The Sociological Implications of Demographic Diversity

The Sociological Implications of Demographic Diversity

Michael Banton, Emeritus Professor of Sociology
Univeristy of Bristol


Atlantic Crossings: International Dialogues on Critical Race Theory
C-SAP Monograph Series
283 pages
ISBN: 1 902191 47 1
Edited by: Kevin Hylton, Shirin Housee, Andrew Pilkington & Paul Warmington
pages 154-175
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Any consideration of the relevance to the United Kingdom of Critical Race Theory should take account of the special factors in the USA that stimulated and shaped the character of the movement. It should also acknowledge the distinction between social theory and social practice. Social practice has usually to be considered within the frameworks of national institutions, whereas social theory has to promote comparison within and between societies.

In comparing practice in different countries, it is essential to allow for the way in which decisions taken at one point in time limit the alternatives that are available subsequently. Economists and political scientists analyze this limitation as a sign of path dependence. The influence of path dependence upon developments in five states, the USA, France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom, will be summarised. With creation of the Council of Europe (COE) and the European Union (EU), all five are adopting common policies.

Path dependence

The course of US history was profoundly influenced by an `unthinking decision‟ whereby, as a clergyman complained in 1680, `these two words, Negro and Slave‟ are `by custom grown Homogeneous and Convertible‟ (Jordan 1968:44, 97). The division of the population into blacks and whites established the framework for chattel slavery. To a later generation (e.g. Gross 2008) it appears as if whites in the USA prior to the civil war of 1861-65 thought of their relations with blacks in the terms now known as `racial‟, but in the early decades of that century whites represented blacks as culturally rather than biologically backward and justified slavery primarily on the grounds that it was authorized by the Bible. It was the abolition of slavery that led them to take up doctrines of inherent black inferiority. This change provided the intellectual framework for post-emancipation segregation, and for the power structure that confronted the Civil Rights movement of the nineteen-sixties. That movement further polarized relations between blacks and whites in order thereby to reduce segregation. Because by the nineteen-eighties it appeared as if the gains of the civil rights era were being cut back, the critical legal studies movement was born in the law schools; it developed into Critical Race Theory, which is a movement rather than a theory, and which held its first conference in 1989.

The continuing influence of the black-white division was evident in the US Census of 2000. Question 5 asked `Is this person Spanish / Hispanic / Latino?‟ and required the person answering to tick an appropriate box. Question 6 asked `What is this person‟s race?‟ and offered a set of boxes, beginning with three categories: `White‟, `Black, African Am., or Negro‟ and `American Indian or Alaska Native‟. Question 6 had its origins in a time when attention focused on the categories black and white. Public discourse perpetuates the dichotomy, as if persons of mixed origin and intermediate colour were anomalies. The inauguration of a President who is of equally black and white origin, and of intermediate colour, may help undermine the tendency for the word race to evoke an obsolete conception of distinct social categories…

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