In the life of any big idea, there comes a moment when it stops belonging to the thinkers who invented it and becomes public property. Today, critical race theory is undergoing that kind of transformation. When the term came into use in the 1970s and 1980s, it described the work of scholars like Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado and Kimberlé Crenshaw, whose work was hotly debated in legal academia but little known outside it. But over the last year, critical race theory has moved to the center of American political debate.
In their book “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction,” Mr. Delgado and Jean Stefancic list several of its core premises, including the view that “racism is ordinary, not aberrational,” and that it “serves important purposes, both psychic and material, for the dominant group,” that is, for white people. In recent years, these ideas have entered the mainstream thanks to the advocacy of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was catalyzed by several high-profile cases of police violence against Black people, as well as the New York Times’s 1619 Project and bestselling books like Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist.” Critical race theory also informs instruction at some schools and other institutions.