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A First Encounter with and an Ongoing Interest in Marxist Analyses of Racism

I first read Marx, starting with Capital Volume 1, nearly thirty years ago. At the same time, I became familiar with the work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham. Headed at the time by Stuart Hall, the CCCS was publishing neo-Marxist analyses of popular culture at a breathtaking pace. Along with a number of Occasional Stencilled Papers, the Centre and its associates produced some major books (e.g. Hall and Jefferson 1976; Hall et al. 1978, 1980; Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) 1978, 1981; Clarke et al. 1979). One of the Centre’s books, The Empire Strikes Back (Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) 1982) dealt specifically with racism. This book, along with other Marxist analyses of racism both emanating from the CCCS and elsewhere, made me think that perhaps Marxism had most purchase in understanding the multi-faceted nature of racism, both historically and contemporaneously. A few years after becoming acquainted with such analyses, I published my first Marxist critiques of racism (Cole 1986a, b) and have been using Marxist theory to try to understand racism ever since.

I am not sure when I first became aware of Critical Race Theory. However, I do remember the first Marxist critical analysis of CRT (Darder and Torres 2004, chapter 5) that I came across. After reading it, I began to see CRT, as the latest in a long line of academic challenges to Marx and Marxism.4 This is how Antonia Darder and Rodolfo Torres (2004, p. 117) conclude the chapter:

any account of contemporary racism(s) and related exclusionary practices divorced from an explicit engagement with racialization and its articulation with the reproduction of capitalist relations of production is incomplete. The continued neglect by Critical Race Theorists to treat with theoretical specificity the political economy of racialized class inequalities is a major limitation in an otherwise significant and important body of literature.

Since I had read and respected previous work by Darder and by Torres, I decided that I needed to read Critical Race Theory in order to ascertain whether I agreed with the conclusion reached by Darder and Torres. Having read CRT, my purpose became clear: to interrogate CRT from a Marxist perspective, but also to respect some of CRT’s strengths.

Accordingly, Darder and Torres’ critique will resonate throughout its pages. While, as will become clear in chapter 2, CRT had its origins in law, the specific focus in this volume is CRT and Education.

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