Critical Race Theory in England
In England, Critical Race Theory (CRT) is emerging as a focus point for work on race in the educational context, although compared to its birthplace in the USA it is in its infancy. It has faced struggles which are particular to its national context. It has been negatively critiqued by Marxists (Cole 2009; Cole & Maisuria 2007), been confronted with ‘white working class’ identity projects (Collins 2004), and from critiques that suggest there is something particular and peculiar about racial oppression in the US (Kaufman 2005). If, as Ladson-Billings suggests, ‘in its adolescence CRT takes on an international dimension’ (2006, xii), then it is important that CRT develops, both in the English context in terms of establishing an academic identity, but also as a means of proving and developing the credentials of an international CRT. This special issue of Race Ethnicity and Education takes issue with the exceptionalist positioning and particularistic critique of CRT and explores ways in which the theory can, and is, being applied outside of the US. Contributors from the English context examine ways in which CRT can be used and adapted to explain and resist pervasive forms of racism. The special issue is edited by the conveners of the CRT discussion group in the UK, Lorna Roberts, Namita Chakrabarty and John Preston.
The articles in the special issue are wide ranging and cover history, activism, pedagogy, methodology and theory. In some senses there is little difference between CRT as practiced in England and the United States (perhaps because of the prevalence of structural racism in both countries) but in other ways the differences are evident whether that is to do with different histories or European theoretical inflections.
Perhaps key to understanding the differences between CRT in England and the US is the comparative histories of the two. Paul Warmington’s article takes both congruence and difference between histories of race, racism and struggle between the US and the UK as its starting point. Whilst acknowledging the connecting points he points out the key differences in theoretical perspectives which mean that CRT inhabits a very different ‘British intellectual space.’ Kevin Hylton takes a different approach, focusing on CRT methodology rather than intellectual history, and considering the ontological positions of research in this area. Critically, Hylton considers
that CRT is more than an ‘application’ of theory, or method, but rather a political positioning which involves the researcher in either transformational work or, ultimately, complicity. These aspects of methodology and researcher positioning are illustrated in Namita Chakrabarty’s article that considers both absences and resistances for academics working with CRT using a complex mixture of texts. Key to this for Chakrabarty is the relationship between CRT and other theoretical frameworks, including psychoanalytic and literary theory. These perspectives show how some English work on CRT operates at a complex theoretical nexus with other theoretical perspectives and also reminds us that psychoanalytic perspectives (particularly through Fanon) and literary theory have inflected CRT.
Nicola Rollock’s article uses a counter-narrative approach and uses theoretical conceptions of ‘liminality’ to critique conceptions of safety in white-supremacist academia. She develops ‘Rules of Racial Engagement for (possible) Survival in WhiteWorld’ which demonstrate the daily reality for Black and Minority Ethnic academics in British academia. Far from illustrating the exceptionalist positioning of those who wish to denigrate the application of CRT outside of the US context, Rollock’s article considers the reality that racism is endemic, global and micro as well as macro-political. Preston and Chadderton’s article explores this further through the historical concept of the race traitor and whiteness, and Chadderton’s work with young people on race; the article makes clear that CRT, as Hylton indicates, involves a conscious political positioning of the researcher, and as Chakrabarty explored, the theory of CRT is crucial to the analysis of inter-racial positioning at points of conflict or convergence.
Shirin Housee’s work, from the personal perspective of a practitioner–activist as well as researcher shows how CRT analysis can inform the positioning and activism of British Muslims. It illustrates how CRT can re-inform personal histories and experiences outside of contexts they were originally intended for.
Finally, Gillborn, Rollock, Vincent and Ball demonstrate an intersectional approach to CRT through a large-scale study interrogating Black middle class parents’ experience of racism as it impacts on their children in UK schools. The article critiques the current focus of UK educational policy on the white working class with its implicit ‘intersecting raced, classed and gendered inequalities that shape the experiences of too many parents and children.’
Cole, M. 2009. Critical race theory and education: A Marxist response. London: Palgrave.
Cole, M., and A. Maisuria. 2007. ‘Shut the f**k up’, ‘you have no rights here’: Critical race theory and racialisation in post-7/7 Britain. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies 5, no. 1. http://www.jceps.com/?pageID=article&articleID=85.
Collins, M. 2004. The likes of us: A biography of the white working class. London: Granta.
