OPINION

The race-tinted lens – ‘critical race theory’ is our council’s latest folly

Posted On 27 Jun 2021 at 6:41 pm

Is Brighton dripping in racism? There seem to be two parallel realities. The first offers a snapshot of a vibrant, diverse population approaching 300,000 of us (and that’s before we add the countless visitors who come here on holiday or to work). Characterising this reality as gripped by “racism” – as our council does – is palpably untrue.

Racism hasn’t vanished of course, but many readers would agree that our city, like 21st century Britain at large, is a place where it’s precisely the rarity of racist violence and abuse, of ethnic tension and discrimination toward non-white people that makes the instances that do occur so profoundly shocking.

But hold on: the second snapshot of reality renders the first an illusion. Viewed through the lens of race-tinted spectacles, the instances of racism that do occur appear as the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Like our council, those who apply this lens define “racism” far more broadly. It is, they say, “not just the product of individual bias or prejudice, but something embedded in our systems”.

Spacewords Brighton

For many, this sounds reasonable until the council comes clean and explains what it really means. “White privilege” is, the council says, embedded in a system serving as the survival strategy for “white supremacy”, indeed “constructed”, as Councillor Amy Heley puts it, “to make life harder if you’re black”.

Only the “race conscious” can see this – it is their foundation myth, their article of faith. Like ghost-hunters, they scan reality and presume an abundance of conduct and disparity data is equivalent to “evidence” of the thing they already believe to be true. Welcome to the quackery of critical race theory.

Doubtless, there is room for improvement in our schools’ history curriculum. Certainly, twenty-something Councillor Heley educated her council colleagues about the systemic white supremacy ruling over us “for 500 years”.

However, for my money, if younger councillors were to reflect on the history of the past 50 years it would be a good start. Indeed, if “lived experience” is now a council buzz phrase then surely discouraging myopic versions of history and lending an ear to those whose lives arc half a century is essential?

I can only speak for myself of course: born in the 1960s, I was racially abused at a rural, mostly “white” 1970s comprehensive (I don’t see myself as “BAME” but with dark skin I was the nearest thing anyone had to a Pakistani).

Later, as an adult living in 1980s London, it was all too obvious what racism meant back then – and who the targeted communities were. In his Observer column, Kenan Malik described these times as “vicious and visceral to a degree almost unthinkable now”.

In housing, employment and all sorts of organisations and services, racism operated as a social force. Discrimination against black and Asian Londoners was normal. Frequently egged along by politicians, magistrates and the police, it was as though everyday racism enjoyed a steady green “go” light (it discreetly signalled to racists that they had permission to proceed with a certain confidence).

Forty years on, with nearly twenty years living in Brighton, I know that the country, like our city, has undergone a profound set of changes. This is worth celebrating because our city captures the essence of how the era of ethnic diversity has driven change and caused the vast bulk of British racism to ebb away.

The fastest growing ethnic minority in Brighton and many other cities is the group categorised as “mixed race”. The number of children with one white and one non-white parent is exponentially rising.

The governing elite’s cynical use of racism as a divide and rule tool collapsed across the 1990s. The swing to a top-down “official” anti-racism, which launched the subjective maxim “a racist incident is any incident perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”, also came with a paradox: as racism declined, racial “etiquette” started to ramp up.

A new industry of salaried anti-racist officials saw it as vital to disavow talk of decline. I should know because, in 2006, delivering anti-racist education into schools became my job. My role was to film the life of schools. Playgrounds of children demonstrated a picture of multi-ethnic harmony that could’ve taught the adult world a thing or two.

When, in interviews, black and Asian kids told me they had no problems I was told to look harder. Apparently, the children, the staff and the parents were all “in denial”. I filmed workshops where anti-racism trainers explained to 10-year-olds that “race” really, really matters. Black and Asian kids were told to report anything that they felt might be the racism of their white friends.

And so I quit, and I wrote books and articles about ham-fisted schools “anti-racism” policies that would do well to observe the principle first do no harm before they are imposed on children.

Last summer Brighton and Hove was declared to be “an anti-racist” city by its “anti-racist council”. The idea that this council (of all councils) could be anything other than agonisingly anti-racism is perplexing. But of course this well-intended declaration was the panicky reaction of an all-white Labour administration who were desperate not to be caught on the back foot.

