What is CRT and what’s the big deal? 

by: Ji Ho (Geo) Yang, PHD Candidate at the University of Washington

Broadly speaking, Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a conceptual framework used in academia (i.e. research) to analyze social and political aspects of our lives through the lens of race. CRT took off in critical legal studies where scholars, like Dr. Derrick Bell, were inquiring about how the post-Civil Rights era failed to live up to the visions and message of racial equality.  Dr. Bell is an important figure in CRT as his work served as the foundations for CRT’s development.  Education was a key area for Dr. Bell and other early CRT scholars to examine how and why racial inequities continue, especially through the context of Brown v. Board.  Since this genesis, many scholars across disciplines have contributed to the framework, including Cheryl Harris, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado.  These scholars provided CRT with different concepts and ideas that made CRT a useful framework for analyzing racial inequities in our society.  These concepts include interest convergence and whiteness as property, which may be explored further in future blog posts!

Today, CRT has been used by scholars across disciplines and subject areas to better understand how race and racism operate in our day-to-day lives.  Findings from CRT studies have shown the deeply historical nature of racism across all parts of our lives and communities.  This means that rather than thinking about racism as an individual act or something that randomly happens, racism is ingrained in the socio-political fabric.  

One way we see this happen is how ambiguity in state school funding policies that are designed to be equitable actually create a Wild West environment, where the status quo of educational inequities and injustice against stakeholders of color is perpetuated.  More specifically, the ambiguity lies in the lack of explicit support within these policies.  Many states and districts are retooling their funding models in light of changes to student enrollment and revenue sources as well as pressures to more equitably allocate resources.  One example of these models is Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which emphasizes incorporating local constituents in decision-making processes.  However, LCFF and other school resource policies do not provide the necessary training and resources to help school staff and families reconcile with race and racism.  Let alone put stakeholders furthest from educational justice in the seats to design these policies.  Because of this lack of support (and centering of families and students of color), these new and supposedly equitable policies revert to the same old inequitable and status quo practices, where the same voices are heard and listened to (i.e. white middle/upper class; Eurocentric perspectives), and the ways of doing things remain the same (e.g. family engagement, school disciplinary practices, and decision making processes).  

Although this ambiguity is not wholly intentional, this environment ultimately perpetuates educational leaders and dominant (i.e. white) stakeholders to be positioned as implementers and assessors of said laws and policies in their own image.  The original equity intentions can never be realized and thus the status quo of inequity continues to reign.  CRT analysis maps out how and why people and communities of color are left behind in a society that propagandizes racial equality.  

Let’s be clear, there is no organized or concerted effort to indoctrinate our kids with the concepts and ideals of CRT in our school curriculums!  There is no political movement or discourse to implement CRT into our K-12 public education!  CRT’s role “in our schools” (air quotes) is to support the study of racism and inequities in our education system and help educational stakeholders better realize their dreams and goals of a more equitable education system (like many other academic conceptual frameworks, e.g. cultural capital, social networks).  This role includes supporting researchers and policymakers to unearth the roots of failure for equity-intentioned policies and practices, and providing teachers with the historical background to understand issues of race and identity in schools.  

A key practice of CRT that supports this role is its emphasis on rejecting dominant narratives, which are the hegemonic (e.g. white, neoliberal) cultural assumptions, social discourse, and “folktales” that inform how we live.  These narratives include ideals of meritocracy, color-blindness, and delinquency of non-white people.  CRT honors counternarratives as a way to reject those dominant narratives.  Counternarratives refer to the lived experiences, storytelling, and transdisciplinary perspectives of people and communities of color that illustrate how race is celebrated, how racism is resisted, and how those people and communities survive and thrive.  

For me, CRT symbolizes the continual work I need to do to unpack the dominant narratives that I may hold and authentically listen to counternarratives.  As a researcher, CRT is a powerful tool to support my analysis of issues relating to school-level resources and my process of self-reflection and accountability.  My teaching home of Chicago is undergoing changes to its funding and resource models, which I will be intently looking at!  As a teacher, CRT keeps me grounded in regard to my work with students, families, and communities of color and helps sustain my hopes and dreams for a more equitable and just future.  If you are interested in learning more about CRT, I recommend exploring CRT through a discipline or subject area that interests you.  You may be surprised by the diversity of CRT and CRT scholars!  Within education, I recommend checking out works from Ladson-Billings (OGs in CRT-Education), Yosso, and Vaught (easy to read and understand)!  Many contemporary CRT scholars are quite approachable, so don’t be intimidated!


Alemán, E. Jr. (2007b). Situating Texas school finance policy in a CRT framework: How “substantially equal” yields racial inequity. Educational Administration Quarterly, 43, 525-558.

Bell, D. A. (1995). Who’s afraid of critical race theory. U. Ill. L. Rev., 893.

Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., & Peller, G. (Eds.). (1995). Critical race theory: The key writings that formed the movement. The New Press.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2023). Critical race theory: An introduction (Vol. 87). NyU press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in US schools. Educational researcher, 35(7), 3-12.

Vaught, S. E., & Castagno, A. E. (2008). “I don’t think I’m a racist”: Critical Race Theory, teacher attitudes, and structural racism. Race Ethnicity and education, 11(2), 95-113.Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91.