Are you not like the Cushites to me,
O people of Israel?” 

(Amos 9:7)

It felt as though my heart was bursting within my breast, when I caught sight of the grotesque spectacle surrounding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, at the close of May.  The pause between attempting to gather my thoughts coherently, and arriving at the point of mental acuity to find words to express them, has been unusually protracted.  There has been so much to reflect on since that gut-wrenching glance, and June through to September, seems to have evaporated just as quickly as the hand sanitizer that is now a regular part of our daily routine.

Subsequent to Floyd’s death, worldwide protests calling for ‘systemic racism’ to be addressed, not only within police forces but in society itself, have been overshadowed by the ongoing violence and rioting, taking place across America’s major cities.  This has left me in the ebb and flow of my feelings.  Trying to weigh the indelible mark of sorrow left upon the souls of black folk, along with some of the more unsettling truths animating debates about systemic racism, particularly in the UK.  In all honesty, I have been guarding my heart with a self-preserving refusal. A refusal to look at the dehumanising images of black people, that have been popping up in my newsfeed, in varying states of distress. 

How can anyone survive
When everybody’s been made a sacrifice
When seasons change – and we’ve again surpassed September
A lot of scars – that kind of scare you to remember

Surely, much of the inane politicising that forms hierarchies of black suffering while merchandising black death, can only exacerbate the problem of racial injustice and undermine its existential claim, that black lives really do matter?

Sadly, commodification through elite capture of the public discourse on anti-black racism— apparent in the symbolic anti-racism, deployed by establishment figures vis-à-vis the ideology of Black Lives Matter (BLM)— have given me further pause for thought. Being subjected to a constant replay of divisive racialised narratives by mainstream media, compounded by the asphyxiating effects of COVID-19 lockdowns, has created a foreboding sense of the horror yet to come. I think you will agree, 2020 burst forth like a tsunami of strange and portentous events. No sooner had we emerged from the ashes of one of its desolations―the monsters beckoned, and a creeping isaianic darkness covers the land.

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing

And as I step away from the interiority of this racial terror, imagine my surprise to find a world that has become the mirror image of classrooms, in which I once taught the mundane virtues of anti-racist theory and practice. Though in its current incarnation,  anti-racism serves as a deus ex machina  for its priestly caste, whose mission field is a world on the brink of disaster. For the most part, it consists of those well-intentioned secular evangelists and their progressive co-religionists, who would “…try to elevate their souls like someone who continually jumps from a standing position in the hope that forcing oneself to jump all day—and higher every day— they would no longer fall back down, but rise to heaven.”  It is as Simone Weil also observes, a humanism that presumes to attain, truth, beauty, liberty, and equality, which indeed, are of infinite value, but without the grace of God.  It is a work of our own hands, a stone of stumbling and a snare that opposes human ingenuity in its refusal to recover wisdom as we pass through the valley of Achor—a place where God waits patiently to be gracious to us: “For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him.”

As an educator, the core values of ‘anti-racist’ and ‘anti-oppressive theory and practice’ informed the bulk of my teaching in the academy.  I spent close to two decades teaching the significance of why these core values (challenging ones personal values and beliefs in recognition of conscious and unconscious bias), should underpin good professional practice to students on social work, youth ministry, and community development course programmes. The main objective being, to guide students through a process of critical reflection that would move them along a continuum acknowledging prejudicial attitudes shaping discriminatory and non-discriminatory practice, to a more enlightened position, that constitutes anti-discriminatory practice.

Drawing from the humanities, much of what I taught relied heavily upon a humanistic paradigm of Marxist conflict theory and critical [race] theory.  It was in this context, during the 1990’s that I experienced first-hand the machinations and sophistry of institutional racism.  Much to my dismay, I saw the disingenuous ways in which anti-racist practice perpetuates inequity between different identity groups, and in a wicked twist of irony, impacted more acutely the lives of black students who were supposedly its beneficiaries.  The casting of a veil over the good intentions of unsuspecting students by those in positions of power, made it almost impossible to detect: the ways in which anti-racist practice, can actually work to maintain the dichotomies it seeks to eradicate between oppressors and oppressed groups.

Imagine further my concern to see these same anti-racist training strategies that had been passed down to us by external consultants―three decades on―being played out as I write on pavements, in parks and public pavilions, and perhaps more troubling―the pulpits of churches, locally and globally.  The collective ritual of bowing before idols of oppression to expiate oneself from the sin of white racism and/or white privilege, along with separation of students into black and white groups to “get educated”, was common practice.  This reversal of roles―of oppressor and oppressed groups―apparently, being emblematic of life under regimes of Jim Crow segregation and apartheid.  In trading places,  re-enacted through acts of empathy―white students doing obeisance to black students by polishing their shoes, were given the opportunity to ‘atone’ for their ‘sins’.  You may well ask, what strain of religious opium is this?

This is the strain to which Weil, attributes Marxist revolutionary praxis as being the opium of intellectuals: “Marxism is undoubtedly a religion, in the lowest sense of the word. … [I]t has been continually used … as an opiate for the people.”  Well, here’s the thing, when a white racist student did actually walk into one of my classes with what appeared to be some kind of  17th century re-enactment rifle, the white anti-racist zealots propagating this asinine politics of resentment, were nowhere to be found.

My teaching of anti-racist core values and its implications  for students in youth ministry across a range of denominational church settings, also gleaned from this deeply problematic secular worldview.  And it is precisely this conflation of worldviews, that I want to begin to address here.

