Cllr Alistair McNair represents Patcham & Hollingbury Ward on Brighton and Hove Council.
The Green Party, who are trying to run Brighton & Hove City council, love to think they are also running the country, and never shy away from discussing national issues such as nuclear weapons. However, yet again the city council finds itself in the national news. Usually, it’s just because of incompetence – an inability to de-weed, collect the rubbish, or ensure our parks don’t become sinkholes. This time, it’s more sinister.
Brighton & Hove City Council have pledged to be an anti-racist city and they want to ensure children are anti-racist too. And it’s not just a pledge – it’s £100,000 over five years, and a Racism Adviser too. Racism is a problem, one that needs constant attention, and one that can affect all people – my wife is Ukrainian and has had verbal abuse in Hove in the past – but I didn’t realise our children are also racist. However, their school’s policy, and their thinking in general, adheres to Critical Race Theory (CRT). This is an American theory dating back to the 1970s which has come to espouse the idea that white people have privilege, should feel guilty for past racial crimes, and atone for them – by becoming less white. It believes race is a social construct and that society has been deliberately structured by white people along racist lines. It is overtly critical of colour blindness – that is, trying to treat people equally without reference to their race. It privileges the beliefs of individuals over reason and facts. Are children racist? We don’t need facts, they must be, and so are you!
Of course, the green-led council insists it is not using CRT – but it is. It uses all the language of Critical Race Theory – the terms ‘white privilege’ and ‘structural racism’ can easily be found on its website. Even the word ‘anti-racist’ is troubling. If you don’t declare yourself an anti-racist, you must be racist – yet this word, to my mind at least, only seems to have started to be used with the rise of CRT.
Recently at Children, Young People & Skills committee, a committee on which I sit, Adrian Hart, an indefatigable campaigner on this issue, asked for a moratorium on the Council’s Anti-Racist Schools’ Strategy, which aims to provide racial literacy training, so that councillors could evaluate its appropriacy. Councillors also asked to see anti-racist training material being given to teachers. Conservative and Labour councillors supported Mr Hart, and his request to see teacher training material, only to be told by the Green Party Chair of the Committee, Cllr Hannah Clare, that the material was owned by a private education provider and we couldn’t see it. Quite ironic for a Green councillor to support a private sector education company. We voted, along with Labour councillors, to see this material and have only just received some of it – redacted. Rather, we have received two PowerPoints which refer to white supremacy, very specific newspaper headlines, and spurious research with no citations. The reading list is full of books related to CRT such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. We now look forward to a proper debate about it.
It would be quite right to teach Critical Race Theory in schools in a genuinely critical fashion, at least at secondary school level. What is it? Where did it come from? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Why are we learning about it? Children should be debating contemporary issues such as CRT, and they do, but learning to question rather than accept. It’s quite another thing for there to be racial literacy training. Training means ensuring people think the same – in this case that you have white privilege – tell that to parents in my ward of Patcham & Hollingbury. Training is not proper education. The Green-led Council only wishes children, teachers and residents to accept their beliefs – that racism is structural, that white people have white privilege, (that global warming is leading us to imminent catastrophe) – without question, and they want to start by telling children they should feel guilt over their race.
One criticism university lecturers sometimes have, and I work in the tertiary sector, is that students lack practice in critique. What trouble are we in, as a society,2 if councils themselves actively encourage group-think and the use of racist theories such as CRT? We need to be brave – like Adrian Hart who managed to garner 4,000 signatures for his petition. We live in a diverse and tolerant society and must stand up for it. We should strongly contest the use of terms such as systemic racism, white privilege, and white supremacy. We should defend liberal values, try to bring people together, and point out that pernicious use of language such as white privilege might seem worthy at face-value, but actually presents a grave danger to our multicultural, liberal, reason-based society. Unfortunately we might need to focus on fighting this danger in our councils rather than spending time tackling failure to collect the rubbish.