October Community Corner

Categories: Community Corner

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Critical Race Theory (CRT) has become a contentious topic of discussion over the past year, though many people don’t understand the origins of the theory and how it is applied in policy, legal, and historical contexts. 

As detailed in the September New Yorker article by Jelani Cobb, The Man Behind Critical Race Theory, CRT is a theory that emerged in the 1980s and 90s as an attempt to explain the gap between the stated goals of progressive legal advancements made during the Civil Rights era and the continued reality of poverty and disparity faced by Black Americans. Cobb profiles Derrick Bell, a lawyer and academic whose ideas were integral in the formation of CRT. After a career as a civil rights attorney defending the Brown v. Board decision, Cobb describes a revelation Bell had, that “racism is so deeply rooted in the makeup of American society that it has been able to reassert itself after each successive wave of reform aimed at eliminating it.”

This academic theory debated in law schools has now become a central controversy at all levels of American political life, especially in public school education. As evidenced in this video of Senator Ted Cruz on the Leadership Institute website, fears about CRT are being whipped up in order to strengthen political organizing, starting with school board elections.

Meanwhile, using CRT as a lens to understand the limitations of housing policy is an illuminating example and a vital framework, especially for housing advocates. As law professor Courtney Anderson writes, even after the elimination of redlining and restrictive covenants, racial residential segregation continued, buttressed by public housing policy and design and a Supreme Court decision Euclid v. Ambler on exclusionary zoning. Next, the progressive Fair Housing Act is neutered by lack of resources and enforcement. Residential segregation results in suppressed economic benefits for Black homeowners, while our system of funding public schools via property taxes ensures substandard education in Black communities. The cycle of segregation and poverty leads to increased homelessness and negative health outcomes, including higher mortality rates. 

As a community of housing advocates, we cannot allow extremist distortions of Critical Race Theory to distract from the important work that its teaching will help us move forward.

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