Critical Race Theory

Topics: Racism, Race, University Pages: 29 (8782 words) Published: April 19, 2013
Critical Race Theory and the perceptions of ‘Otherness’ - A case study consisting of the students and the lecturers in the Faculty of Engineering.

Gundo .V. Maswime1, Belinda Johnson2

School of Politics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College Campus



Critical race theory

Binary paradigm

Vygotsky’s theory

Piaget’s theory

Thomas‘s Theorem


This action research paper explores the perceptions of black Engineering students on the existence of racial bias amongst white lecturers. This enquiry leans on Derrick Bell’s Critical Race Theory adopting that racism is normal and engrained feature in our society and adapting it to being that, rather, it is the belief that racism is a part of our society that is normal, for pedagogical reasons. It was established that the impression black students have is that of the existence of a subtle form of racism manifesting as academic sabotage. Many students also indicated a cynicism towards the efforts of the University authorities in curbing racism as being rhetorical. The paper does not attempt to ascertain if racism exists on the campus or to prove its prevalence. Vygotsky’s theory of race as part of common education and the transmission of knowledge within a society is explored leading to the recommendation of Piaget’s theory that suggests the construction of new knowledge systems to induce a positive transformation in society.

1Gundo Maswime currently working on a Masters in engineering (geotechnics). The initial paper was compiled to meet the requirements for the conference of a B. Social. Science Honours. E-mail:

2Belinda Johnson is a Lecturer in the School of Politics (UKZN) and a PhD candidate. She teaches Research Methods amongst other modules.


The University Of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) came into being as a result of the merger between the University of Natal and the University of Durban-Westville. The institutional cultures of these two Universities were very different before the merger. While the University of Durban-Westville was, before the amalgamation, regarded as a Black institution the University of Natal on the other hand was considered a white University in the loose common language accepted in South Africa. The new University had to either straddle these two legacies and traditions or abandon both completely for a completely new identity. In an unpublished study commissioned by an ah hoc committee of the University’s Students Representative Council conducted on causes of low pass rates amongst black students at the former University of Natal, a distinction was drawn between “old-fashioned” racism and “modern” racism. It was further elaborated that in instances where the “old-fashioned” reprobate racist feels that his/her form of racism is socially or politically unacceptable, they may “upgrade” to the modern form of racism.

The Department of Optometry within the former University of Natal in 2003 conducted an inquiry after students suggested that racism was behind their lack of success. Allegations of racism were also expressed by student leaders in the Alternatives to Violence Leadership Conference at the Pietermaritzburg Campus in 2003 organised by the Leadership Office of the University. In the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine (a campus of UKZN), many racially charged episodes, and some confrontational, between Indian staff and Black students were reported in 2002, 2003, and 2004 respectively. A study done in Pietermaritzburg by Ms Marie Odendall of the Leadership Office observed;

Taking into account the country’s history of radicalized unequal power relations and the way these shaped individual subjectivities, one could investigate how if at all, the institutions’ social and discursive practices, both curricular and co-curricular, challenge both Black and White students and staff to reshape their...

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