Beyond the status quo? Challenging normative assumptions about race

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Connecticut]On: 10 October 2014, At: 01:47Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    British Journal of Sociology ofEducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cbse20

    Beyond the status quo? Challengingnormative assumptions about raceNicola Rollock aa London Metropolitan University , UKPublished online: 28 Nov 2006.

    To cite this article: Nicola Rollock (2006) Beyond the status quo? Challenging normativeassumptions about race, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 27:5, 673-677, DOI:10.1080/01425690600958907

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  • British Journal of Sociology of EducationVol. 27, No. 5, November 2006, pp. 673677

    ISSN 0142-5692 (print)/ISSN 1465-3346 (online)/06/05067305 2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/01425690600958907

    EXTENDED REVIEW

    Beyond the status quo? Challenging normative assumptions about raceNicola Rollock*London Metropolitan University, UKTaylor and Francis LtdCBSE_A_195799.sgm10.1080/01425690600958907British Journal of Sociology of Education0142-5692 (print)/1465-3346 (online)Original Article2006Taylor & Francis275000000November 2006NicolaRollockn.rollock@londonmet.ac.uk

    Tackling the roots of racism: lessons for successR. Bhavnani, H. S. Mirza & V. Meetoo, 2005Bristol, The Policy Press15.99ISBN 1-86134-774-X

    During a recent live interview with actors Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry, BBCRadio 1 DJ Chris Moyles attempted an impersonation of an African American manin the role of a James Bond villain. Amidst an atmosphere of general light-heartedbanter, Moyles explained in an assumed African American accent: Im a BlackAmerican guy, a big Black fat guy. Put yo hands up in the air. Dont let me shootyour ass! In response, Berry asked Are we having a racist moment? Rejecting thisaccusation, Moyles later, while still live on air, commented on Berrys defensivenessat having made the remark. That same week, and following a number of complaintsabout the incident to BBC Radio 4s listener Feedback programme, a statement wasissued by a Radio 1 executive that both attempted to apologise for any perceptionthat Moyles had been racist and to simultaneously explain that there was absolutelyno racist intention in what he said (emphasis added). There was no acknowledge-ment of the damaging effects of Moyles stereotype that linked Black men withcrime, nor of the way in which an implicit discourse of threat was embedded in thephysicality of Moyles fictional character and, finally, nor was attention paid to thepowerful position occupied by the BBC as a global media institution in shapingeveryday beliefs and views about various ethnic groups and, ultimately racism. It isprecisely these types of fundamental issues that are explored in Tackling the Roots ofRacism as Bhavnani, Mirza and Meetoo examine not just the presence of racism inBritish society, but some of the key policy responses and interventions ostensiblyaimed at combating it.

    *Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University, 166220 HollowayRoad, London N7 8DB, UK. Email: n.rollock@londonmet.ac.uk

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    Comprising 10 chapters, the book starts in chapter one with an overview of theorigins of the concept of race and the way in which it has moved from early refer-ences to skin colour as due to the sun or as a curse of God, and from a scientificbiological notion of physical group differences to being widely accepted in contempo-rary discourse as being socially constructed. As well as examining the ways in whicha changing global and economic context influence the ways in which discourses onrace and racisms are shaped, the authors also make the argument that the currentpreoccupation with defining groups solely in terms of race/ethnicity, is unhelpful inview of the complexity of identities and the salience of other factors such as gender,social class, age, disability (see also chapter four).

    Chapters two and three stand out as arguably the most thought-provoking in thebook. Chapter two poses some rarely asked questions about the assumptions behindprofessional interventions aimed at addressing racist practice and about the point atwhich such interventions can genuinely claim to have been successful. Such questionsare especially pertinent in a political climate that places considerable emphasis onaccountability and demonstrable results but that tends, in the process, to overlook thekey causes of the problem. For example, the authors argue that rather than simplyfocusing on how to increase the number of Black and minority ethnic staff in anorganisation, consideration should be paid to why those staff may not currently berepresented as a way of making explicit organisational culture and practice and ofsuggesting ways in which those staff members might be supported and retained in thefuture (p. 24).

    This proposed shift in thinking is similar, I would suggest, to bell hooks call forcritical interrogation in resisting racism, and is crucial to both stimulating trulymeaningful intervention and to also engendering a perpetual climate of vigilance andreflexivity as opposed to the regressive denial of racisms existence (hooks, 1991,p. 55). It is with this vigilance in mind that Bhavnani et al., in chapter three, insist thatfor racism to begin to be successfully addressed, debates on national identity mustmove away from a pathological focus on Black and minority ethnic groups as theOther, as solely being racialised, and incorporate a more progressiveand, I wouldargue, truly inclusive and equitableagenda where all groups are seen to have anethnicity and the concept of whiteness is also problematised.

