May 12, 2022

Critical Race Theory | Week 1 Challenge Recap

Image of hands brought together with text that says, "Stand Against Racism Challenge, A Virtual Community of Growth - Critical Race Theory in Spokane: SAR Challenge Week 1 Recap. View the rest of the Challenge at"Last week in our Stand Against Racism Challenge, we learned about Critical Race Theory. Whether or not you’re taking the Challenge with us, you can still learn more about how this concept
comes to play in Spokane. 

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Critical Race Theory is an academic framework that teaches how race is a socially constructed category that is used to oppress and exploit people of color. What CRT does: Recognizes that systemic racism is part of U.S. society; grapples with the U.S.'s history with white supremacy; rejects the belief that we are in a post-racial society where institutional/systemic racism does not exist; examines how laws and systems promote inequality; educates people on how race and racism function in law and society. What CRT does NOT do: pit different races against each other; promote the idea that young children are responsible for racial oppression; encourage children to be ashamed of their race; aim to divide the country; aim to start a 'war' between racies; teach that some races are inherently racist. Sources: CNN, NPR, Britannica

What is Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory is a lens we can use to help us understand how systemic racism is perpetuated. CRT helps us examine how race was developed as a social construct through laws and policy, and how the policies are applied.

Using this critical lens, we understand how policies can be designed to have a negative impact on many different groups of people for the benefit of the few in power. This does not mean that the writers of the policy are inherently racist or classist, but the impacts on people of color and underserved populations have not been considered in the creation process and voices have been left out of the conversation. 

Even in Spokane, we see the impacts of systemic racism in housing, schools, the criminal legal system, and more. 

Using a CRT Lens to Examine Modern Housing Segregation

In the city of Spokane, many housing deeds still have racially restrictive language in them. While this restrictive language is no longer legally binding, new ways to discriminate emerge. 

When we look at the locations of Residential Single Family, or RSF, zones in Spokane, it becomes clear that a majority of our land is zoned this way, with very little designated for multi-family residences. This limits neighborhood options for families with lower incomes that can’t afford the bloated prices of single-family homes. This zoning also restricts what can be built, allowing a maximum of 10 units per acre and a maximum of two stories, preventing developers and corporations from building housing to support the population that lives here, such as apartment buildings and duplexes, keeping the pricing of housing high.

Residents of wealthy neighborhoods frequently take the attitude of “not in my back yard” or NIMBYism when affordable or low-barrier housing is proposed for development. When opposing new developments, fear of potential lowered property values and higher crime is often mentioned. This is coded language to rationalize racism and classism. When affordable multi-family housing is built, research indicates that there are no negative impacts on crime or surrounding property values

Racial and classist stereotypes and harmful biases against families of color appear in other ways as well; realtors may not show housing in single-family zoned areas to families of color, maintaining the historical racial makeup of the neighborhood. When we look at a residential map of Spokane by race, we can see that these zones remain predominantly white, preserving the history of residential racial segregation in our city. 

Using a CRT Lens to Examine Policy Impacts in Spokane’s Schools

Our local taxes and funding go to support the education of youth in our neighborhoods. When there is a disproportionate amount of people with high income in one area, their schools have a surplus of funding and resources compared to surrounding areas. 

Disciplinary policy and presence of law enforcement combined with a lack of community or family support in the school system can start many young people on the school to prison pipeline. This is especially true for students of color, who face a disproportionate amount of exclusionary discipline (i.e., suspension or expulsion) compared to their white counterparts. 

Spokane Public Schools (Dist. 81) has been putting in significant work to break these harmful patterns and implement restorative policy through the equity resolution of 2020. The goal is to keep students engaged through social emotional learning and personal development while connecting them to community and district programs that fulfill their basic needs. 

While getting new policies piloted, SPS has invested in partnerships as well, with programs such as Communities in Schools which provide food, clothing, and school supplies to students. Rogers High School even has a CHAS clinic (Community Health Association of Spokane) inside the school, making medical care easier to access. 

Using a CRT Lens to Examine Spokane’s Criminal Legal System

Image of black text on orange background that says, "In Spokane County Black or African American residents make up 2% of the overall population, while making up 15% of the Spokane County jail population. - The Spokesman-Review"While Spokane County is working to reduce racial disparities in the criminal legal system, there is still a lot of work to be done. 

Black and Indigenous folks in our community are disproportionately arrested, facing a higher likelihood of being suspected of crime. Black and Indigenous people face higher rates of use of force during arrests as well. 

Visit the Police Scorecard website to find more information on Spokane County Sheriff and the Spokane Police department. 

Economic barriers also keep people in jail pretrial who cannot afford bail. However, research indicates that nonviolent offenders released before their trial without bail tend to show up for their hearings and not commit crime while they are in the community. In Spokane, organizations like The Bail Project have helped pay bail to get many citizens out of jail. To remove financial barriers that prevent people from returning to their community, we have to create sustained policy that focuses on long-term jail population reduction. 

If you have…

5 Minutes


15 Minutes


45 Minutes

and and
Check out this article
by The Spokesman-Review on Spokane Public Schools’ Equity Policy.
and Explore the Police Scorecard of Spokane Police & Spokane County Sheriff’s Office
to find the latest data on use of force, funding, accountability, and more.
and Listen to this podcast
with Kimberlé Crenshaw, one of the scholars who developed
Critical Race Theory to learn more about it and how to apply it.


Take a moment to reflect today’s challenge and any insights you experienced.

  • How did this challenge make you feel?
  • What did you learn?
  • What did you notice about yourself after taking the challenge?
  • Consider sharing this new awareness with a friend or group to help deepen your understanding of the information.
  • Continue the conversation online and connect with others by joining our Racial & Social Justice Facebook group.

Let us know why this challenge is important to you by leaving your comment here

Again, thank you for joining us in our Stand Against Racism Challenge. Our work continues every weekday from May 2 – May 30. Each day you’ll be offered some content to help you take a deeper dive into the daily topic.

We ask that you undertake this challenge with an open mind and willingness to explore new ideas and allow yourself to sit with any emotions that may come up for you.

This content may be hard to process so consider having a self-care plan in place beforehand. This can include meditation before or after engaging, watching your favorite show, or doing something creative.

We look forward to going on this journey towards true equity and justice with you!

Just joining the SAR Challenge? Register here.

Racial Equity work is consistently underfunded. YWCA needs your help to continue to provide high quality programming like our Stand Against Racism Challenge.

Make a $21 investment in your own anti-racist development and challenge yourself to encourage 21 other people to take the challenge and match your $21 investment.


By: Rachel Dannen

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