To be publicly viewed as unresponsive to Black Lives Matter terrified them. Some might dare to speculate whether, just weeks before accusations of Labour anti-Semitism came to light, Labour leaders hoped for a distraction. By declaring that immediate anti-racism action would be launched, were they hoping to avert the storm that blew in a month later?

Councillor Carmen Appich said: “This is about recognising who does and doesn’t have privilege and how those with privilege can use their power and influence to enable silenced or ignored voices to be heard.

“We can empathise with our BME residents and work with them to make things better and challenge ourselves. Therefore, they must have a voice in decisions that affect their lives, and this should be a direct voice as well as through representation and consultation.”

But did they launch a consultation? No – they didn’t – or ever since.

Black Lives Matter march in Brighton on Wednesday 3 June 2020

Recent converts to something called Critical Race Theory (CRT), the council views Brighton (like UK society itself) as locked in to a system of “white privilege”. In short, our council – now a post-anti-semitism scandal Green administration – continue to regard its white inhabitants as complicit.

If pressed, its race experts will say that the city’s almost 60,000 “BAME” residents are complicit too unless they adopt the stance of CRT. As such, the council declaration heralds a manifesto for the immediate actions proposed by CRT.

For critical race theorists, “whiteness” and the racial domination of all white identified people lies at the heart of all social relations. Largely invisible, the everyday racism in our relationships and in our unconscious minds (also internalised by “unaware” non-white people) can be detected with the help of race experts. These range from best-selling author Robin Di’Angelo to the expertise of whoever HR might employ to train staff.

Challenge CRT on its evidence and you become its evidence. Within the council, 3,400 members of staff have thus far received mandatory CRT-based training. Wise employees will take the training and keep their mouths shut (for those who just can’t, joining the Free Speech Union would be wise). Two voluntary sessions have been run for elected members who I gather were required to view, approvingly, a Youtube presentation by Robin DiAngelo.

So let me return to the two parallel realities. I wholeheartedly endorse the first characterisation of our city and I have no doubt that the majority of residents – “BME” or otherwise – will do too. The council rejects this and resolutely stick to their “reality”.

Adrian Hart at Hove Town Hall

At Hove Town Hall last week, I presented a detailed critique of their shoddy “research” justifying their actions (well-intended though they may be). It’s not difficult to see how this happened. Amid the fervour of events in Minneapolis in May 2020 and a 10,000-strong BLM protest in Brighton a few weeks later, our council was eager to be seen to be taking bold, immediate actions.

This rush to action set in motion policy commitments that included the “Anti-Racist Schools Strategy”, which in November began rolling out a training to school governors, heads and equalities leads in order to provide – in the council’s words – “an understanding of structural/institutional racism, white privilege and a critical race theory approach”.

I would never argue for a blanket ban on CRT in schools. Like any religious or political doctrine students benefit from comparing and contrasting different ideas. Schools operate a neutral sphere and CRT – rather like Creationism – should never be taught as fact.

To the Children, Young People and Skills (CYPS) Committee meeting, on Monday 14 June, I said: “As with your or my personal choice of political or religious creed, we’re free to embrace CRT. As councillors, you are free to be true believers in this or any ideology you like. But as a council committee, the way you have chosen to impose a CRT approach on our schools is illiberal and undemocratic.”

I asked why the CYPS chair felt it appropriate (or indeed lawful) to offer a training to schools that promotes the CRT outlook. Had the council consulted the people of this city, the question of how racialising and divisive this strategy is (or is not) could have been properly evaluated.

The committee chair Hannah Clare’s reply did at least make the adoption of CRT explicit: “Critical race theory is our lens for developing our understanding of the complexities of racism and not an ideology. There is nothing in our strategy that aims to engender guilt or victimhood.”

But shouldn’t we have been told this before it went ahead?

Interpreted through CRTs ideological lens, unsurprisingly the world is transformed into a vortex of racial slights. A notorious Sunday Times feature from 2010 titled England’s Green and Prejudiced Land vilified nearby Lewes as awash with anti-black racism. Professor David Gillborn had schooled the author David James Smith in CRT (Smith had recently moved his family from London to Lewes).

