Critical Race Theory’s International Application: The Case of the UK.

By Chidera Olalere

Critical race theory is a sociolegal theory that was first articulated by Professor Derrick Bell in the 70s.

Read our article breaking down CRT here.

Bell was Harvard’s first permanently employed professor. He spearheaded the theory to address how discrimination and inequity were sustained by legal systems and the lack of awareness about these institutional prejudices. Critical race theory seeks to eradicate discrimination of ethnic minorities, to spread more information about the institutionalised discrimination of these minorities and to encourage conversations in schools that respect and refine traditional curricula.

Professor Derrick Bell

Legal scholars at the time believed law could not be unbiased and that some system had to be established to determine the lens through which the law would be administered. Critical race theory (CRT) emerged as an alternative to Critical Legal Studies (CLS). Which Professor Bell and others believed unfairly focused on class and economic structure in conversations about discrimination.

Critical race theory has been received with varying levels of acceptance. Scholars and politicians often appear on opposite ends of the argument in the United States (US). Despite the lack of a definite conclusion regarding the legitimacy of the theory, the theory has been evolved and enforced in conversations regarding intersectionality and equality around the world, including the US. However, its applicability in the international community has been questioned.

A major criticism in the application of the theory is that it was created for US society and does not apply to other historical and cultural contexts. The limitation of the effectiveness of the theory has been argued among scholars in the UK as well. [3]

CRT was never mentioned in the House of Commons Chamber until 2020 when the UK Equalities’ Minister warned that the government did not want schools teaching students about white supremacy and inherited racial guilt. This opposition to the inclusion of Black history in school curricula is prevalent in the US and the UK, two of the leading nations in the West. Some believe that the UK government is apprehensive towards the idea of a more inclusive government because of the society’s unwillingness to have difficult conversations about the flaws and inequalities prevalent in the society, something CRT directly criticizes. CRT does aim to tackle prejudice, but the first step would be to identify the existence of prejudice — something that is beyond the scope of the theory. [4]

Kemi Badenoch, UK Minister of State for Inequalities

Charles Mills attempted to explain why people of colour in the modern era were treated so unfairly in comparison with white people. He postulated that ‘white supremacy is the basic political system that has shaped the world for the past several hundred years and the most important political system of recent global history’. Following on his work, David Gillborn suggested that using ‘white supremacy’ alone to describe neo-nazi and far right groups would risk simplifying very subtle racial politics. He argued that Mill’s theory homogenized all white people together in positions of power and privilege, ignoring those struggling with poverty and other forms of discrimination. Economic indicators in previous UK studies suggest that the Black population faces twice as much as poverty and south-Asian population faces thrice as much as poverty compared to the white population in the UK. 12 million poor white people are still on the receiving end of global neoliberal capitalism. This suggests that the racial categorisation promoted by critical race theory forces poor white people to acknowledge their privilege instead of promoting solidarity amongst the working-class. The UK, and other governments, might be refusing to accept CRT because they believe that it unfairly exalts the struggle of people of colour when white people struggle as well. They might also believe that it ignores the experiences of wealthy and well-connected Black people. [3]

Charles Mills, philosopher
Charles Mills, philosopher

Joanna Williams, director of the Freedom, Democracy and Victimhood Project at the think tank Civitas, hints that the racial categorisation and identification that critical race theory proposes reduces people to their skin colour which sets white and Black people in opposition to each other, even if that is not a stance they might have taken on their own. She insinuates that the framework itself is flawed, not just in the UK, but everywhere as it thrives on the continual existence of racism and uses anti-racism to ‘invent’ differences which can then be exploited. [2]

The issues raised regarding critical race theory are neither exclusive to the UK nor the US. They are questions that must be thoroughly explored and answered in order to promote the usage of CRT and to refine it into a system that can be universally applied. The hesitance of the UK government to take a stance on such an important issue could be reflective of the careful thought they give to the decisions they make in their positions of power, but it also seems to be representative of their reluctance to contribute to a very important conversation. Incidents of police brutality against people of colour over the last two years have made the US the poster child for racism, but this does not mean that racism is not endemic or institutional in other countries. To a certain degree, every country has systems and conventions that might support and perpetuate racism and CRT aims to expose those dark places. It is not a perfect theory and its weaknesses should not be ignored or minimised, but it is an objectively promising tool in the fight against institutional racism. CRT has created a platform for conversation on white privilege in the US, something that was very uncommon before its inception. It is yet to be seen if it is logistically applicable in other country contexts, however.

References:

[1] African History Project. (2021). Deciphering the Backlash Against Teaching Black History. [online] Available at: https://africanhistoryproject.org/article/deciphering-the-backlash-against-teaching-black-history/.

[2] Anon, (2021). Critical Race Theory — History Reclaimed. [online] Available at: https://historyreclaimed.co.uk/critical-race-theory/.

‌[3] Cole, M. (2009) ‘Critical Race Theory comes to the UK: A Marxist response’, Ethnicities, 9(2), pp. 246–269. Available at doi: 10.1177/1468796809103462.

[4]Trilling, D. (2020). Why is the UK government suddenly targeting “critical race theory”? | Daniel Trilling. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/23/uk-critical-race-theory-trump-conservatives-structural-inequality.

Chidera Olalere is a student at Scarborough College studying the International Baccalaureate programme. She is the author and creator of Dera’s Diary, an online blog exploring social issues on a personal and societal level.

Originally published at https://www.journalisj.com on February 28, 2022.

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