Why we need to define anti-racism and anti-black racism

In order to understand how the concept of anti-racism is defined within a secular humanist framework, its useful to begin first by defining racism, the entity which it seeks to dismantle.  According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, racialism which is often thought of and deployed interchangeably with racism,  “…is the unequal treatment of a population group purely because of its possession of physical and other characteristics socially defined as denoting a particular race.  Racism is the deterministic belief system which sustains racialism, linking these characteristics with negatively valuated social, psychological or physical traits” (Marshall 1998, p.548)

A similarly complex historical relationship between the construction of the concept of ‘race’ and the subsequent creation of the concept of racism has amassed a copious body of work clarifying these terms. The British Marxist sociologist, Robert Mile summarises the development of both: “The idea of ‘race first appeared in the English language in the early seventeenth century and began to be used in European and North American scientific writing in the late eighteenth century in order to name and explain certain phenotypical differences between human beings. By the mid-nineteenth century, the dominant theory of ‘race’ asserted that the world’s population is constituted by a number of distinct ‘races’, each of which has a biologically determined capacity for cultural development.” Although a substantial body of scientific evidence gathered during the early twentieth century challenged the theory, Miles continues, “it was the use of ‘race’ theory by the National Socialists in Germany that stimulated a more thorough critical appraisal of the idea of ‘race’ in Europe and North America and the creation of the concept of racism in the 1930s” (Miles 2000, p.123).

Conversely, in his book Anti-Racism, Alastair Bonnett writes, “A minimal definition of anti-racism is that it refers to those forms of thought and/or practice that seek to confront, eradicate, and/or ameliorate racism.  Anti-racism implies the ability to identify a phenomenon―racism―and to do something about it.”  A slippery and amorphous term,  its history being far more multiplex than linear―depending on who is framing it―‘anti-racism’ is a twentieth century creation.  It did not come into common parlance until the 1960s, but had its antecedents in the scientific anti-racism of anthropologists seeking to end the paradigm of cultural evolutionism and social Darwinism within the  social sciences. Its development during the last few decades have been accompanied by the emancipatory praxis (emerging from the new social movements of the sixties and seventies) of various oppressed groups, and their respective epistemologies.

As we shall see, different forms of anti-racism often operate with different definitions of what racism is.  Consequently, debates about racism (and anti-racism) are widely contested and as such, escape universal ascription to one particular group.  The location of racially defined groups in the stratification system of wider society, necessitate such contextualisation of definitions.  These competing narratives in turn, are constituted by the legacy of slavery and the constant flux of immigration of non-white minorities in the United States, the history of colonialism, and the more recent postcolonial settlement of minorities from the global south in Europe. Highlighting the distinctiveness of the corollary of anti-racism― anti-black racism, New Discourses (2020) writes:

Critical scholars of race have rightly identified that races as we know them now are socially constructed categories that were created particularly during European colonialism—and the Atlantic slave trade, especially—for the purpose of justifying the inhumane and genocidal treatments of non-European races (especially black Africans and indigenous peoples around the world). While people of different ethnic backgrounds (or, more accurately, evolutionary lineages) do exhibit different traits, some of which we associate with race, features like melanin count, hair texture, eye color, and so on, map poorly onto those biological differences. Categories like “black” and “white” are, in fact, largely arbitrary with regard to these and rather extraordinarily genetically diverse, vindicating the claim that they are socially constructed categories (see also social constructivism). These scholars also rightly recognize that these categories either did not exist or had other meanings before that time and that they were created to justify atrocities through subordination and dehumanization.

So while there may be similarities in the modes of response and resistance to anti-black racism within the Black Atlantic experience, they are also marked by difference.  For example,  unlike their African-American counterparts,  African-Caribbeans in Britain, while still on the receiving end of racism, experienced less overt forms of segregation and discrimination, and did not have a comparable or sustainable civil right’s movement per se.  Nevertheless, the link between black people throughout the diaspora, some of whom shared the common experience of being oppressed minorities began to organize under the banner of ‘Black power’.

Developments in struggles against anti-black racism in Britain were stimulated by the burgeoning mood of the transnational Black Power movement, the emergence of anti-colonial movements in Africa and the Caribbean, as well as the subvariant movements for Civil Rights in the US. Energised by these struggles, black communities sought out ways of establishing their rights as they supported independence struggles waged in Africa and the Caribbean, that mirrored the various and interlocking forms of subordination experienced here in the UK. The anti-colonial movements had already experienced a long tradition in Britain, “through overseas student associations and the presence of progressive Pan-Africanists, ensured that we looked beyond the immediate horizons to link our fate with black people elsewhere” (Bryan et al 1985, p.134-135).

A plethora of black power type organisations emerged in Britain in the 1960s with a different set of objectives to the preceding ones, which had been set up to deal with issues of racial discrimination and immigration.  Organisations such as the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination  (CARD), were challenged by the new militancy of black power, on the basis of their integrationism and legislative strategy.  Rather like the impact contemporary black nationalist movements from the US (such as the Nation of Islam and BLM), have had on the rise of black power politics in Britain today;  previously, that impact came with visits to the UK, by key figures involved in the civil rights movement: namely, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and later on Martin Luther King.

During this period, concerns were focused on the problems and difficulties young African-Caribbeans  were facing.  In an effort to address some of the tensions black British youth encountered with the police and within the education system, one cultural strategy involved the setting up of supplementary schools.  As the presence of black families  increased in the UK, during the fifties and sixties, the need for educational support for ‘Afro-Caribbean’ children, became apparent.  The beginnings of organised supplementary schools can be traced back to 1964, where three groups of black adults living in Shepherds Bush, Haringey and Islington, began their work with young children of Afro-Caribbean origin. The individuals in each of the groups were all members of the West Indian Standing Conference, a social organisation formed in 1959 (Olowe 1990; Dove 1995).

