Racism remains a deep-seated and pressing social issue in the United States today. Youth may develop a “psychological armor” against racial oppression, referred to as a critical consciousness (Phan, 2010; Watts, Diemer, & Voight, 2011). Critical consciousness has been described as youths’ ability to recognize social issues in their social contexts and throughout society, and attribute their causes to structural issues, sense of confidence that they can create social change, and involvement in behaviors that challenge social injustice (Diemer, Rapa, Voight, & McWhirter, 2016; Watts & Flanagan, 2007). The majority of critical consciousness research has not focused on how youth develop beliefs, feelings and actions that challenge specific systems of oppression, including racism (Anyiwo, Bañales, Rowley, Watkins, & Richards-Schuster, 2018). The purpose of this dissertation is to deepen the conceptualization and understanding of youths’ critical racial consciousness—a domain-specific aspect of youths’ critical consciousness that involves youths’ beliefs about racism, perceptions of racial messages in their social contexts, emotional responses towards racism, and involvement in actions that challenge racism. Comprised of two stand-alone studies, this study investigates different aspects of youths’ critical racial consciousness. Study 1 is a qualitative investigation that explores how 384 youth of color and White youth explain the nature of racism. I also explore how youths’ beliefs about racism potentially differ based on youths’ racial/ethnic background. This study draws on developmental theory and research on children’s beliefs about race (McKown, 2004; Quintana, 1994, 2008) and youths’ awareness and explanations of racial inequality (Bañales et al., 2019; Hope, Skoog, & Jagers, 2014). Through the use of an inductive-deductive approach (Fereday & Muir-Cochrane, 2006) that incorporates grounded theory (Charmaz, 1996), I find that youth believe that racism involves people’s involvement in physical acts of racial discrimination and endorsement of prejudice that occur on the basis of people’s physical, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics. Second, youth believe that racism, in the form of physical acts of racial discrimination, has negative consequences on people’s lives and/or society. Finally, youth who display a critical reflection of racism describe racism as a system of oppression that is perpetuated by majority groups, often White people, that effects the life opportunities and outcomes of minority groups, often people of color. With the same sample of youth, Study 2 is a quantitative investigation that explores how youths’ perceptions of racial messages transmitted in their schools inform aspects of their critical consciousness (e.g., critical reflection of perceived inequality, anger towards social injustice) and critical racial consciousness (e.g., anti-racism action). This chapter is informed by the conceptual frameworks of critical consciousness (Diemer et al., 2016) and sociopolitical development (Watts & Flanagan, 2007) and associated bodies of literature relevant to research questions. Using structural equation modeling, this study finds that youth perceive messages in school that encourage them to reflect on the reality of race and racism in U.S. societal outcomes (i.e., critical consciousness messages) as well as messages in school that encourage them to not consider the role of race and race in U.S. societal outcomes and relations (i.e., color-blind messages). Although youths’ perceptions of these different racial messages in school were correlated, they related to youths’ critical consciousness and critical consciousness in unique ways. Findings from this dissertation have implications for how youth and adults discuss racism in the context of a school-based intergroup dialogue.