Gillborn explained to Smith that all those unintentional, seemingly innocuous “little incidents” are in fact “microaggressions”. It quickly dawned on the author that his mixed-race children were under a sustained daily attack.

“Depressingly, Gillborn told me that our son was walking around with a bull’s eye on his chest,” wrote Smith, who suddenly realised that even teachers commenting on his daughter’s Afro hairstyle is deeply problematic (“being treated like you are some creature of exotic plumage”).

Smith’s quick-fire racial literacy training had offered him the lens through which to see the micro-racism he and his family had been missing. His trips to the school to make complaints and the all-round education of his children in race hypersensitivity had begun.

The decade from 2010 has seen the triumph of impact over intent and a medicalisation of “offence” into trauma. Talk of microaggression is commonplace here in Brighton. At an anti-racism training for council staff last year, “Afro hair” provided the classroom example of microaggressions that must be confronted and reported with zero-tolerance.

Another example alerted staff to respond should they hear a co-worker being rude about the “different” food a person from a different ethnicity was eating: to be “anti-racist” is to call out the behaviour.

“Please put on your CRT spectacles children” – Racial literacy training for key stage 2?

And so when Councillor Clare speaks of the racism that pupils and parents “tell us happens in schools”, are we allowed to hear a bit more about this? She is “hopeful” the council five year-plan of CRT anti-racism training will “make a difference”. But who, apart from a close-knit ring of CRT-supporting activists advising the council, has any faith that their actions will not cause harm?

Should the “BAME” individuals and groups comprising the council’s new Community Advisory Group (CAG) be made to carry the burden of approving a schools CRT approach on behalf of all 60,000 BAME residents? Do CAG even agree with CRT among themselves? Were they told about the “CRT lens”?

The group that I support – Don’t Divide Us – has just set up its own petition. Please consider signing it.

Adrian Hart is a local activist and author of Leave Those Kids Alone: How Official Hate-Speech Regulation Interferes in School Life (2011) and That’s Racist! How the regulation of speech and thought divides us all (2014). He blogs at adrianhart.com.

  1. Lewis Searle Reply

    Is it give idiots a platform day on Brighton and Hove News?

  2. Linda Jameson Reply

    Another illogical race baiting piece – why is this being published? Adrain Hart seems to have issues with listening to the experiences of people who have suffered racism which speaks volumes…

    • James Reply

      I have experienced lots of racism againt me but as a White person it does not count.

  3. Nathan Adler Reply

    Well done Adrian for shining a light on the quite absurd practice of CRT, (which the Govrnment say should not be used in education).Petition signed.

  4. Jen Reply

    Lewis Searle’s comment betrays the ignorance, prejudice and inarticulacy of both those who speak and behave in a racist manner and speak through the distorted lens that Mr. Hart describes.

  5. Jon Reply

    TBH I stopped reading half way through but it seems to be a bloke who has made a living talking about anti-racism and so is a self-appointed expert who doesn’t have to listen to anyone

  6. Hmmmm Reply

    Old white guy says what?? Comparing CRT to creationism is completely laughable. Why is this clown repeatedly being allowed to spout this nonsense unchallanged?

    • Hereiarch Reply

      Racist and ageist (and clownist).

  7. Millie Reply

    The last three commenters can come up with empty insults and name calling, but they seem incapable of making a constructive case for critical race theory or a reasoned argument against the analysis outlined above. I had never heard of this theory before, but have spent some time trying to learn more after reading the analysis above. I have experienced racist abuse in Brighton, but I have also experienced more acceptance here than in other cities and countries. Some elements of the original thesis have some resonance, but I prefer the evidence-driven approach, advocated by the likes of Trevor Phillips, to the anecdotal and less empirical approach adopted by the leading current advocates of critical race theory. The way it suggests white people must be ‘innately’ racist makes the comparison with creationism and its emphasis on original sin all the more pertinent. This theory is divisive nonsense and won’t help people like me. It will only set back the cause of racial harmony.