By the 1970s, key campaigns were dominated by the political  response of black communities to the predicament of young black people, first born and first generation educated in British schools.  This was a pivotal moment for black self-organisation, as it came to the attention of parents that the schools were failing and labelling children of Afro-Caribbean descent,  as educationally sub-normal (ESN) at alarmingly significant rates.  At this point,  Black Power politics in the US, had the effect of strengthening the mobilisation of black communities in Britain.  The black education struggles of the seventies were embodied by organisations such as the Black Parents Movement (BPM) and the Black Students Movement (BSM), which were both founded in 1975.   The United Black Women’s Action Group in North London set up its own distinctive organisation around the same time, which  fed into the wider ESN campaign spearheaded by parents and teachers.

One specific response to arise from  the ESN campaign, was the setting up of the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association (CECWA), in 1970.  This in turn made it possible for the publication of what is considered now, an iconic book, entitled:  How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System, by Bernard Coard, a Grenadian teacher in London, who went on to  become a politician and Deputy Prime Minister in the People’s Revolutionary Government of the New Jewel Movement in his native country. Coard, outlined the deficiencies of the State education system and highlighted the internal dynamics of racism through a critique of culturally biased testing. Most significantly, Coard called on the black community to act collectively to establish supplementary schools. The book resonated profoundly with black parents, black youth and school students across the  country, and made a significant impact on the educational establishment. 

In response to anti-black racism in schools, the search for black cultural awareness began, “rooted in the idea of their being a corporate black history and identity, accessible only to individuals by virtue of  their experience of being black” (Shukra 1998 p.41).  The outworking of this, resulted in the promotion of a black only form of community organisation with US connotations of separatism.   In his work, Coard, justified this special type of provision for the young Afro-Caribbeans, who it was hoped would learn about their cultural heritage, thus developing a sense of ‘black pride’. This sense of ‘pride’ about their identity would enhance mental stimulation, so that students would not internalise hatred towards themselves and their race. In turn, it was argued, the nefarious practice of relegating them to ESN schools, would cease.

To what degree these organisations and campaigns constituted a ‘Black Power movement’ in Britain is debatable.  However, it is clear that aspects of the American brand of Black Power politics were largely influential in the self-organisation of blacks against racism in the British education system. Interestingly, the British Trinidadian sociologist, Colin Prescod describes the period as also a time in Britain when alliances between people from the Asian Sub-Continent, from the Caribbean and Africa, as well as Europeans forged ‘black’ as a political colour, in their common struggle against racism.

By the 1980s, a shift from the more separatist orientations of black nationalist organisations to demands from black community activists, for the inclusion of black history in the curriculum, saw its unofficial insertion in some schools. Alongside the existence of supplementary schooling, the inclusion of black studies as a response to racism in schools, was not without its critics. Some scholars observe, that it was only taken up by some local authorities, “lost for ways by which to maintain order in schools where young African-Caribbean’s were refusing to cooperate, black studies was adopted almost as their last fling at efforts in social control” (Shukra, 1998 p. 35).

The sociologist Paul Gilroy (1993), also notes how oppositional discourses and practices such as the anti-racist cultural strategy, calling for black history to be included in the curriculum, can also become bound up with their own power/knowledge systems: “the formation of anti-racist bureaucracies is indicative of anti-racisms alienation from the concerns of ordinary black people and a sign of recuperation of ‘black struggle’ by a black petite bourgeoisie” ( p.13). Moreover, Bridges (1994) argues “…even this regulatory function of ‘anti-racism’ failed to build on the concept of black children’s right to a decent education; it failed that is, directly to assist them and their parents to fight, for themselves, the racism they encountered in schools over issues of ‘streaming’ and access to the curriculum, discipline and exclusions, and racist abuse and violence” (p.5).

It is against this background, we begin to see how presently, anti-racism is shaped and informed in the UK  context. As such, most of its proponents (whether consciously or unconsciously) believe that racism is deeply embedded in institutions, policies and practices, to the point that it has become a part of the mundane practices of institutional racism.  In his final report into the death of the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, Sir William Macpherson  drew upon an earlier definition borrowed from the black power activist, Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael): “Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community.  We call these individual racism and institutional racism.”  Macpherson defined institutional racism as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.”  It is seen in “processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people”.

Summary of some policy responses to racism in education

The report was hailed as a water-shed in race-relations initially, particularly in terms of recognising what some black people had long perceived to be misrecognised: the reality of institutionalised racism in public institutions. The report had suggested a number of changes to the National Curriculum in an attempt to address the issues of racial inequality and cultural diversity in education. As educational sociologist, David Gillborn notes, “Macpherson had questioned the adequacy of the National Curriculum for a multi-ethnic society but was met simply with an apparent reassurance that things were fine…stating that teachers had already been granted sufficient ‘flexibility’, as the Home office (1999) put it “….to tailor their teaching to stimulate and challenge all pupils, whatever their ethnic origin or social background” (Gillborn 2002, p.23).

Beginning with the post-war period as a reference point, Gillborn (2001) develops an analytical framework that identifies six significant phases, in response to racism in schools. The first phase starts with the educational policy response to migration from the Caribbean and Indian Subcontinent, as one of “doing nothing.” He describes this phase (1945-to late 1950s) as a time of “ignorance and neglect.” The second phase is identified as “assimilation” (late 1950s to the late 1960s), and is characterised by the concern of educational policy to protect the stability of the system while subduing the fears of “white racist communities and parents…” The third and fourth phases are identified as “integration” and “cultural pluralism (1966 to late 1970s). During this period progressive organisations, such as All London Teachers Against Racism and Fascism (ALTARF in their work, Challenging Racism (1984), criticised the apolitical nature of multicultural education―such efforts, marking a fifth phase during the early 1980s, Gillborn refers to as “anti-racist counter-cultural development” (ibid. p.16). It was criticisms such as those advanced by ALTARF which seriously called into question, the efficacy of liberal reformist claims about the emancipatory potential of multicultural education and its ability to transform the future of ethnic minority pupils (McCarthy 1990).

