Race Issues: Investigating the Roots of Critical Race Theory

To roughly half of the United States, Fox News is a scary place. A simple mention of it around many of our left-leaning peers is enough to make them wince. Of course, I don’t blame them for that. In our current political climate, Fox News is recognized as a network firmly aligning itself with the values and goals of the Republican Party, so it’s understandable why most Democratic Party supporters keep far away from its content. Previously, I would’ve counted myself as one of those people, but having lived in Canada for my entire life up until last year, I only recently realized just how firmly party lines are drawn in this country, and wanted to gain a deeper understanding of why that is. From then, I tried to make it a habit to browse Fox News’ social media channels in addition to those of other major networks such as CNN and NBC, as well as occasionally tune into some of their live broadcasts. Since doing this, I feel like my head has been spinning at how often they integrate a few key topics into a lot of their programming, most notably, the “debate” about critical race theory.

What confused me greatly about this was that the conversation around how policy and government has exacerbated racial inequality didn’t seem new to me, so I could not understand why it was suddenly such a big deal to Fox. After reading up, I found it’s because they’ve been trying to make it a big deal. According to a July 2021 report by Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media watchdog organization, the mention of the term “critical race theory” had been skyrocketing in months leading up to July. It was mentioned 901 times in the month of June 2021 alone, almost doubling the 537 mentions in May 2021 and nearly quadrupling the 226 mentions in April 2021. The month before that, it had only been mentioned 107 times, and in the nine months before that, had been mentioned an average of under 20 times a month. So why are they suddenly promoting this issue at exponentially increasing rates? Media Matters thinks it’s as a weapon for the upcoming 2022 midterm election, citing a May 19 edition of “Special Report with Bret Baier,” in which presenters talk about how its use in the Virginia gubernatorial race on Nov. 2 will be a “test” for the GOP’s “playbook” in 2022.

Many of us might be asking what even is “critical race theory”? The current usage of the term is a muddled version of what it used to mean. According to a July 2021 interview between NPR’s Audie Cornish, Gloria Ladson-Billings, a leading scholar on the subject, and Adam Harris, a staff writer for The Atlantic, it is a concept which originated in the 1970s and 80s at Harvard Law School, arguing that racism is not only the product of individual choices, but is a consequence of certain legal systems and policies. Harris points out that what’s being condemned on Fox News is an appropriation stemming from just one person: Christopher Rufo, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank. In 2020, after receiving a tip from a municipal employee in Seattle about a diversity training “teaching white people to hate themselves,” Rufo began writing about similar trainings and using the term “critical race theory” to describe them. He was then invited onto Tucker Carlson’s Fox show where he called on then-president Donald Trump to ban racial sensitivity training, and Trump did exactly that. From then on, it’s become a blanket term for just about any discussion of race that Republicans want to shut down.

Even Christopher Rufo himself admitted this in a March 2021 tweet, where he celebrated “driving up negative perceptions” into “the public conversation” about critical race theory. He ended the tweet by revealing his plans to “turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.” Most recently, headlines are swirling about how “critical race theory” is being promoted in K-12 schools, driving fear that children are being taught to judge one another based on skin color. To think, this term originally denoted something meant to be studied by law students at Harvard. Everyone, regardless of political affiliation, should know it is wrong to have prejudices about other people based on their perceived racial identity. Of course you shouldn’t assume an individual is racist just because they are white. Maybe there are people who do not agree with that, but that does not necessarily mean they’re proponents of “critical race theory.” Let this phenomenon act as a reminder of the dangers of mainstream media bias, of which not only Fox News, but just about all of the major networks are often guilty. It is easier than ever to be influenced by biased reporting, especially as young, social-media reliant consumers, so be vigilant and question everything you read… in this age, it’s your duty.