    • Some Guy Reply

      The thing is that Adrian Hart isn’t really arguing against Critical Race Theory. He’s constructed this completely weird mischaracterised version of it, and then argues against that.
      White people are not innately racist, as you point out. Nobody would be willing to dive in and argue the other side there. The issue is that CRT isn’t saying that (or it’s a gross oversimplification, I suppose, but a really whopping one).
      Parallels with creationism and original sin are just like Hart’s claims that CRT is itself racist – it’s nakedly trying to gain the moral high ground to which he is not entitled.

  8. Serena Evans Reply

    100% agree. It is outrageous to make children beleive they are the problem here! Also outrageous for our council to interfere in schools like this. Head teachers and teachers don’t need to be undermined with dodgy woke agendas. They have been trained to deal with any bullying.

  9. Paul Temple Reply

    Interesting how many commentators wish to know Mr Hart personally and yet no one seems willing to defend CRT which makes me think Mr Hart had a very valid point.

  10. fed-up with brighton politics Reply

    Mr Hart at the very least has valid points for debate, but, unfortunately, debate amongst those who post here is not going to cause even a ripple.

    Mr Hart could do with learning some precis, but they probably don’t teach that in school nowadays. Whenever I read anything he has written, wherever, he goes on at such length that the points (and there are often good ones in there) are rather lost in the waffle and the reader gives up. I suggest to the editor of this site that he imposes a limit on the number of words that opinion-writers may write, to encourage them to make their points succinctly and cogently, without rambling.

    On a broader note, is ideology all that interests Greens? How about turning their attention to rubbish collection, graffiti, the level of council tax for which many of us get nothing, maintenance of footpaths, not allowing the decimation of a green wall, and all that boring stuff that we should be able to take for granted but can’t with this council. Many taxpayers would like this bunch of idiots to concentrate on practical matters which affect the populace directly rather than creating ideological political footballs which do nothing to improve the lot of residents.

    The Greens here (perhaps anywhere) do not get that they are not supposed to be an activist ideological movement: their job is to run the city efficiently and give value for money to residents for their tax. Some hope they will ever understand such a revolutionary notion!

    And, even more broadly, I have just read that the I360 white elephant can’t pay up yet again, so an intelligent debate needs to be had somewhere about pulling the plug. No hope that it will happen.

  11. Adeyemi Reply

    My issue with Critical Race Theory is that it drives people apart, puts up barriers between ‘groups’ and is, if anything, racially divisive. It was developed in the USA, where racism is more deeply rooted, and where there are almost certainly still significant problems with ‘structural racism’. It’s just not the same here. And I know racism exists here, as a member of a mixed race family, but in my lifetime, I have seen race relations improve massively. Also, race is less of a barrier to getting on in this country than social class. The recent report by the Commons Education Committee really touched a raw nerve for some. If the Greens (supported by Labour) foist Critical Race Theory on local schools, I have a horrible feeling it will lead to conflict in one way or another.

  12. roy pennington Reply

    i am glad to see this article and to have signed his petition. The use of the “lens” metaphor is relatively apt but, like all metaphors, can break down when the cataract is revealed.

  13. Da Wind Reply
  14. bradly23 Reply

    of course, both eyes could have cataracts

  15. roy pennington Reply

    here is a case of CRT in action:
    especially minutes from 55.01/59.01 =
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000wgw9/arena-african-apocalypse

  16. Jason Reply

    Did I go to school with non-Whites?

    I DON’T KNOW.

    We had better things to think about back then.

    A few kids were excused morning assembly (prayers). One kid had what I now know to have been a primitive asthma inhaler. Some kids were overweight or wore glasses. That’s all I know.

    Kids don’t notice race until they’re TOLD to notice it by those who should know better. Leave them alone. Let them form their own friendships, and ONLY intervene IF there’s a problem.

    This country was built by and for White People because we are the ones who were living here at the time, but that doesn’t mean we “hate” everyone who isn’t like us.

    Some people just can’t accept that though, imagining “racism” or “anti-” something-or-other in the most innocent of words or deeds. These people need to grow up and get a life rather than endlessly complaining and denouncing people over nothing.

    Yes, racism DOES exist, unfortunately, and there are none more racist than those that preach anti-White racism, but to denounce an entire race of people as inherently “evil” is just plain lunacy.

    These people who preach CRT need help.

  17. Da Wind Reply

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