The sixth phase (mid 1980s), is characterised by the emergence of Thatcherism, which embodied what some have referred to as the ‘new racism’ and a return to deracialised educational policy discourse. Accordingly, Margaret Thatcher and her Education Secretary, Keith Joseph, made statements to the effect that Britain’s schools were meant to express a certain culture and that elements of mono-culturalism were rational. A consequence of this common sense rationalism, came in the form of a backlash against the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and the Greater London Council (GLC) who played a key role in adapting and promoting anti-racist policy. Many of these policy initiatives were also adopted by central government, in the form about schooling for diverse populations (Bhattacharyya and Gabriel 1997). For example, booklets were produced, such as History of The Black Presence in London (GLC 1986). West Africa, West Indies, West Midlands (Sandwell 1982) and Sylvia Collicat’s Connections (Haringey 1986).

The 1970s through to the late 1980s witnessed many educational policy makers influenced by the findings of the Swan Report (1985), engaged in active forms of multiculturalism. A look at the reports that have accumulated over the last four decades or so, attempting to address the seemingly insurmountable issues, which cause inequalities in education, coeval to the aforementioned phases, reveal no shortage of proposals. Particularly in the area of making the curriculum more relevant to an increasingly diverse student population (for example, The Rampton Report 1981; The Scarman Report 1981). Some have suggested political ideology from the 1976 Race Relations Act, through to the Swann, Rampton and Dearing Reports (1960s to1990s), assisted in shaping the history curriculum but there was evidence of a lack of imagination, about how it could be more inclusive (Ali 2000). Some viewed the developments within anti-racist policy in a more positive light, in that both anti-racist and multicultural strategies made it possible for black history to move from the periphery of supplementary schools to the centre of some British schools. For example, Alibhai-Brown (2000) describes the eighties as a period whereby some “radical thinking” impacted on the mind-sets of those responsible for the education system. Not only did this period witness “proactive employment policies to get black and Asian teachers into the system taken up with some energy, but the curriculum was challenged and where possible transformed” (p.171).

Nevertheless, the debate for inclusion of black history in the curriculum, continues unabated, and given the revival of black nationalist orientations in education through BLM protests this summer, Black History Month 2020, might yet have its red October.

Assessing the 1990s, Gillborn and Gipps (1996) note that the period had seen “massive reforms of the education system that touch all those in education (including head-teachers, governors, classroom teachers, parents and pupils” (p.1). In contrast, some have argued that the current period has seen issues of ‘race’ and equal opportunities airbrushed from policy agendas. However, the impact of the Macpherson report and the reopening of the debate on institutional racism, has seen much longed for changes in the form of the Race Relation (Amendment) Act 2000 (later on repealed by the Equality Act 2010), which emphasised the very areas Gillborn and Gipps claim to have been erased.

With the shift from multicultural and anti-racist policies emphasising the need to promote cultural diversity in multi-ethnic schools, a new critical climate addressing postmodern concerns with postcolonial ‘difference’, has had the effect of tempering the received position on certain bodies of knowledge. These new discourses and “the idea of a common racial identity capable of linking divergent black experiences across different spaces and times has been fatally undermined” (Gilroy 1993 p.2). Moreover he continues, “these changes in black communities self-understanding affect the formation, reproduction and dessimination of their expressive cultures in quite fundamental ways” (ibid. p.22).

Significantly, Gilroy notes,  “it is necessary to grasp that black liberation and anti-racism are two quite distinct orientations, which get regularly confused in radical politics…they are not the same and may actively conflict.” 

I shall return to this in Part II of this essay, considering how these two dimensions currently besetting the Christian worldview, through a convergence with the ideology of Black Lives Matters, is not only antithetical to a biblical worldview of justice, but reconciliation and liberation too.

The continuities and discontinuities of anti-racism and black liberation notwithstanding, Ideas about blackness can be explained historically and can therefore be understood as a historical entity. In the context of Euro-history, ‘blackness’ is an ascribed status, constructed through a process of racialization: by the gaze of the other, endowed with the power to write ones identity. Over time our understanding of blackness does not remain static and unyielding to other important and dynamic processes in contemporary society. On the contrary, ideas about ‘race’, ethnicity, globalisation and the concomitant postcolonial reasoning that emerges in the late twentieth century as a ‘politics of recognition’ with a constellation of concerns about equality and cultural citizenship, offer insights to the ways in which blackness is itself reconstituted to meet those shifting demands:

The history of blacks in the Western hemisphere can be used to show how the understanding of identity has itself been reconfigured at various times in the service of the inescapably political desires to be free, to be a citizen, and to be oneself, which have shaped successive phases in the movements towards racial emancipation, liberation, and autonomy. This means our discussions of Black identity cannot, then, be easily disentangled from these movements and their changing tactics.  Indeed, the concepts, “Negro,” “coloured,” “Black,” and “African,” identity have already been tailored to these movements and their changing tactics (Gilroy 1995, p.18).

Building on the movement towards what some scholars have termed a more critical anti-racism, Dei (1998) asserts the need for a more complex anti-colonial discursive framework (see for example, Arber 1999, Carrim 1995, 2000; Dei 1999; May 1998; Mairtin Mac an Ghaill 1994; McCarthy 2000; Giroux 2000). Proponents of this approach stress the need for difference to be taken seriously, allowing for critical analysis of how various stakeholders interpret their varied identitarian standpoints (e.g. race, gender, class) on schooling and educational outcomes for youth. 

