During my year abroad, I took a class called Discrimination Law and Diversity in which I had my first black teacher. In this class we tackled the question of how to effectively deal with the race problem in America, which can also apply to the UK.
The first thing we discussed was the difference between racism and racial subordination. Racism focuses on the nefarious sources of discrimination. This is where someone does something that is racist such as saying the n-word (if you’re not black) or making comments that perpetrate negative racial stereotypes. Racial subordination occurs when an individual or institution consciously forgoes an opportunity to advance racial progress and does so for the sake of pursuing an important competing interest. This involves people who may not do racist things themselves but standby those who do under the guise of ‘freedom’ or ‘patriotism.’
During this class I struggled to see a justification for this distinction as the effect on the victim is the same – the silencing of their voice and the disregard for their struggle. But this distinction does not mean one is good and one is bad, both are dangerous to a society that aims for equality. My Professor said that racial subordinators are not off the hook, they are just on a different hook.
The majority of the semester was then spent discussing the four post-civil rights theories. Here is a brief description of the theories:
Traditionalism – this theory stands on racial omission. The crux of this theory is that race no longer matters, and the problems faced by black people today are cultural not racial. Adherents to this theory believe that black people should not be afforded any special treatment as this is counterproductive. In essence they call for colour-blindness. This, to me, is bullshit.
Reformism – this theory stands on racial integration. The crux of this theory is that race does still matter in our society and the way to achieve equality is to integrate society through affirmative action. Lawmakers and people of power in institutions need to be more sensitive to the racially disadvantaging effect of racialised conditions and must do whatever they can to promote integration. For example, a black person applying for university may not have achieved good grades because the school they attended offered a poor quality of education.
Limited separation – this theory stands on racial identity. Whilst not against integration, they believe racial self-sufficiency is the gateway to racial advancement. Adherents believe that black people are too preoccupied with gaining acceptance from white people or making their fame and fortune in white institutions. Hence, we need to focus on making our own institutions as we will never be fully accepted in white spaces. Limited separatists greatly value choice and believe that black people should be able to have an active choice between white and black institutions. In essence, #SupportBlackBusinesses.
Critical race theory – this theory stands on social transformation. The essence of the theory is that white hegemony matters most in the struggle for racial advancement. Our society is racially corrupt and has been from the very beginning; society is not organically neutral or objective when it comes to matters of race. They believe in integration, but they want it on better terms than the reformists. They want to change the fundamental power between race and power in society.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of which theory offers the best solution, it is imperative to think of the theories in light of real-life examples.
The easiest example to use is that of university admission. A traditionalist would say that universities should only focus on the grades a student achieves and race should not be a factor. A reformist would say that race must be taken into account as institutional racism has an effect on the grades a black student can achieve. A limited separatist would support a black student aiming to attend a predominantly white university and would want their race to be taken into account but would encourage a black student to attend a predominantly black institution where they will truly be understood. A critical race theorist would ask for quotas to ensure that a great number of black students are actually admitted into the university and would also seek for the students to not only be accepted but be welcomed into the institution.
Which theory do you think would best tackle racism?
If you want a deeper analysis of this issue, you can read the book: The Racial Glass Ceiling by Roy L Brooks.