Notes on: Ladson-Billings, G and Tate, W (1995). Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education. Teachers College Record, 97 (1) 47 – 69  0161 – 4681 – 95/047

Dave Harris

[Very informative. I didn't realise what a distorting effect the original legal context had on the formation of CRT. Lawyers can't even discuss objectivity or neutrality but must hold to an entirely mythical view that the law represents the agreed truth when it quite clearly doesn't. They are riddled with contradictions. It's not at all like social science. Maybe the early CRT lawyers also picked up on the naivety of lawyers on the consquences of their decisions in policy -- once they had passed a law they thought they had done the job but did not expect counter strategies like white flight etc? And personal stories are valued from seeing the effects of testimony [sic] -- lawyers would not be interested in any threats to validity of course, but only in their effects?]

There had been great inequities between the schooling experiences of white middle-class students and those of poor African-American and Latino students shown in 1991, and Kozol suggested that these were 'a logical and predictable result of a racialised society' where discussions of race and racism were 'muted and marginalised'(47).

Instead, race could be used as an analytic tool. A set of propositions about race and property and their intersections is required — critical race theory — and we need to introduce new arguments and perspectives drawn from law and social sciences to understand educational research. This will be interdisciplinary. There will be tensions with education reform aimed at multicultural education.

There are three central propositions: 'race is a significant factor in determining inequity in the USA; US society is based on property rights; the intersection of race and property creates an analytic tool through which we can understand social (and consequently school) inequity' (48. We need supporting '"metapropositions"'

The first proposition is easily documented [if you are a positivist] with statistical and demographic data on educational life chances, high school dropout rate, suspension rates and incarceration rates, for example. Some post-modern scholars question race as a category, however – as an ideological construct it may miss aspects of reality, but as an objective condition it denies problematic aspects such as who decides who fits into which classification and how we categorise racial mixtures. The concept of race seems useless in the world of biology, for example. 'Nonetheless, even when the concept of race fails to "make sense," we continue to employ it' (49) if even as a metaphor, depicting events, classes and expressions of decay and economic division.

So even if 'expensively kept, economically unsound, a spurious and useless political asset in election campaigns, racism is as healthy today as it was during the Enlightenment'. It has some deep utility and as a metaphorical life embedded in daily discourse [all this attributed to Toni Morrison]. [It is active at the level of personal identity -- especially hurtful for the new petite-bourgeoisie?]. However, this means it remains untheorised, unlike say gender or class. These have not been extended to race, and as a result whiteness has been naturalised and race oversimplified even by white Marxists.

Omi and Winant* have done better with a sociological explanation trying to explain how race has been conflated with ethnicity, class and nation because it has never been a particular priority in American social science, and ethnicity has been dominant, implying assimilation like European Americans. Racial formation in contrast involves the creation, transformation and destruction of racial categories, a project to represent and organise human bodies and social structures, part of the '"evolution of hegemony"' (50) [sounds like Fanon and sociogenesis, aimed at black people, clearly connected to the projects of slavery and colonisation?]. This gives it a new intellectual salience in the analysis of educational inequality.

Earlier writers like Woodson and Dubois argued that race was the central construct for understanding inequality, by focusing on African-Americans, as they were then called Negroes, rescuing them from notions of pathology and inferiority and seeing how schools structured inequality and demotivated them by never letting them measure up to white standards. Dubois referred to a double consciousness, being both an American and a Negro, never reconciled, a divided self, although this had [border] insights including '"a heightened moral validity"', because Negroes understood the oppressor as well as their own psyche.

The second metaproposition says that class and gender explanations are not powerful enough to explain all the difference in school experience and performance. They do intersect race but as standalones they don't explain all the educational achievement differences. Even when we hold class constant, middle-class African-American students do not achieve the same level as white counterparts. They are placed at the lowest level of school trackings. It is not clear which factor is causal. Race might have an impact on social class. Gender bias is also important as we know, for example in the way in which females are counselled away from advanced maths and science courses and do not gain an advantage in college admission. Even so, there are 'extraordinary high rates of school dropout, suspension, expulsion, failure' among African-American and Latino males, often for '"noncontact violations"' (52) 'wearing banned items of clothing… wearing these items in an unauthorised manner'. As a result we can insist that '"blackness matters in more detailed ways"'.

