As if this annus horribilis wasn’t horribilis enough in the last few weeks the Conservative government, the depth of whose depravity is impossible to fathom from one day to the next, have commenced a McCarthy-esque censorship initiative that would be comical if it wasn’t a widely recognised harbinger of fascism. These brow-beating heroes of ‘free speech’ dissatisfied only with an edict censoring the teaching of ‘anti-capitalist’ material in schools, announced on 20 October that the Government “stands unequivocally against critical race theory” and that teachers promoting ideas like ‘white privilege’ or “partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views” will be breaking the law.
The body of work referred to as ‘critical race theory’ (CRT) emerged around the 1980s and is usually associated with US legal scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell. It introduced an important critique that insisted racism be seen as structural and as endemic in almost all areas of society, politics and law (see further helpful threads from Kojo Koram and Ali Meghji). It is embarrassingly obvious that very few of those now speaking out against it would be able to explain what CRT actually is, its history or its goals. Rather, CRT is the latest in a line of randomly selected targets which function to stand in for any framework offering a critique of the status quo. The irony here, of course, is that the claim that universities or schools are hotbeds of either anti-capitalist or anti-racist teaching is fanciful and demonstrably false. Many of us who have tried to do decolonial work in our institutions will have faced the gamut of if not outright then micro-aggressive obstruction, to the cooption of our efforts into positive PR for the institution, often in the absence of any meaningful commitment to structural changes. We all know, however, that to a government like this one, who never let the truth get in the way of a sop to the harpies of the ‘culture wars’, what is actually happening in institutions of learning (and what should happen) is really none of their concern.
To buoy our spirits and remind ourselves of the rich traditions that nourish and inform our lives and work we thought we’d ask some of our friends to reflect on their favourite texts. Over the next few posts we will share these with you. Only some of these could be loosely classed in the category of ‘critical race theory’ strictly speaking, but almost all it seems, now risk being seen as seditious in the disintegrating hellscape of modern Britain, offering as they do critiques of race, racism, Empire and ‘whiteness’. This notwithstanding, we’ll continue to read and teach these texts and support each other to do decolonial and anti-racist work in our institutions and outside.
Feel free to add your favourites in the comments below this post and thanks to our wonderful colleagues for sharing their personal reflections with us.