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

Dave Harris

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.

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 Torres].

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 in it]

[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]