It’s been more than two years since President Joe Biden revoked Donald Trump’s Sept. 2020 executive order aimed at banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” in federal offices’ diversity training—a response to the increase in anti-racism sessions in workplaces and schools in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. But Biden’s decision galvanized conservatives, who successfully pushed to replicate the ban in state laws and school board measures and wage an all-out war against “critical race theory” (CRT), which looks at the way legal systems and other aspects of society perpetuate racism and exclusion.
Now, for the first time, a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study provides a snapshot of the effort to regulate how race is discussed in the U.S. by putting a number on these acts at the federal, state, and local level, and quantifying their impact.
In the report “Tracking the Attack on Critical Race Theory,” provided exclusively to TIME, a team at the law school tracked legislation, executive orders, state attorney general letters, and statements by governors and local school board officials, and found that between Jan. 1, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2022, federal, state, and local government officials introduced 563 anti-CRT measures. Nearly half—241—were enacted or adopted.
“The anti-CRT movement is very far from over,” says LaToya Baldwin Clark, one of the authors of the report and an assistant professor at UCLA School of Law. “It’s going strong, and it’s not slowing down.”
Twenty-eight states took some kind of statewide anti-CRT action—whether it was a letter from the state attorney general or a resolution, for example—and 16 of those states enacted anti-CRT legislation. In every state except Delaware, at least one anti-CRT measure was introduced.
The researchers found trends among red states (states that voted for the Republican presidential candidate in the last two elections) versus blue states (states that voted for the Democratic candidate). In blue states, anti-CRT measures are more likely to occur at the local level, including through school boards, while in red states, the efforts are more likely to be at the state level. Wyoming is the only red state that has not enacted a statewide anti-CRT measure.
The political divide is sure to become more pronounced as the 2024 presidential race heats up: presumed GOP candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to ban discussion of critical race theory not only at the K-12 level but also at public colleges and universities, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has announced a run for President, has called CRT “un-American.”
Researchers found the activity was roughly consistent year over year in the first two years of Biden’s Administration: In 2021, 280 anti-CRT measures were introduced, and in 2022, 283 were introduced.
Forty-one percent of the 563 measures borrow a line from Trump’s executive order that defines a “divisive concept” as a teaching that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
Most of the measures focus on regulating classroom teaching and curricular materials in K-12 schools and colleges and universities. The researchers calculated that the adopted anti-CRT measures affect more than 22 million American public school children— almost half of the public school children in the entire country. Yet actual critical race theory, which originated in law school, is rarely taught below the graduate level. Other measures most likely to be adopted were ones that targeted the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which reframed America’s origin story around the legacy of slavery.
The fervor also extends beyond classroom discussions of race. In political discourse, CRT has become an umbrella term for teaching anything progressive, such as issues of LGBTQ identity. The same political activists fighting anti-racism training in schools and workplaces have been working to ban books they think are too explicit, like works by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, and call the new Advanced Placement African American Studies class “indoctrination,” as DeSantis put it.
In 2023, the movement against CRT continues. Three months in, UCLA researchers have tracked at least 50 new anti-CRT bills, and they expect to see a lot more activity through the 2024 presidential election cycle.
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