Interestingly, amidst the fiery BLM protests that followed Floyd’s death in the US, the UK government appointed Dr Tony Sewell CBE, Chair to its Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, who had two decades earlier, pointed out the need for a  rethinking of how anti racist policies could be made more relevant to the “real world” of schools.  He had pointed towards  the need for a new language for anti-racist and multicultural issues, given that the old words have been sullied by the symbolic anti-racism of the Left and the nihilistic response of the New Right.  In order to perform this social function―to create a new political logic―there is a need to break with the crust of convention.

Moving beyond the either/or Left/Right Manichean struggle, that characterise debates about racial disparities as they relate to anti-black racism, but bear minimal fruit in terms of real world solutions, Professor of Social Sciences, Glenn Loury, transcends this orthodoxy. In Why Does Racial Inequality Persist? Culture, Causation, and Responsibility, he writes:

This puts what is a very sensitive issue rather starkly. Many vocal advocates for racial equality have been loath to consider the possibility that problematic patterns of behavior could be an important factor contributing to our persisting disadvantaged status. Some observers on the right of American politics, meanwhile, take the position that discrimination against blacks is no longer an important determinant of unequal social outcomes. I have long tried to chart a middle course—acknowledging anti-black biases that should be remedied while insisting on addressing and reversing the patterns of behavior that impede black people from seizing newly opened opportunities to prosper. I still see this as the most sensible position.

The emergence of anti-racist pedagogy in education

A key objective that multicultural and later on anti-racist education attempted to address focused on the question: How do different kinds of students experience the education on offer as relevant, useful , and enabling?

What we now call multicultural education originated in Britain in the 1970s, as we have seen, preceded by policies of assimilation in the sixties and seventies. The policies and underlying ideas of assimilation had lost credibility among many, and were subjected to unprecedented challenges by oppositional black groups influenced by the Civil Rights Movement in the US. Subsequently, the ascendancy of multicultural education over the last three decades, has intermittently attracted much controversy from the media as it became an evermore contentious and politicised battleground. In the midst of such controversy, there has been little agreement on a precise conceptualisation of what multicultural education is. In fact, multiculturalism is often conflated with anti-racism, and whilst there exists some overlap, this difficulty is compounded further, by the prevailing public policy zeitgeist, which is as equally vague, in defining what constitutes ‘inclusive education’.

As McCarthy (1990) has pointed out, policy discourse on multicultural education has consistently identified the variable of culture as the vehicle for addressing racial inequality and racial conflict in schooling. Unlike the earlier liberal concept of assimilation that was preoccupied with cultural deprivation, multicultural advocates were more inclined towards emphasising the positive qualities of minority cultural heritage (for example, Bullivant 1981; Gibson 1976; Jeffcoate 1975; Verma and Bagley 1975). The Swann Report illustrates this position well. Instead of viewing black children as the ‘problem’, the review team of the Swann Committee chose to consider what kind of education was appropriate for a multi-ethnic society for all children.

However, Gillborn (1995) argues that the notion of ‘liberal pluralism’ falls flat on its face on account of its belief in a common framework of values, which offer the criteria for the selection of knowledge.” The interchangeable view of cultural pluralism and cultural diversity, Bhaba 1990) argues, function then, as a bedrock of multicultural education policy in the UK. Moreover, while cultural diversity is encouraged, he continues, there is also a “corresponding containment of it” ( Ibid, p. 208).

More recently, a growing body of literature focusing on critical anti-racist pedagogy, has sought to rethink how the curriculum is delivered through an analysis of ‘difference’ and indigenous knowledge.

From its inception―starting in the 1960s Supplementary school movement,  there have been various iterations of anti-racist pedagogical practice,  aimed at challenging racist ideology and its impact on black  and minority ethnic children in schools.  In the main, they have been  concerned with changing teacher’s attitudes towards black children and eradicating racism from the curriculum.  As we have seen, the generation of ‘positive images ‘ that emerged from both popular and professional anti-racist practice, embodies the assumption “that anti-racism may be best on the level of consciousness: that to change how people feel about others and themselves is tantamount to changing society (Bonnett  2000, p.95). This strategy implies the need for members of society to be educated in such a manner that they would reject all forms of prejudice and racism.  Such a perspective has its roots in what Bonnett refers to as “psychological anti-racism” and what others in the social sciences, have also referred to as moral anti-racism (for example see, Gilroy 1987; Macdonald et al 1989; Rattansi 1992).

Interestingly, an earlier study by Maureen Stone, The Education of The Black Child, addressed the tension between black parents and educationalists demands for a focus on addressing low self-concept through cultural understanding of African-Caribbean pupils and their academic achievement. In her review of three self-help and four officially funded supplementary schools in London, Stone identifies a strong emphasis amongst black parents and black teachers who staff the project on teaching basic skills. Where Stone found aspects of the ‘Black Studies’ approach, this was usually relegated to being of secondary importance to the principal aim of ensuring that black children advance their reading, writing and mathematical skills.

The empirical research led Stone to refute the fashionable idea that poor self-concept is the cause for lower rates of academic achievement among pupils of Caribbean origin. In her concluding argument, she asserts, “The central recommendation of this study is for the use of more formal methods of teaching west Indian children throughout primary and secondary schools” (Stone 1981 p.242). Stone’s critique of multicultural education, serves as a timely reminder for the need to move beyond the simplistic equation, that the solution for so-called low self-concept amongst Afro-Caribbean pupils cannot rely alone on positive role models and multi-racial education projects, such as Black Studies. Concurring with Stone, Troyna (1992) also demonstrated the inadequacy of a ‘cultural understanding’ model approach, which focuses on the lifestyles of black pupils, thus reducing them to cultural artefacts―a notion often associated with the “3Ss” (Saris, Samosas, and Steel bands) interpretation of multicultural education. Earlier studies such as Coard (1971) and Milner (1975) had pointed towards the need to reassess the “…alleged negative self-image of black pupils and underachievement in education, alongside concern about emergent resistance to racist forms of education by black pupils and their parents” (Troyna 1992, p.68).

