Top academics explain the heated debate on critical race theory

George Stephanopoulos discusses the new cultural flashpoint with professors Leah Wright Rigueur and Glenn Loury.
8:18 | 06/20/21

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Transcript for Top academics explain the heated debate on critical race theory
Members of white Americans belonged to the Klan. They weren't even embarrassed by they were proud of it. That hate became embedded systemically in our laws and our culture. We do ourselves no favors by friending none of this happened. Critical race theory says every white person is a racist. Critical race theory says America is fundamentally racist. Critical race theory is bigoted. It is a lie and it is every bit as racist as the klansmen. President Biden and Ted Cruz weighing in on critical race theory. It's an approach to teaching that argues systemic racism is woven into American law and institutions. Here to discuss the issues fueling the debate, Leah rigueur professor of civil rights and Glenn Loury, senior fellow at the Manhattan institute. Welcome to you both. Leah, lay out the terms of the debate from your perspective. How would you define critical race theory? I think we have to be clear about the definitions. It's really important. What we're hearing now is the debate supposedly over critical race theory. That's not what we're debating. Critical race theory is a section of academia that deals with using laws, institutions, policies to understand how racism, how inequality, how discrimination has been it's been taught in upper level seminars. Usually third year electives in law school. Certainly, my children are not learning Kimberly crenshaw, Derrick bell and the like in their public school education. The debate is over the study of racism and inequality in history and in public policy and certainly how those things have been taught throughout history, how they've been understood throughout history and how they're part of the larger American story that we tell each other and one another including our students. Glenn, what do conservatives mean by critical race theory? What's their concern and do you agree with the definition? I think the definition is fine as far as it goes. I think the concern is about the narrative. It's about what is the story of the American project and where does race fit into that. I think it's a bit like arguments about how do you teach evolution versus creationism or what do you do about sex education in the schools? People are concerned a certain narrative, a certain view, which is very uncharitable to the American project, which is about the historical mistreatment of African-Americans and it's put forward as the major framework for understanding racial disparity. The conservatives who are objecting are saying it's not inherent American failure. There are complex dynamics at work here that account for these disparities. Is banning critical race theory from curriculums the way to go? Glenn, why don't you start. I wouldn't do that, no more than I would ban the teaching of marxism. I wouldn't ban it. I would argue against it. I would argue the glass of the American saga with respect to race is half full and more. In the mid century the typical occupation for an African-American woman was a domestic servant. This has changed dramatically within my lifetime. I would say that slavery was a fact of human culture everywhere. Emancipation en masse is a uniquely American achievement. The implicit promise of the American project for blacks culminates in emancipation and the civil rights movement. I would say let's fight over the narrative. Let's not fight over the words. One of the arguments you hear is that Progressives don't acknowledge the progress. Most recently, juneteenth, finally perhaps a national holiday, Leah. Right. This is a wonderful example of the way in which the idea of teaching racism and the study of inequality in the classroom can produce legislation. We see something emerge out of this like juneteenth. We know that Opal Lee has been fighting for this for years. Certainly the way it's been taught is one that's complex and it understands the way in which the federal government failed, the way the state of Texas and individuals in Texas failed, but also one that is celebratory about the way in which a group of people have persevered. Part of what we have to understand here is that the celebratory moment we have for juneteenth right now is the kind of thing that people are trying to legislate against, the study of juneteenth, the study of Tulsa, the 100th anniversary of Tulsa. You don't want to legislate against that because it would be legislating against the truth and the way history happened. Glenn, how do we bridge this divide? We should get beyond race. I know I'm spitting in the wind when I say that. I know no one wants to hear it. I think the right story here is it's the American story. We're all in this together. It's very easy to say. I think martin Luther king got it right in 1963. The crime and violence, policing, poverty and wealth is bad for America. Talk about reparations, whatever the moral argument might be, is disastrous for the future of this country. Black people should not be trying to cut a separate deal with America. Let's make the country a good country for everybody and we'll be on the right path. Take on that, Leah? Well, I think Glenn is right in citing martin Luther king Jr. I'm going to cite him in 1967. He also said where do we go from here, chaos or community? One of the things he pointed out is we have to get to the root of understanding inequality and the root of understanding racism by actually studying the past and doing an honest and objective job of studying the past. That means understanding the national sins and the great parts of America, how those things come together, how they haven't benefited everyone in our society. In fact, by studies racism, inequality, understanding institutions' systems, all those things. We're not just making America a better place for African-Americans, although that's certainly the narrative people want us to understand. Instead, we're making America a better place for everyone, a freer, more inclusive place for all of us. Glenn, I saw a nod of your head to some of those things. Yeah, I agree you don't ban the teaching of our history of the country. I agree with that. The question is about the narrative, how we're going to tell the story. There's a lot to agree on. I'm happy to hear the endorsement of martin Luther king. '67 is find with me too. Basically we're 13% African-Americans in the country which is dynamic. It's moving into the 21st century with all kinds of forces going on. We need to join hands with our fellow Americans on behalf of improving our circumstances for all our people. I don't think we're getting there with some of the racial rhetoric I hear coming out of various quarters. Thank you both for an illuminating discussion. We'll be right back.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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