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Unpacking Critical Race Theory with a Pinch of Black British History

Our new podcast series aims to make anti-racist theory and pedagogy more accessible with the help of key experts from the UK and beyond.

In our latest episode, Dr Paul Warmington helps us unpack Critical Race Theory (CRT) and uncover some of the hidden histories of Black British intellectuals. Dr Paul Warmington is a Black British Professor at the University of Warwick and his book, Black British Intellectuals and Education: Multiculturalism’s Hidden History, introduces the rich British history of Black thinkers and leading activists while tracing the evolving discourses in education around multiculturalism, anti-racist education and Critical Race Theory.

This blog post includes links to all the Black intellectuals mentioned and a breakdown of Critical Race Theory following Paul's explanation on the show. Of course, please do enjoy the podcast and make sure to share it with any other educators and learners who might benefit from it!

Unpacking Critical Race Theory

  • Racism is endemic and permanent considering that race is a social construct which continues to structure power in society.

One of the founders of CRT, Derrick Bell, was a African-American professor who argued that racism doesn't just "go away" after the implementation of new equality legislation. His book, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism, defends this point from a legal perspective.

  • Racism doesn’t exist in isolation from other forms of power and inequality: intersectionality is crucial.

  • Change tends to come about through interest convergence.

Social change tends to happen when there is increasing pressure and discontent; the alternative of not changing is even worse so it’s better to act for some change. This happens when the interests of racialised elites align with the interests of those who are racialised minorities. A classic example in Britain would be the murder of Stephen Lawrence, with the MacPherson Report and subsequent the Race Relations Act. Similar moments of interest-convergence happen today: the murder of George Floyd, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent response from the Minneapolis police department.

When interests diverge, race issues such as the story of Jimmy Mubenga and Sheku Bayoh don't pick up and cause change. However, more recently, interests seem to be converging for Sheku Bayoh's case in Scotland (don't stop showing solidarity - you can help over here).

  • When interests converge, there tends to be contradiction closing cases

Contradiction closing cases are small changes, such as putting up a statue, or even passing new legislation, that are often portrayed as “closing” the issue of race. This happens when racialised elites post Black Lives Matter public statements but do little to commit to genuine positive social change.

  • Colour-blindness and post-racial societies

Liberal societies tend to regard themselves as non-racist by not “seeing” race. This often means not “seeing” racism and this actually allows racism to persist.

  • Change is always driven from the bottom-up.

Elites never reform willingly.

  • CRT has spread across many parts of the world and across identities

Paul listed a number of branches of CRT, including: DisCrit, QueerCrit, LatCrit and TribalCrit for indigenous groups in the US and Australia. He also gave examples of scholars who applied the work of white thinkers to justify CRT, with Tara Yosso using CRT to critique Pierre Bourdieu's conception of cultural wealth, and Richard Delgado who unveiled the whiteness of academia even amongst white scholars on race (see The Imperial Scholar).

Archiving, Celebrating and Using the Work of Black British Intellectuals

In the episode, we also spent some time uncovering some Black British History. Paul listed several Black British Marxists such as:

While noting the brain drain of Black intellectuals from Britain the US, Paul introduced us to his three favourite Black British intellectuals:

John La Rose also created the first International Black Book Fair and he wrote the New Cross Massacre.

Stuart Hall coined the term "Thatcherism" and he wrote about his experiences as a Jamaican coming to Britain. In the episode, Paul also mentioned the work of Ron Ramdin who dedicates a whole chapter about Black Scottish thinkers and activists:

We also challenged common assumptions of what it means to be an"intellectual," as Paul noted that, today, many politically Black writers, journalists and artists should make it on that list, from Reni Eddo Lodge, Afua Hirsch, Akala, Bernadine Evaristo, to Jackie Kay, Rowena Arshad and Nasar Meer in Scotland. You can find our own list of anti-racist texts, archiving British writers and anti-racist knowledge. We were so grateful for Paul's time and expertise - we hope you enjoy listening to his episode (that you can find here) and browsing through these extended show notes!


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