Turning to the argument that US society is based on property rights, this is best explicated by legal scholarship and interpretation of rights again in the context of CRT, developing in the 1970s. CRT legal scholars came to argue that racism was endemic in American life ingrained 'legally culturally and even psychologically' (Delgado 52), that civil rights laws were ineffectual and often undermined, that '"traditional claims of legal neutrality, objectivity, colourblindness and meritocracy [acted as] camouflages for the self interest of dominant groups in American society"'; [we needed] 'an insistence on subjectivity and the reformulation of legal doctrine to reflect the perspectives of those who have experienced and been victimised by racism first hand; the use of stories or first person accounts'. [I still don't understand this turn to subjectivity — I can see the suspicion of objectivity, but why no suspicion of subjectivity, especially if black consciousness and feelings have been so affected — why is their subjectivity not crippled as well? These people are lawyers and have never read any critiques of subjectivity]

There is also a tendency to elide democracy and capitalism, which ignores the pernicious effects of capitalism on those who are in its lowest ranks. Traditional civil rights approaches have just assumed the rightness of democracy and ignored the structural inequalities of capitalism, but US democracy is intertwined with capitalism and property rights, and always was – the first settlers also declared Indian land a legal vacuum [on exactly the same grounds as we declared Australia a legal vacuum, because the Indians had not worked the land?] (53). The tension between property rights and human rights was always there in the US constitution, exacerbated by slavery. The central feature of power has always been 'the ability to define possess and own property' [and the 'reified symbolic individual', easily operationalised as the small property owner].

There are some obvious relations to education — some must pay for public school system, and affluent communities often resent it if the clientele is nonwhite and poor: they can buy better schools. Curriculum is intellectual property [illustrated by a 'critical race story' (54) comparing course offerings at different high schools, one upper-middle-class white and the other urban largely African-American — one offered different foreign languages and high status mathematics and science, the other much more limited choice and more general applied maths and science, with quite different elective choices]. The availability of rich intellectual property affects the opportunity to learn [nearly cultural capital], despite common educational standards.

Turning to more specific applications, we can see racism is endemic and deeply ingrained in American life, in the persistence of African-American poor performance. Poor children regardless of race might do worse in school, and African-American kids are more likely to be poor, but 'the cause of their poverty in conjunction with the condition of the schools and schooling is institutional and structural racism' ['"culturally sanctioned  beliefs which regardless of the intentions involved, defend the advantages whites have because of the subordinated positions of racial minorities"', quoting Wellman, but not really breaking with the circularity] white people tend to avoid the possibility of any institutional change and reorganisation if it affects them.

Civil rights law has been ineffective, as seen in a particular landmark case – Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka. Despite an [apparent victory] 'students of colour are more segregated than ever before' — and are overrepresented in 21 of the 22 largest urban school districts. There has been 'increased white flight' (56), showing that occasional antidiscrimination victories are really only stages in 'an ongoing ideological struggle… [and]... can be ephemeral"' (56) [quoting Crenshaw]. Another case shows similar ambiguity. A particular school located in a predominantly African-American community was funded with a number of inducements including free trips to entice white students to attend, but the trips benefited mostly the white students who had the necessary expensive equipment [camping and skiing] and were still not enough to continuously attract white students. Eventually enrolment fell and the school was closed and all the students had to be bussed to the remaining four white schools. In another case desegregation programs did not seem to benefit African-American and Latino students whose suspension, expulsion and dropout rates 'continue to rise, despite the provision of 'special magnet programs and extended day care': 'whites were able to take advantage'. This 'model desegregation progam... [became]… one that ensures that whites are happy and do not leave the system].

In terms of challenging claims of neutrality, objectivity and so on, the need to name your own reality and gain your own voice is a substantial part of CRT, especially when choosing forms of scholarship. Parables, chronicles, stories and counter stories, poetry and fiction are needed 'to illustrate the false necessity and irony of much of current civil rights doctrine [?]' (57). Delgado has three additional reasons for naming your own reality, even in legal discourse: 'much of reality is socially constructed [I bet that goes down well in court]; stories provide members of out groups a vehicle for psychic self-preservation; the exchange of stories from tellers and listeners can help overcome ethnocentrism and that dysconscious conviction of viewing the world in one way [?]'.

Apparently this has been useful in showing just how much political and moral analysis is involved in legal scholarship, for example in choosing universalism over particularity, accepting 'transcendent, acontextual, universal legal truths or procedures', accepting that 'the tort of fraud has always existed and that it is a component belonging to the universal system of right and wrong', rejecting anything historical, contextual or specific with the labels '"emotional," "literary," "personal," or "false." [This is an extreme case of course with particularly unreflexive professionals in law — quite unfair to extend it to social scientists].