    This chapter makes the distinction between elite racism practised by the media,government and those in power, and working-class expressions of racism (p. 34),and considers the ways in which each is reproduced and given legitimacy in everydaydiscourse and practice. It offers a both depressing and compelling overview of theways in which media and political debates on Britishness and multiculturalism havefixed a particular uncritical and narrow gaze on a religious racism with (British)Muslim groups and, those seeking asylum as their subjects; issues that have clearlyreceived a heightened attention of late due to concerns about global terrorism and theopening of country borders across the European Union. Attention is paid to the waysin which the media also assumes the role of gate-keeper not just in terms of what isconsidered to be news, but in terms of criticising those who make explicitly racistremarks (p. 41). These multiple positions occupied by the media demonstrate the

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    complexity of racism and the ways in which it is contradictorily reproduced and main-tained within western democratic societies that purport to subscribe to an agenda oftolerance, human rights and equality.

    In Everyday situated racisms, the focus of chapter four, the authors examine theways in which racism is reproduced via ethnic group segregation at a local level; forexample, through the middle-class choosing of particular schools or their movingaway from ethnically diverse residential areas. It is suggested that factors such aspoverty, disadvantage and social exclusion should be given more recognition as keydeterminants in peoples lives rather than those simply relating to ethnicity and race.

    Chapter five notes the importance of the social context in which anti-discrimina-tory laws have been passed and how the laws themselves reflect the critical way inwhich racism is both reproduced and challenged. It reveals the biases implicit in therecent Home Office white paper Secure Borders, Safe Havens: Integration with Diversityin Modern Britain (Home Office, 2002) written in response to the 2001 disturbancesin northern English towns, as it proclaims to address issues of citizenship andnationality but in reality centres on racialised communities as the problem. This isexemplified through the recommendation of migrant-only oaths of allegiance andEnglish tests that only migrants would have to pass, with little critical considerationof how localised issues such as racial violence and harassment of Asian origin commu-nities, white and Asian unemployment and ill-conceived housing policies contributedto the disorders.

    The ways in which equality has been addressed within employment is the subjectof chapter six. It outlines prevalent historical discourse and interventions regardingequality within the workplace and also critiques the effectiveness of key governmentpolicies such as the New Deal for Communities (p. 83) that miss the opportunity toeffect real change for many Black and minority ethnic communities through theirgeneric colour-blind approaches. Furthermore, it is argued that while the emphasison an equality of opportunity agenda has meant a focus on removing perceived barri-ers to participation and access, such progress is limited since once in the workplacemany organisational cultures tend to marginalise and inferiorise those from Black andminority ethnic groups and attribute their strong work performance to mere goodluck or exceptional effort as opposed to genuine expertise and skill (p. 86). Thechapter also explores the move away from a discourse on equality of opportunity to abusiness case for diversity, where the inclusion of various groups (especially thosefrom Black and minority ethnic backgrounds) is seen to be beneficial to public rela-tions and to overall financial gain, and suggests that, rather than being progressive,this new perspective may be overly reliant on constantly changing economic condi-tions and therefore not contribute to long-lasting equitable change.

    Research that examines the extent to which individuals from Black and minorityethnic communities are able to access or are represented among public services, suchas housing, education, health and the criminal justice system, and the ways in whichthese services meet the needs of those communities, is considered in chapter seven,along with the way in which the recent New Labour focus on social capital is influ-encing the ways in which these debates are taking place (see Cabinet Office, 2003).

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    The chapter closes with an overview of the role of the Black voluntary sector and theways in which these grassroots organisations have been pivotal in building a widenetwork of community based support.

    Chapter eight discusses the turbulent and controversial historic rise and fall ofmulticulturalism to the present day and the newer community cohesion agenda.Chapter nine provides some interesting examples of projects that have sought tochallenge racist practice or enable open critical discussion of racism. The sectionentitled Teaching antiracism: unlearning racism (p. 136) offers a particularlyinsightful account of (American) research that has examined multicultural curriculaas a teaching intervention in schools to address the stereotypical portrayal of partic-ular ethnic groups. The research carried out by Bigler (1999) showed that interven-tions such as the deliberate inclusion of Black heroes and heroines in unexpectedfields, the presence of Black and minority ethnic role models in books and projectsto dispel myths about various cultures had little or no effect on childrens racial biasand in some instances actually increased it. Bigler presents a range of reasons as towhy such interventions might not be effective (such as the age of the child in affect-ing learning and the style of instruction), but the one that is most striking and perti-nent to an overall equality framework was that the portrayal of role models or heroesin resources (e.g. African Americans as scientists) was essentially meaningless tothese children as it bore no relation to their lived experience. This is not to say thatsuch representation is misplaced, I would argue, but that for it to be more thanmerely tokenistic it needs to form part of a broader societal commitment to inclu-sion and equity.

    In concluding, chapter 10 pulls together some of the rather complex strands of thebook and presents suggestions about how racism might be genuinely tackled byengaging at both the micro and macro levels of society. In order for racism to besuccessfully addressed, it must be understood not as the practice of some randomdeviants of society, or as overt skinhead racism (Hall, 2002), but the inferiority andsubordination of certain groups needs instead to be viewed as part of the individual-ised attitudes and ideologies that are embedded in the very way in which Britishsociety has developed (p. 149).

    This is an ambitious book that attempts to summarise the various policy strandsand interventions regarding race and ethnicity and also to reveal the entrenchedpervasiveness of racism and its various permutations. While the predominant focus isthe United Kingdom, reference is made to responses from other selected countries inhandling issues of cultural diversity.

    I have two main criticisms of Tack...

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