It is important to recognize that CRT was created in and by legal academia, more specifically as a continuation of Critical Legal Studies (CLS). As defined by the American Bar Association, CLS argued that law was neither objective nor apolitical. The laws and legal system of a society are key in shaping the society as a whole, for better or for worse. Critical race theorists recognized that this core ideal is particularly relevant to the creation and maintenance of an unjust, racialized legal system. CLS and CRT scholars differ in their recognition of the reproduction of racism through law, and also because CRT scholars believe that the law can actually be used to ratify these injustices.
CRT has been defined many different ways by many different people, and there’s a high chance that our contributors will have varying definitions on what CRT is as well. Scholars and laypeople alike have used this term with reckless abandon, resulting in quite the mess of definitions. For this reason, I am including the iterations of several different authors as we define CRT today. Interestingly, Crenshaw herself defines CRT as a verb, not a noun. It is not a static thought, but an ever-evolving practice of critiquing how race and racism is perpetuated by our legal system and other institutions. The malleable nature of CRT is also a large part of the reason it is so difficult to define. CRT can’t really be labeled as one particular theory, but more as a movement.
For those who are not satisfied with this answer, you may find an examination of its core tenets as an easier way of understanding. Dr. Nathan Cartagena, professor at Wheaton College, defines CRT as “a movement aimed at providing an antiracist understanding of the relationships between ‘race’ and law.” According to Cartagena, critical race theorists, at their most generalized, are united by two shared tenets and five common conclusions. The first interest is to understand how white supremacy has been created and maintained in the U.S. The second interest is that CRT scholars are not just interested in understanding the functions of racism, but actually in changing these injustices.
The five common conclusions are more far-reaching.
First, CRT scholars reject the idea that legal scholarship in particular can or should be objective, because humans themselves aren’t objective.
Similarly, the second conclusion is that because of the subjectivity of scholarship, the formal production of knowledge in scholarship is inherently political.