By contrast CRT says political and moral analysis is situational —  '"truths only exist for this person in this predicament at this time in history"' [going right to the other extreme of relativism. This is apparently attributed to Delgado. ]

The point about interpretive structures imposing order leads to the second reason — psychic preservation of marginalised groups where storytelling is 'a kind of medicine to heal the wounds of pain caused by racial oppression', coming to realise how you were oppressed and subjugated and permitting you to stop inflicting mental violence on yourself. Finally, it's a way of affecting the oppressor back – dominant groups also have their stories, stock explanations which rationalise their oppression and this is what Delgado means by 'dysconscious racism'. Finding your voice means reawakening what has been silenced, and one graduate Education student is quoted expressing annoyance that you need to have to quote various academic authorities [Vygotsky]  before you can gain validity to speak about your own kids [common to white students as well of course, but probably behind later accusations of white fragility here]. There is a claim that we need 'authentic [hmm -- people of colour just ARE this?]  voices of people of colour' and without that ' it is doubtful that we can say or know anything useful about education in their communities' (58) [well this is the full slippage here, perhaps based on the contrast between legal discourse and everyday knowledge, but without academic knowledge which is also ruled out entirely? But they have quoted academic studies earlier of dropout or underachievement themselves]

The intersection of race and property is central, and in the US, clearly slavery links subordination of blacks to a legal regime that converted them into legal property. This led to an even more pernicious notion — 'the construction of whiteness as the ultimate property' -- only the 'cultural practices of whites'could be the basis for property. Harris is cited to suggest that these property functions include rights of disposition, rights to use and enjoyment, reputation and status property and the right to exclude.

The rights of disposition is the equivalent of the normal notion of transferable property rights, mediated through entitlement, licence or professional degrees held by particular parties. In education it means something conferred on student performances, when students are rewarded 'only for conformity to perceived "white norms" or sanctioned for cultural practices (e.g., dress, speech patterns, unauthorised conceptions of knowledge)' (59). Rights to use and enjoyment arise when whiteness allows for particular privileges, since 'whiteness is both performative and pleasurable' allowing for the extensive use of school property, for example, including space. The big issue, though is the curriculum, and the often extracurricular resources available in white schools [a class matter really?] . Reputation and status property again is often demonstrated in legal cases: 'to call a white person "black" is to defame him or her' and likewise to identify a school or program similarly. Status differences affect the nature of bilingual education, and terms like 'urban'. The absolute right to exclude is seen in views that one drop of black blood makes you black [there is a reference to some legal decision here – is it US state law somewhere? — Oddly, it seems to be German citizenship law as well?]. There are also separate schools, white flight, schools of choice, policies of exclusion, so that 'black students often come to the University in the role of intruders' (60)

It's clear that scholars have failed to theorise race and that traditional civil rights legislation is inadequate compared to critical race legal theory. There is a similar tension between critical race theory and the multicultural paradigm. We can see this as a reform movement trying to change schools to produce equality for students from diverse backgrounds. The policy has expanded to include gender, ability and sexual orientation recently. The origins probably lie in the American melting pot notion, where assimilation was to follow through the reduction of prejudice. However assimilation was replaced in the 1960s by 'the reclamation of an "authentic black personality" [that word again --indigenous? subcultural?] that did not rely on the acceptance by all standards of white America' (61) and this led in turn to black studies and later ethnic studies.

Multicultural education in schools is often reduced to trivial examples such as eating different foods, singing songs, dancing and something other than different conceptions of knowledge or quests for social justice. At university level it has often been a matter of curriculum inclusion. However there is a deeper notion of a philosophy of many cultures existing together with respect and tolerance, bringing students and faculty from different cultures into the environment. Today the term is used interchangeably with diversity referring to differences of all kinds. However, there are often 'growing tensions' between the various groups, with competing interests or perspectives [not at all like CRT?] . The liberal tradition allows a proliferation of difference, but there is no simple unity of difference — not all differences are analogous and equivalent.

CRT theorists doubt moderate and incremental legal reform and human rights, and points of the ways in which civil rights law regularly gets to benefit whites. 'The current multicultural paradigms functions in a manner similar' (62), where reforms are routinely subverted, where liberal ideology offers no radical change. We should not disparage the early efforts and sacrifices of course, but it is difficult to support the oppressed 'while simultaneously permitting the hegemonic rule of the oppressor' so we should reject 'the paradigms that attempts to be everything to anyone and consequently becomes nothing for anyone'. We should align instead with Garvey, who thought that the emancipation of black people should be put first

Notes openly accept that race is involving polar opposites of '"conceptual whiteness" and "conceptual blackness"' (63) and they argue that discussions of race in the USA puts everyone in one category or the other