Notes on: Gillborn, D. ( 2009) Who's Afraid of
Critical Race Theory in Education? A Reply to Mike
Cole's 'The Colour – line and the Class Struggle'.
Power and Education. 1(1): 125 – 131
CRT was first attacked by 'methodological purists'
[presumably including Hammersley] who were very
persistent, and fairly repetitive. Repetition
appears in Cole's arguments as well. CRT often
appears as a straw person, and earlier CRT
theorists have noted this too.
CRT has been accurately summarised before in
pieces like Ladson-Billings or Stefancic [or in
his own work], and there are edited editions]
these offer 'a diverse, stimulating and radical
take' but not 'a unitary or dogmatic account'
(126). It began in law schools and was introduced
into educational studies by Ladson-Billings and
Tate (1995). Instead of a canonical
statement, there are central themes — the central
role accorded to racism as a 'subtle and pervasive
force… deep-rooted so as to appear "normal"… A
critique of liberalism which points to the failure
of notions such as "merit", "neutrality" and
"colourblindness"'. These seem fair and just, but
in the uneven playing field of contemporary racist
society 'actually function to ensure the
continuation of race inequality'.
CRT writers sometimes adopt a narrative approach
and give prominence to experiential knowledge of
people of colour, reflecting their constructivist
view of knowledge and their challenge to common
sense assumptions. They are committed to promoting
real change for minoritised groups and are
disillusioned with civil rights programs. They
point to the '"interest convergence principle"' at
the heart of most civil rights cases.
CRT has led to 'range of offshoot perspectives' —
LatCrit, critical race feminism [we don't hear so
much of these these days — a past bid for future
academic politics?] Each was distinctive.
Interchanges were 'unpredictable, often highly
productive and, almost always, respectful and
grounded' unlike almost all critiques which have
often oversimplified and caricatured CRT.
Cole has accused him of not engaging with
criticism in the past, especially with Marxists,
but he denies this. He has cited a race scholar [a
certain Ricky Lee Allen] who has accused 'certain
forms of contemporary Marxist writing' as an
exercise of white privilege, mostly by focusing on
the contradictions of black scholars more harshly.
He himself has faced hostile questions at
conferences and discussed stuff via email with
Cole wants comradely discussion, but still insist
that Marxism alone is the way forward. Some
Marxists have agreed to address a range of
inequalities, like Hall and Apple, and have
proposed to revitalise Marxism, but not at the
cost of merging race into a predetermined set of
economic categories — Apple has said that would
risk '"practising a form of whiteness"' (127).
Marx himself has been seen as more than an
economic determinist, by opening up the concept of
relative autonomy. Cole, however is still a class
reductionist, and this means he sees CRT and
Marxism as 'basically incompatible' (128). Some
American Marxists argue a similar way [Darder and
Cole says he finds some of the insights on race
inequality revealing and useful, but also myopic.
In detail, he says it is wrong to focus just on
those who receive free school meals. This is done
to help us reject the discourse of white racial
victimisation in official statistics and press
releases, however — the partial poverty line
indicated by FSM helps to erase 'continued stark
racist inequalities that pertain in the remaining
87% of the student population' (128). Nor does CRT
view all whites as equally privileged and equally
powerful — Gillborn makes this clear in a later
work, that '"all white-identified people are
implicated in these relations but they are not all
active in identical ways and they do not all draw
similar benefits — but they do all benefit whether
they like it or not"'.
Cole thinks that white supremacy obscures wider
forms of race politics, and cites Gilllborn's work
again as typical of CRT — but 'this assertion is
just plain wrong and obviously so' (129). Racism
is accorded a central role [as opposed to white
supremacy] and is not to be replaced [but what
about the focus on particular forms of black/white
racism?] Cole thinks white supremacy usually means
the work of extremist far right groups or eugenics
pseudoscience, and it is dangerous to extend it.
For Gillborn, this whole argument is just 'bad
faith or sloppy scholarship' [moving from a shift
of terms to an implied shift of meaning, I
think is Cole's point – I think there is something
[Overall I think he has slid away from the main
points here, about xeno-racism and about the
reduction to race. In more specific detail I think
his reservation that not all people are active in
oppressing black people is quite a serious
reservation and should have been applied to the
more general definitions — and 'benefit' is still
left as a weasel]