Inclusion · Philosophy

Critical Race Theory: Ellroy’s LA Confidential and International Schools

Yesterday, I enjoyed concluding a reading of Ellroy’s LA Confidential, a neo-noir novel which I read mostly for the literary style than the rather played out content. Yet as I considered after what I would take from the book, it was not the way it adapts the journalistic style perpetuated by Hemingway and Chandler into a modern form. It was how the book presented racial tensions.

As my last novel even approaching these themes was Wolfe’s ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’, I felt somewhat prepared for a level of racial aggression that the novel might present. However with the repeated ’rounding up of the coolies’ and the more frequent torture of black subjects because they’re black, it became aparent the book was trying to make the issue of race a foreground issue.

In the text, we have an all white police force, many of whom believe whole-heartedly in the segregation of all ethnic minorities from the presumably ‘white’ upper class. We have a latino lady who is brutally abused, only for her police attorney to date her for a period of 7 year and refuse to acknowledge her existence in public. We have a Chinese man who has his head put into an oven for failing to let a police officer, who offered no form of identification and was on a personal vendetta against a string of black characters, and yet the novel never brings charges against the police officer.

Initially I presumed Ellroy’s foregrounding of the issue was to show how wrong the police brutality was, however towards the end I couldn’t help thinking perhaps this was not his intention. As every ‘bad guy’ turned out to be black, and every ‘hero’ turned out to be white, it came across more and more as a hidden agenda than overt satire.

This links into my present research in preparation for a doctorate I keep promising myself to complete. There is some excellent research in America on how Critical Race Theory related to disability, and I can’t help but wonder if international schools are free of the issues this movement is seeking to highlight.

CRT takes the Marxist/Hegelian dichotomy which I’ll loosely call Oppressors and Oppressed, yet rather seeing it in terms of class warfare, sees it as a struggle between marginalised groups (such as a black ethnic group under-represented in all institutions of power) and the empowered ‘normal’ group. The cultural hegemony is skewed towards the empowered ‘normal’ group, which is often perceived as a cultural legacy of imperialism.

Whilst this field of research is startlingly new, which itself points to the under-representation that is is trying to overtly fight against, anyone who has traveled abroad to former-colonial countries would have a hard time to disprove this anecdotally. I had dinner with an old friend not two days ago, and she related a story of how many photos her white travelling partner had been asked to be in. My barber yesterday had three advertisements in the Indian street it’s adjacent to – all featuring Caucasian models far better stereo-typically handsome than me. This list could continue, and there are probably many studies which examine the colonial legacy as promoting a very skewed perception of the world, but what is really key is how these anecdotes relate to the meta-narratives which support a sublime ideology of dominance based along racial grounds.

As trans-national corporations seek to free themselves from the ‘oppressive’ tax regimes of individual nation states, and a post-race agenda is proclaimed in countries where many members of the racial minorities still feel the weight of a glass ceiling, it seems pertinent to ask after the role of international schools.

In 2002, the former academic Allen wrote ‘Atolls, seas of culture and global nets’ which is one of the most profound pieces of academia I’ve ever had the privilege to read. Admittedly, I read it after having driven 8 hours non-stop across Uganda in a very dubious 4×4 for the simple pleasure of visiting two waterfalls in one day, yet it’s raw intelligence and insight was piercing in a way I find hard to discover in most contemporary research into international education. Allen was, in short, critical of international schools as being the breeding grounds of trans-national people, who would serve the trans-national corporations. To take this idea further, International Schools could be seen as perpetuating an ideology that the host-nations education system is deficient, as they often charge higher fees. International schools might be often seen as recruiting teachers from outside the host country – all with a design of promoting it’s ‘international-ness’ – yet does this relate to prestige and if so, why are staff from outside the host country seen as having a higher prestige than staff from the host country?

As you can see above, there are many important questions raised by the very existence of international schools, and critical race theory goes some way into opening up avenues of critique about them. When I was completing some research last year for Northampton in an International School in Africa, it was startling how dominant considerations of race were, both in terms of narratives about students past, future, and even schools trips to ‘Western’ countries. In the supposedly ‘third culture’ of an international school, the theme of race was emerging from the narratives in a manner which should logically not occur if students truly existed in a ‘third (post-racial) culture’. Which begs the question, are international schools truly a third culture, or is this simply a myth to perpetuate a dominant narrative which promotes the interest of corporations in countries where CRT is currently heavily critical of the corporations and their stance towards minorities?

It’s a shame that the research could not delve into the issue of race within the third culture (which holds students should not identify by their race or upbringing, instead by a sense of ‘international-ness’), or the role of International schools within this meta-narrative, but I am hoping to return to this theme in future research.

For now I’ll end with a question – if CRT is correct in its basic analysis and there exists an issue of racial bias within all institutions of power within society (including education), does Inclusion have a role to play in supporting the activism which is an explicit part of CRT?

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