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Letters: What is Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a 40-year-old college-level academic exploration of how and why public entities made economic decisions, and how those decisions affected, and continue to affect, people of different races.

It’s complicated.

It is not, however, being taught to 7-year-old white kids in Texas (unless they attend law school). Parents screaming about it at school board meetings is shameful ignorance. Politicians and talking heads who call it “racism against white people” are fools with an agenda. CRT is not about bad people. It’s about bad policy that harms people of color.

As merely one example, raced-based decisions made by the City of Fresno (and numerous other American cities), with the help of the Roosevelt Administration 80 years ago, provide an historical back drop for CRT. Our federal government documented who lived where in 1936 Fresno on behalf of a New Deal agency called the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation. The race and ethnicity of Fresno residents were recorded. Public improvements and industrial blight were documented. The “desirability” of Fresno neighborhoods was mapped in color codes to determine who would get credit for home loans.

White people of European descent moved into northern Fresno, while Black and Hispanic residents lived in the poorer and polluted under belly of what is still known as the poorest large city in California. White neighborhoods got loans. Minority neighborhoods were described as undesirable, colored red on government maps, and denied loans. The process became known as redlining. What is now Fresno’s west side was designated as an “almost exclusive concentration of colored races” and lowballed in red on the maps.

While redlining is now illegal, its discrimination continues to economically recycle throughout Fresno. The results of redlined housing policy became the roadmap of government zoning policy for Fresno’s economic development. City parks, shopping centers and hospitals were built to serve those who lived in northern Fresno, including the expanded development of northern Fresno. Riverpark anyone?

Freeways divided and polluted the poorer parts of the city. State Route 99 separated white neighborhoods in Fresno from the west side of the city. White residents of north Fresno are likely to live 20 years longer than those in historically Black and Brown parts of town. Fresno had the highest degree of racial segregation in California, according to the 1960 Census. Federal statistics in 2018 reported that half of west Fresno lived below the poverty line, twice as much as in the other portions of Fresno. And 10 years ago, Fresno received millions of federal dollars to correct some of these inequities, misapplied much of that money, and had to repay it.

None of this means that the City of Fresno leadership is racist. It is not. But when we critically examine our past economic decisions, with an eye toward how that affected the races in the city, we can make better decisions tomorrow. Critical Race Theory is about our collective future as tolerant Americans. And, in the long run, I believe its application can be economically, socially and psychologically healing.

— Charles A. Wieland,



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