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CoastLine: Critical Race Theory - what is it and why is it so controversial?

The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, NC
Jayron32 / Wikipedia Commons
The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, NC

Critical Race Theory. It’s been around since the 1970s but has recently found its way into state legislatures across the country and at the center of political firestorms over what should be legal to teach in schools.

A bill moving through the North Carolina state legislature doesn’t name “Critical Race Theory”, but House Bill 324 states, in part, that public schools shall not promote the concept that an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously or that a person bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.

Entitled Ensuring Dignity and Nondiscrimination in Schools, the bill also says no one should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress due to his or her race or sex. And it seeks to exclude from school curricula the idea that the United States as a meritocracy is an inherently racist or sexist belief, or that this country was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.

Earlier this year, the New Hanover County Republican Party held a demonstration protesting the use of Critical Race Theory in the public school system. A recently hired consultant is seeking, according to school officials, to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. But according to the local GOP, this consultant, funded by taxpayer dollars, would promote harmful ideas, like those outlined in House Bill 324 and indoctrinate young people with racist ideas.

Now the New Hanover County GOP is organizing a new initiative, called Kids First Alliance, to challenge the Board of Education to prevent the introduction of Critical Race Theory (CRT) or related curriculum into the schools of NHC. The local GOP describes Critical Race Theory this way: “…the bigotry of low expectations of black children.”

On this edition of CoastLine, we sidestep the politics and examine Critical Race Theory from an academic point of view.


Kimberly Cook, Professor of Sociology and Criminology, University of North Carolina Wilmington;

Director of the Restorative Justice Collaborative, UNCW

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.