Kaufman, E. 2005. The dominant ethnic moment: Towards the abolition of ‘whiteness’? Ethnicities
In the USA, where Critical Race Theory (CRT) first emerged, black public intellectuals are a longstanding, if embattled, feature of national life. However, while often marginalized in public debate, the UK has its own robust tradition of black intellectual creation. The field of education, both as a site of intellectual production and as the site of political struggle for black communities, is one of the significant fields in which black British intellectual positions have been defined and differentiated. This article argues that the transfer of CRT to the UK context should be understood within this broader context of black British intellectual production. Through a critical examination of race conscious scholarship and the diverse literature produced in the UK since the 1960s, this article identifies some of the dimensions of education that have been scrutinized by black British intellectuals. In doing so, it directs attention to questions being generated by the transfer of CRT to the UK and to the local materials on which those using CRT might draw, in order to build a historically grounded base for the development of CRT in the UK.
One of the salient differences between the UK and the North American context in which Critical Race Theory (CRT) first emerged is that in the USA black public intellectuals are a longstanding, if embattled, feature of national life (Posnock 1997; West 2001; Banner-Haley 2010). However, while often marginalized in public debate and historical accounts, the UK has its own tradition of black intellectual production. The towering figures of the postwar era include CLR James, Claudia Jones, Ambalavaner Sivanandan, Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy. In the field of education analyses of race and racism have been shaped by the work of Bernard Coard, Maureen Stone, Hazel Carby, Heidi Safia Mirza and Tony Sewell. Some of those named might baulk at the very notion of being described as ‘black intellectuals’ – but
then it is probably the reflex action, if not the duty, of black intellectuals to strain against that descriptor and the myriad conflicts it invokes: tensions between speaking for ‘particular’ interests and ‘universal’ values; between independent thought and engagement in collective action; between representing ‘the oppressed’ and critiquing the injustices that exist even within their ranks. This article offers a contribution to two intersecting projects. The first concerns the potential for CRT and its conceptual tools to become embedded in the UK as resources to account for and to counter racialized processes in the field of education. The second project is to promote the need for educators, inside academia and beyond it, to acknowledge and draw routinely upon the black British intellectual currents of the past half-century. How might CRT articulate with theories of race, racialization and racism developed over time by black British thinkers? The black British intellectual spaces to which this article refers are not ephemera; they are rooted in historically specific dialogues with the disparate materials of pan-Africanism, Marxism, feminism, anti-racism, post-colonialism and post-structuralism. They have been inscribed in the pages of journals, in pamphleteers’ ink and through struggles in specific schools, streets and town halls. This article identifies some of the dimensions of education that have been scrutinized by black British intellectuals and also considers education as a key field in which black British intellectual positions have been crafted. In doing so, it draws attention to questions being generated by the transfer of CRT to the UK and to the critical materials on which those in the UK using CRT might draw, in order to build a historically grounded base.
Notes on a ‘tradition’
This article might be read as a variant of what CRT refers to as ‘counter-storytelling.’ Delgado and Stefancic (2001, 144) concisely define counter-storytelling as ‘writing that aims to cast doubt on the validity of accepted premises or myths, especially ones held by the majority.’ Solórzano and Yosso (2009, 134) emphasise that critical race methodologies, such as counter-storytelling, are designed to challenge ‘ahistoricism and the undisciplinary focus of most analyses…analyzing race and racism by placing them in both historical and contemporary contexts.’ They define the counter-story as:
… a method of telling the stories of those people whose experiences are not often told … a tool for exposing, analyzing, and challenging the majoritarian stories of racial privilege. (Solórzano and Yosso 2009, 138)
The counter-story works through the assertion of agency, voice and history. The story told in this article is a counter-story in that it resonates with the voices of black British thinkers, so often silenced in majoritarian discourses of race and racism. Moreover, it insists on the historical agency of black intellectuals and the wider black and anti-racist movements through which
they have often emerged. In asserting the ‘historical dimensions of black life’ (Gilroy 1993a, 37), it challenges majoritarian histories, in which black British people are depicted in passive, atrophied form as mere policy objects. This article offers a kind of meta-story, in that it suggests co-ordinates for re-telling the history of race and education in Britain since the 1960s: not primarily in terms of Acts of Parliament, policy reports, newspaper coverage or theories of ‘race relations’ but through the work of black British thinkers. I attempt nothing as crude as a homogenised ‘black perspective’; these black spaces comprise analyses and arguments that are diverse, competing and shifting. As Gilroy (1993b, 122) remarks in relation to what the African American Marxist thinker Cedric Robinson (1983) termed the ‘Black Radical Tradition,’ if such a ‘chaotic, living disorganised formation…can be called a tradition at all, it is a tradition in ceaseless motion – a changing same that strives continually towards a state of self-realisation.’ Early in planning this article I dispensed with the notion of offering a tidy narrative history of post-war black British intellectual production. I began documentary research in key archives, such as London’s George Padmore Institute, consulted growing online resources, including those of the CLR James Institute and the Connecting Histories Project, and returned to the major published works of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. As I immersed myself in these, I was simultaneously daunted and gladdened by the scale of the task: by the range and complexity of black voices speaking on education and by the hidden histories out of which spaces had emerged over time for conversation, critique, activism and dissent.
