Critical race theory (CRT) is a cross-disciplinary intellectual and social movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race and law in the United States and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice. CRT began in the United States in the post–civil rights era, as 1960s landmark civil rights laws were being eroded and schools were being re-segregated.[1] With racial inequalities persisting even after civil rights legislation was enacted, CRT scholars in the 1970s and 1980s began reworking and expanding critical legal studies (CLS) theories on class, economic structure and the law[2] to examine the role of U.S. law in perpetuating racism.[3]

CRT is a framework of analysis grounded in critical theory[4] which originated in the mid-1970s in the writings of several American legal scholars, including Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Cheryl Harris, Charles R. Lawrence III, Mari Matsuda, and Patricia J. Williams.[5] CRT draws from the work of thinkers such as Antonio Gramsci, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and W. E. B. DuBois, as well as the Black Power, Chicano, and radical feminist movements from the 1960s and 1970s.[5]

A key CRT concept is intersectionality—the way in which different forms of inequality and identity are affected by interconnections of race, class, gender and disability.[6] Scholars of CRT view race as a social construct with no biological basis.[7][8] One tenet of CRT is that racism and disparate racial outcomes are the result of complex, changing, and often subtle social and institutional dynamics, rather than explicit and intentional prejudices of individuals.[8][9][10] CRT scholars argue that the idea of race advances the interests of white people[7] at the expense of people of color,[11][12] and that the liberal notion of U.S. law as “neutral” plays a significant role in maintaining a racially unjust social order,[13] where formally color-blind laws continue to have racially discriminatory outcomes.[14]

Academic critics of CRT argue it is based on storytelling instead of evidence and reason, rejects truth and merit, and opposes liberalism.[15] Since 2020, conservative U.S. lawmakers have sought to ban or restrict the instruction of CRT along with other anti‑racism education in primary and secondary schools.[9][16] These lawmakers have been accused of misrepresenting the tenets and importance of CRT and of having the goal of broadly silencing discussions of racism, equality, social justice, and the history of race.[17