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Traditional Forms of Multiculturalism in the US

Prior to the arrival of CRT, educational theory in the US, when dealing with ‘race’, tended to center on the concept of ‘multicultural education’. In a critique of certain reactionary forms of multicultural education in the US, Peter McLaren (1995, p. 119) has identified three: conservative © The Author(s) 2017

M. Cole, Critical Race Theory and Education, DOI 10.1057/978-1-349-95079-9_5

(or corporate) multiculturalism; liberal multiculturalism; and left-liberal multiculturalism. These, according to McLaren (ibid.) are ‘ideal-typical labels meant to serve only as a “heuristic” device’. As such they are useful in conceptual analysis.

Conservative Multiculturalism

Conservative (or corporate) multiculturalism is about disavowing racism while upholding corporate power (Ladson-Billings 2005, p. 53). As Ladson-Billings puts it, ‘[c]orporate or conservative multiculturalism has a veneer of diversity without any commitment to social justice or structural change’ (ibid., p. 53). She gives the example of major US retailer, Sears, which has targeted black and Latino/a consumers (2005, p. 50). Recalling how the Chicago Tribune headlined, ‘A Multicultural State for Sears’, she notes that the ‘ease with which a major newspaper used the term multicultural tells us something about how power and domination appropriate even the most marginal voices’ (ibid., p. 50), in order ‘to promote consumption (and perhaps exploitation of workers)’ (ibid., p. 53).

In terms of the school curriculum, Ladson-Billings (ibid.) likens conservative (or corporate) multiculturalism to J. E. King’s (2001, p. 274) description of ‘marginalizing knowledge’—a ‘form of curriculum transformation that can include selected “multicultural” curriculum content [but] that simultaneously distorts both the historical and social reality that people actually experienced’. So even though there may be representations of minority groups in texts and school curriculum, they may well be marginalized (ibid., p. 53). Ladson-Billings (ibid.) cites a typical textbook strategy of placing information about subordinated groups in a ‘special features’ section while the main text, carrying the dominant discourse, remains ‘uninterrupted and undisturbed by “multicultural information”’.

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