may also look into how whites can genuinely help in the critical examination of race, without bringing in any suggestion of power.
For more than 10 years, critical race theory — the school of thought that holds that race lies at the very nexus of American life — has upset the legal academy. In recent years, however, the basic principles of the movement have influenced other branches of academia, from politics and sociology to ethnic studies and history. Nearly every discipline of society has been touched by critical race theory.
Critical race theory can be adapted to many other scenarios in society. It has taken on an importance in the field of health care. For example, evidence shows that elderly poor black patients do not receive the same care as white elderly patients. Because of race, class and ethnicity, however, health-care providers do not know the elderly, poor black community outside of the clinical setting. To intervene and help these patients, providers need to understand the patient's culture, including family and community norms. They must be familiar with the life stories of the patients as well as prior history of illnesses. In a health-care system in which the medical professionals are mostly white and the sickest people are mostly African American, it is of great importance that critical race theory is understood and remedies are implemented.
The author Toni Morrison wrote in Playing in the Dark (1992): "Race has become metaphorical -- a way of referring to and disguising forces, events, classes, and expressions of social decay and economic division far more threatening to the body politic than biological 'race' ever was. Expensively kept, economically unsound, a spurious and useless political asset in election campaigns, racism is as healthy today as it was during the Enlightenment. It seems that it has a utility far beyond economy, beyond the sequestering of classes from one another, and has assumed a metaphorical life so completely embedded in daily discourse that it is perhaps more necessary and more on display than ever before."