Unlike Stone, whose research had led her to conclude that pedagogical strategies developed to enhance black pupils ‘self-concept’ were unlikely to affect exam achievements, others like Troyna contended that an approach more akin to the neo-Marxist Brazilian educationalist, Paulo Freire’s notion of political conscientization, offered up possibilities, yet to be explored.

Another ethnographic study conducted by Wright in 1985, focusing on the experiences of fourth and fifth year African-Caribbean pupils from two schools in the North of England, found: “To the West Indian, the school seemed to be seen as a “battleground” a hostile environment insofar as it rejects their colour and their identities (cited in Dove 1995, p.352). Wright found that students perceived that their academic performance was affected by their white teachers’ attitudes, behaviours, and low expectations of them. In another study, that took place in four inner city primary schools (1988-198) and was published in 1992, Wright’s ethnographic research produced similar findings, suggesting: teachers were also insensitive to the fact that many students would have been victims of racism. Concurring with Wright’s study, Gillborn and Gipps (1996), in a review of qualitative research into ethnic minority pupil’s interaction with teachers in schools, found: that the level of teacher/pupil conflict in research conducted in schools was such that, as a group, black pupils experiences of school were far more conflictual and less positive than their peers, regardless of ‘ability’ and gender.

Debates about Supplementary schools and black history have been a source of great interest, but little research has been conducted, and it is worth noting, the studies discussed here have been conducted by black African-Caribbean scholars in a field, ironically, dominated by white academics, who have been extremely influential in shaping the discourse on educational policy (for example, Carr 2005; Dove 1995; Sewell 1997; Stone; 1981; Wright 1992).

Given some of the bleak narratives on the experience of black pupils and schooling, it seems inevitable that alternative strategies such as supplementary schools and black history have not only been considered within black communities as a viable option, but also present themselves as the most promising solutions on offer to combat anti-black racism.

For Coard, “pride and confidence” were the best form of response against the prejudice and humiliating experience black pupils faced in the education system and wider society. Moreover, as Graham (2001) notes, “…it is within this context that African-Centred ways of knowing became relevant to educational discourse. Doves study found that supplementary schools were popular with black parents because they wanted their children to receive a “black perspective, cultural understanding, black historical information, a positive black image, positive role models, a better learning environment, and the company of other black children.” Dove further observed that the increase in supplementary schools in the United kingdom, may well reflect other forms of resistance to state public schooling that have taken place in the United States. Graham and Dove both argue, that an “African-Centred’ approach challenges the hegemonic scholarship that has pervaded European-centred educational systems from the conquest of Egypt by the Greek.” An African-centred curriculum and pedagogical methods, she argues, “can help children to decipher lies and develop inquiring scholarly minds” (ibid, p.357).

Unlike some of the assumptions based on cultural and ethnic homogeneity central to Doves articulation of blackness and African-Centred pedagogy, Graham (2001), makes more explicit the diversity within black communities, indicating that the terms ‘black’ and ‘African’ are used interchangeably. Some British scholars have pointed out that such formations of Afrocentric discourse appear primarily as an African-American construct (e.g. Gilroy 1993, 2000; Miles 1999).

The feminist philosopher, Nancy Fraser in her critique of identity politics, argues that a politics of recognition reduced to forms of identitarianism, results in an emphasis on demeaning representations, which she suggests, undermines the social-structural underpinnings of inequality. In dislodging the identitarian model for a politics of recognition, and enjoining it with a politics of redistribution, Fraser argues for a view of recognition that would interrogate institutionalised forms of cultural value and the resulting impact on the relative standing of its respective subjects. From this viewpoint, then, she suggests, “misrecognition is neither a psychic deformation nor a free standing cultural harm but an institutionalised relation of subordination” (ibid, 2000, p.113). In this respect, “parity impeding” values―such as a predominantly monocultural curriculum that addresses diversity by centring the persistent “ideological we and usually then simply mentioning the contributions of people of colour, women and others, or by creating a false logic of equivalence… perpetuates existing hierarchies of what counts as official knowledge” (Apple 1996, p.54). Within this analytical framework, anti-black racism in schools, would be an example of what Fraser calls “status subordination,” based on “misrecognition,” which has the impact of non-participation. The outworking of this standpoint in relation to the school curriculum, would be a radical democratisation that enables all students a space to engage “in the cultural politics over the struggle for collective identity and difference” (Miron 1999, p.83). As such, the curriculum becomes what Giroux (1992) and Battaglia (1999) describe as a ‘representational economy”, where students think through the micro-practices of everyday life.

I shall return to look at some of the problems associated with this postmodern differentialist model, constitutive of an epistemological framework, central to current renderings of critical race theory.

Interestingly, some of the pedagogical approaches discussed above― which at various times, have been rooted in activist scholarship, informed by Marxist theoretical frameworks and black nationalist orientations― can be seen in the ideology of the popular African-American movement, Black Lives Matter. Concurrently, a new cannon of critical anti-racist literature suffused with intersectional identitarian epistemologies, and a recycling of the deeply flawed psychological and moral anti-racist approaches, have become widely popular.  From Robin DiAngelo’s, White Fragility to Ibram X. Kendi’s  How to Be an Antiracist, the idea of (black) ethnocentric, anti-white/eurocentrism is promoted,  which “…attempts to challenge the hegemony of Europe in order to construct another location from which to judge the world, not merely ‘another view’ but a new and different centre, with all the sense of self-worth confidence that the claim implies” (Bonnett 2000 p.98).   For blacks engaged in struggles to dismantle racism, this has involved―what movements such as BLM have embraced―a necessary anti-racist racism.