However, if I were to sketch notes on the history of black British intellectual production in the post-war era, what would populate them? Education, both as a site of intellectual production and as a site of political struggle for black communities, is certainly one of the significant fields in which black British intellectual positions have been defined and differentiated. It has rightly been argued that education was one of the key spaces in which the shift to a mass consciousness of being black British (or consciousness of the potential to become so) originated. That is, black Britishness became organic at the historical point at which black children, the offspring of settlers from the Caribbean, West Africa, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, began to populate the schools (Stone 1981; Dhondy, Beese, and Hassan 1985; Grosvenor 1997; Phillips and Phillips 1999). There has long been awareness among black British thinkers that the haphazard development of education policies designed to address the needs and experiences of black children in British schools told a revealing story about the wider struggle to overturn perceptions of people of colour as an alien problem visited upon the (white) nation. For Sivanandan (1989) the belatedness of race equality policies in education and the tendency of those early initiatives to pathologize black children, families and communities defines race as a social relationship in Britain:
Policies is too big a word. There were no policies as such to begin with, except what grew out of the endemic racism in British society when labour was recruited from the so-called ‘new commonwealth.’ After the 1962 Immigration Act, when the doors were beginning to close and the workers sent for their families, schooling became a moot question. And yet the policies were directed at what various local authorities thought was overcrowding on the one hand, and …‘under-achievement’…on the other. Basically, ‘Blacks’ were seen as the problem, meaning both Afro-Caribbeans and Asians.… There was no coherent, systematic body of thought or proper work being done about educating Black children. (Sivanandan 1989, 19–20).
In fact, as Sivanandan (1989) goes on to remark, organized work was emerging from black communities in Britain’s major cities. So – to scroll forward – the field implied by focusing on black British intellectuals and education ranges from the early stands taken by the Black Educational Movement and Black Parents Movement in the late 1960s, which fed into the radical structural analyses of British schooling offered by Bernard Coard and Farrukh Dhondy in the 1970s. Coard (1971) and Dhondy et al. (1985) both drew in varying proportions upon their experiences of teaching in London schools, structural Marxist analyses of schooling in capitalism and the radicalism emerging across the black Atlantic, as well as their belief in the emergence of ‘second generation’ black Britons as an oppositional force. Carby (1982), much like Dhondy et al. (1985), saw black pupils and communities forming active opposition both to the authoritarian dimensions of schooling and the distractions offered by a facile form of multiculturalism, asserting that ‘black youth recognize liberal dreamers and the police for what they are and act.… Black youth have led the way in the redefinition of who’s got the problem’ (Carby 1982, 208). Such analyses should, in turn, be compared to the work of Maureen Stone and, later, Tony Sewell whose research was embedded in (to use Fisher’s  term) ‘capitalist realism’: that is, a rejection of radical ‘deschooling’ as utopian, combined with a rejection of liberal self-concept theories as being rooted in cultural deficit models. Both turned their emphasis towards school leadership as the key to improving the schooling of black pupils (though, unlike Dhondy, their focus was restricted to black Caribbean and African students). Stone (1981, 35) critiqued aspects of relationship-based teaching as a means by which the social structure continued ‘operating through schools to reinforce the low status of black pupils.’ Sewell’s (1997) critical ethnographies were, in turn, critiqued by Heidi Safia Mirza (1999) as being constrained by an adherence to subcultural analyses and to the male lens. In the late 1980s and early 1990s the work of Mirza (1992) and Mairtin Mac an Ghaill (1988) on schooling and racialization began to draw upon notions of decentred blackness that derived, in part, from Stuart Hall’s (1988, 1996) work on ‘new ethnicities’ and his rethinking of articulations between race, class and gender. These were cultural analyses in the truest sense, showing the
influence of both Gramscian and post-structural analyses. In their concern with gendered modes of racialization Mac an Ghaill and Mirza countered the phallocentrism in wh...