Black community without uniformity

Arguably, the problem with this current iteration of anti-racism as it is articulated in public policy discourse by those in establishment and some activist spaces in the UK, is that it has remained very much like previous iterations―incredibly disjointed, oversimplified, disconnected from real black lives, and contagiously reactive. This remains true, even while provoked by unprecedented events in another country.  Ironically, some might question the overzealousness of top-down reactions to the George Floyd incident in contrast to the tepid ways in which the powers that be, have reacted historically to the disproportionate impact of ‘systemic racism’ on black lives, here in the UK.  Particularly the lives of young black boys, who have  historically experienced disproportionate numbers of school exclusions, who have fallen foul of racial profiling and deaths in police custody, and as young men, continue to be over-represented in the prison system. 

For example, Black men are 26 percent more likely than white men to be remanded in custody. They are also nearly 60 percent more likely to plead not guilty. There is also evidence that  “Black And minority Ethnic (BAME) and foreign national women can have distinctly different experiences or outcomes at some stages of the Criminal Justice System in comparison to other offenders, and that these may differ between faiths and cultures” (Tackling Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: 2020 Update).   Generally, government figures on pupil exclusion for 2020, show that Gypsy and Roma, and Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils had the highest school exclusion rates (both permanent and temporary) in the 2017 to 2018 school year, while Mixed White and Black Caribbean, and Black Caribbean pupils also had high exclusion rates, and were both nearly 3 times as likely to be permanently excluded as White British pupils.

The oft-cited correlation between the pernicious and all encompassing effects of institutional racism on disproportionate numbers of black boys being excluded from schools have dominated studies in the UK. They have tended to overshadow more nuanced accounts of the cluster of  factors linked to “out of school causes.”  In a recent response to a report produced by the education department called Getting it, Getting it right, Tony Sewell and Tracy Reynolds, in critiquing “the easy route of blaming institutional racism”,  have highlighted this imbalance: “Black Caribbean exclusions are three times higher than white. What the report fails to mention is that black Caribbean exclusions are also three times higher than black African exclusions.  The clear ‘out of school’ difference is family and culture; black African fathers are present in their families much more than those from a black Caribbean background.  This leads to significant behavioural outcomes, particularly with boys.”

Let me return for a brief moment to consider further some of the problems in postmodernists conceptualisation of difference, as touched on previously in the work of (Apple 1996; Fraser 2000; Miron 1999; Giroux 1992; Battaglia 1999).

Increasingly, the radical subjectivism that undergirds  post-modern critical [race] theorising in some activist scholarship, unapologetically abandons notions of objectivity, rationalism, and truth as white supremacist/patriarchal/western constructs.  Simultaneously, methodological approaches in critical research (central to CRT) place more emphasis on the experiential, rather than objective reality.  The ever diminishing returns of such standpoint theories encompassing a doctrine of “my truth,” are summarised well by Gillian Rose, in Mourning Becomes The Law:

The phenomenological ‘irony of irony’ expounds this drama of experience as intrinsically ironic:  it acquires the doubled title by virtue of the expanded and implicated rationality of its expositions.  Experience, expounded as the changing configurations of the inevitable collision between the concepts of self and reality, between concepts of subject and object, takes place moreover intersubjectively.  It is conceptually impossible to produce a taxonomy which would sequester concepts of justice and the good from concepts of ‘self-creation’, for the very formation of  ‘selfhood’ takes place in interaction with the mingled ethical and epistemological positings of the other, the partner in the formation of our contingent and unstable identities, (Rose 1996, pp6-7).

Continuing, Rose describes this proliferation of new claims for ‘empowerment’ under the banner of ‘postmodernism’, as a despairing rationalism without reason.  Rather than dismantling rationality, each standpoint in redefining, resincribes it, 

...for otherwise no argument could be devised, no analysis could be conducted, and no conclusion could be urged.  Yet, by disqualifying universal notions of justice, freedom, and the good, for being inveterately ‘metaphysical’, for colonising and suppressing their others with the violence consequent on the chimera of correspondence, ‘postmodernism’ has no imagination for its own implied ground in justice, freedom and the good (ibid, p.

Could this account for a major lacuna in the critical anti-racist scholarship produced predominantly by the Left? Particularly in relation to implicit bias in theorising racial disparities and the constancy of ‘systemic racism’―as being, an all encompassing empirical reality that defines the black experience?  Following Benedict Anderson’s formula, of the notion of communities as “Imagined,” in an article entitled Less Race Please, Michael Ignatieff,  speaking of the killing of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence notes:   “Everyone talked as if the Lawrence family and a larger fiction called the ‘black community had been “let down.”  The black community he continues, is no more a reality than the white community.  To speak of communities in such racially homogenising terms, presupposes skin, trumps all other identities.  Scholars such as George Sefa Dei, have argued the contrary, pointing out that, “ideas of ‘nation’,  ‘community’, and ‘citizenship’ are not simply imagined constructs, but are real in their meanings and evocations with profound material and non-material consequences for colonized and marginalized groups” (Dei 2000, p.118).

The writer and thinker Coleman Hughes, more recently has contested some of the most sacred shibboleths of black identitarianism, in addressing “the myth of systemic racism,”  he highlights the need for the hypothesis to be tested, drawing on two population studies, that disaggregate blackness as a homogenous category.  In illustrating the constancy of systemic racism across blackness between immigrants from the Caribbean and African-Americans, Hughes points to Thomas Sowell’s study in the 1970s, which shows how the second generation Caribbean population living in the same city as black Americans, were earning 58 percent more, both being subjected to whatever level of systemic racism that existed.  In this instance both experienced  discrimination to whatever degree by whites, and to whatever system one supposes is holding them back― is effecting them both equally.  The two populations may differ in many ways (culturally, educationally, economically) for any number of unquantifiable reasons, there are a cluster of attributes that make one population different to the other. In Myths About Minorities (1979), Thomas Sowell writes:

Black West Indians are sometimes said to be treated preferentially by employers, who pick them out from other blacks by their accent, or by their place of birth or schooling. But if this were the reason why West Indians earn far higher incomes than other blacks, it would apply much less to second-generation West Indians who have less of an accent (or no accent) and are born and educated in the United States. This whole line of reasoning collapses like a house of cards under the weight of census data for second-generation West Indians—who have higher incomes than Anglo-Saxons, and higher representation in professional occupations.

The facts about occupation are just as far from popular (or media) beliefs as the facts about income. About 14 per cent of employed Americans are in the professions, or in comparable technical and similar fields. Despite the reiterated theme of color barriers or exclusions in the professions, at least four non-white groups have higher than average representation in these high-level occupations: black West Indians (15 percent); Japanese (18 per cent); Filipinos (23 per cent); and Chinese (25 per cent). Black Americans have below-average representation (8 per cent), but white Puerto Ricans have even lower representation (5 percent). There are many reasons why various groups have differing representations in the professions, but the supposedly decisive effect of color as depicted by the media is, again, simply not reflected in the census data. Somewhere down the road, we will have to come to grips with the hard fact that color is not as all-determining as we once thought—or as civil-rights activists still insist—and that cultural factors will have to be dealt with much more seriously.

In a similar dynamic in the UK, Sewell and Reynolds (2019) observe, cultural factors are important in understanding these differences, suggesting that cultural groups, or entities we refer to as communities are not identical in behavioural patterns that are inculcated, and wherever there are disparities in certain outcomes, it’s not possible that culture accounts in part, or for most of that disparity.  The converse is true for second and third generation British Afro-Caribbean’s in relation to the ‘out of school factors’ touched on previously, impacting behavioural outcomes for the disproportionate numbers of black boys in the UK, represented in school  figures, for exclusion and crime.  There are similarities between UK and US studies in the omission of these clusters of attributes that highlight differences between population groups.  Perhaps we ought to pay more attention to this bias in studies emphasising systemic (or institutional) racism as the exclusive causal factor for racial disparities:

National statistics reveal that among those with a partner, 73 per cent of whites are in formal marriage compared with only half of Caribbeans. Among those who have married, Caribbeans are twice as likely to have divorced or separated as whites across all age groups under the age of 60. We need to understand these matters and find solutions, otherwise we will continue to see a disproportionate amount of violent crime committed by black young males, higher exclusion rates from school, and the lesser-told story of the high levels of mental illness amongst African-Caribbean males.

[…] These boys kicked up against us. It was like we were their dads who had walked out of their lives without any explanation and suddenly we demanded their respect. According to research: “A father who is dead may be carried within the child’s mind as a very alive figure depending on the mother’s way of talking about the father … A father who is physically present might nevertheless be lived as symbolically lost, absent or dead in the child’s inner world” (McDougall, 1989, p 209).

We are currently witnessing a revival in the kind of  public policy making that relies upon abstract invocations of ‘community’ and activist claims of what constitutes ‘cultural citizenship’.  Rather like the current discourse on intersectional social justice,  and reminiscent of the American sociologist, Amitai Etzoni’s concept of  communitarianism. Rose, highlights some of the problems with these claims:

Communitarian empowerment of ‘ethnic’ and gender pluralities presupposes and fixes a given distribution of ‘identities’ in a radically dynamic society. ‘Empowerment’ legitimises the potential tyranny of the local or particular community in its relations with its members and at the boundary with competing interests. It is the abused who become the abusers, no one and no community is exempt from the paradoxes of ’empowerment’. (p.5)

Granted this particular snapshot of racial disparities in the UK context, is not exhaustive, it might be wise under the present circumstances, to also pay close attention to the particular brand of anti-racism that is promoted by the philanthropic crowd, and to whom it is addressing its truth claims.  From members of the monarchy to celebrities; multinational corporations to big tech companies; from Anglican Bishops to evangelical leaders, they all extol the virtues of dismantling racism.  In this cultural moment, anti-racism, replete with all the rhetoric of ersatz religion, deifies the victims of anti-black racism.  Detrimental to its supposed beneficiaries, it has the tendency to dehistoricise, decontextualise, and therefore dehumanise the experiences of black folks―their grassroot community struggles and movements. 

This is evident in the type of brand of anti-racism, bequeathed to us by its African-American founders―Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, of the BLM organisation, set up in 2013, after the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. Increasingly, its radical Marxist ideology, has come under intense critical scrutiny.

In the UK, a disparate network of organisations inspired by the BLM US organisation have been set up.  The most visible BLM UK entity, set up in 2016, is endorsed by its original American founders, and is arguably, the most famous branch to date, with over 78.1k followers on Twitter.  At the time of writing,  the group has no discernible base, or leadership, and no visible website. With the uptick of BLM’s popularity in the US,  and in the throes of world-wide protests against racism, celebrity endorsements, and around the clock mainstream media attention, has brought with it, somewhat of a revival for BLM UK.  Its Go Fund Me page, where it has raised £1 million, bears testament to its new found respectability among white liberal elites. Organisers state their aims are “to dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white-supremacy, patriarchy, and the state structures that disproportionately and systematically harm Black people in Britain and around the world.”


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